It is very interesting to see Pakistani fashion industry seething with a fresh kind of energy – younger, restless, rebellious, and embracing its veterans and grittiness. Even if you are unfamiliar with her name, chances are that you have seen her work if you follow Pakistani entertainment industry or Bollywood.
Nabila Maqsood is a Pakistani makeup-artist and stylist, who is mastermind behind celebrities’ iconic looks in editorials, red carpets, ramps or on-screen. She has been a pillar of the beauty industry for over three decades. In fashion, make-up artists and stylists primarily fall into two categories; personal stylists, who keep celebrities and clients develop a signature look and editorial stylists, who create aesthetics for magazine photo shoots and advertisements. You cannot contain Nabila in one category. Wearing a Valentino or Dolce and Gabbana’s ethereal silhouettes is of no use, if your hair and make-up does not compliment your look as a package. And that is Nabila’s expertise.
Nabila’s career in make-up began in 8x8 make shift salon in the servant quarter at her house, charging customers only PKR30 for haircuts in 1980s. Fast forward to today and she is the most sought-after make-up artist, stylist and an international icon.
Once relegated to the backstage areas of fashion shows and award ceremonies, in recent years make-up artists and stylists have stepped out from behind the curtain and into the limelight. Her sprints involve a dozen shows a season, every editorial shoot happening in Pakistan, a team that swells to 50 at the height of a fashion week, backstage dolling up the models and her irresistible international product line ‘Zero Makeup’, which has achieved a brilliant and dernier cri status since the drop of her first minimalistic powder in 2017. ‘Zero Makeup’ showcases both her extraordinary ability to make ‘extreme makeup’ universal in its appeal, wearability and her ceaseless eye for what and who is new.
She has been the make-up artist and stylist to everyone from original supermodels like Vaneeza Ahmed and Nadia Hussain, both known Pakistani models, to Shraddha Kapoor, Kriti Sanon, Anil Kapoor and Radhika Apte, all Bollywood actors. Further, she has worked for Manish Malhotra, well-known fashion designer from India, who recently had a show in Doha, and IIFA (International Indian Film Academy Awards) Awards 2018. Nabila’s visions for beauty in the future are colourful in a different sense.
Community recently sat down with her to run the gamut of the rich and beautiful journey in the industry.
Did you know from a young age that you wanted to work in fashion?
I didn’t know that. But, all the things I was doing as a child definitely dictated that. Now I realise that they were such big signs. If I were my mother, I would’ve known at the age of seven that this child is different. I used to be very much involved in images, presenting, and style. I also used to be cautious of how people around me and I looked.
Were you supported by your family?
I don’t think my family really discovered my talent. But, when I discovered it and had thought of pursuing it professionally, there was no opposition, if that’s what you mean by support.
What and when was your first big break?
I used to do haircut for friends and family, when I was only 11. I never worked for anyone. I started it with just an 8x8 room with one mirror and one chair at my house in servant quarters. When clients started to book and started to pay, I realised, oh really! you want to pay me for this, I must be really good. That was the biggest break, when I recognised that I’m onto something good. But then, within seven years a multinational company signed me up for the next 10 years for endorsing and consulting one of the brands. That I think gave me a lot of public exposure.
What is your styling philosophy?
It is simple, effective, suitable and versatile. Whatever is required at some point. I mean less is more, but that doesn’t mean boring.
What is one trend that you love right now? And one you can’t stand?
The one I can’t stand is over the top. I can’t stand big hair, fake nails and stuff like that. Everyone’s now looking for fake and constructed noses and end up looking the same. Can’t really stand that! I like diversity and people looking natural.
Does this mean that you will not recommend for a cosmetic surgery?
I definitely would. I’m an image consultant and I recommend people who require such things [Not for make-up only]. But, that would be more corrective or to fix something that really bothers you. To know where to stop is the key. Even with plastic surgeons, I would work with them closely to get the results that would be absolutely natural and believable.
Is there someone in particular who inspires your work?
Vidal Sassoon was the [British-American] hairstylist, who touched the lives of many successful people in the industry. And I’m one of them. I admire his philosophy and work a lot. Otherwise, not much. I’ve paved my own way.
Can you tell us about the creative process for looks that goes behind a fashion or award show?
From a fashion to an award show or client, conservative or a girl next door. You have to give what’s required for the occasion. For the person it should be suitable and something they can own it. And then you still push the bar a little bit. You guide them in a direction and stop where you think it’s getting uncomfortable for them. That’s what we do really well. For fashion weeks, we work with so many designers, who have their own inspirations for their collections. We have very quick changes. We sometimes even just have eight minutes to change 32 girls and we try and accommodate all of that. We try to make a statement and we try and do something which is a current trend and then adapt it into our own sensibility.
Can you tell us about an experience with a star that you would rather forget?
Sometimes, some stars are very unprofessional. The fame gets to their head and they think that they can behave in a certain manner. But, I feel to be a good human is more important. Since we are very professional, we don’t really have bad experiences!
What is a big no-no when it comes to dressing celebrities for the red carpet?
Being effortless is very important. Being stiff and not taking yourself lightly is a big no-no. While I understand that stars need to be glamorous and need to make a statement so that their image is maintained but effortlessness is very important and – missing that – is a big no-no.
How do you approach a new client? What questions do you ask them?
I like to know their fashion personality. When they walk in, I notice their height, weight, stature, posture, the way they walk, their skin, look at the hair and then I ask them their lifestyle questions including how much time do they spend on themselves, what’s their profession, which products they’re already using and if they’re open to this and that. Further I look into for what comes naturally to them and how much I can push them. Open mindedness is something that I gauge upon and give them something suitable, keeping in mind all that I observed.
How was your experience with Bollywood stars at IIFA? Do you think there’s a room for greater collaboration between the two countries?
It was my first experience at IIFA and they were so loving and welcoming. They’re just like us, they speak the same language, same skin tone, same hair and same sensibility. It’s sad to see why there’s a divide. If people are so close, why keeping them apart still.
Who or what does you think hold the movers and shakers behind for collaborations?
I think it is just what it is. But people to people, it’s wonderful especially in this industry I was warmly welcomed. Even now, Manish was amazing and Aishwarya was warm and humble.
You’ve styled almost every celebrity of Pakistan fashion and entertainment fraternity. How do you stand your ground?
I’ve been working for 33 years now. I’ve seen a generation grow up and change. I’ve seen people who used to come for modeling auditions become big stars. I’ve seen DJ’s become superstars. I’ve seen people who have grown up, gotten married, have kids, have children getting married. I think what I’ve learnt over the period of time is that you’re responsible of the consequences for the choices you make. From films, sports, political personality, models – yes! I’ve styled a lot of people and I take pride in that. It has been amazing and inspiring for others to see for how I managed and balanced everything and yet had a voice. I had a drive and a vision and none of it was compromised along the way. I’m happy I can balance my family and work.
How do you really manage your busy schedule and family at the same time?
Intelligence. You prioritise. I think it takes emotional intelligence to do all of that.
Can we look forward to Nabila introducing ‘Zero Makeup’ to Doha?
Why not! Before this interview, I met a distributor here. I have a lot of women already loving the product and asking where to buy and hopefully soon it’ll be available here. Because the tones I’ve given are very neutral and it’s a very go-to palette. I was late for the meeting and I was at the seventh floor. So, I just got ready in the elevator. It’s for women who doesn’t want to look all made up and still want to look enhanced. Its portable, convenient and quick!
Do you think women should stop relying on cosmetics and instead focus on grooming their hair and skin naturally first?
Absolutely. I think when you come out of the shower, that’s when you need to look your best. And you need to plan your life for that. Which means good skin, good nails, manicured nails, pedicured feet, not over weight and well toned. So ideally you should look the best when you get out of the shower and then everything else is a bonus. You work on yourself which means you look fantastic without anything and just enhance yourself a little bit.
Three Pakistani celebrities you love working with?
They are Babra Sharif, Sadaf Kanwal and Ali Zafar. Ali and Babra do a lot of homework on their looks, gets involved with the shooting process and are always open to experimentation. Sadaf is very adaptable. She looks good in western and eastern both.
Three Bollywood celebrities you loved working with at IIFA?
I can’t name just three. All of them were amazing to work with. Saying it with all my heart and soul.
What’s next for Nabila?
My next decade is completely dedicated to retail. While my salons are doing really well, my focus is on building the Zero brand.
Any message for the readers?
Discover your own individual style. Be unique, beautiful and confident – today and always!
WITH STARS: Left, Nabila, Kartik Aaryan, Dia Mirza, Karan Johar and Ayushman Khurrana at IIFA Awards 2018.