Five years ago, celebrity stylist Ami Patel was shopping for accessories at a store in London’s Oxford Street. She overheard a woman speak in an authoritative voice. The accent was Indian, and this piqued Patel’s interest. “I turned and saw it was this woman in a beautiful red hat. I looked under it and saw Priyanka Chopra,” she recalls. This was not a typical celebrity sighting. Patel, who at the time was the fashion director of L’Officiel magazine, had only recently styled Chopra for a cover shoot. “She told me, ‘Hey, I’m looking for a stylist. Do you want to start this and see how it goes?’” Later that year, Patel styled the actress for an event and the two have been a team since.
The concept of celebrity styling had just about taken baby steps in Bollywood then. It hadn’t quite become a necessity like it is today. Patel’s clientele, for instance, now boasts of Kangana Ranaut, Alia Bhatt and Athiya Shetty. “There’s a new stylist being born every day. It is now a legit profession,” claims Patel. Oddly, she doesn’t view this influx as a threat. In fact, she feels the more there are, the merrier it is. There’s enough work to go around.
There was a time when an actor’s job was acting and nothing more. They appeared on screen in unflattering costumes and we still loved them. But a young actor of today has several other commitments which are equally critical. Always in the public eye, they attend film promotions, launches, award shows and success parties.
Then there are numerous brand endorsements. All this effectively means that they will incessantly be photographed by the media. Those images will then be made available across the Web’s many nooks and crannies. And it doesn’t end there. Their appearances are also closely scrutinised by millions of self-appointed fashion gurus who social media has spawned. As a result, a celebrity stylist is on the speed dial of every actor today.
The Bucks Stop Here
The Hollywood Reporter compiles a list of the ‘25 Most Powerful Stylists’ every year, and it features the biggest names in the business. The existence of such a list bears testament to both, a stylist’s influence and her hefty paycheque. Remuneration in India may not be comparable, but the country’s stylists aren’t doing too badly. Here they operate mostly as freelancers. They are signed up for extended projects like film promotions and sometimes even for a single red carpet appearance.
Though an actor works with multiple stylists, a few have loyalists. For example, Deepika Padukone only works with Anaita Shroff Adajania and Ranveer Singh with Nitasha Gaurav. Their remuneration is usually covered by the film’s producer or by the organiser of the event the star is attending. This fee can sometimes be as high as Rs 50,000. Together, it all adds up to a handsome sum, given the number of appearances actors are now used to making.
Stylist Archana Walavalkar saw potential in this field when she found herself spending half her day on WhatsApp, telling people if their clothes were on-trend. She left her job at Vogue India to start Style Cracker, an e-commerce platform that offers styling services to regular people. Her start-up now provides employment to approximately 60 people. Walavalkar is also a successful celebrity stylist. She says, “It’s great that celebrities now recognise that fashion may not be their area of expertise. They know their acting but this is not something they want to waste energy and time over. So we shop for entire wardrobes, create a new look for a person and re-invent that from time to time. We even pack their suitcases when they go abroad. It’s a full consultancy service.”
The Fashion Nazis
It didn’t take actress Huma Qureshi long to realise a stylist’s worth. “There’s no way you can survive without a stylist,” she says, adding that she learnt this the hard way. In 2012, soon after her film Gangs of Wasseypur had released, she attended the Mumbai Film Festival, an annual ritual for her. “I remember going in my jeans, chappals and no make-up. And then I got clicked. The next day the photo was everywhere and people were writing about how terrible I was looking, about whether I should have worn heels.” Like them or hate them, celebrity bloggers know you can’t ignore them.
Fashion editor of Pink Villa, Amandeep Singh, is certain that his blog, where he rates a celebrity look as ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’, is closely followed by the industry. “Actors may not care about what we say, but they definitely keep track. A colleague once interviewed Deepika Padukone and she asked if we were going to rate her outfit as a ‘nay’. Even Karan Johar mentioned us in an interview,” he says.
One peril of the social media explosion is that it gives everyone a voice. Recently, the popular fashion blog High Heel Confidential put up a picture of Shraddha Kapoor wearing a multi-colored Christopher Kane dress at the success party of her film Baaghi. The first user comment read: “Really horrible dress, in my opinion. Don’t know what she (or stylist) was thinking.” Another photo of Kangana at the airport in Gucci separates elicited responses like – ‘Very contrived, very desperate. She is getting way too predictable and boring’.
The Power Stylists
Payal Parija admits she and her partner Priyanka Prasad, the founders of High Heel Confidential, are partly to blame for this new scrutiny. They have a steady group of 40K-50K people that visit their blog every day. Back in 2007, the duo began the blog when no one else was critiquing celebrity style. “People who didn’t care a hoot about fashion were suddenly paying attention to what they were wearing. Most went ahead and hired stylists,” says Payal. In fact, a 2011 piece they wrote for Marie Claire seems rather prophetic today. It read, “It’s only a matter of time before the business of celebrity fashion becomes more organised, bottled and distributed for mass (fashion) voyeurism. Next stop? The Power Stylist.”
They were uncannily clairvoyant. Styling today goes beyond matching shoes and bags. We’re now talking high stakes. Cracking the right look or being perceived as stylish can go a long way for an actor, says stylist Nitasha Gaurav. “You tend to give certain attributes to a person depending on how they are dressed. If you see someone who is well dressed, you start to think here is a confident person. Then you start thinking about the sort of films this person is good for. Brands too will then start looking at them differently,” she says. Both Alia Bhatt and Kangana Ranaut, who are often lauded for their sharp sartorial choices, have their own fashion lines with Jabong and Vero Moda respectively. Rhea, actress Sonam Kapoor’s sister, also doubles up as her stylist. They are soon launching their retail clothing brand Rheson with Shoppers Stop.
Celebrities can also use their clothes to appear a certain way for prospective employers. Speaking to Film Companion on the condition of anonymity, a style consultant said, “Parineeti Chopra is suddenly dressing very differently. She wants to appear as somebody who is sexy and young. Earlier she was seen as a plump, girl-next-door and she’d get roles like that. You never know, she may get different roles now. She would first endorse brands like Kurkure, and now she is in a deodarant ad, pulling off a sexy black dress.”
Filling a Blank
Speaking about the power of perception, actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, in 2014, told men’s style magazine GQ that when he first visited the Cannes Film Festival, no designer showed any interest in dressing him. He eventually bought some fabric and got a suit stitched by his local tailor. “You know, there’s this thing about an image,” he had said. “In Kahaani, I was this slightly highbrow type of cop, but in other films I’ve portrayed rough, rustic characters. It was just because of GQ reaching out to me [for the 2012 Men Of The Year Awards] that a certain impression has been formed, and that’s proving useful for me.”
No celebrity can deny the power of a stylist, irrespective of whether he or she is a debutant or a superstar. “When you’re not from here and you’ve not been brought up knowing all this, what do you do? You don’t know any designers, people don’t know you. I really trust my aesthetic sensibility but initially I wore stuff I really hated because I didn’t have a choice,” says Aditi Rao Hydari.
The actress often finds herself in the good graces of the fashion police. “When I was doing my first film Yeh Saali Zindagi, they would tell me at 5 PM that at 9.30 I have to be somewhere for a promotion. I couldn’t just pull out my torn jeans and a t-shirt and go,” she recalls. Before one of these last minute events, she once bumped into stylist Niharika Khan. Khan took her to a store in Bandra that was on sale and Hydari quickly picked something up. “I can’t be doing it myself. I’ll go mad,” she adds.
All their bags are packed
In the last couple of years, actress Sonam Kapoor has been a game changer when it comes to celebrity styling. “[Thanks to her] people realised the importance of being appropriately dressed in and out of movies,” says Pernia Qureshi, who had styled the actress for the film Aisha. “There is no denying that Aisha changed the face of fashion in Bollywood,” adds Qureshi. In fact, Kapoor once remarked at an event that fellow actors were “abusing” her for putting pressure on them to up their style game. She had said, “I remember a very big actor telling me ‘Sonam, why did you do this? Do you know how much money I have to pay my stylist now?’”
The concern now is that actors will be styled to a point that their personalities will be overshadowed. Huma says a stylist makes her life infinitely simpler, but that she often gets tired of the “over emphasis” on one’s appearance. “You also want to have a day off with bad skin, not too much makeup and no blow dry. This too much training gets suffocating at some point,” she adds. Even before catching a flight she needs to consult her stylist on what to pick from her wardrobe because she knows there will be cameras at the airport.
For some actors, their ‘airport style’ is a carefully studied look. “On some days, stylists will send us styling credits about a star’s airport look much before their actual flight. For us, it isn’t as much about intrusion, as it is about highlighting someone’s inherent style,” says Payal.
In the years to come, stylists will of course see their tribe grow in numbers and influence. As long as there are actors, they will always need stylists. Qureshi sums it up with an apt quote by Oscar-winning costume designer Edith Head. “You can have anything you want in life, if you dress for it.”