All about fashion backstage – from stylist Ambika Pillai

New Delhi, April 25 (Calcutta Tube) Long before a fashion show comes under the arclights, a team of hairstylists and makeup artists is on the job, meeting designers, attending fitting sessions and working on dummies, says Ambika Pillai. But the celebrity hairstylist rues that people backstage don’t get their due.

‘For a show, our team consists of 18 to 20 skilled staff members. I get my list of designers two weeks before a fashion week. Fittings start five days before the show,’ Pillai, a Kerala native who has been in the hairstyling and makeup business for 11 years, told IANS.

‘I make sure I attend all fitting sessions because I get to see clothes, discuss the concept with designers and freeze a look for the show. If it’s complicated to finalise a look, I invite designers at my salon and work on a model or a dummy to get the right look,’ she said.

But she admits that people backstage don’t get recognition.

‘It’s not just makeup teams that don’t get credit; there are so many people backstage that put in their 100 percent for the shows, but never get attention. Like they say, the show must go on and we strive to have a good week without anything going amiss,’ said Pillai, who has been part of the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week for years.

‘Fashion week is all about designers’ creativity where they present their collection to the buyers. When I create something in terms of look, then I always get calls from the press for information,’ she added.

Talking about the payment at fashion weeks, she said: ‘Makeup teams charge Rs.3,500 per face, tax is not included. Fashion Design Council Council Of India (FDCI) fixes rates with us in advance and we all sign contracts.’

Normally five-day fashion weeks have seven shows per day and one show has about 20 models. Pillai, who is in her mid 40s, says her team earns about Rs.350,000 that the members distribute among themselves.

With so many creative people involved, a difference of opinion is inevitable. So how tough it is to handle that?

‘There are certain designers who know exactly what they want and it’s easier to give them opinions and go with the flow. But there are designers who have no clue and they try to think out of the box when their clothes aren’t. That’s when it gets difficult to convince them to stick to their own storyline rather than borrowing styles from the Paris or Milan ramp,’ said Pillai.

‘The seniors are very tolerant towards newcomers. Also, I just don’t want them talking or chewing gum, etc., on my chair. If they have any sense, they would behave. It’s necessary to keep wits around them and not bug and irritate the old timers,’ she said.

Handling celebrities is not an easy task, but Pillai said: ‘Models have no say whatsoever about their look for a show. The look is decided beforehand by the designer and myself. No changes happen on the day of the show and that’s where I put my foot down. Also, I don’t tolerate tantrums from anyone.’

Pillai wanted to set up a salon in her home state, but fate had something else for her in store.

‘I intended to equip myself with a degree in hairstyling, learn the latest techniques and go back to Kerala to start a salon. But life had different plans for me. The course included both hair and beauty, and I wasn’t inclined towards facial, waxing or any beauty-related activity.

‘I discovered I had a natural talent for handling hair. So I stayed in Delhi and joined a course in hairstyling. Makeup came up much later in life,’ said Pillai who has salons at Hotel Qutab, Ansal Plaza and in Punjabi Bagh.

Pillai tried her hands in movies – she did Aishwarya’s face in ‘Taal’.

So what’s the difference?

‘Fashion work is highly stylised and finishes as soon as the show gets over, but for movies, the styling goes on for months. The mindset for both are worlds apart. In fashion shows, we get two-and-a-half-hours to change about 16 models’ looks,’ said Pillai.

She has done fashion shows in New York, London, Paris, Singapore, Dubai, Mauritius and Switzerland.

‘I have been doing it for years. I would say that if you have the experience, a great back up team and speed, nothing is impossible,’ said the stylist.

(Nivedita Sharma can be contacted at

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