Celebs such as Gwen Stefani, Hillary Clinton, and Michael Jackson have gone subcontinental

Indian influences on fashion

When such disparate people as Hillary Clinton, Michael Jackson, and No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani suddenly appear in public wearing bindis (an Indian marriage symbol) on their foreheads, it’s a sign that the highly decorative style of India has found a following.

And the bindi isn’t the only Indian symbol drawing converts. Celebrities who once pierced and tattooed themselves with a vengeance have discovered mehndi, the elegant art of painting the body with henna dye. A natural, temporary form of tattooing that can last from two to four weeks, the dyeing takes five minutes to several hours, depending on the design, and costs from $5 to $500. Mehndi’s intricate patterns have been traced on the hands and ankles of Stefani, Liv Tyler, Demi Moore, Prince (and wife Mayte), and Beverly Hills 90210’s Kathleen Robertson. The fad has even hit the movies: Mira Sorvino’s street-smart character in the upcoming Columbia film The Replacement Killers will sport henna designs on her hands, arms and back.

Although it doesn’t look as if Nehru jackets will be making a major comeback yet (despite Donna Karan’s best efforts), such celebrities as Laura Dern and singer Erykah Badu are snapping up the pricey work of Indian-born New York designer Alpana Bawa, who creates vibrantly hued garments. ”Indians love to decorate everything they possibly can,” says Bawa. Even Indian jewelry is in vogue — Nicole Kidman chose a pair of antique Indian diamond earrings from Beverly Hills jeweler Martin Katz to go with her Galliano Oscar gown.

How long will this passage to Indian style last? Bawa believes her clients embrace her clothes because Indian culture is about style and substance. ”There’s this whole spiritual movement. Everybody is trying to be healthy and do yoga and do ayurvedic medicine,” says Bawa. Indeed, Goldie Hawn, who often sports silk saris at premieres, makes the trek to India regularly. ”Goldie’s in love with India,” says the actress’ spokesman. ”The people, the food, the clothing, the spices. She’s just completely enthralled with the country.” Apparently she’s not alone.