December issue 2004

By | People | Profile | Published 13 years ago

The view from Nabila’s apartment is absolutely tranquil. Overlooking the silently rippling sea, it’s an oasis. In a nutshell this is her life: peace rooted deep within the noise and chaos of Karachi. She has surrounded herself with obsessions for the sun, water and the orient. Nabila’s life truly is ‘inside out,’ the one philosophy that she works with and apparently lives by as well.

Stylist, beautician, image consultant and more…there’s no single word that can define Nabila except for the fact that she makes everything she works on look good, including herself. Known to be incorrigibly narcissistic, Nabila’s life is about Nabila, an inseparable part of herself and her work. “I want to treat me well because I deserve it,” she remarks. “I love myself.” With this love comes the need for well-being, and Nabila ensures that with a line-up of the nation’s best healers: a GP, a spiritual consultant, a psycho-therapist, a hypno-therapist, a dentist or ‘smile manager’ as she calls him, an aesthetician, cosmetic surgeon and yoga instructor. A date with any one of them telephonically, or online is an essential part of her morning regime. “These are not cures,” she comments, “but treats.”

At nine a.m. she has already been up for ages, her day beginning with coffee, a brief look at the day’s mail and then work. Today, as she’s scheduled to shoot at 12 p.m., she gives herself three sinfully long hours to prepare before leaving for the salon.

nabila-2-dec04Nabila’s signature style is low key glamour, an individual statement which makes her such an icon. Spending time in a huge walk-in closet, surrounded by over a hundred pairs of shoes and oodles of clothing, she shows me a shalwar kameez. “I do think the shalwar kameez is a very sexy garment if worn properly,” she says, rejecting the myth that she owns none. “I just find it professionally paralysing. I’d freeze if I had to work in one.”

Hardly ever getting a full night’s sleep, using the quiet hours to work on her creative projects, Nabila looks better than she has in 20 years. Her skin glows, she’s lost weight and there’s a halo of colour around her, definitely a new mood after years of her monochromatic black and white phase. And she’s honest enough to admit to working hard to achieve perfection, whether starvation, Atkins, or regular botox injections.

“I’ve fired the cook,” she says, confessing to the secret of her newly found slimness. “Several cups of this plastic is all I’ll have till dinner,” she says referring to her cup of decaf coffee. Dinner, by the way, is a religious seven p.m. delivery from Barbeque Tonight. So she fires the cook, replaces the dining table with a pool table and exchanges cook books with a laminated collection of take-away menus from the most remote restaurants of Karachi. This, of course, is for the convenience of her sons, for whenever they’re visiting. “They have not craved for home-cooked meals so far,” she says. “When they do, we’ll find a cook. Till then, why bother?”

nabila-3-dec04With the cook gone and her manager cum driver confined to one corner of her two-storey apartment, Nabila’s home becomes her sanctuary, void of human clutter. There are three dogs, of course, but that’s just to break the monotony. If there’s one thing to avoid, it’s the crime of repetitive ennui. There’s nothing worse than being predictable. “There was a time I would only wear black and white,” she says. “I owned about a hundred white shirts until I noticed that everyone around me had become a clone. I immediately changed my look.”

Unexpected washes of colour, an aqua wall, turquoise shoes or a crimson duvet in an otherwise stark, plastered interior are all moves towards her new look. But it’s still the simplicity of white walls, steel and wood that she likes to be surrounded with. No pictures, no carpets, no curtains, no fuss. These days she wants a bit of kitsch, but without compromising on the minimalism too much. The constantly yelping Pekinese dogs lend life to the serenity, the noise they make replaced by soothing jazz or Italian opera when they sleep.

While simplicity is essential, luxury is always a priority. Appreciating the finer things in life whether good food, wine or a Cuban Coheba, Nabila surrounds herself with personal indulgences, the most recent being a beautiful outdoor jacuzzi. “This is a birthday present to myself,” she confesses. “I am obsessed with sun and water so why bother with vacations when I can enjoy them sitting here? Of course it’s also an easy way of getting a permanent tan.” With no one around, privacy poses no problem.

By three p.m. the shoot has been completed to her satisfaction, precision and perfection guaranteed. She’s not easily impressed. Endless cups of black decaf have been consumed and countless Marlboro menthols have been puffed away. For someone who’s so particular about well-being and looking good, it’s amazing how unhealthy her lifestyle apparently seems to be. “I can’t bother worrying with what’ll happen 20 years later. I have to live for now. Look good today.” Does that explain the botox? “Absolutely. I’d rather spend money on a great tan and a good smile than buying jewellery. I am my jewellery.”

Feeling good about herself is an indispensable part of a successful day at work which involves clients, meetings, projects and shoots, admin and PR work. There’s always a celebrity to makeover, a newcomer to give breakthrough imaging to: she balances assignments over a weekly work sheet. Always on the move, constantly traveling around the world, she lives a hectic life.

Today she’s scheduled to cut and walks into her salon a little before her first appointment at four p.m. Her clients greet her with unreserved reverence. Hair consultations, skin checks, image makeovers, colour appraisals, style management…meetings, Nabila guarantees smooth, professional guidance to all. Two hours at the salon glide by with the accuracy of a Swiss watch.

Her working life ends around six p.m. and she moves on to a regular session of yoga. Once home, Nabila prefers to switch off her work mode unless it’s for an intellectual brainstorming of ideas. Society and parties pose no attraction for her. “Life is too short to spend doing meaningless things,” she says and wards off most invitations, choosing to spend a quiet evening with her father, followed by an intimate session with close friends.

Late at night or early in the morning, as she returns home, she admits to the necessity for solitude. “I am a loner,” she confesses. “If I’m out for too long I miss myself.”

Aamna Haider Isani is a leading fashion writer and an editor at Instep, the fashion and entertainment section of The News.