To top
5 Aug

“The world is my oyster right now”

Right now Nabila should be looking at her tenth LSA trophy for excellence in hair and makeup. The 15th annual Lux Style Awards were held last Friday in Karachi and this ageless doyenne was the most easily predicted victor of the evening. She picked up the trophy, as expected.

Ten awards in the 15-year history of the event isn’t a bad score at all. It has also driven a lot of chin wagging regarding the fairness of the award – ‘Nabila always wins because of her association with the corporates’ – is the careless accusation stemming from sour grapes. From where one sees it, she always styles the event because she is so good at it and that’s precisely why she always wins. It’s also the reason why she is put in charge of styling every credible fashion week in the country; her team is assigned hair and makeup of most high profile films and even television dramas, advertisements and commercial campaigns. She’s done countless celebrity makeovers – from politicians and cricketers to movie stars, musicians and talk show hosts – and is style consultant to the stars. In the 30 years she has spent in the style industry Nabila is, undoubtedly, one of the brightest stars amidst them today.

With her well oiled machinery of creative services running on auto, Nabila last year turned to her dream of launching her own makeup line and taking it beyond Pakistan. Her No Makeup palette was an instant success amongst the women of Pakistan and then it was seen on the sets of Grey’s Anatomy. While actors dream of making it to Bollywood, Nabila has actually gone and wedged a foot in Hollywood’s door. She’s now expanding the palette for Caucasian skin tones. And then, recent pictures with Lindsay Lohan also piqued many a curiosity.

Lindsay and Nabila

“Lindsay is working very closely with us on our Ending Slavery chapter, which is the foundation linked with Goal Eight,” the tireless style guru shared as she sat down with some time on her hands. It’s almost impossible to find her free these days so I was lucky to bump into her right before she settled down for some me-time at N Pro. “We’re working together on these causes and I thought it was a good idea. Lindsay is very keen to work with me and is keen to come to Pakistan and you know, try helping us with this platform. We’re looking at doing something together which will be a win-win.”

Lindsay Lohan? One remembers Lohan for her stints in rehab and her rather unpleasant fall from celebrity grace. One didn’t think she’d be involved or even interested in philanthropy of any sort…

“She is interested in a big way,” Nabila responded with an intent, contemplative expression. “I think she has put that past her and she has reformed herself a lot and she’s doing very well in London. She’s very much into fitness and yoga and all of that. So it was great meeting her. She’s very enthusiastic, creative and also very hardworking. It was interesting to see a different side to her and she’s very excited about this project and hopefully, very soon, we will do something.”

But how did this collaboration happen, I wondered aloud? It’s not like you can casually bump into a Hollywood celebrity and kick start a movement.

“She’s a very close family friend,” Nabila explained. “I don’t want to give out many details but my brother actually mentors her so when he mentioned me and the business that we’re doing together – because I have partnered with him to go global – she was very keen and wanted to work with me. There is an idea that we’re working on and we’re excited to do together soon. And we linked that to charity so that sales of it are directly linked to rehabilitating human trafficking victims.”

What about your association with Hollywood producer Lawrence Bender?

“He’s again a family friend and is working with us on charity as he has his own charity on environment. He made the film Inconvenient Truth that’s all about climate issues. He’s also linked with Goal Eight. It was exciting to have breakfast with him in Santa Monica.”

All this comes hot on the heels of No Makeup’s success. Nabila has mentioned, occasionally, that she wishes to branch out beyond Pakistan. While the service industry remains an integral part of her empire (yes, we can afford her chain of salons that title), it’s makeup and creative development that inspires her.

“Last year after the launch I realized that I was onto something really big,” Nabila talks about No Makeup. “There was an amazing response not only from Pakistan but from people outside Pakistan; I had already formed this company towards globalization throughout the world. The American market found out about me and they approached me to collaborate with them and launch it in US.

“I actually didn’t know how big it was until I went there and signed up,” she continues.

“I realized that the product was being tested in Hollywood, with professionals working on some of the very big TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy being one of them. They loved the product so much that they said, ‘If you can give us the dark and the light palette we don’t need to work with anything else’. Apparently the cast loved it too.”

Coming back to Pakistan for a minute, I asked, did she feel intense competition from Masarrat Misbah Makeup and even Junaid Jamshed’s newly launched ranges of halal makeup. That is what the masses opt for, even vie for and they have massive following. Would she ever consider launching a range on the lines of halal makeup?

“These are all trends,” she was quick to respond. “There was a time where there was mineral makeup and natural makeup and then herbal makeup. I believe in science; I believe in results. I believe in something that will be sure shot and 100% and not just necessarily follow the trend. Having said that, I am constantly re-looking into the formulation of No Makeup and repackaging to bring it to more sustainable standards.”

And what about halal makeup?

“If I do halal makeup it will be something that’s great for your skin and great for your face in the best possible formulation. My way of life is giving results. I may do organic, I may do natural, you know, paraben-free etc but I will not do something because others are doing it. I will do it if it gives me results.”

Do you ever feel the competition that these brands may be giving you?

“I don’t look outside myself,” is Nabila’s quick retort. “I’m so busy working. And I’m so inward looking that I don’t know what’s happening outside and to be honest I don’t care.”

So tell me about the global expansion of No Makeup…

“Yes, I’ve already expanded it into Caucasian skin tones for the U.S market. Currently we’ve started off with MENASAU, which is Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and USA. UK and Europe is soon to follow. And the brown skin will take me to South America very soon. So I think the world is my oyster right now.”


You’re on an unstoppable roll. Doesn’t it exhaust you at times?

“I’m exhausted just thinking about the impact, thinking about the response, thinking about the responsibility, thinking about doing this right and you know, getting into the retail side of this business and maintaining the brand, taking it to another level,” she laughs. “It makes me very excited because I feel when I’m meeting people like these distributers, makeup artists, celebrities and all of that, I am projecting Pakistan in a very positive light. Because they don’t expect to see someone from Pakistan, especially a female, who is successful and who’s absolutely global, who’s switched on, who’s current and relevant, opened mined, cool, you know, so these are amazing  adjectives to be associated with it. And I feel happy to know that I am giving a positive face to Pakistani woman. I’m real, I’m a mother, I’m a woman, I’m a friend, I’m a daughter, I’m female, I’m a good human being, and I’m Pakistani and I’m proud to be one.”

There was a time, undoubtedly when times were bad and the struggle was tough – Nabila has travelled through some very inhospitable terrain – when she infamously said that ‘this industry doesn’t deserve me’. How does she feel about that now?

“Whatever I may say, the fact is that Pakistan is what makes me, and that doesn’t change,” she responds from a place of satisfaction. “Pakistan is where I’ve spent my last 30 years. And I would call myself a true Karachiite because I was born here, I was schooled here, I went to college here, I’ve worked here, my kids were born here – so I’m like a true Karachiite belonging to Pakistan. I have given this field 30 years and they may or may not remember but I am a very integral part of Pakistan’s fashion industry. I have given birth to a lot of fashion figures, photographers, models, celebrities, trends, practices. And I continue to do so, whether it’s films or fashion weeks or just raising the bar. You know, L’Oreal called me its antennas in Pakistan, I think that’s a big compliment. And Wella’s say that if we ever represent Pakistan in Germany, or anywhere else, you would be the one person we would consider to represent us. So this places a very big responsibility as well as compliments what I do. And I still think that I have to offer a lot more. I’ve spent 30 years here, but I still feel Karachi and hair is still my first love. This is where my flagship store is. This is where my bread and butter is. This is where my clients, and following and supporters are. So I am not for one minute, abandoning them, if at all. I’m strengthening my system to do more of the same in a better and more efficient way while I use my excess time and ability to create the same message globally. I prefer doing that because opportunity favors the prepared mind, and I have done nothing but prepared myself for this day all my life.”

Coming full circle to the moment, I come back to the Lux Style Awards.

“With this award, I want to announce that we will no longer be submitting our portfolio for the LSA’s,” Nabila said upon winning. “Soon, we will be launching a new initiative that will identify and mentor deserving talent and create the same opportunities for them that we have had. We want to continue supporting this industry with what we do best, which is creating beautiful images.”

(This article is a modified version of the original, published in Instep on July 31, 2016.)

Aamna Haider Isani

The author is Editor-in-Chief at Something Haute as well as Editor at Instep, The News. Full time writer, critic with a love for words and an intolerance for typos.