Aurora Magazine

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In the line of beauty

Updated 20 Mar, 2019 10:24am
Nabila, stylist and entrepreneur in profile.

In many ways, Nabila is the woman that the eponymous heroine of Bridget Jones’s Diary wanted to be. For one thing, Nabila initially comes off as “Aloof. Unavailable. Ice queen.” Something that Jones aspired to be. And for another, Nabila definitely has that “inner poise, authority and sense of self as a woman of substance”. Something that poor old Jones was always struggling to attain.

As I meet Nabila for the first time, I realise that her “sense of self comes not from other people,” as Jones wished it to be so many times. In fact, it is quite apparent during our conversation that Nabila has evolved into someone who is comfortable in her (gorgeous) skin. The choices she has made in her life have not been dictated by convention and this is clearly demonstrated by the fact that she recently married Emu, a man much younger than herself; and has repeatedly voiced her support for treatments such as Botox.

Nabila looks elegant wearing a chic, silver-grey blouse and well-tailored black slacks. Having come from giving an interview to a TV channel about her recently published book, Nabila Changes that was delayed due to “sound issues”, she apologises for being late, albeit brusquely. And although she is clearly in a rush, she doesn’t have a hair out of place.

It’s time for her lunch, she tells me, and asks me if I would like to join her. After I decline, she orders a bowl of steaming soup. Clearly, she is watching her calories.

To begin the conversation, I asked her about the trip to Parsi Colony that she describes in the book – a trip that began her career in earnest.

“One day in the 80s I went with my eight sisters-in-laws to a certain Shireen auntie in Parsi Colony to have my waxing done. She told me that I looked ‘different’ and asked me who cut my hair. I replied, ‘Oh, I do it myself, because I don’t like the way people cut my hair.’ Shireen Auntie told me go abroad and train. I took her advice to heart.”

Nabila sold her diamond necklace, left her two infant sons in the care of their father, and went to London to train in earnest at Vidal Sassoon, a training institute named after a man known as ‘The King of Hair’.

After returning to Pakistan, she found “a queue of people” waiting for her and opened her first salon in the servant’s quarters of her home in 1986. Eventually, the salon moved to Park Towers where it operates to this day, with a branch in Lahore.

Nabila sold her diamond necklace, left her two infant sons in the care of their father, and went to London to train in earnest at Vidal Sassoon, a training institute named after a man known as ‘The King of Hair’.

During this time, Nabila also established the first day spa in Lahore (which no longer exists); a modelling agency turned PR company called Zinc, which now exclusively handles Nabila; and two branches of Nail Express which women – and men – frequent for their manicures and pedicures. She has also provided most of the celebrities in Pakistan – ranging from actor Babra Sharif to cricketer Wasim Akram with image makeovers, giving them an individual style in her signature ‘classic’ manner.

As Andleeb Rana Farhan, Editor-in-Chief, Xpozé Monthly, points out:

“If you look at any of the pictures in Nabila Changes, they all have a contemporary feel, although some of them were taken many years ago. Nabila has the eye and knack to make anyone look classy.” Last year, Nabila signed on as the Creative Consultant in Pakistan for L’Oréal Professional and L’Oreal Paris, two divisions of the L’Oreal Group which deal with the Group’s professional hair products and consumer goods respectively.

“Even if I say so myself, they love me!” she exclaims with uncharacteristic enthusiasm.

“They say that I am their antenna in Pakistan and into the future, and that ‘you are not doing what needs to be done now, you are doing what needs to be done in the future’.”

However, she is quick to say that despite everything, her medium remains hair and that ultimately she is an image consultant – “no two ways about it”.

Nabila, however, is not one to rest on her laurels. For one thing, she places a lot of importance on going abroad for training twice a year, literally getting her hands dirty.

“I take my own jharoo to class, clean my own colour bowls and make coffee for my clients because I need to go back to the basics. For me that is very, very important. I learn a lot.”

And for another, she already has two new projects on the anvil, and this almost immediately after her book launch.

The first is a TV show that involves “average men, women and even a few transvestites” having a makeover on camera. She also has a product line in mind which she says could well be her “goldmine”. I ask her what drives her. After all, it cannot be easy balancing two sons, a new husband, and several careers.

“People would hate to hear this but I drive myself. People don’t influence me; I think I influence the people around me positively. One thing I have been accused of repeatedly is that I make my work look easy. But the truth is I am like a duck – I look like I am sailing away happily, but under the surface, I am paddling furiously.”

However, she adds that she continues to find new challenges because she takes her “gift” very seriously and not because she wants to be a celebrity.

“I may be a public figure but unlike other celebrities, I am known for my talent, not for my face. I am not in front of the camera because I am pretty, and although that may well be the case there is more to me than just that. I have to prove myself all the time. I constantly tell myself ‘let’s see what you can do next’.”

In a lighter moment that betrays a subtle sense of humour, Nabila offers an alternate reasoning for establishing her numerous businesses.

“I am so vain. I opened my business because of me. I started the hair salon because I cut my own hair. I need to have my nails done regularly so I opened Nail Express.”

Clearly, beauty is very important to Nabila – given that she surrounds herself with it – whether she is at her tastefully decorated studio, home or salon.

“I am so vain. I opened my business because of me. I started the hair salon because I cut my own hair. I need to have my nails done regularly so I opened Nail Express.”

She admits to standing in front of the mirror for hours on end, adding that when she gained weight two years ago, she told herself that she would be “skinny or dead”, and that she had an eating disorder for which she has been through a lot of therapy. She says that although she has a love-hate relationship with food, she enjoys everything from daal with naan to oysters and caviar, and celebrates food at every level.

Doesn’t she think that this borderline obsession with beauty is a tad superficial?

She disagrees and talks about her “inside-out” approach to life.

“I think that looking good is directly linked to feeling good and having high self-esteem. Feeling good is what motivates me, so I assume that it can motivate others as well. The issues we see around us are mainly due to insecurity and lack of self esteem which comes from not feeling good about oneself, and attaching self esteem to things like status, wealth, cars and designer labels rather than on your inner self.”

When I point out that not everyone can afford to have treatments done, she says: “Taking care of something like facial hair doesn’t have to be expensive. Threading is very inexpensive. The point is to be conscious. Pluck your eyebrows. Get a manicure. What is the point of having a diamond ring or an expensive bag if your fingers aren’t manicured? I am not saying spend tons of money, all I am saying is be aware.”

Nabila is also an avid traveller. Her favourite destinations include those in the Far East and Europe. She enjoys travelling alone as well as with friends, and is planning a trip to the K2 Base Camp later this year. She is also an avid jazz listener.

Despite her high-end tastes and her borderline obsession with beauty, Nabila maintains that she is a very simple person.

“I realised that all I need from life is a laugh and a giggle. Not money, or a penthouse – I have those already. Emu makes my heart smile, without effort. I would not be in the relationship if it required effort. At this point all I need is a smile.”

Clearly, the Queen of Hair knows what she wants – and needs.