Photography: Yasser Sadiq Concept & coordination: Umer Mushtaq
Photography: Yasser Sadiq Concept & coordination: Umer Mushtaq

Could Marilyn Monroe have managed to cut such an iconic figure in that billowing white halter dress in The Seven Year Itch had a stylist not curled her hair just right and added an all-important dash of red lipstick?

What would the Oscars red carpet be without the aid of the army of hair and make-up artists working on individual celebrity looks? Would the Lux Style Awards have oozed glamour for two-odd decades had it not been for the team of stylists at Nabila’s?

Stylists — or rather, ‘image architects’ — are essential to celebrities; adding experimental touches, blending, contouring and air-brushing pictures and devising looks that proceed to become the talk of the town. But are celebrities also essential to boosting the business of stylists?

Nighat Misbah of Depilex, a veritable pioneer in Pakistan’s beauty business with over two decades of experience, observes, “There was a time when models would be the ideal ambassadors for a beauty brand. We would work on shoots for magazines and TV and the looks we created for the models would establish trends and draw in clientele.”

Greasepaint and pancake. Coi! ures and cuts. The glamorous domains of a red carpet and the harsh lights of a studio photo shoot. The stylist and the celebrity are intrinsically connected together, till death do them part. But what do the former really think about the latter?

The current has, of course, changed direction now. She continues, “Now, people really look up to celebrities. A celebrity is an idol and an aspiration for many. People often come to our salon with screenshots in their phones of a certain celebrity, and declare that it is their dream to look like her. Over time, we’ve had terms for different celebrity inspired looks: the Aishwariya look, the Dimple cut, the Lady Diana cut.

“With the rise of social media and the increasing popularity of our local stars, a lot of clients now want to get looks created that are inspired by particular Pakistani actors. Also, from an artistic point of view, it is interesting when we try to bring out more layers to a celebrity’s personality through styling.”

This celebrification of beauty is a worldwide phenomenon and an inevitable by-product of the rise of social media. It’s what has made Zendaya stylist Law Roach a star, all on his own. It’s why many of us avidly follow the likes of Mohit Rai and Lakshmi Lehr — the go-to stylists for Bollywood celebrities — on Instagram.

It’s why Babar Zaheer and Adnan Ansari are now well-known names in Pakistan, having built a repertoire which boasts clientele such as Mahira Khan, Hania Aamir and Fawad Khan, and developed the clout to attract in regular clients and hold regular styling workshops.

As Nighat Misbah points out, “Everyone has a phone and access to endless information. They can scroll through millions of looks and decide how they want to look at a particular occasion, usually inspired by a celebrity.”

But which celebrities do some of the people in Pakistan’s style business enjoy working with? Who do they want to work with in the future? How much does the celebrity association help in boosting business? And do stylists also inadvertently end up building their own star status in the process?

Icon asked a select crew of stylists what they think ….

Nighat Misbah

Nighat Misbah recalls, “I have always had a soft spot for Aamna Ilyas. I enjoy working with her and it’s purely because of how multifaceted she is. She can pull off just about anything and is extremely cooperative and disciplined in her work ethic.”

She continues: “The celebrity that I have in my sights now is Yumna Zaidi. I’d love to bring out a side of her that’s adventurous and edgy with a well-thought-out fashion concept.” Does it help when she or her sister Masarrat Misbah make TV appearances, giving interviews and talking about their craft?

“Masarrat Baji usually comes on TV, rather than me. I enjoy the practical side of my work and I am not very inclined towards talking and getting interviewed. But yes, of course, it builds visibility for the brand.

“Television is a very powerful medium for businesses and personalities alike. You flick on the television and find numerous new things to discover and explore. Television has always been an ally for putting out the word and generating buzz for Depilex’s beauty business and even the various philanthropic ventures that we work on.”

Wajid Khan

Another veteran in the industry, stylist Wajid Khan has his own particular recollections. With nearly 20 years of experience, Wajid’s career graph is impressive, spanning the local beauty-scape as well as crossing the border over to Indian celebrities, the IIFA Awards and the international Miss Universe pageant.

Has the association with stars and star-studded events boosted his business?

“Yes, putting up pictures with celebrities always helps in building clientele. Your social media reach on Instagram and YouTube increases. Even if you are not working with a celebrity and just hanging out, putting up a picture with them gets people’s attention and, then, they want to come to you too. Anyone who says that it doesn’t make a difference to their business is lying.”  

He adds: “It also helps that I myself make a lot of TV appearances. The shows later stream out on YouTube and people message me not just from Pakistan, but also from Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, telling me that they like my work.”

Who has Wajid recently enjoyed working with in Pakistan?

“I have always loved working with Saba Qamar,” he says. “I have worked with her on several occasions and things usually start off with a briefing on what I have in mind, along with some references of images. Then, she lets me hold the reins.

Ilyas Zaka, Nighat Misbah, Angie Marshall, Nadia Hussain, Wajid Khan and Shammal Qureshi
Ilyas Zaka, Nighat Misbah, Angie Marshall, Nadia Hussain, Wajid Khan and Shammal Qureshi

“In Pakistan, I have seen that most celebrities have a certain perception of how they want to be styled and just expect the stylist to execute the look. This is not the case with Saba. She listens and, if she has opinions of her own, she expresses them in a very professional manner and then just trusts the process. She lets you carry out your vision and doesn’t interfere and, then, watching her pose for the camera is a delight in itself.”

And who does Wajid want to style in the near future?

“I would have to say Sajal Aly. It’s not that I don’t like the way she looks. In fact, she is one of my favourite artists. However, if you close your eyes and think of Sajal, a particular image will appear. I wish to break that image, that mould. She has a signature style that she has been following religiously and, while she really can carry off any look, she needs to experiment a bit. I also just have a soft corner for her because she continuously makes us proud with all that she does.”

Nadia Hussain

Nadia Hussain is no stranger to the fame game. She started her career as a model about 25 years ago and proceeded to diversify into acting and various other ventures, ultimately making the beauty business her raison d’etre . I conjecture to her that being famous must have naturally helped her in drawing in customers.

“Of course, it has helped,” she agrees. “And I have tried to build even more awareness for my salons and make-up lines by regularly appearing in interviews, often on television morning shows. It builds awareness about you and your line of work, not just in Pakistan but also amongst the audience that is watching from abroad. When those people visit Pakistan, they often book their appointments with us.”

Nadia adds: “Generally, though, the celebrity association has its highs and lows. On the upside, people look up to celebrities and want to look like them. On the other hand, there is the assumption that celebrities are generally good-looking and know what styles work for them.

“There are people who will not be sure that a certain look will work for them as effortlessly as it does for a celebrity. This clientele gravitates more towards images and videos of real people getting different services done. They will come to me referring to a social media post featuring a real bride.

“A lot of times, when our clients permit us, we put up their images on our social media pages. At other times, we utilise relatively unknown models who are open to experimenting with their looks.”

Which celebrity has she enjoyed working with the most? “It would have to be Ayeza Khan. She is extremely humble, easy-going, sweet and professional.”

She continues: “I’d love to style Mahira Khan in the future. I feel that she usually plays it safe because of which her looks are almost always the same. It would be fun to work on some fun, funky, bold and glamorous looks for her.”

Angie Marshall

Angie Marshall has built her business slowly and steadily, attracting in a clientele that has remained loyal to her brand. With a career spanning more than 25 years, Angie has worked in international shows, including the Miss Universe pageant, and has consistently been part of collaborations with different brands.

Celebrities have always been synonymous with her brand, especially since she is regularly seen in TV appearances and is associated with model and actress Sunita Marshall, who is her niece.

“People do get attracted to the celebrity connection,” Angie says. “They will come to my salon and they will see Sunita or Neelam Muneer or Seemi Pasha there and they will want to get similar services.

“These days, though, celebrities often work in paid collaborations with different up-and-coming brands. So the effect can sometimes get diluted. I, personally, have never paid a celebrity to come to my salon.”

Angie continues: “Recently, I styled Sania Saeed and I think that, so far, she has been my favourite celebrity to work with. She hugged me and reminded me how far back we went — all the way back to when the channel NTM had launched and I had done her hair and make-up for a few shows!

“She is a huge star but she wasn’t fussy at all, allowing me to experiment with her looks. Sania’s hair is naturally curly, but she let me straighten it, gel it. I am looking forward to seeing the final images from the shoot!”

She adds: “I would love to style minister Sherry Rehman some day. She is a very elegant woman and I would love to devise new looks for her, using subtle make-up and various chic hairstyles. I would also love to work with Yumna Zaidi and create some really glamorous looks for her!”

Ilyas Zaka

Merely seven years in the business, Ilyas Zaka’s Ilyas Salon is a coveted name in the beauty business. The salon offers unisex services but is particularly popular amongst men — no less because of the famous names that stylist Ilyas Zaka has worked with.

Ilyas, however, points out the celebrity appeal can only take a brand so far.

“Maybe four or five years ago, the celebrity connection mattered more. Now, I feel that a lot of clients who come to me are doing so after Googling reviews of the salon and reading comments on Facebook. They want to know the experiences of normal, not necessarily famous customers.

“People also become aware of my work because I frequently appear on morning shows. I enjoy the live format because there is limited time and I have to do experimental work within it.”

Who has Ilyas enjoyed styling the most? I am not surprised when he names actor, host and producer Fahad Mustafa, who frequents his salon regularly.

“I enjoy working with him because he is open to experimentation and has a great attitude. He will discuss the look beforehand with me, we will finalise what we want to do and, then, he’ll have faith that we’ll do a good job. He is also very encouraging and open with praise.

“I also enjoy working with Wasim Akram. He doesn’t experiment and has a classic style, but he is extremely entertaining. He will tell stories from his time as a cricketer and, of course, it is always an honour to be working with a man of his stature.”

The celebrity that he would like to style in the near future is Fawad Khan. “You know, there are times when you are yet to work with a celebrity but you start thinking of ways in which you could style him. I have certain ideas about how I would want to style Fawad Khan and create new looks for him.”

Shammal Qureshi

Shammal Qureshi has an illustrious lineage in the beauty business. His mother, Peng Qureshi, is one of Pakistan’s pioneering beauticians and Shammal has built a niche for himself as the longstanding CEO of the North Pakistan tangent of the Toni & Guy chain of salons. Many vouch for Shammal’s wizardry with hair, including a considerable chunk of Pakistan’s most famous.

Who has Shammal enjoyed styling the most? “Styling Fawad Khan is an absolute blast!” he professes. “We have been working together for so long that we share an incredible chemistry together, which allows us to pull off cool and trendy looks that perfectly suit his personality. Thanks to our friendship, I can even talk him into trying out bold and unexplored hairstyles, making our journey an exciting collaboration!”

He continues: “Associating with a celebrity as a hairstylist can do wonders for your business. When people see you working with a well-known figure, it automatically adds credibility and prestige to your brand. It’s like a stamp of approval that tells your clients, ‘Hey, this stylist is trusted by someone famous.’

“Similarly, coming on TV can be a game-changer for your business. It catapults you and your business into the spotlight, exposing your talents and creativity to a mass audience. It also adds a lot of credibility to your brand and attracts new clients who are eager to experience your magic firsthand.

“In addition, TV opens doors to a glamorous world of collaborations, media features and network builders with industry movers and shakers.

Published in Dawn, ICON, July 23th, 2023


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