The Woman Behind The Face

The Woman Behind The Face 

Ambika Pillai is a one of the most sought after stylists in the world of hair and beauty. Her six salons at South Extension, Rajouri Garden, Chhatarpur, Model Town, Kochi and Trivandrum handles the celebrity circuit that includes models, film stars, fashion designers, publishers and socialites. Besides being the most sought after name for every fashion related event in the capital, her turf extends internationally as well. She has done fashion shows in New York, London, Paris, Singapore, Dubai, Mauritius, Switzerland and several other countries. Ambika has even tried her hand at movies such as ‘Taal’ doing Aishwarya Rai‘s face.

It was basically a natural progression for Ambika as a makeup artist to come up with products, which complement and go well with our Indian skin tones. The company ‘Ambika Pillai Sales Pvt Ltd.’ was born in 2008. The product range under her name encompasses the entire gamut of beauty product, including a few accessories. Simultaneously working on getting the perfect textures, colours and feel to her products which complement Indian skin tones has been a labour of love for her.

RITZ chats with the talented make-up artist who recently made her foray into the Kerala market, her hometown, with her trademark salons. 

You recently made news when you did the styling for Aishwarya Rai for her meet with the French President. How was the experience working with Aishwarya Rai? Who among the Bollywood actresses you have worked with is your favourite?

Ambika Pillai (3)

t’s always a pleasure to do Ash’s face. She’s very professional with her’s and my timings – doesn’t keep me and my team waiting. I appreciate when stars go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. I have done Ash’s makeup and hair many times so I found it a breeze. There are no airs, no attitude from her side. She was just thrilled I gave her the look she wanted. I was happy to spend some time with little Aradhaya, she was also there, since the venue was the Bachchan household.

I love working with Sonam Kapoor, Dipika Padukone, Katrina Kaif, Bipasha Basu and Malaika Arora Khan.

Styling an actress for a movie, a model for a show or a normal person, which do you enjoy the most and which helps you showcase your creativity best?

Actually all are very different paths and I have different feelings for all three.

Movies, I’m not fond of at all. There’s hardly any creative work that goes into doing one actresses face day in and day out..Besides they block off too much of my time. So I normally say a big ‘no’ to movies.

Fashion show make up and hair is by far the one outlet to showcase your most creative work. I love it. Fashion is my passion.

But nothing to beat handling clients that walk into my salon to get a cut or makeup done. They come with very high expectations and stars in their eyes. They want to look their best and it gives me great pleasure if I can achieve that. If you ask me would you rather see an actress, model or client happy and smiling after I’ve worked on them, in a heartbeat I’d say ‘my client’.

Styling and make-up is a competitive field especially in a city like Delhi. What do you feel is your USP which has been behind your success?

I think in a place like Delhi with immense competition all around I stand out because I’ve got my fingers in every aspect of my job. I’m everything rolled into one – a hair dresser and a make up artist. One that does ads, shoots, fashion shows, musical plays, news station styling, airline crew styling, salon work, brides all over the world. Basically everything that this job calls for. I have won every award there is to win in this field and that gives people the confidence to work with me without question.

Ambika Pillai (2)

What made you take the decision to launch in Kerala? Has it brought you closer to your family?

I have always been close to my family. Opening in Kerala gives me the great opportunity to spend more time with them.  After Midukki on Mmtv I felt my roots pulling me back to my own state. The pull was so strong I didn’t give it a second thought to open first in Kochi and then in Trivandrum. I’m very happy I did.

What is your perception of Malayali women; are they open to new trends and experimentation? What is in dire need of a change here? Has the scene changed over the past few years since you launched?

Women all over are apprehensive to try anything new, more so in Kerala where they have never been exposed to too much change. I’ve been working in Kerala for two years now and my understanding is that once they see with their own eyes that change can happen without completely taking away from our customs and beliefs, people are open to experimenting.

For instance Malayalees love long hair (as do I) so I try to keep long lengths and gently layers to give the person a new look. She’s happy her hair is long yet stylish.

Ambika Pillai (7)

Having said that, there are thousands of NRI’S that are more exposed to what’s happening on the international fashion front and they are very open to trying out something new. Maybe a change of hair colour by adding a few steaks or side bangs, fringes, diagonal forward bobs etc. There’s change happening all around us and I’m glad the people of Kerala are open to it.

You have been quoted as saying that one should celebrate one’s natural skin tone and hair structure as against chemical treatments for fair skin and straight hair. Are your clients convinced easily?

Maybe not, but I’m so vehement about my thoughts on it that some are willing to listen and I do believe kids are now more comfortable with their skin tone or curly hair because Ambika ma’am says so. I understand that most people just don’t know how to handle curly hair or what products to use. They don’t understand that using fairness creams is not going to make them 10 shades fairer but only remove their tan.

I’m talking all the time whether it’s through social media or articles such as this and I hope people out there are listening.

Ambika Pillai (4)

How good, or bad, is Kerala for women entrepreneurs? Why is it that there are a lot of women entrepreneurs who are Malayali by birth but they invariably find success elsewhere?

My take on this, which maybe wrong, is that our land is not one where the men encourage the women to go out and work, unless they have to. I know my dad used to say, you don’t need to work, women in our families stay at home. I guess I went against what he wanted.. He wanted me safe at home but I needed to stand on my own feet. So I went out and found my own space.

I suppose to become a woman entrepreneur anywhere in India, to be successful and top their field, initially one does step on the toes of our male family members – father, husband, son, father-in-law – the list is endless.

Men in this country inherently don’t like women to go out and work. This is probably why we have so many stay-at-home house wives. I maybe wrong, but like I said that’s just my take on this topic.

What has been your ultimate dream; are there any unfulfilled ones?

At this point in my career I feel good, I feel I’ve achieved much more than I could ever dream of. Funnily, I didn’t start out with huge dreams, I just wanted to put a roof over Kavitha’s and my head, food in our tummies and work hard and give my mom and dad a reason to hold their heads up high.

I’m glad I managed all that.