Nabila has a gentle presence, hardly the intimidating façade you would expect a person with her fame and popularity to have. In a way, she is larger than the celebrities she deals with. Her credibility comes from almost 20 years of hard work. The architecture and interiors of her salons are testament to her philosophy: everything must be underplayed except elegance; styles and their lines must be subdued and restrained, the Zen disturbed only by a dramatic burst of anarchy.
Her passion for discipline borders on desperation to constantly take things higher. “I believe in raising the bar. I just can’t be satisfied in taking what’s given to me. I have to push the limits.”
Beginning with hair, she brought her focus to the face. Not content with stopping at the head and shoulders either, she gave her creativity direction by training in image consultancy. The image, to her, was all about reinventing a person from head to toe. Once the technical skills were acquired, she came full circle to concentrating on hair. “I am convinced that the hair is one’s real crowning glory, the tiara of any person’s aura.”
With her workload expanding, she learnt to handle the economic side of the business as well but stayed clear of what she terms ‘prostituting’ the process.
“I hate people who want to make up brides to make money,” she says with passion. “We do offer these services, but only for clients who are confident; those who want to look a glamorous version of themselves and not like some Indian actress.”
That’s the part of the industry she likes to disassociate herself with. She has always been very internalized, and that’s how she feels she has grown. “I never keep my focus on what’s happening out there.”
Seated in her office, Nabila is simple, calm and exudes an inner peace. Her simplicity does not come from a lack of interest. In fact, everything but. She is immaculate, down to the last detail, taking pains to look natural, yet perfect. Almost always in black, she admits to a new phase, one that is breaking the monotony. Suddenly, she is craving colour, hence the red leather couches and turquoise moccasins. Everything around her is cubic, three dimensional, bizarrely plain, ostensibly progressive. In an industry which thrives on traditionalism, how does she handle it?
“I don’t handle tradition,” she replies. “I work in English, not Urdu, and have absolutely no lost love for heritage and culture. I can appreciate a cemented wall as much as a gilded, carved bit of ivory. I like simplicity. Somehow, we’re too ostentatious as a nation. Having said that, I do have the vision to deal with it when it comes my way. In practice, I’m forward thinking.”
Last year she started off a firestorm of gossip by cutting off Iraj’s hair.
“Iraj was beautiful. She is still gorgeous. She had amazing hair and when I was working with her on a shoot, I told her I felt she was hiding behind the mane. People believe in my vision and Iraj came back after a few days. Initially, I was a bit reluctant. This was a national treasure! But she was ready for it. It was really exciting. We started at 9am and finished at 10pm, documenting every part of the cut. What’s amazing is the energy she has now. She’s a completely different person.”
Nabila did the image consultancy for last year’s style awards. “It was a brilliant experience,” she says. “We worked as if it was the Oscars, coming up with individualized looks for celebrities. That meant working around them for two months, patiently acting mediator between them and the image they wanted. Babra wanted a diamond watch and four-carat diamonds in each ear. We planned that for her. Sometimes it meant waiting for hours at some store and then getting stood up. It was tough, but the biggest achievement was to have over 40 celebrities under my roof, all happy, all congenial. These are challenges I like to take up and execute. After that, I leave the concept for others to eat my dust. I’m not involved this year. As I said, others will eat my dust.”
Nabila has her head in the clouds, and her feet firmly on the ground. She vows to take her magic to international levels, without compromising on her roots. And she promises that one day she will be driving a bright red Ferrari!