It’s my Delhi clients that made me who I am: Ambika Pillai, the hair and beauty expert joins us in an exclusive interview

Ambika is a well-known name in the world of hair & beauty. Her 6 salons at South Extension, Rajouri Garden, Chhatarpur,  Model Town, Kochi and Trivandrum handles celebrity circuit...


Ambika is a well-known name in the world of hair & beauty. Her 6 salons at South Extension, Rajouri Garden, Chhatarpur,  Model Town, Kochi and Trivandrum handles celebrity circuit that includes models, film stars, fashion designers, publishers, socialites, etc. 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 etc. Ambika has even tried her hand at movies such as “Taal” doing Aishwarya Rai’s face. Due to time constraint she chooses to spend more time at the salon that handles close to 300 clients a day.

1. Hi Ambika, How have you been?

*Life’s been hectic but I’m very good thanks.


2. Take us through your journey from Kerala to Delhi? What was the most challenging part?

*Well, truthfully speaking it wasn’t a well planned road I had chosen to take .. On the other hand it all happened by default. All I ever wanted as a kid was to be happily married with 4 kids and a husband who loved me unconditionally and of course 2 dogs. But life doesn’t always turn out the way you want it. Being divorced at 23 wasn’t the easiest situation to be in, especially when you are from an extremely orthodox family where my dad didn’t  believe in women working. So I left home, with a two year old daughter in my arms and went off to far away Delhi, with every intention of doing a beauty course and heading back home to Kerala to open up my own little salon. Of course it didn’t happen that way but it was the foundation for my life as I know it now. After my courses at shahnaz for beauty treatments and pivot point for hair, I got my first job that paid me Rs 2000/- . I probably would have carried on being a small time parlour girl if I hadn’t been thrown out of my second job for a huge misunderstanding. I decided that I didn’t want to work for anyone anymore. I opened my first salon with a partner and worked as a shadow behind the very talented Sylvie. Once that partnership fell through, with my never say die attitude, I opened yet another salon with yet another friend who was a billion times worse. Basically I jumped from the frying pan into the fire. The partnership lasted for 13 long years and even though it took me forever to find out my best friend was swindling all the money. This is the time in my life other great things happened that would determine my path and take me to heights that was actually the beginning of my brand building exercise and making my brand a house hold name in Delhi. You may ask me what the turning point was… Well, it takes a lot of hardships you struggle through to overcome to finally make something of your life.. But if I was asked to pinpoint one incident then I would have to say it was winning my first national award for an ad film where I did the then ruling miss world Aishwarya Rai s face. The press gave it everything they had and it became every girls dream to sit on my chair and get their hair and make up done by me.


3. How did your interest in make-up/hair-styling develop?

* Completely by default…married at 17 and divorced at 23 I could have chosen to stay under the safe and comfortable shelter of my family. But I went to Delhi to do a beauty and hair course that I was trained for, make up just happened by chance. By that time I was already a permanent fixture back stage as a hair stylist for all fashion related events. I just found no one, as in no make up artist,  could do justice to my hair styles. So when the great choreographer Hemant Trivedi asked me if I could do make up as well as I did hair .. With out blinking an eyelid.. I said yes.

I did my first make up job without having a clue on what to do but I knew I had to make the girls look stunning and I did just that. It was a thrill when, at the end of the show, Hemant stepped onto stage and said he had the pleasure to work with the very talented hair and makeup artist Ambika Pillai. To cut a long story short there was no looking back from there. I became a self-taught makeup artist and a much sort after one that over the years won every makeup and hair styling award that out country has today.


4. How welcoming was Delhi during the initial days of your career?

* My only drawback was my terrible Hindi speaking skills. But I realised if you are great at what you do people are willing to give you a chance. It’s my Delhi clients that made me who I am. I became the darling of the Delhi press and with both the press and clients on my side, the ladder to success was easier to climb.


5. Ambika, tell us how you ventured into making cosmetics ?

* it was a natural progression as a makeup artist to bring out my own products. By now people know how finicky I am about, just about, everything.. Nothing was good enough.. No brand gave me the effect or colours that I wanted.. No brand satisfied my thirst to make the Indian skin look the way I wanted it to. So I worked on colours and textures to suit every Indian skin tone. It’s a long drawn out process and it’s a monetary struggle to bring out the full makeup line but someday I know I will.


6. What is your favourite pastime?

* Reading good books, music plays at work and at home all the time, I love making my own body n face scrubs, lip balms, hair and body oils etc…I handle my own FB page.. My favourite pastimes are in plenty


7. You are a bundle of energy. Tell us what keeps you going.

* Well, that’s a no brainer. I am a people’s person. I draw and give positive energy . I stay away from negative people.


8. When are you coming to chennai? (It will be great to have your salon in chennai)

* At some point, I hope I do… I love Chennai


9. What was the idea behind launching a multi-brand outlet – Styleloft ?

*Clients keep asking me where they should go for good designer wear.  I just put the two together. Most of my SL designers are super fabulous and don’t have stand alone stores. Clients find it difficult looking for them. My South extension salon is a massive 6500 sq feet space.. And I found it easy to squeeze out 700 sq feet to dedicate to Style Loft.


10. Tell us about the  launch of your salon in Trivandrum. 

* Kochi salon launch happened first.. I was looking at Tvm and Calicut after that by Tvm won hands down because I was born in Tvm.  And it’s my moms birth place. It’s basically going back to my core roots. I did grow up and my home is in Kollam but my sister Devika has two salons there and there was no way I was going to set foot on her territory


11. What’s your favourite cuisine?

* Without a doubt Kerala cuisine


12. Favourite holiday destination?

* The worlds fashion capital.. Paris .. Love it.


13. What kind of brides do you encounter? Is there a funny incident/experience that you would like to share with us?

*As a make up artist I’ve learned never ever to tell another artist what to do especially a senior artist from Mumbai that the family had paid an arm and a leg to fly down.

The rest of the family of 3 daughters and mom were booked with me and the bride had flown down the artist .

Half way through my hectic day I get a call from the howling bride saying her artist was taking her 3 shades darker and going crazy bronzing her out and that she looked like someone else. Without warning she hands over the phone to the artist (whom I adore btw) and I had him give me a piece of his mind on how the stupid Delhi brides were crazy about going 10 shades fairer he said do I have “ch****” written on my forehead. I will do exactly what I think will work. Lost for words I committed  the cardinal sin of telling him to calm down and maybe listen to the bride (a bit). To which of course I got a piece of his mind. Bottom line never open your mouth and that to, to an artist that has 15 years of experience over me.

Less said the better. But the evening ended with the bharath of that bride dancing for an extra 2 hours while she rushed into my salon still howling. Ripping her Chunni off demanding for a complete make over.


14. What’s your favourite part about styling a bride? 

* It’s a nervous bride that sits on my chair every single time. It’s her special day and to make her look beyond stunning to give her that confidence and start her life new is a big one for me.


15. Is there a facial pack for all skin-types that one can make at home?

* beaten egg white with honey.

16. How to keep fresh throughout the day?

* A squirt or dab of cold water or rose water, on your face from time to time keeps you feeling fresh all day long.


17. How often should one re-apply the make-up?

* Only if it’s worn out.. Over loading is a no no.


18. How to manage a curly hair?

*For curly hair use liss unlimited by Loreal shampoo and conditioner. And liss control cream serum. You can find these products at any good salon.

Shampoo your hair only 3 times a week. Every time you wash your hair shampoo twice.  Then use a little conditioner. Comb out with a broad brush. Leave conditioner on for 4 to 5 mins. Do not rub conditioner into scalp. On towel dried hair use a squeeze of liss control.  Take small sections of hair and twist on your finger to form ringlets. Let it dry naturally


19. How do you think has the make-up industry boomed over the years?

* With awareness on the use of products reigning huge in our country with advertising, movie stars looking fit and beautiful, models spotting wearable looks.. The public is going out there and experimenting a lot and with almost all the international brands now available in india , the makeup industry is at its heights right now.


20. Can you share with us 3 beauty hacks?

*1. A HAIR MASK is one thing most of us shy away from.. But if your hair is rough, dry, treated with chemicals or damaged then it is a treatment you should indulge in..

Hair masks can easily be made at home .. For best results apply mask from roots to tips .. Wrap a warm thin cotton towel over your head or put on a shower cap and leave on for half an hour and then wash it off.. Using a mild shampoo.

If your hair is treated or damaged you should first use a mild shampoo.. Pat hair dry .. Use the mask, leave on for 15 minutes and then rinse off with lukewarm water.

2. Start giving yourself a foot spa at home because your feet get so tired after a hard day at work, or you just need to pamper yourself and keep your feet looking and feeling smooth and crack free.

In a wide basin (not a bucket) pour pretty hot water.. Like it’s difficult to dip my feet in at the beginning but in a minute you find it easy to dip both feet in. put in a handful of rock salt… The commercial salt available is iodized where as the rock salt is pure from nature. It detoxifies your body, also eases stress and body pains. Removes the yellowness under the nails and makes your nails shine beautifully. Constantly painted toenails need this the most.

A hand full of Epsom salt..there are many beauty benefits to Epsom salts, aka magnesium sulfate,  for super soft skin. It also help relieve muscle pain.

A hand full of crushed alum… Soften and smoothens the heels and helps keep it crack free.Keep your feet soaked till all the three salts and stone melt and your feet are soft with the soak. Use the Pumice stone… This porous rock has been used for centuries as an abrasive beauty aid, the pumice stone is used to remove rough skin, primarily on the heels of your feet, squeeze a little body wash liquid on it and  use it on the heels and pads of my feet, moving in a circular motion with slight pressure, make sure not to make the skin raw, you only want to remove the dead and rough skin. Rinsing your feet off dab it dry on a towel and moisturise and give your feet a good massage which it so richly deserves.. and feel like a new person all over again. There are times you may not have epsom salt and alum .. Then it’s just rock salt which is always handy.

3.Puffiness around the eyes is a sign of fluid retention. Moisturizers around this area will only add more fluid to it. To reduce puffiness around the eyes use a cold compress/ice pack for 15 minutes, or follow up with a lightweight eye gel that has caffeine in it’s composition.


21. What are the 3 must-haves from Ambika’s store

* Lipstick, lipgloss and Kajal.


22. What hairstyles are “IN” this season?

*Waves and curls, untidy side braids, out of bed tumbled curls.


23. Best Make up trends to follow in 2015

* Pulled out eye liners, thick lush lashes and nice bright mouths.


24. Trends to retire in 2015

*Bouffant hair, dark gothic make up and dark purple lipstick.

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