Before she starred in Danny Boyle’s 2008 best picture winner “Slumdog Millionaire” — scoring a BAFTA nomination for her first acting role — Freida Pinto worked as a magazine and runway model in Mumbai. But that’s not what ignited the 31-year-old fashionista’s passion for clothes.

“I don’t think I really learned that much about the fashion industry from my modeling gigs, because the stuff I was more interested in doing was always acting-related,” Pinto explains. “My crash-course came about in 2008-2009, when Elizabeth Stewart and George Kotsiopoulos were styling me for the Oscar campaign. And once I was immersed in it, there was no turning back.”

This story first appeared in the November 18, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

At age 24, Pinto made her 2009 Oscar debut in an arresting one-sleeved royal blue embroidered John Galliano gown, which landed her atop several best-dressed lists. “A lot of it was trust,” she recalls of working with wardrobe gurus Kotsiopoulos and Stewart, the latter of whom still styles her today. What did she glean from them? “I learned how to let fashion also be a source of self-expression,” she says.

Pinto refined her personal style through each new acting role, in films like “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Immortals” (2011); “Desert Dancer” (2014); and “Blunt Force Trauma” (2015). Corresponding fashion highlights include the ivory goddess-like Antonio Berardi gown she wore to the “Immortals” premiere, and a pink ruffled Oscar de la Renta she had custom-made for the 2014 BAFTA awards.

Today, her style remains classic and, according to the actress, attitude-based. “If I’m not in the mood for tight jeans and tight pumps, then I’ll just wear one of those big trucker dresses and still make it look fabulous with the right pair of shoes,” says Pinto, who names Audrey Hepburn as a style icon, and values the element of surprise in dressing.

“I’ve always explored colors,” she says, noting her affinity for experimenting with up-and-coming designers, in addition to standing by the Chanels, and Ferragamos, and Burberrys. She also works with many Indian and international designers, and Mumbai-based stylist Tanya Ghavri.

A longtime advocate of the Because I Am a Girl initiative, Pinto is quick to back fashion brands championing female equality. She appeared in Gucci’s 2013 Chime for Change video campaign targeting women’s issues; is a brand ambassador for Audemars Piguet watches, which partners with Girl Rising India; and has spent six years as a spokesperson for L’Oréal, praising its empowering mantra, “Because I’m worth it.”

Next, she’ll appear onscreen alongside Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett in Terrence Malick’s “Knight of Cups,” out March 4, and with the pair again in 2017’s live-action “Jungle Book: Origins.” For the latter, she’ll don “very beautiful safari” attire as she brings to life Mowgli’s adoptive mom from one of her favorite childhood books.

“Acting is an instinct that you learn to exercise,” says the born performer — whose sartorial sense is clearly just as innate.

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