Among the disposable excess of actress-designers, singer-perfumers, and reality-TV-memoirists vying for media coverage, Padma Lakshmi — the enterprising foodie-designer-author-actress-entrepreneur — has earned her slashes. The luminous Top Chef host originally launched her eponymous jewelry line in May 2009, pooling money from a Pantene endorsement and hiring on her best friend. Though she juggles Top Chef filming, writing, mothering (baby Krishna is nine months old), and managing Easy Exotic (her own culinary company, which produces spices, teas, and salts), she remains resolutely hands-on with her pet start-up. “We’re not a trendy company. We don’t use anything artificial or costume, whether it’s something humble like sterling silver or precious sapphires,” she says. “And I’ll never make a piece of jewelry that I don’t want to wear myself.”
This winter is poised to be a typically busy one for Lakshmi. Season eight of Top Chef premieres on December 1 — the series’s first all-star season — and the finale will be shot early next year. She previewed her spring 2011 Padma jewelry collection last week. And this month she’s starting work on her third book, a memoir exploring her relationship with food. We caught up with Lakshmi to talk Top Chef, Parisian romance, and her enviable closet.
Top Chef season eight premieres in two weeks. Did the all-star cast up the stakes?
It’s going to be so juicy — like the greatest hits of the last seven seasons. I spend so much time with these guys and got to know them so well the first time around, I get emotionally attached. It’s like a fourth-grade teacher having to say goodbye to her class every year.
How has the Padma jewelry line evolved in the past year and a half?
When I first launched, it was much more delicate. I wanted to do something that was very basic, since it was all my own resources, from running up to 47th Street to buying the gold. Now it’s bolder — I feel like I have a little more confidence to express myself as a designer. For this collection we looked at a lot of old images of Cher from the sixties and seventies. But it retains the same tribal ethos from fall, whether it’s from Africa, the South Pacific, or southeast Asia.
Any impulse to expand into clothing or shoes?
I’m happy to leave shoes to Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik. I wouldn’t mind doing denim, lingerie, or evening bags.
What about baby clothes?
I think there are enough people doing that right now. I’m just enjoying my baby — I don’t need to turn her into something commercial.
What sort of woman wears your designs?
She’s definitely a city dweller, someone who is very culturally savvy and aware. Our woman is a sensualist; she’s very tactile. And she’s probably at least in her late 20s — the average price point of the jewelry is around $1,000, so it’s an investment.
Looks from the Padma spring 2011 collection.Photo: Courtesy of Padma