How one Indian American woman is changing the rules of luxury hospitality

Rashaana Shah-

“The biggest stereotype is that women cannot be both smart and sexy. Another serotype in the investing community is that women don’t make as smart of an investment as men, which is total bullshit.”

VIPER, a luxury hospitality agency, is a Forbes 30 under 30 recognized company that has seemingly broken every rule in the hospitality industry. Their motto ‘Smart is Sexy’ resonates with their clients Kim Kardashian, HBO, Kayne West, Drake, Google, Amazon, and Fendi.

Celeste Durve, raised by a single mom from Delhi, has found her own narrative with Kelsi K in the male dominant ‘night life’ world. Rashaana Shah had a fun close encounter with Celeste, who founded Viper at the age of nineteen.


Two young women, your mom in her 20s and you a little baby… what were the tribulations of growing up in Los Angeles?

My mom and I shared a small apartment, shared a bed for the most part of it. I was blown away that my classmates had houses, their own room and a backyard. But mom was so young herself in a foreign country and raising me on her own, doing two-three jobs to make ends meet.


How much of your DNA is Indian? Were you raised in an Indian environment?

We didn’t have any Indians in my neighborhood. My mom didn’t know any Indian person because she was new to the country herself. During the day, I was at school with white kids and at home I had an Indian mom. On the one side, my mom wanted me to blend in; on the other, she was very strict. I had to have straight As while the kids in my school would get rewarded for Bs. I had a strict curfew but my friends had lots of freedom. At that time, it drove me crazy but those lessons have become the very foundation of the woman I am today.


Did you, as a child, blame your mom’s ethnicity, her traditional upbringing?

It definitely left me very confused. In middle school, I was badly bullied for my color. On My Space, they would stretch my face and put a bindi on it. The word ‘Hindu’ was funny to the kids. But at home, mom taught us to treat a janitor and the President everyone in the same light, equally.


Did you feel underprivileged?

In some ways. My friends could afford designer clothes and luxury holidays. I would be ridiculed and bullied for wearing fakes. But both my parents powered me with knowledge. Nothing was out of bounds for me. Whether I wanted to go to the moon or become the President of United States.


Do you think you had to fast forward to adulthood?

I think so. I had better emotional intelligence from a young age. I am more self-aware and self-sufficient compared to whole lot of my generation.


What mantras keep you grounded?

The first thing I always do when I wake up is thank the universe. The second thing is a question I ask myself every morning ‘Who do you want to be today’. And I remind myself of the sacrifices my mom has made.


One can’t quantify, but what’s the biggest sacrifice your mother had to make?

There are a million. But there was a time I was going to a small public school, and I wanted to shift to a bigger, better school. In order for that to happen, we would have to change a neighborhood, mom would have to pick up more work and change her schedule, and it had to be done in a few weeks. I don’t know how, but my super mom made it happen.


Did you choose the luxury hospitality industry or it chose you?

In middle school and high school, I started throwing parties, coordinating parties. My mom was furious. To discourage me she started forcing more curfews and restrictions. Long story short, in high school, I threw a really really big party. A thousand people showed up, cops showed up, fire department showed up, it was a disaster. But I realized I was really good at it. It was a forbidden fruit but exciting. I knew my first business would be in that space.


What are the advantages that women have over men in your industry?

Women are beautiful, that is a definite advantage that women must utilize. Femineity is a currency in any industry, more so in the night-life world. Women coming together itself has a lot of power.


Tell me about women that have influenced you.

Definitely my mom. My mom took me everywhere on weekends and holidays, taught me how to navigate the city, how to deal with situations if we ever got robbed or car jacked. Taught me how to hold my own. I also admire Kim Kardashian’s career and I am obsessed with Mindy Kaling. Mindy takes everything with a grain of salt.


What work ethics would you not compromise with?

My work ethics are influenced by my mother. I won’t sell out for money, ever and I would never throw somebody under the bus to jump the ship.


There is a myth that women don’t make good working partners. But you and Kelsi K seem to complement each other and have a very successful partnership.

In our team, I am the good cop and she plays the bad cop. We are very different. With Kelsi, you start from zero and then earn her trust. You have my trust and then you only go downwards from there. I am an LA girl, I like hip-hop, I dress a little bit more streetstyle. Kelsi is more conservative, chic and sophisticated in her taste.


What industry stereotypes do you want to crush under your heels?

The biggest one is that women cannot be both smart and sexy. Another serotype in the investing community is that women don’t make as smart of an investment as men, which is total bullshit. I think men make a lot of bad investments because they just support their friends half the time. And I think South Asian community needs more representation outside of tech and medical industry.


Rashaana Shah is a film producer. She heads Mulberry films, specializing in books-to-films adaptations. She has produced several feature films and music videos in Hollywood.


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