Many siblings have been successful in the modeling world. The Hadid sisters – Bella and Gigi, spring to mind. Then there is the brother-sister duo of Rosie and Toby Huntington-Whitley.
Twins have been even rarer. There’s the Ruth and May Bell from Essex, U.K.; Ami and Aya, the pink-haired twins from Japan; the Paris-based Sabrina and Sarah Guessab; and Se Rim and Se Yeon Lee from South Korea. And back in the 2000s, India had representation in the form of Tupur and Tapar Chatterjee.
The Chatterjee sisters were the faces of some of the best brands, and regulars on magazine covers and fashion week shows. Once they went off the radar, there has been no noted twins representing South Asia.
Perhaps that has changed now with the arrival Mannat and Sirat Kaur, born in Chandigarh, raised in Miami and currently living in New York.
The duo burst onto the fashion scene with a bang, with a campaign for Marc Jacobs, followed by debuts on the New York Fashion Week, and being picked by Rihanna for Fenty.
The twins took time out from their busy schedule during the New York Fashion Week to speak to SEEMA, describing how they got from Sector 17 in Chandigarh to the runways of the Big Apple.
“Our dad is in the shipping industry as a captain in the merchant navy. He got a job here, and so we were all able to move to Miami,” Mannat said. The parents have now moved from Florida and now live in Houston, Texas.
Leaving Chandigarh for Miami when they were just nine years old must have been tough.
Sirat, the more chatty of the two, recalled the shift, “I remember when we first moved here, the schooling was much easier. So we did not miss Chandigarh schools at all. I missed the city, though. I missed the garden in our house. But we go back [to Chandigarh] a lot. Most of our family is still there.”
Mannat, who was recently in India, plans to go back very soon. She explains what pulls them there:
“We have our connections in India, and we actually try to visit at least once a year. That’s what we’ve been doing since we were young. So we didn’t lose that connection.”
While in Chandigarh, the young Kaur sisters thought everyone around them came from the same culture.
“The biggest shock for us when we moved here was that people don’t look like us,” Mannat said. “When we were in Chandigarh, in India, obviously, you take it for granted that everybody has the same cultural background as you, and they understand certain values about your culture. Whereas here, I think it was really hard to understand, though, that we’re different, and people won’t understand us. In the beginning, it was really hard to assimilate.”
She expanded on their dilemma.
“Obviously, the way that we would live in India, you can’t live the same way here,” she said. “It’s just not possible. That’s something that we had to work together with our family: How to live and try to find a good balance between both the cultures.”
They decided the best way to do that was to hold on to their values, keep in touch with their upbringing and remain close to friends and family.
“You don’t always have to fit in into one culture or another,” Mannat said. “You can just be who you are, with all the experiences that come with it. I think that’s when you can be comfortable with living in this duality.”Sirat & Mannat Kaur
Growing up in India the Kaur sisters spent a lot of their free time in performing seva at the gurudwara and taking part in religious speech competitions. Fashion was not part of their world.
“It wasn’t necessarily something we were looking for or even knew was possible, especially growing up with Indian parents, growing up Indian,” Mannat said. “We never grew up thinking that you can work in the fashion industry. You know, when that happened, it was a shock to both of us.”
Sirat and Mannat’s milieu shaped them and led them toward the bright lights of fashion.
“We always leaned towards the creative side,” Sirat said. “Starting in high school, the people that we were surrounded with – all our friends – were all creative people, some of whom had their own clothing brands. So in high school, we started modeling for our friends, and posted those pictures on Instagram.”
Those pictures were fortuitously seen by a senior casting director in New York, which got them to the Marc Jacobs campaign.
Mannat described how the company of creative people helped them both: “By being friends with creative people who also knew others doing similar things helped. So when somebody was looking around for twins, or looking for brown people to cast in a major campaign, our friends thought of us and reached out immediately.”
Their most satisfying career milestone is not a campaign, but a “cooler” project, as they described it.
“We found out that Rihanna teamed up with a popular magazine and chose 41 people that she thought were reshaping the culture across fashion, music, art, activism and female empowerment,” Mannat said.
Mannat, who is older than Sirat by a minute, also described their plans to go beyond modeling while still remaining in the fashion industry.
“We have our own little places in the fashion industry already, and we feel comfortable just continuing finding different areas of the fashion industry where we might fit later in,” she said. “Even if it’s not modeling, we’ve already been kind of finding other areas where we excel. I don’t see myself leaving the fashion industry; it’s something that interests me, no matter if it is production, casting, or anything [else].”
They are also considering setting up a modeling agency that promotes people who look like them and have similar backgrounds. They say they would like to create a space where people can feel accepted.
“If we were to ever start an agency that represents models, we would want them to feel the most comfortable being themselves and would just want to advocate the best as we can for those people,” Sirat said.
Mannat spoke for both of them when she gave their advice to newbies: “Once you believe, you can take the steps to get to the path.”
They realize that the obsession of the fashion world for twins is unlikely to wane anytime soon. This helps these twins, especially because they are also from a coveted minority in the industry.
“I think it helps people notice us more and helps us to be seen more,” Mannat said. “We’re more memorable that way. We definitely acknowledge that it’s an advantage for us. The first few campaigns that we were cast for were because we were South Asian twins.”
They hope that trend continues.