The excitement was palpable even via the far reaches of Instagram. The International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards took place in Abu Dhabi this past weekend and for Bollywood aficionados across the world, it was an all-out celeb fest. There was music, dance and a dazzling red carpet featuring Bollywood A-listers and then some.
Amidst all the razzle dazzle, though, there was a logo — and a few faces — that were particularly more familiar to us: an infamous ‘N’ in a font that we know very well, a ‘zero’ that many of us keep in our handbags, a group of stylists that we have seen whizzing in the background at local awards ceremonies and fashion weeks very frequently. Insta stories showed a pop-up salon emblazoned with the same ‘N’, the walls framed with images of stars like Mahira Khan, Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar, Fawad Khan and Ali Zafar. Stylist Nabila could be seen in this space, sometimes holding a shiny Zero Makeup box, at other times brandishing a new product that she has recently developed — a blurring pen.
This wasn’t the first time that team Nabila — and her brands Zero Makeup and N. Gents — were on board the IIFAs as official stylists. The team’s very first collaboration with what is recognised as Bollywood’s most prestigious awards ceremony was in 2018, when the event took place in Bangkok. Following this, the awards celebrated their 20th year in India — Nabila was not part of that particular ceremony — and then, were forced to take a hiatus thanks to the pandemic.
Now, the awards were back with a show in Abu Dhabi and so was their team of official stylists headed by Nabila. A deluge of Insta stories showed the stylist and her small army of hair and makeup experts rushing about backstage, making videos of the red carpet and taking the occasional selfie. There was famed Indian director Farah Khan declaring Nabila and her team "fantastic", Lara Bhupati declaring that she felt "like a million bucks" and Arjun Rampal getting groomed by some of the stylists. Styled by N. Gents posted an Insta story showing Bobby Deol swaggering on the red carpet.
From my social media vantage point, it did seem that the posts on Nabila’s Instagram page were far more frequent than they had been back in 2018. The Bollywood celebrities, perhaps now more accustomed to the team, seemed to be posing for them far more easily.
Nabila confirms, “The celebrities were all very supportive, giving shout-outs and appreciating our work. We were also definitely more confident. The first time we had been part of the IIFAs, we had been very careful, making sure that we made no mistake. Now, we were more aware of how things worked.”
Nabila worked with her team for nearly four months, conceptualising the looks and the various nitty gritties involved in the IIFA collaboration. A collage was developed by her in-house graphics team, with the IIFA and Nabila’s logos mixed in with pictures from Nabila’s 30 years as a stylist. This collage was then printed on all the stylists’ aprons as well as on the 100 goody bags that were put together for IIFA guests. The pop-up salon was set up at the host hotel in Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island and receptionists were enlisted to make appointments for IIFA attendees.
Nabila provides an insider’s peek: “We bifurcated the salon into a ‘ladies’ and ‘gents’ space with receptionists who would schedule appointments for the guests. We also set up a waiting lounge and there, we served kadak chaye, vegetable samosas, paans and mithai that we had brought in from Karachi!”
According to Nabila, her team was divided into three different segments. One group catered to the celebrities who did not want to come down to the salon and got their hair and makeup done in their rooms. The second and the busiest team worked in the salon while the third worked backstage on the models, dancers and performers.
I am reminded of past award shows where Nabila has made sure that all the background models or dancers had a uniform look. Did she make the same effort at the IIFA? “Of course, I had arranged for wigs and made sure that the looks were uniform,” she says.
Does she have any great anecdotes to share from her interactions with the Bollywood stars? “You know, my team would probably have the really interesting recollections!” she laughs. “I did get along very well with Farah Khan. I think I just connected with her because there are things that we both have in common. She can be considered the grandmother of the film industry, having given birth to and fostered so many stars. She’s very senior and very respected. All the different actors would especially come to her and greet her,” she said.
“I gave her a haircut and she loved it!”
It seems that there were many more people who loved the efficient, fashion-forward Nabila ethos. There have been times in the past too when Nabila has made waves internationally but a ceremony as widely followed as the IIFAs places her squarely in the spotlight. Global heavyweight MAC was the official IIFA styling partner for 16 years and it is no small feat for Nabila to have replaced such a major player, placing her logo in places where it is clearly visible in a slew of IIFA backstage images.
This collaboration could be the first of many. It could open new avenues of business for the stylist and her team, beyond Pakistan — perhaps catering to the melting pot that is the UAE's population.
Will Nabila be working with the IIFA Awards again? “We have a very close relationship with them and I look forward to collaborations in the long run,” she says, without confirming anything.