Nabila talks in headlines. Most of her talk revolves around Nabila the person, Nabila the professional and Nabila the phenomenon. If at all she ever talks about anything other than Nabila, then it is almost always how Nabila views the world around her. No wonder the media loves her to death. Every time she opens her mouth, there is a rippling effect in the fashion pond. There is no denying the fact that she is no small fish in the pond.
For those who do not know her well enough, these statements sound like cryptic mutterings of a megalomaniac; those who do have learned to decipher her statements. And they all vouch for her sensibility. Surely, all the encoded mutterings of a megalomaniac have some truth in them. Nabila has achieved a status where she manages to get away with verbal blue murders. But it did not happen overnight. It has taken 20 years of hard work, an ever-evolving vision and a very, very sharp and strong focus. She does not have a last name. She does not even need one. She has gone way beyond a name, becoming a brand.more
Years ago while watching her doing Ayeshah Alam’s make-up for Lux Style ki Duniya, it struck me that not only did Nabila not talk during her work, she also didn’t like being talked to. Her intense facial expressions resembled those of a miniaturist immersed in the intricate art. Risking a shut up call, I could not resist mentioning her focus. Unknowingly, I had pressed the right nerve. She was overwhelmed by this observation. Since then I have been observing her modus operandi. Nothing, absolutely nothing can make her go astray from her path. If she thinks someone can deliver something in the best possible fashion, nothing can stop her from working with that person and getting what she wants from him or her. She builds a bridge between herself and the person’s particularly quality. I so admire this quality of her. “It was always there, but I was not aware of it. You were. The first person to point it out,” she admits. “I am only concerned about what I want. I simply don’t give two hoots as to who delivers it. My philosophy is to work within my circle of influence and not concern,” she adds.
According to her, it is this unshakable focus that has enabled her to make her life uncluttered. “It has been rather difficult but I have managed to do it. I have consciously emptied my life. No noise factor, no memories, no ill feelings, no pending work, no pilling mail… I have set my system on auto-delete. This helps me get rid of negative thoughts, “says Nabila haughtily. She was known as the trend setter for minimalism, but now it has gone beyond being just a trend. It is her new religion. She worships Zen. And Yoga is her prayer.
Come hail or storm, four days a week Nabila leaves for Yoga at 5:55 PM sharp for an hour of meditation. The effects are there for everyone to see. Had it not been for Yoga, such huge amount of self-centeredness would have been absolutely insufferable. Among other things, Yoga gas certainly taught Nabila how to be elegant. “It gives me the energy and clarity to hear my own voice. We need quiet in life. I feel all solutions, answers, strength, inspiration.. everything is within. I am Universe unto myself. I seldom rely on outer sources.” Sounds like God. But then she is accused of suffering from a Pygmalion complex-the highest an artist can ever achieve while playing God.
She picks non-entities, works with them, creates names for them and then moves on to a new one. As result, those touched by Nabila feel that they always had what came out during that brief affair of her vision and their technicality. In a way Nabila can be blamed for creating monster and not professionals.
“I will work with anyone who will give me good results. All that matters to me is attitude and technicality,” she explains. But then those created by her usually do not sustain themselves. The moment Nabila’s blessings are withdrawn; they go back to where they collapse later, it is not my problem. I am only concerned about the work I do,” she replies with a shocking candor. Another accusation that is often leveled against Nabila is that she does not make-up her own hands-she only supervises. Is it because she is more of an artist than a craft person who gets her vision executed? Or is she not that great when it comes to manual basics?
“Why should I do something that others can do for me? I choose not to be a craft person. I do magic. I am blessed with a vision. I am best at lending my vision which others cannot.” If ever she had a last name, it would certainly have been Modesty! Mutterings of an egotistical narcissist? “I am not self-centered or conceited. I am only self-interested and aware,” she declares. How does she draw the line, which seems to be rather fine? “To be able to love others I must know how to love my own self. During a flight when air pressure drops, passengers are instructed to wear the mask first and then attend to their children. To be able to take care of the loved ones, one has to be strong and aware.” I told you she makes sense.
Enough talk about Nabila the person. I turn the course of conversation towards Nabila the professional. She is always adding one more feather in her cap. When haircuts and make-up ceased to be a novelty, she turned her attention to makeovers. And then we saw the miraculous. Babracadabra shoot. She transformed the Lollywood screen diva Babara into various Hollywood dives. To say that the transformation was flawless would be an understatement. She shares the credit with Fifi Haroon. “It was nice to do well-conceived shoots. Her departure from the country is a big loss”.
When everyone else jumped on the make-over bandwagon, she got off it and found a new passion. Nabila introduced the concept of image consultancy in Pakistan. From hair and make-up right down to wardrobe, clients were advised on each aspect of their lifestyle in order to gain confidence and, of course, a presentable look. The idea was to achieve a chic appearance while enhancing the strong points of personality and smoothing the rough edges. The 2nd Lux Style Awards became a showcase for Nabila’s image consultancy talents. In association with director Asim Raza, she worked with designers and jewelers to create glamorous individual looks for celebrities keeping their personalities in mind. To acquire a certain look for Babra, she even took pains to get four-carat diamond earrings.
Although, in her own words she is ‘above all’ and not in competition with anyone, there seems to be a burning passion working overtime to be leaps ahead of her colleagues and times. Perhaps, this passion paved the way for the title international stylist’. Which no one else enjoys. Or is it because of her recent partnership with an Indian modeling agency?
“It is too early to talk about the partnership”. She is clever enough to dodge the real query behind the question. Therefore, I choose to compromise.
“It is the media that has given me this ‘international’ title. I do not call myself that,” she says. But there has to be some reason behind the media declaring her international. “I think it is my vision that is very international. It is scary to see what I think now on western ramps. John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Viven Westwood… all radical visionaries are showing ideas, I am thinking here sitting in Pakistan,” she says with a self-congratulatory tone in her voice. “I a, not emulating them; I am simply on the same wavelength. My sister tells me to go to Paris as she thinks I belongs there.” But surely just having the same wavelength does not qualify her to be international. “ Well, Bobbie Brown hand picked me for a presentation in Dubai. From New York to Dubai, I was the only one who matched her wavelength. Bobbie Brown said about me: ‘She is the person who depicts the persons I am’. That is closest to being international, if you like.” Nabila does not even try to conceal the haughtiness in her voice.
Lately, she has been occupying more column inches than ever before. Her remarks about Rizwan Beyg’s Anarkali stirred the fashion media and set off a chain of reactions. Tariq Amin claimed that she ‘does not work.’ She laughs off Tariq Amin’s remark “He opened his interview with me. It sounded like ‘shuru karta hoon maen Nabila ke naam se…’.” Nabila shows that she is blessed with a sparkling sense of humour and knows how to take a snide remark in a stride.
However, mention of Anarkali draws a detailed, serious response. “I am sick and tired of seeing mediocrity and saying ‘lovely’. I have promised myself not to be untrue. I am not going to be a hypocrite. I am not here for a vote-count for the popularity contest. My friends tell me that I put my foot in my mouth. Media get very excited because I give honest statements-very juicy for them to print. They also have to sell. If I see or hear bad taste loud, I will say it,” she says in a matter-of-fact manner.
But what did she actually say about Rizwan’s Anarkali that ensued a media campaign? “There were five points I made to both journalists reporting on the subject. It was their choice to use the ones that suited them most. But it all got blown out of proportion. It was strictly my opinion and I have a right to express it.” She seems determined to fight for this right. For record’s sake. I am reproducing the five points Nabila made:
• “People in position portray Pakistan properly. They should paint us as global and modern.”
• “Personally, I find history boring. I was waiting for Anarkali to die.”
• “Audience was also jaded so everyone was happy.”
• “The show was for a good cause and the charity fund-raiser was a big success.”
• “Everyone worked hard and it showed.”
If the grapevine is to be believed, then Nabila’s 20-year-friendship with Rizwan Beyg has fallen apart because of her candid opinion, “I will kill, leave people, be alone, but will not lie. Call me anything, but I do not like history.” Nabila was never known for mincing words, but the new Nabila is not even willing to spare friends when it comes to her vision. Now she has entered into a partnership with an Indian agency to hunt for talent from Pakistan. Not many measure up tot his yardstick. “I have blind faith in Asim Raza and Zain Mustafa. They have great visions. I have no ego issues, but will only respect people with great visions,” she says.
But she once had faith in Rizwan’s vision, too, didn’t she? “As far as vision is concerned, some people grow together and some grow apart. I do not agree with a lot of people and what they do including Rizwan. He does beautiful work, but all of it is not my style or taste. At one point in time we were on the sane wavelength. Our visions matched, but then I outgrew him. In fact, I outgrow my own vision,” says Nabila.
Her statement pronouncing her distaste for History is in sync with her habit of talking in headlines. It forces me to press her on the issue. “When I say I do not like history, I mean it. My problem is that we as a nation are not moving on. Definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. I live in the moment. I never dwell on history, personal or the world’s. I never go down memory lane. I have programmed myself in a way where deletion occurs automatically. I don’t even remember names or numbers.” History has a bigger enemy in Nabila than neo-fascists in the Subcontinent.
If anything there is Nabila hates more passionately the History, it is hard mentality. “There is no individualism, no desire for identity here. Why can’t we transcend the social dictatorship?” Frustration takes over her voice. “It is not an easy thing to free oneself from social hegemony. One has to pay a price, but it is worth it. I pay a heavy price for my choices. But I am not apologetic about the choices I make. Hats off to me,” she says quickly regaining her composure. The strong statement declaring her distaste for history reminded me of another strange statement of hers. In an interview given last year, she claimed that she worked in English, People speak, write, think, dream, abuse in English, but never have I heard anyone work in the language before. Sounds extremely intriguing. “More than English, it’s global. What I meant by that was, I can’t think ethnic. Subcontinent is ethnic for me. Rani or Halen don’t inspire me; Madonna does. It is entirely my opinion and it is subjective,” she says.
This brings me to ask her opinion about the current fashion scene that is suffering from lack originality, individuality and stagnation. She refuses point blank saying she has none. I insist. She refuses. We play this game for bit and then she gives in to the temptation.
“I want to vomit. Everyone is doing the same thing. Publications are prostituting themselves by selling covers and pages. No merit, morality or editorial integrity seems to be at work. It is all about money. Who is going to stop this cycle? “she says with disgust. Has she never been a part of this cycle? “Can’t say that I never prostituted. I also made compromises but with a great difficulty. Now I am becoming even more resolved towards bad taste which is spreading like an epidemic. I only focus on sustaining, money will follow.” Has it followed? Sighs. “Not as much as it has followed those who prostitute. But I have to sleep with myself and I certainly cannot stoop in this dirt,” she says. I try to bring the focus back to the current state of fashion industry from Nabila the person and professional. She thinks that the industry is suffering from mediocrity plague. According to her, she has lost a great deal of money because of her stance against mediocrity. She stopped doing credit make-ups and said no to shows. This is the price she paid for being selective “It is a bitchy industry with mega egos. People out here are stuck in a rut and do not want to learn from their mistakes.”
Is there any light at the end of the tunnel? Her face lights up. That tells me if there is any, it seems it’s a spotlight. No prize for guessing who it is on.
“I am at it. In my own way I am trying to bring about an attitudinal change. One day people will realize it and follow. I work with media and advertising agencies and educate them. I believe ion fashion with a vision. Why can’t we have a marriage of fashion and commercialism? Slowly and gradually, advertising agencies are beginning to recognize the futile exercise I have been doing. I am getting ads to art-direct,” she says. Nabila has art-directed the new Sprite Zero campaign and more are in the pipeline. She thinks blending good, global aesthetics into commercials is the way forward. “It gets immediate access to people. Ads with good visual appeal are acceptable to them, too. I am raising the bar constantly,” she claims. It certainly is no mean feat to be able to dictate your terms. It requires a great deal of power. Does she think she is powerful? “I am in the driving seat. I am looked up to for change. I have set standards. You like it or not, I do not bullshit or pussyfoot.. I deliver. Don’t Anarkali with me. I know.” Surely, no one can mess with her and that is what it means to be powerful. Again, Nabila’s main source of power is her vision.
“Archives of my 20 years work show that my vision is timeless. It is simply unbelievable,” Nabila says proudly.
A mother, employer, business person, focused, successful, Nabila thinks she is a role model in this country.” I am an inspiring person. I have a strong and individual voice People emulate me, clone me,” she concludes. Nabila is an interesting phenomenon to study. She sounds full of herself, but there is enough reason for it. Taking creative license. I would like to call her a Paradoxes box. Topped with eccentricity, she is full of them. But aren’t all artists?