In the line of
“I’ll be your mirror, reflect what you
are in case you don’t know…”
__ Lou Reed
Drawing his inspiration from film, art, and a keen observation of everyday life, Altaf @ Nabila’s Palette has been colored by more than a decade of experience, and his canvas has included everyone from unfamiliar faces to socialites, movie stars, rock stars, and supermodels. Whether utilitarian or transformative, his makeup eschews Disguise in favor of revelation.
Today, you’re one of the best stylists in the country. That’s something that couldn’t have been a smooth ride – given the kind of person you are and the kind of taskmaster that your mentor, Nabila is.
She was a good teacher and I was a good student. She was willing to teach me everything and I was willing to learn, so the combination worked. She created me, taught me everything. In fact, she encouraged me to go into hair as well, and took me abroad for various courses. I am what I am because of her.
You have been in the business for quite some time. How do you think things have changed – if at all – from when you first started out?
I think in terms of work, the progress has been really good. There is a lot to pick and choose from and of course, people have gained a lot more experience. But in terms of teamwork, things have deteriorated. Initially, everyone helped each other out and there was the feeling of family. These days, everyone wants to work independently, and if they get the chance, they want to dominate others too. I feel this approach is wrong, but then one can’t do anything about it.
Which models have you enjoyed working with?
I’ve worked with almost everybody and they’ve all been good. I particularly enjoyed making up Bibi’s face. She could carry both eastern and western looks with ease and grace. Apart from her, there have been other pretty faces too, like Zoella Alarm, Aliya Zaidi, and Sonia Mahnaz.
This is a difficult question – most people refuse to answer it – but I want to put it to you: tell me, who is a better model, Vinny or Iraj?
Iraj is better than Vinny, but Vinny is bigger model than Iraj. Iraj is like a chameleon, while Vinny took modeling to another level. Iraj has a face that can look different with every shoot and can carry just about any image you work on whereas Vinny looks beautiful all the time. Whatever you do to Vinny’s face she could come out looking pretty each time.
Who convinced Iraj to chop off her crowning glory? You need to have guts to do something like that especially when you’re a model and people are crazy about your hair.
I have no clue about who convinced who, but yes, the cut was short and yes, it looked good on her. The final product was a different Iraj that’s what we wanted.
Nabila has been at the top for a very long time. What do you think it takes for a stylist to reach such level and remain there for so long? And why do you think that none of her contenders have been able to reach her highest?
It’s hard work, dedication, and passion to learn more that have made her a name to be reckoned with. To reach the top one needs vision, determination, and of course, the love of the craft, which Nabila has in abundance. Other stylist may have great salons but zilch vision. They rope in trained workers from established salons, open a salon of their own, and call themselves stylists. It’s a joke.
Once people think they’ve learnt enough, they leave. How come you’ve never left Nabila and taken the solo flight?
I share an excellent question with her. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t received any offers. I have, and some of them were very tempting; but I turned them all down. I can’t work with small – timers after working with the best of the best. Thank you very much.
How does your family take your success? What was their reaction when they found out that their son was to be a beautician?
They were alright with it, but there was some resistance from my mom as she is a bit old – fashioned, and wasn’t too keen about the idea of her son cutting women’s hair and doing their makeup. But then with success comes pride. Today, I have done well enough to make her feel proud of me.
Do you think success has changed you in any way?
Not at all. Once you work with the showbiz crowd on a regular basis, you’re no longer in awe of them. But of course, the people around you are still very star struck. Sometimes when I’m with friends and I meet someone famous, I can sense that they’re feeling a twinge of jealousy; but then that’s very natural.
What are your wife’s views about your profession? I’m sure she must object to your hanging out with the showbiz crowd, shooting and may be partying till late at night – all of which are and parcel of this field.
When I got married I was already working, so my in-laws knew that larka fashion industry ke main kaam kerta hai, so they were okay with the idea. And my wife knows that I’m the sort of person who comes straight home after work. It’s only recently that I’ve started going to parties because I feel it’s important to be seen and to market yourself.
Is that reason we see you doing a lot more work these days?
On the contrary, I have become choosy now. If I feel the team is not good enough, I refuse. I would rather not do a shoot than have a bad shoot to my credit.
You are one of the most likeable people in the industry. How have you been able to survive and even make friends in an industry where everything is so fake?
I have learnt to maintain a distance. I don’t get hurt because I don’t expect. It’s only when you get very close to people that you get hurt – so why get familiar and breed contempt? I have instilled in my mind that there can be no success without failure, no victory without loss, and no triumph without sacrifice.
There was a time when few people knew what Altaf looked like – even enough lots of them had heard of you and had seen your work. But lately you’ve become very social. Are these public appearances an effort to come out of Nabila’s shadow?
Jo dikhta hay who bikta hay. It’s very important to be social in this line of work because you get feedback for your work right there and then; and of course we all know that it’s not uncommon for projects to actually be lined up at these parties. I used to think socializing like this was pointless, but now I know it’s very important that people should know you.
Is there any stylist other than Nabila whose work you have admired?
Khawar riaz! Really like the way he grooms his models, then saima, Akif ilyas, and Shehzad raza are other stylists that I find immensely talented.
It’s rare to meet someone in this industry who doesn’t shy away from appreciating others in the same field. What’s your philosophy of life?
Life is a circle: the things you do in life will come back to you. So it’s very important that u keep adjusting the rear view mirror of your life so that you can look back and say I’m not guilty of any wrong doing. Most people are only interested in seeing what’s next as they move on. But I believe in taking along the people who, we have being a part of my life.
You have work with Nabila, who is a strong-headed individual. Have there ever been any moments of friction between you two? Does she have the final say or do you stick to your guns?