THE GOLDEN TOUCH
Her mastery of textures and colours makes Ambika Pillai synonymous with fashion weeks since they first came to India. Even now. Her artistic vision and technical skills continue to shape the present and future of the hair and makeup industry. By Shveta Shrivastava
“A woman recently walked into my salon with her 18-years-old daughter. She told her that I had done her bridal makeup 20 years ago and would also be doing the girl’s makeup when she gets married. That is when I realised that I am like a fossil in this industry.” She laughs her famous hearty laugh. Ambika Pillai is one of the first names that pops to mind when one speaks of experience and expertise in the field of hair and makeup. Her journey, however,has not been a smooth sail.
SLOW AND STEADY
Ambike was born in a wealthy family of cashew exporters in Kerala. Her condition of dyslecia kept her from doing well in school, and eventually led her to drop out. She got married, she decided to walk out along with her daughter Kavitha. During that phase, Ambika realised that she wasn’t left with many options as she lacked the qualifications. It did not help that she was the eldest of four siters in a town where women did not work at the time.
In 1987, she moved to Delhi and Hussain beauty course. “I fought with my father and moved to Delhi as that was the furthermost from home. I had to move away from the prying eyes as I was probably eyes as I was probably the first Malayali to ever get divorced in Kerala at the time. The idea was to do the course and go back home to open a salon,” says Ambika. After doing the course, she realised that services like waxing and threading were not something she wanted to pursue. Hence, she joined the Delhi-based professional makeup school, Pivot Point, where she was trained in hair cutting and styling, and soon after, she got a job. “I did such a horrible job with the first haircut I was assigned that they threw me out,” Ambika laughs. “Then I went back to Blossom Kochchar who was the head of Pivot Point and confessed the fact that I had learnt nothing. She advised to take the advance course; and so I did.”
This time she landed a job of Rs 2,000 and kept it. Of this salary, Rs 1,000 she spent on a moped to make commute easy and the rest was spent on herself afloat. “I had to prove to myself that I could stand on my own feet, feed my daughter and put a roof over our heads, while also remaining happy. I was 28 then and did get thrown out of a few other jobs, but that only made me stronger,” she says.
SETTING UP SHOP
At 31, she had decided to expand her horizons and got in touch with Sylvie, who was her teacher at Pivot Point. They teamed up and opened a Salon. “He had three rooms and said the salon will be named under him. Also. I was to invest money into it. So I did, and we started the business. Soon he became a household name as there wasn’t any real competition. I was just a shadow then,” says Ambika. She quit after a while due to internal clashes and walked out of the partnership with no name or money. Devastated as she was, she kept the hope alive and decided to convert the garage under her apartment in Panchsheel into a parlor – Visions By Ambika was born in December 1994, ”Earlier, the announcements at the end of the show always gave credit to Sylvie.But when I started doing my own thing,there was a buz and people wanted to know the new kid on the block was,” recalls Ambika. Visions By Ambika took time to pick up, even though it had a good start with the then Miss Universe Sushmita Sen inaugurating it, “We struggled for six months, and I sold off all my gold, and everything else that I could, to make some money. I had a staff of six to seven people at the time. But once the word was out, I went from one cut a week to 36 cuts in a day. Soon enough people had to make a booking three months in advance for a haircut,” she says. As time passed, her salon expanded into the second floor of the brand Ambika Pillai came to life. But just when things had picked up, her thumb collapsed and she was told not to use scissors for the next two years. This is how the makeup brush came into the picture.