India’s first fashion superstar walked around Queenstown anonymously last weekend.
Kirat Young – a well-dressed Indian woman in her late-50s – dined at Queenstown spots like Botswana Butchery, Gibbston Valley Winery and Rata, drank at The Bunker and The Ballarat Trading Co and talked to real estate agents.
Little did anyone realise she was India’s first fashion superstar and a muse to legendary designer Yves Saint Laurent in the ’70s and ’80s.
And hardly anyone would have realised her special connection to Queenstown - apart from retired hoteliers Peter Lohmann and Nigel Harper, whom she caught up with during her visit.
Life changed for Kirat Young, nee Bhinder, when she met Saint Laurent in Paris, by chance, at the age of 19.
The Frenchman took her on as the face of his Ballets Russes collection.
Young modelled for him for 12 years but she also worked and often partied with famous designers like Coco Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Gianni Versace, Valentino and Oscar de la Renta.
Her friends included models Jerry Hall and Iman.
In 1988, she was in Sydney for the Australian bicentenary celebrations when she met New Zealand-born hotelier Tony Young.
“He was having a big party for the Tall Ships coming in,” she says.
She ended up marrying the flamboyant hotelier, who at the time headed up the Southern Pacific Hotel Corporation after formerly turning the New Zealand government’s Tourist Hotel Corporation into a profitable concern.
In the late ’80s, Tony bought a new house on Queenstown Hill - Kirat recalls first staying there about 1989 or 1990.
“This was his baby,” she says.
“He insisted on decorating it himself.”
Kirat says she lived with Tony in Sydney, Hong Kong, Asia and Europe as his hotel career continued to snowball.
In 1997, he became managing director of Accor Asia. Most years, Tony would return with Kirat to Queenstown for a break, often to ski, and told her he intending retiring here.
Kirat says their last visit was in early 2000.
They’d been in Auckland for NZ’s successful defence of the America’s Cup.
“It was rather cold and windy for one particular race so we came down.
“It was beautiful, that was his last memory of Queenstown.”
Tony died, aged just 57, in February that year.
He was buried in Queenstown Cemetery following a funeral attended by luminaries in the NZ and international hotel community.
Kirat says she returned the following year with Tony’s daughter - her last visit till last week.
She was back in town to organise the sale of the Queenstown Hill property - ”the reason I kept the house for so long is because he’s buried here”.
“I’ve been to see a lot of properties [on this visit] and it really has one of the best views.
“It’s close enough to town and it looks like a classic house, not like a unit.”
Kirat, who has her own jewellery line, still maintains her jetsetting lifestyle, flitting between her homes in London, Paris and Bangkok and visiting the United States three or four times a year.
“I also go to India and this summer we’ve been in Greece and Italy.”
Despite preparing to sever her last link to Queenstown, Kirat says she enjoyed the resort so much this time that she’ll probably now come back every two years - “I could come for five days and stay in a hotel”.
She was particularly impressed with the dining scene compared to her previous visits - “I have to say I’m blown
away by the quality of the food”.