It surely does pay to be different. We know it when we come across this name, Shaleena Nathani. She is a celebrity fashion stylist and a classic one at that. Bollywood superstar Deepika Padukone‘s stylist, Shaleena Nathani is also an Instagram sensation, an athleisure model besides being a fitness junkie and each picture of hers on Instagram makes us think she should stop being behind the camera and rather try being on it.
Q. So how did it all start for you? What was your first job in fashion? How did your career in fashion begin?
A. My career in fashion started off with me working at an export house, which was a fashion expert, that used to export garments in Europe, which actually was a lot of fun. I kind of got an insight into how exports worked and how bulk production worked. I worked there for about 5 years and then Sherry called me. We went to college together and she was like I think you will be perfect for this internship at Vogue and I think you should do it. And I applied and I got the internship. I did the internship and then they offered me a job and I think my life has just unraveled and it’s all manifested really beautifully.
Q. How different is it working for a magazine/editorial?
A. I feel working for a magazine and an editorial, I mean I never worked there but it is very different because I feel the processes are very different in the kind of stuff you have to put into a magazine is way different. The clothes you have to use are very different, it’s a lot more fashion, high fashion, current fashion, you do it season-wise, you do it designer-wise sometimes. So basically it’s a little more specific in terms of that.
However, when we work in the industry and when we style people, it doesn’t matter for me what season it is from, or which designers from. It’s all about putting stuff together and mixing and matching and just doing what you feel looks really good. You know so that was the difference for me.
Q. When did you decide that this is the job for you?
A. I think I’ve always always loved fashion and style. I loved picking my own clothes out when I was really young. And I think style is just something that is very individual, which is something I really feel that we should maintain always and everyone should have their own individual sense of style. And it’s something that I always had a love to mix and match things, get things up like wearing my brother’s T-shirt and the usual stuff, but it’s something I felt very connected with.
Q. What is it that you love about your job?
A. What I love about my job is, one, that I get to do something that I really really love and I’m so passionate about it. And I feel like I have the opportunity to make people feel good about themselves because I really do believe that if you look good, you feel good and I think it’s great that I can make men and women feel sexy. I think that is something that I love to do. And I think I have a pretty great job.
Q. What do you hate about your job?
A. I just wish we had a little more time to plan things out. Sometimes I think things are very last minute and it becomes a bit of a compromise, then. And just I feel sometimes we are fighting against a bunch of people. Not always! It depends on this specific job against a bunch of people who don’t want to trust you. Of course, we want to know what your ideologies are, what the boundaries are, but I feel there has to be a little bit of trust. That is something that I wouldn’t say I hate but I wish it could change.
Q. What’s your first fashion memory?
A. I think fashion started for me with my mother. My mother loved dressing up and she had the most fantastic shoe collection and all her outfits had incredibly excess shoulder padding and she loved dressing up. And I’ve said this so many times that my grandmother loved dressing up as well. And she was so particular. She would take hours to do her hair and choose her saree and the makeup. You know the blouses and her jewelry and bags to match the sarees. It was just so incredibly interesting and I was always interested in colors and mixing colors together, and you know what I was very inclined towards these things always.
Q. You have some amazing brand associations like Nike, Estee Lauder, Jaipur Gems, etc, how does it feel when these brands reach out to you to be their ambassador?
A. All of it is an incredible incredible feeling. I feel very grateful to have such amazing brands to be associated with because I feel like we also have a story to tell and there are a few brands that I really believe in. Like I’ve always worn Nike and been a Nike Girl even before I was associated with Nike. So it’s something that’s part of my ethos and in my DNA and it’s something that I genuinely believe in. Also, Jaipur Gems is a store that I used to love. It was actually a story behind my house. I used to make my mother take me to jewelry stores, so I could see jewelry, and that used to be one of my favorite stores when I was young. So I feel all the brands that I am associated with are just a part of who I am. Also, Estee Lauder does the most beautiful makeup. I think it’s also not discriminatory when it comes to skin tones, and you know colors and it’s very universal. So I want to be associated with things that I feel genuinely connected with. And yeah, of course, I think it’s great to choose.
I mean I think it’s great that even they are looking for people who have a story to tell and I think everyone has a story too so I think it’s important and it’s extremely extremely exciting to be associated with brands like these.
Q. And you are one of the only stylists who do absolute justice to these associations? How?
A. I would like to hope I do justice to the brand’s I’m with because, as I said, I genuinely believe in promoting the things I truly truly believe in and I feel that’s the only time you can really do justice to it. I have been passionate about sports since I was very young if you know so and, like I said a budget for gems in the previous thing, so I feel like authenticity is important. That’s what keeps us so real in this world of social media and constant scrutiny- and you know constantly being judged. If we keep individuality and authenticity, I think it’ll take us a long way because everything else kind of gets lost on the way and I think this is important.
Q. Also, we loved what you did for Myntra Fashion Superstar, how was your experience?
A. It was an incredible experience. I also did it because it was something that was completely outside of my comfort zone. I am terrified of being in front of the camera, and I was just like how am I going to do it. When I had the first meeting I kept saying I was like I, just wanna, let you know I’m nervous and I get very nervous and I can’t remember lines- I’m not good at this but I’m willing to learn and I’ve always been somebody who likes to try new things out of my comfort, for trying new things that scares me. I wish I did a lot more than I do. It takes me a lot of time but it was a fantastic experience. I had a fantastic, fantastic team who supported me and were very patient with me. Sakshi, the director, was extremely patient. Monia, who was the writer of the show, was again very very patient and took a lot of time out to teach me how to be in front of the camera. I had an incredible team working with me. And so I was very comfortable. I was really looked after and so I just really had a good time. Myntra was fantastic, again always positive and it was a great experience.
Q. What are the challenges in building a career linked to becoming a fashion stylist? And what advice would you give to budding stylists?
A. I feel like you have to be ready as a stylist or actually in any career you choose, but especially stylist. You gotta be ready to do the groundwork. You ought to be ready to do a lot, a lot of hard work. It’s not glamorous at all, because you’re constantly behind the scenes of the glamour, but it’s a very rewarding job. I mean the kind of satisfaction you get when you look at the final outcome of the things you’ve done. You really feel good if you have given your hundred percent. And I feel, always work on a set. Work with someone, get that real experience. That’ll teach you so much more than I feel, like you know, doing a course and then I feel like it’s. It should be a combination of both you know, I feel like good knowledge is power and you have to keep learning and educating yourself.
Q. How do you maintain a balance between Indian brands and International brands?
A. I don’t know I feel like it is more about what the occasion is, where we choose an outfit. So I don’t think it’s got to do whether it is an international or an Indian designer. I love, love, love, love what Indian designers do and I think it’s very important to work with and use our Indian designers- we have a fantastic bunch of designers. Of course, I mean everybody knows of mine and Deepika’s absolute favorite is Sabya Saachi. But he really really does beautiful clothes. Abu Jani, Sandeep Khosla, do beautiful clothes. There’re so many designers who do great stuff and internationally also. Again so I think we try to find the right balance off the boat here. You know because I think it’s important.
Q. How has the styling industry evolved since the time you started?
A. Well, I think the styling industry in India specifically has evolved a lot in terms of we have a lot more access to international designers. Because of Instagram and social media, the world has become so small that everybody now knows actors in our industry so much more than they did before. And we’re very well achieved and very well received. So there are no boundaries and borders anymore. You know, I think it’s great and people are very open-minded to lending their clothes to us and we’ve built great relationships with a lot of people.
And yeah I think that’s one way in which such styling has evolved. People are breaking out of boxes and moles, especially when you work with brands who are willing to do new things, they’re constantly trying to push to do new things, which is so great because I think that’s what keeps our job exciting. You know when we try to do new things all the time. I’m very blessed to work with Deepika, she’s always wanting to try new things. But I feel like everybody wants to do new things and keep it exciting, which is so much fun. I don’t feel like I’ve been doing this for eleven years now, it’s just incredible.
Q. Are there any particular philosophies that have guided your career decisions?
A. I feel again just to be very, very honest, and authentic. Your career should only be driven by what you truly believe in and what your true choices are. It should not depend on any external factors. You have to, have to, have to give your one hundred percent in everything that you do, however big or small that job is and that’s very important. And I just really got to treat everyone equally, treat every job equally, and have a fantastic team- a team you can trust, a team with the same sensibilities. I love to trust my girls and be very open-minded to things they have to offer because sometimes in a job you’re so used to looking at things in a certain way. So it’s great to have fresh minds and young minds, come up with new ideas.
I also love giving new people opportunities like you don’t necessarily have to have a fashion background, but sometimes you just know somebody will work hard and be good at something. I feel like these are things that I have really lived by. And I think it also comes from the fact that Anaita gave me an opportunity without me having an absolute fashion background. I was just very, very driven, and passionate about what I did and now she really taught me a lot. So that was amazing.
Q. Tell us about some career-defining moments and what you learned from them?
A. I think some of my career-defining moments will be going for New York fashion week with Deepika, going for the MET ball, going for the MTV EMA’s. You know all these things are that you just watch on Instagram or see on the TV, and you’re in awe of the beautiful clothes that people do and then you are associated and you work with Zac Posen, we worked with Prabal. I’ve been able to work with such incredibly talented people, who have respected me and really helped me out, and you know so, I think I’ve learned a lot and I definitely learned that hard honest work is the right way to go always.
Q. You have styled Bollywood’s biggest icons Deepika Padukone and Shahrukh Khan. How different is it styling men and women?
A. It is very different styling men and women, but I think the constant that I try to keep is I love to make people feel sexy. I mean they both are incredibly sexy people, so I don’t really have to do much. Shahrukh has a great natural sense of style, he carries everything off with so much ease, he just makes it look so cool, just the way he rolls his sleeves and does his hair. He just does everything so cool sometimes I feel like he doesn’t need me to style him. He’s just really cool on his own.
Deepika is one of the most patient people I’ve met and I think we have been able to achieve so much together because she gives me so much time and respect for what I do. She also really does push me to do my best and I think that’s very important. I think we make a good team.
Q. The best piece of advice given to you when you were starting off and you follow it even today?
A. I think my dad always told me: give people time, make each person feel important and I just feel like giving people physical time. Picking the phone up and talking to people, you know, like spending time with people. I think that’s something that we’re forgetting and also just watching Anaita work. She was very honest about what her values were and where she drew the line on certain things and she’s incredibly talented. She worked very, very, very, very hard in everything she did and in spite of having kids and you know everything and that’s why I feel like it’s not impossible.
And Homi actually once told me that if you work hard, just work hard and everything will come to you. I think it was very great to have two people believing in me so much and really gave me so much trust and responsibility. And I think it gave me the courage to spread my wings and do what I have to do today and I will forever be grateful to them. And just being one hundred percent honest in the work that you do