Reinventions profiles people who’ve made big pivots. Deep Kaur Kailey was a longtime fashion editor for brands like Tatler and Vogue. Now, she’s the creative director of Without Shape Without Form, the U.K.’s only permanent Sikh art gallery.
What were you before?
Until 2017, I was the fashion director of Tatler magazine in the U.K. Before that, I was the fashion editor of Vogue India (although I was also based in London). I’ve also worked at Dazed magazine, and for a while I was the right-hand woman to fashion designer Kim Jones.
All of my jobs were great in their own ways, and I knew I was hitting all of society’s external markers of success. But internally I was lost, stuck and just going through the motions. I’m truly grateful to have had the opportunity to work within such a creative industry as fashion, but the work I’m doing now is incredibly different—while still creative, its social impact often leaves me lost for words.
What triggered your reinvention(s)?
I was traveling all over the world for fashion shoots in countries such as Japan and Mexico, styling wonderful actresses such as Anya Taylor-Joy, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and A-list models such as Hailey Bieber and Kim Kardashian. When I wasn’t on a shoot, I was attending fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris. To some extent, it was very glamorous, but I felt like something was missing.
From a very young age I had always asked big questions, like: Why are we here? Is this all there is to life? My search for answers led me to Simran, the Sikh practice of focusing the mind, and the answers came pretty swiftly after that. Little did I know my life was about to be transformed!
What did the first steps look like?
I tried to take things slow and steady, but I had some big decisions to make. I knew I no longer wanted to work for anyone else, because I wanted to dedicate one-third of my time to “seva,” which means selfless service. It’s very different to volunteering, but I won’t get into that now! I knew this would also involve taking a big pay cut, but my time would be my own.
What was one hard obstacle to overcome?
I knew what I was doing was the right thing for me, but it was still hard to hear people telling me I was making a mistake. I had to do a lot of internal work to stop second-guessing myself.
Aside from that, the hardest obstacle was (and still is) about getting my mind under control. In theory, it’s easy—the technique itself is simple, and just involves repeating the mantra and listening to yourself as you say it. But the practice itself requires dedication, focus and commitment. It’s worth the effort: As soon as the mind starts to quieten, clarity kicks in and decision making and ideas come easily. Suddenly, difficult situations no longer present as challenges because you’ve built so much inner resilience. It’s hard to believe, but it’s really true.
What was easier than you thought?
Being my own boss. Not knowing where the next contract or client was going to come from was initially nerve-wracking, but it turned out that once I was able to make decisions based on my own values (rather than other people’s), everything fell into place. I no longer had to succumb to social pressures, or say yes to projects because I “should.” Finally, I was in control of my own time and energy.
What’s something you learned along the way that other people, hoping to do something similar, should know?
There’s a common misconception that the best ideas will come to you when you’re on the move or when you’re daydreaming, and that if you eliminate your thoughts, you might somehow eliminate your creativity. For a long time, I thought this too.
But in recent years, I’ve learned that the most creative, innovative and exciting ideas actually come to you when your mind is at its quietest, when you have
almost no thoughts at all. Ideas that come from that place of higher consciousness are incredibly profound and can positively benefit people that experience them.
Did anyone or anything inspire you along the way?
Absolutely. My spiritual teacher is the definition of love. They taught me everything—from how to practice Simran, to what the journey of the mind is all about, to the game that is this life. All of these teachings come from the Sikh scriptures, called the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, and I’m so grateful to be a lifelong learner!
What has this fundamentally changed for you?
Over the past few years, my perspective on everything that I have ever learned has changed. I’ve done a lot of internal work to build up my resilience, which means my spiritual and creative practices have brought me to a privileged position where I can create work and prioritize encounters that are truly impactful for me, those who I work with, and those who the work is created for.
Do you think you could go back/do you want to?
I don’t want to, because I believe life is about the present, while also moving forward. I’m really grateful for my past, as it got me to where I am now. Fashion, style and using clothes to explore your identity will always be part of my work and my life, because I truly enjoy it—but in the future it will be on my terms, and I’ll be able to define how it will serve my purpose.
Tell us your reinvention song.
Not a song as such—but practicing Simran itself! It’s where reinvention and transformation starts.
How would you define yourself now?
Joyful! I’m leading a purposeful life as the artistic director of an awesome arts organization that I helped set up called Without Shape Without Form, which bridges the gap between art, spirituality, culture and mental health. Today I’m working to evoke a sense of curiosity about the internal journey of the mind, while positively affecting people’s lives through the arts. It’s powerful and exciting in equal measure.