Karachi’s infamous E-street could easily be called N-street. Amidst a plethora of salons, ‘it’ restaurants and high fashion boutiques, stand three salons run by stylist Nabila Maqsood.
Nabila’s specialises in hair, skin and nail treatments, N-Pro (right next door) is dedicated to make-up and N-Gents, a few paces away, is the first of its kind in men’s grooming. Holding court over the bricks and mortar, the expansive interior, classy furnishings and spotlighted mirrors, sits Nabila. “May the best man — or woman — win,” she smiles.
From my vantage point, the ‘best man’ for the moment can’t be anybody else but Nabila, and other stylists have miles to go before they reach the precedents that she has set. Over the years, Nabila has moved from one accolade to the other — maneuvering phenomenal celebrity make-overs, innovating with hair and make-up, representing renowned international brands within Pakistan, masterminding the styling of mainstream productions and of course, successfully running three salons in Karachi and another in Lahore.
“What other Pakistani salons are open seven days a week, provide quality services for both men and women, at diverse prices, and are easily available at an appointment?,” Nabila asks me, as she shows me around the monochromatic, very masculine N-Gents. It’s a smoke-friendly building replete with plush armchairs, private ‘executive’ areas, slick shower compartments and a Turkish bath. “What I’ve created is efficiency.”
What she also always creates is a buzz, her recent mantle of ‘Creative Director’ for the Veet Celebration of Beauty show being a case in point. With Frieha Altaf — hitherto always a mainstay in Veet’s major events — suddenly out of the picture, there was talk that Nabila was now going to sidle into the game and try her hand at event management and PR. “For the Veet show, I just did what I always do — oversee the hair and make-up and create a feel for the show,” says Nabila, who begs to differ. “Yes, I de-cluttered the show’s content and offered my vision for it but I have been doing the same for so many other events also, for the Lux Style Awards [LSAs] annually, and the Hum TV awards this year.”
She adds, “Jean-Paul Goude choreographed a huge parade in Paris back in the ‘80s, even though he was not a choreographer. He just had a sharp, instinctive vision for what works — so do I.”
She’s also apparently not turning into a fashion designer. It is this very ‘vision’ that is behind her Midas touch in creating spectacular red carpet looks for celebrities. When Aamina Sheikh was chosen as the Best Dressed at the LSAs this year, she simply said that her clothes were given to her by Nabila, without revealing any particular designer’s name. “I collect a lot of clothes, shoes and accessories when I travel,” explains Nabila. “A lot of them are model size. They are pieces that inspire me to create particular looks that I can use in my shoots. I have always stressed that anybody with a camera can photograph shoots for me, simply because the looks I create don’t need to be highlighted through photography.”
“They’re unique, from the styling to the one-of-a-kind clothes and accessories of the models,” she adds.
“Aamina’s dresses, at both the LSAs as well as the Veet show, were from my collection of random purchases. She didn’t state a designer’s name because the clothes weren’t designer dresses — I had just picked them off random stores abroad. I specialise in hair and make-up and I wouldn’t want to delve into any other profession.”
This specialisation, of course, also extends to bridals — a genre that Nabila once used to dismiss as ‘not fashion’ but which can now be seen reaping in revenues for her through N-Pro. Nabila now even makes the odd appearance at morning shows to discuss bridal styling and has regularly been featured at the PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week (PLBW).
Did the economic viability of bridal make-up bring about this change of heart? “When I first started out, brides would come and ask me to make them look like a particular Indian actor. They reminded me of sacrificial cows who had no idea about what suited them,” recalls Nabila. “Now though, modern-day girls have minds of their own. They want to continue looking like themselves even after they have been styled. This is something I can work with. My salon creates bridal looks that focus on glowing, iridescent skin, distinctively created hair, with make-up kept to a minimal as opposed to being slathered on excessively.”
Her single-day showcases at PLBW have always been a success. Why doesn’t she extend her work to the other fashion weeks in the circuit? “I would love to and would even do it for free but I haven’t been asked to,” she says. “The one thing I refuse to do is to bribe organisers so that I could provide my services to their show, the way other stylists do.”
This year, she isn’t even going to be a part of PLBW, since she’s scheduled to leave for India. “I committed to Ali Zafar ages ago that I would style the looks for the major scenes and songs of Tere Bin Laden 2. The dates clash with PLBW.”
PLBW can wait till next time, then, while Nabila charges on to bowl over Bollywood. With that knack, that talent, that infamous ‘vision’, India won’t know what hit it!
is a fashion and lifestyle journalist with an obsessive, compulsive need to write. Log on for more fashion updates on Twitter @maliharehman
Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2013.