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No Fear No Favour

Meet The Transwoman Who Designed Harnaaz Sandhu’s Miss Universe Gown

Written by Shivangi Chawla

On Monday, India’s Harnaaz Sandhu has crowned Miss Universe, bringing the title home 21 years after Lara Dutta’s win in 2000. For the grand finale, Harnaaz Sandhu, 21, wore a gown designed by Saisha Shinde, who came out as transgender at the beginning of the year. 

Harnaaz Sandhu’s stunning silver gown with its beaded embellishments and plunging neckline became part of the historic moment – and its designer could not be happier. “We did it,” Saisha Shinde wrote in an Instagram post after news of the big win made headlines on Monday. Saisha also shared a picture of the newly-crowned Miss Universe in the floor-grazing gown. 

Saisha Shinde (formerly Swapnil Shinde) came out as a transwoman in January this year. 

“It was only in my early 20s at NIFT where I found the courage to accept my truth; I truly bloomed. I spent the next few years believing that I was attracted to men because I was gay, but it was only 6 years ago that I finally accepted myself, and today that I accept you. I’m not a gay man. I am a Transwoman,” he wrote in a note shared on social media at the time.

“There is a certain expectation from Miss India at an International pageant. She has to look elegant, exquisite and the gowns need to look delicate and dainty but at the same time powerful, strong, which incidentally my brand has become now after I have transitioned into a woman,” Saisha Shinde said.

“The gown is embellished with embroidery, stones, and sequins. Harnaaz believes in sustainability, so we used embroidery material which was lying around at the studio,” she explained.

In a nod to Harnaaz Sandhu’s Punjabi roots, the gown also incorporated phulkari patterns. Born and raised in Punjab, Harnaaz Sandhu attended Shivalik Public School and Post Graduate Government College for Girls, both in Chandigarh. She beat Paraguay’s Nadia Ferreira and South Africa’s Lalela Mswane to secure first place in the Miss Universe 2021 pageant.

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