How I Shop: Padma Lakshmi

We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a very personal one; sometimes it can be impulsive and entertaining, sometimes it is purposeful, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you determine what you need, how much you spend and what “you” is? These are some of the questions we ask prominent figures in our How I Shop section.

Padma Lakshmi is on his way again. The television host, chef and bestselling author called Fashionista as she headed to the airport early in the morning for another of her trips.

“I’m literally on the road eight months a year,” says Lakshmi, after coming out of the Holland Tunnel into full-cell service (and full-on multitasking).

Adding to another of her multiple hyphenated titles – model/fashion icon – Lakshmi returns to Madewell’s ‘What Are You Made Of’ campaign in Spring 2022. Along with other culinary creatives and cultural change makers Sohla El- Waylly and Antoni Porowski, the author of “Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet” shares delicious, self-expressive, and easy-to-make recipes, such as her “Clouds of Cardamom and Cashew Cookies.” The three also model a capsule of their springtime favorites. Lakshmi appears in one of her garments.

“I wear a lot of jumpsuits,” she says. “I’ve probably owned 25 jumpsuits of all kinds: cashmere, denim, cotton, fancy ones. I wore one when I presented at the Global Citizen [Live in 2021, below]† I’ve had an Alexander McQueen for 10 years that I wear a lot. The Madewell is a loose, relaxed fit – you’ll see me roller skating in the campaign [in it]†

Padma Lakshmi in a Saint Laurent jumpsuit at Global Citizen Live in New York City in 2021.

The three-time Emmy-nominated “Top Chef” host also headlines her own Hulu docuseries, “Taste the Nation,” in which she’s known for wearing a jumpsuit. It explores the rich history, stories, and people behind the immigrant community food culture, which continues to shape American cuisine. Laskhmi also uses her extensive, global platforms for activism: she is an ACLU ambassador for immigration and women’s rights, and advocates for global income equality as a UN goodwill ambassador. (Even on an approachable level, she makes a difference — hey, Liza, remember when we went to “Padma Hosts Another Comedy Show” in 2019 to benefit the National Network of Abortion Funds? This was a year after Lakshmi’s first comedy hosted showcase to empower women, queer and BIPOC comedians and raise funds for the Movement Voter Project.)

As Lakshmi traverses the globe for work, humanitarian efforts and cultural immersion, she also remembers one of her early jobs: fashion.

“I would like to design a capsule collection for travel [pieces]where we have a few jumpsuits, a few tops, a few sweater dresses and some devious stuff,” she says.

Moving on, Lakshmi shares how she plans her wardrobe for cooking and entertaining (but no shoes in the house!), what she packs for her ongoing travels, and where she likes to shop around the world.

Lakshmi for the Madewell Spring 2022 'What Are You Made Of' campaign.

Lakshmi for the Madewell Spring 2022 ‘What Are You Made Of’ campaign.

“Over the past decade, my sense of style has gone through a ‘cleansing’. That’s the best way I can say it. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of the things I felt were no longer mine, and every now and then that happens. There was a time in my life when I had a lot of very beautiful, extravagant floral dresses and maxi dresses – stuff with a lot of stuff. But it just doesn’t seem to fit with who I am now. So I gave them away to my younger cousins, or just got rid of them and gave them to younger women I don’t even think it has to do with age, just needs to clarify who I am as I get older.

“I have become much toned and focused. I really like high waisted jeans. They fit my body because most of my height is in my legs. I have an inseam of 36” so I need a lot of flared jeans with high waist [to wear with] a T-shirt. I grew up in the ’70s – whatever the style was in your mom’s time, it’s going to take a toll on you, and it certainly does for me.

“When I’m cooking, I wear everything from what I’ve worn to the gym to cotton tank dresses, because whatever you do — even if you’re wearing an apron — your clothes still smell like food. At home, I don’t really wear an apron I just wear these very simple cotton dresses which are often just really long tank tops and then just throw them in the washing machine after I’ve cooked I’d rather be barefoot and in some kind of simple cotton dress, or, again, just jeans and a T-shirt. Always machine washable clothes.

“When I’m having entertainment, I cook 75% of the meal before someone gets there, then I leave little things to the last minute, like tempering spices. I always design a menu where a lot of the stuff can usually be done ahead of time.” are made, and then there are one or two things that just need to be done. I also want to involve my guests in the cooking. I make sure the table is set, the flowers are standing nicely, the wine is cooling, and then I go go and I take a shower because I just don’t want to open the door that smells like food – with my hair greasy – and all dehydrated.

Lakshmi for the Madewell Spring 2022 'What Are You Made Of' campaign.

Lakshmi for the Madewell Spring 2022 ‘What Are You Made Of’ campaign.

“I get out of the shower, I put on my perfume, a little bit of makeup and my hair tousled. Maybe I’ll even drink the first glass of wine before anyone gets there so I’m relaxed – because, whatever you’re cooking, if you’re relaxed and you’re in a good happy disposition and mood that’s contagious and all your guests will feel it too there’s nothing worse than arriving and the host hasn’t done anything and she’s nervous and that makes you nervous and feels like you’re almost imposing even though she invited you That’s the way I entertain But I’m a shoeless house We’re Indian so we don’t leave shoes in the house So I’m barefoot most of the time regardless what I wear in my house.

“I put on a nice dress or whatever – usually a sweater dress because you still get a nice hourglass shape, but they’re cozy and warm. I’m a very casual, relaxed person. I like sweater dresses because I travel so much. I’ve been on the road for at least half a year A sweater dress is great because you can just throw your suitcase in it and when you put it on it stretches and you don’t have to iron it.

“I’ve been very, very lucky to be able to roam around the world as I have, so my home and my fashion naturally reflect that. I’ve only been there once – I’d love to go back — but I love Istanbul Istanbul was fantastic The souks in Istanbul have so many interesting fabrics and small glass tea sets and jewelry I have purses and gold chains there I love Morocco I bought this beautiful pottery from Colombia called ‘tierra negra’ , which is what makes lentils taste so delicious. I’ve also stolen little things from the ‘Top Chef’ set over the years, like the Donabe [Japanese clay pot] that was used for ‘Restaurant Wars’. I just like hunting and collecting things: seeds and twigs and spices, from all over the world, like from the Seychelles and Fiji. I was speaking at a literary festival in Bhutan and I brought all these beautiful mushrooms and Sichuan peppercorns from the market there. I never knew how many mushrooms there could be in Bhutan. That was beautiful.

“I love Paris. There’s no place like Paris to shop if you know where you’re going – and I know it. I know the Paris flea market like the back of my hand. Most of my house is decorated with oriental things , from India and Bali, or Paris from the Belle Epoque. My chandeliers are for example Baguès. It was very complicated, but in the end I bought this velvet fabric there to reupholster my large sofa.

“I have bakelite jewelry from the 60s that I also bought in Paris. I have a bakelite necklace from the Paris flea market and it’s beautiful. It’s burgundy beads with a little girl at the bottom with big gold rings. I love it on that part.

“While I was in New Orleans, in a forgotten case in a thrift store, I found this rose gold long chain pendant. I guess they thought it wasn’t real — and I did, but I loved it and I bought And after all these years, and all the water it’s been in, when we jumped into the ocean at the last minute, we realized it’s actually real gold!

“When I was filming ‘Taste the Nation’ I was just in my old Indian neighborhood of Jackson Heights and we went to Krishna Jewelers, and I loved these hoops. They’re the gold hoops I wear in every episode [below]unless I’m just wearing my diamond studs. I don’t carry much jewelry with me when I work on ‘Taste the Nation’ – just my hoops, the two necklaces I always have, my watch, and maybe diamond studs to replace, if the earrings seem too much.

Lakshmi wears her gold hoops and chains in 'Taste the Nation' season two, episode three, 'Mojo-ho Christmas', in which she celebrates Miami's Cuban community.

Lakshmi wears her gold hoops and chains in ‘Taste the Nation’ season two, episode three, ‘Mojo-ho Christmas’, in which she celebrates Miami’s Cuban community.

“I’m a military operation when it comes to packing. I’ve been a model since I was 21, but I’ve been traveling since I was four years old. I always pack skinny jeans, flared jeans, and jeans that I can wear without heels. Then I try to choose two or three colors of sweater dresses that go with everything depending on the weather so that I can minimize the number of shoes [I pack], or a slinky black dress and a sundress for the day. I’ll take two cashmere sweaters, a couple of T-shirts and tank tops. I’ll take a brown belt and a black belt; a nice skinny one and a slightly wider one. I take my sneakers and my skipping rope with me so that I can always exercise, wherever I am. And I take two cashmere scarves – a light one, a heavy one – a bathing suit, a pareo, a light jacket, a cardigan sweater and a couple of silk blouses. And leather pants, if it’s cold. I always wear a heel, an ankle boot, a sandal and a sneaker.

“I even wear a little Ganesh [elephant-headed Hindu god, who’s the patron saint of writers and travelers], with a small mini pack of incense. I always leave incense sticks on the bottom because I will use them to freshen up the hotel room. I always have a pair of sarongs with me. I like to spread them out on the furniture, because you don’t know who sat on them. Sometimes I throw it over a lamp to give me some mood. If you travel a lot — and I’ve traveled so much, whether it was four months in Cuba for my first movie or four days for something small that I do — I always enjoy making my hotel rooms special. I have my little system and I love it. It’s a comfort to me.”

This interview has been edited and abbreviated for clarity.

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