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SPOTLIGHT: THE STYLE GURUS

November 05, 2017

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Stylist Nabila (C) and Tabesh Khoja prepare models at a fashion week | N-Pro
Stylist Nabila (C) and Tabesh Khoja prepare models at a fashion week | N-Pro

Celebrities live a life where they are constantly under a microscope: any fashion faux pas or the tiniest blunder will be highlighted on TV, lead to ink on thousands of pages and produce terabytes of social media.

To venture out freely on personal errands, they hide behind dark shades and tinted cars to avoid being harassed for selfies. Then there are commitments such as promotions, inaugurations and red carpet events, guest appearances on TV, drama serials and films for which celebrities give the responsibility of their looks to fashion stylists.

Not everyone is Blake Lively, who claims to make all of her own clothing choices and doesn’t need stylists to fix her look. With their taste and knack for innovation, stylists adjust clothing and accessories to people’s profiles and lifestyles and ultimately bring the runway down to real life people.

Stylists mastermind iconic moments that can make or break careers of showbiz personalities

If it wasn’t for Manish Malhotra styling Karisma Kapoor to perfection for her role as Nisha in Dil To Pagal Hai, she might still have had those bushy eyebrows, ’80s perm, ruffles and leg-of-mutton sleeves. But instead she stunned us all and won the Best Supporting Actor award for her Dil le gayi le gayi performance in the film. Rhea Kapoor styled Fawad Khan in slick blazers and shirt-vest combos for Khubsoorat promotions. Ania Fawad transformed Sana Javed’s desi girl-next-door look into that of a dazzling diva for the Mehrunisa V Lub U promotions. Ayeza Khan’s stylist Anila Murtaza is responsible for her gorgeous looks, including the totally new western look for drama serial Tau Dil Ka Kya Hua. Celebrated in their own right today, stylists create red carpet history for celebrities and mastermind iconic moments that make or break their showbiz careers.

“When designers come up with statements like ‘ethnic-chic’, ‘classic-chic’ or ‘technic romantic’ or ‘very Marilyn Monroe’, what the hell does it mean? That is where the stylist comes in and makes that statement practical,” says Tabesh Khoja, who works as an image consultant at Nabila’s. “It’s about matching the right person with the right brand. We help people in more ways than just fixing their looks. We help them in defining their personality for their projects and also create a special dressing style for them around their likes and dislikes, what they can carry and what suits them. We are not just wardrobe coordinators. We mix and match from several fashion collections and lines and customise the outfit, hair, make-up and accessories for a real person. For instance, depending on who I am styling, I would pick something that I like from Ali Xeeshan’s collection and pair it up with Sana Safinaz for that matter or one or two pieces from Elan or maybe just a necklace to go with the look. ”

Known for his gutsy approach to fashion perhaps bordering on a touch of eccentric, Tabesh always wanted to become a fashion designer, wore kilts at university, and Vogue used to be his bible. “The stylist’s eye is a gift, its natural, you can’t train someone to develop it,” he says.

San Francisco-based Ania Fawad says, “You must be creative, patient, hard working and able to work well under pressure. The creative part is the best because you pitch your ideas to your client.” A few years ago when Ania started her style blog, she enjoyed it so much that she decided to make a career out of it. Besides being a celebrity stylist, she also works as a specialist for Marc Jacobs.

Samiya Ansari, a Karachi-based celebrity stylist who has studied filmmaking and journalism in London couldn’t agree more. “You need an eye for good pieces that would work together. Current trends are always a major thing and you can follow them, but every stylist has a personal taste and vibe so they can work out a style considering what body type can handle what type of attire and what outfits can make or break a look.”

Mawra Hocane blows a kiss for the camera styled by Ania Fawad
Mawra Hocane blows a kiss for the camera styled by Ania Fawad

While freelancing allows Samiya to pack her bags and go travelling whenever she feels like it for exposure to trends and street styles, metropolitan cities and fashion-based capitals around the world, Tabesh believes that as a stylist you need to keep yourself up to date, fashion savvy and up to the mark in terms of observing what’s around you, what’s in or what’s out. “I believe in classics because trends die out but with classics you can’t go wrong.”

Apart from styling celebrities for red carpet events, Ania’s portfolio includes promotions for Balu Mahi and Happy Bhag Jayegi. Her clients include Sadaf Kanwal, Moomal Sheikh and Sajal Ali. She styled Urwa Hocane for the Punjab Nahin Jaungi (PNJ) promotions, although sister Mawra is her favourite client. “Mawra lets me play around and have fun with her looks. We always come up with unusual, quirky style statements,” says Ania who works long distance through photographs, Skype and video chat.

Styling films is an up-and-coming trend in Pakistan. The trend started with TV when Nabila’s styled Geo TV’s super-glossy drama serial Bashar Momin, and later the historical-fantasy drama Mor Mahal. Nabila’s also styled silver screen blockbuster Jawani Phir Nahi Ani (JPNA) as well as PNJ. Samiya Ansari has recently worked on Arth 2 and Cake which are expected to release in December. “I enjoy doing films the most because films give you a big art space to create a character and work with a storyline. It is interesting to build up the character to give it an identity of its own,” she says.

Sana Javed styled by Ania Fawad
Sana Javed styled by Ania Fawad

Being a stylist often means that you must be equipped with shoes, clothes and accessories that you may need to create a certain look. “Acquiring accessories is a hard task because you have to return them in the perfect condition they came in. Having good relations with celebrities, designers and the brands who are supplying stuff helps. Designers want their work to be seen and they understand that we are working with celebrities. But it is always handy to personally invest in shoes, handbags and accessories in different sizes and basic designs as well unique pieces,” Samiya explains.

Hair and make-up support an outfit to create a certain look, says Tabesh. “When you have done the clothes, 20 percent is face and 80 percent is hair.”

Ania selects the hairstyle and make-up for the celeb. “The hairstylist and make-up artist follow my references so we can achieve the desired look together.”

“Hair is sometimes the best accessory a person can have,” adds Samia. “You have to coordinate with hair and make-up and the end results can take a bit of experimentation.”

A pret photo shoot styled by Samiya Ansari
A pret photo shoot styled by Samiya Ansari

Styling people may not be as easy as it may seem. “Every client has a different style or taste and sometimes you like a celebrity because of their style and taste,” says Tabesh. “I enjoy styling Fauzia Aman. For me, she is Giselle and that’s her style. Zeba Bakhtiar for instance is classic. What Sohai can carry Zeba can’t. I like Shehrayar Munawar’s style and Ali Hussain’s. Rao Ali is doing Shehrayar’s styling. Sometimes you need to dress someone down, like substract things from them and that will give them the magic touch. A little statement makes a lot of difference.”

Tabesh may even refuse to style a client. “This happens when the client speaks a different style language from mine. How are you going to change that girl?” he asks and then explains. “You need to have oysters to think French and have the taste for caviar!”

Since styling is still a fairly new concept in Pakistan, clients don’t always take a stylist seriously, laments Ania. “Actresses will request you to style them but ask for a massive discount or expect that you style them for free, which makes things difficult for us.”

While Ania only styles celebrities, Samia has also been approached by friends and other people through common friends, Instagram, Facebook or PR agencies for fashion advice. “I style actors for parties, social events and films but some ordinary people also need styling for weddings or social events. Sometimes I help with shopping but no one really comes up for an everyday kind of makeover,” says Samia.

Tabesh agrees. “That’s what really drains me. You need to change your lifestyle not just for a few hours but for every day. Pakistanis are very good looking people, very attractive, but too loud, not trained enough and not nourished enough. We really need to stop following Bollywood. We have our own identity which we need to crack, and we need to work with what we have and what we can bring. If Paul Smith is doing Peshawari chappals, he is doing something right.  People just need to think outside the box and work with what they have. Otherwise you can buy Marc Jacobs, Gucci or whatever and it won’t make any difference. Getting a makeover for your personal lifestyle improves your overall image and it does not cost the earth, yet people only want to look good for a few hours instead of 24/7. The art of style is to get what you have in your wardrobe and collect stuff and connect pieces in the right way. It’s not about becoming a pastry!” Maybe some of our news anchors should be reading this!

Published in Dawn, ICON, November 5th, 2017