The legendary fashion editor reveals the moments, goals, and inspirations that have shaped her life and career. And the natural diamonds that have accompanied her along the journey, mementoes of the people she loves most.
Nonita Kalra has built a career on identifying and telling stories — her own life, then, is no different. Every choice has an intention, whether it’s a solitaire engagement ring that reflects her grand love, a beautiful cup of coffee that sets just the right tone for her day, or a beloved watch that punctuates her gestures. In a freewheeling interview with Only Natural Diamonds, she reveals the stories that shape her life.
What has been the high point of your career?
I think the high point of my career has been two things. One is working with extraordinary people who’ve gone on to do way better than I’ve ever done. And the other is when you are behind the scenes as an editor and you see the results of your work, the way you may have changed someone’s life without any credit or anyone knowing what you’ve done.
How do you celebrate your wins, big or small?
I’m a creature of habit. I like routine. I like to have sort of a very disciplined approach to life so that I can leave my mind free to be completely unfettered. So it will be with a great single malt or a glass of wine and then with a book. I crawl into my lovely four poster bed with a book and feel very satisfied.
What do you still want to accomplish, personally or professionally?
Personally, I want to write my book because I actually don’t talk to myself, I write to myself and I write paragraphs and I edit them, all day I’m writing in my head. I really want to have the confidence or the courage to put my work out there. So that’s my big task for the year. Professionally, it’s a strange thing, but I want to pay it forward. I’ve had an incredible career filled with chances and opportunities, and I want to pay it forward. I want to open my address book, I want to connect people, I want to mentor young brands, young people.
What makes you feel confident and assertive?
Lots of prep. I take nothing casually. I need to know my subject. Life deserves all kinds of prep. Life deserves that you’ve given it your best shot, right? And I’m kind of the star of my own script with background music in my head.
As someone working in fashion, what is your approach to the way you dress yourself?
My approach to the way I dress myself is really simple. It’s my definition of classic. I like a uniform approach to clothing, so a black dress every single day, that’s my approach. Minimal in look. Form follows function. It has to have pockets. It needs to be really practical. It should let me move or let me curl up with a book.
Two things you need when walking into an important meeting?
Ah, a great pair of high heels, because in my head I think I’m six foot two. And I do need to wear my favourite watch, a white Chanel with very tiny natural diamonds. It punctuates all the cinema that I do with my hands. And I need the diamonds because I need people to look at it and stop for a minute and take me seriously. I want to not just be heard, I want to be amplified.
What does your engagement ring say about you?
My husband and I have been together for so long, our proposal was hysterical. We were lying in bed, wearing our flannel pajamas unironically, and he looked at me and said, oh, we forgot to get married. So we said, let’s get married, and his father chose a date. When it came to the engagement ring, I wanted something very small but very beautiful. So he chose a diamond, designed it in a classic setting, and gave it to me. It’s enduring love. And it talks about our relationship, which is very private. I live for love and he was — and still is — my grand passion.
How does wearing it make you feel?
It’s a really funny thing. I don’t always wear my ring because I like my husband to always be worried about where I might wander off. He loves when I wear it, so, you know, to hell with the patriarchy. Mine has a princess cut natural diamond, which is one of my favourites because it has all these sharp edges. It’s a really beautiful stone but the edges mean it might snap, and isn’t that like all of us women? You scratch against us, rub against us, we’ll snap.
What do some other popular cuts say to you about the wearer?
When I think of the round diamond, the most popular cut, I think of Dolly Parton. She’s so amazing and out there and fantastic, shiny with so many facets. If you’re looking at the oval cut, it’s long and it’s linear and it has history and there’s something about it. It’s Jane Fonda, right? You want to hear her, you want to spend time looking at her. oval cut, it’s long and it’s linear and it has history and there’s something about it. It’s Jane Fonda, right? You want to hear her, you want to spend time looking at her.
The marquise-cut diamond is about history, it feels romantic. Like Zeenat Aman, a yesteryear Bollywood actress who’s come back in such an incredible way. I know my references are all these iconic women, but there is something timeless about what they mean, what they’ve said, and how they’re still so vibrant — and that’s what diamonds are. They’re forever, they’re today, they’re yesterday, they’re an imagined tomorrow. So I guess all these cuts talk to me in a strange way. You look at diamonds and you think they’re colourless, but they’re just filled with stories.
What makes for a modern solitaire?
The careful carelessness with which you wear it. Tiny, opinionated, hidden, always seen. It’s ready to be built up. I love the idea of adding more stones to it. I used to wear natural diamonds more seriously, but now I wear them with insouciance, and I love them much, much more than I ever did.
What moves you?
Oh God, um, dog videos. It’s really kind of embarrassing, but I have a large collection of dog videos. Now I have graduated to baby ducks, baby cows, small pigs, cats, bunnies. I’m moved by anything that comes with honesty. It makes me cry. It can be a film, it can be a small snippet, it could be a beautiful sentence. It all moves me.
A person from history you’d like to have dinner or drinks with?
Definitely J. D. Salinger. I read Catcher in the Rye at the right time. He talked to the strange misfit I was. I actually got my first job because the editor there said, Oh, you read Catcher in the Rye. When he asked what was from page 1, I could tell him. And I was hired. If I can’t get J. D. Salinger, then Truman Capote and Harper Lee, because those two had a magical friendship, a spectacular falling out. For anybody who loves journalism, In Cold Blood is the book to read, and To Kill a Mockingbird sets us right every time we wander.
What does a perfect day look like?
A wonderful cup of coffee — I’m a coffee snob. I carry my coffee back from India, single estate beans from Kerala and Tamil Nadu. And then a really great workout. I’ve been lifting heavier weights than I did in my twenties, which feels really great. After that, I’m open to anything. A perfect day would be full of surprises.