It’s the last night of Studio 54 in New York City. The club, an institution of art, glamour and hedonism that pushed for liberation and freedom of creative and sexual expression is shutting down. Steve Rubell stands at the door, obsessing over who is allowed to enter. He looks at the line that stretches on the road and around the corner and beyond. He judges people on the basis of what they’re wearing and how glamorous they look, his standard rejection consisting of telling people they’re ugly.
Suddenly he sees this tall man—wearing a black turtleneck and black jeans, with hair down to his waist. “You. Come on in.”
That young man was Tariq Amin (Tariq).
A force of creative expression and revolution, Tariq puts his success down to two main factors—hard work (thirty-five years and counting) and coincidence. “I was at the right place at the right time.” Call it whatever you like, but there is no denying how brightly the stars of destiny shone right onto this man, causing him to be an unlimited force.
A shining shooting star, much like the glitter that sparkled on the stars in Studio 54, he has streaked across Pakistan, leaving behind a solid galaxy of stars that shine today because of his blazing light.
Hailing from an established, well-known family, Tariq arrived in America for university, harbouring a desire to be a portrait artist. He pursued his passion only to realise that painting canvases was one thing but to paint faces was something else. The transition from painting on a canvas to painting a face and arranging hair came naturally.
What resulted was a life altering decision: to pursue hair and make- up as a profession. “In those days there was no such thing apart from Vidal Sassoon in London, and that was it.” So what did young Tariq, armed with a business degree from Florida, do? He found employment, courtesy of his godmother, at a salon on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, and started right from the bottom. “Shampoo boy, jharoo boy… It was a lot of fun, because I had two great teachers.”
When he returned to Pakistan in 1983, this young make-up artist faced parental opposition and an aesthetic desert. His parents had wanted him to stick to what was familiar when it came to finding a career, in the hopes that their young wayward son would find a profession to keep himself financially stable. But whatever jobs came his way just weren’t good enough— “Teen hazaar rupay salary? That doesn’t even cover my cigarette bill, honey,” would be his reply.
Plus the awareness on a mass level about fashion or street style, let alone glamour, that had fuelled him in America, was nowhere to be seen. “There was pink eye shadow and MAG magazine was ‘it’. It was like a time warp of the 1970s. I was from the Dynasty era, big hair and shoulder pads.” So he made do with what was available. And he rose like a phoenix in a country that had no clue of what was about to happen and was stuck clinging to a past that was fast fading.
Shouldering the honourable load his family surname bestowed on him, he asked a friend to take him to a salon in Karachi. The biggest salon at that time in Karachi was Shaheen’s. Tariq walked in for a manicure and left with a job. He would walk alone, but he would walk with his head held high.
For the next five years, he steadily built a client base, winning hearts with his personality and winning clients with his unmatched skill in hair and make- up. He was the only male stylist at Shaheen’s.
While other male stylists worked in Pakistan at the same time, not a single one had the impact Tariq had on the national landscape of beauty. His incredible work ethic, critical eye, scathing observations and his ability to look beyond the physical caused him to become a pillar in the establishment of the fashion industry.
His work was so good that the chattering classes’ gupshup made its way to Herald magazine, which decided to investigate who this young man was and why he had women lusting for him to work his magic on their hair and face. What resulted was outrage: “Herald was getting letters up to five months after that [feature] saying why do you want to waste this space on some upmarket ‘naee’.”
And that is when Tariq decided to take matters into his own hands. If he was going to be labelled a naee for creating beauty, he would make sure people would know the difference between a naee and a stylist. He would be one man who would push for liberation in the field of hair and make-up and let his art be a means to push the limits of quality, sexuality and fashion.
Connecting with old friends like Tapu Javeri and Fifi Haroon, Tariq’s flat became the Studio 54 of Karachi. Models, designers, make- up artists, photographers and more would land up at his flat and like a finely made cocktail that packs a punch, the most experimental yet impromptu photo shoots would take place only for the rest of the country to discover in the form of a dazzling fashion spread in Herald. “While there was work being done for MAG, She and Women’s Own, we turned Herald around. It had no fashion pages and because we knew the coolest ones from the Haroon family, we were like ‘let’s give it a shot’. If you had to be anywhere, you had to be in Herald.”
While shoots had appeared in publications, however basic or crude, there had been no concept of recognising or giving credit to the stylist. “I was the first person to get hair and make- up credit. Nobody got credit so nobody got paid. I started a revolution. I was the harbinger of things to come, which was a lot of fun.”
A steady appearance with credits in Herald, establishing paid work for make- up artists and stylists in the future, Tariq simply went from strength to strength. In 1987, Benazir Bhutto, the first elected female Prime Minister in the Muslim world and Pakistan’s first female Prime Minister got married. While her outfit was designed by Faiza Samee, it was her breathtakingly beautiful face that held the world in awe—her make-up had been done by Tariq Amin.
“Benazir was known to my family since we were children, my parents were friends with her parents. She knew what she wanted. I gave her two options, she picked one. She was a woman with a big presence. She was androgynous and strong in her style. She wore feminine colours but the silhouette was masculine because of the shoulder pads, which was a very eighties’ look. It gave her image impact and accommodated a bullet proof vest for her safety. She looked beautiful at her wedding, she made a gorgeous bride.”
And that made Tariq’s career take off like a rocket. He had reached ultimate stardom. Featured in Vogue and booked up to three months at a time, Tariq was the most sought-after hairdresser. His name became so well known that when the BBC did a show called ‘Songs and Memories’ which consisted of the who’s who of India and Pakistan, Tariq was the youngest person featured in it and he was at par with the likes of Amitabh Bachchan.
In 1989 at Maheen Khan’s show, it was as if the stars above had come together, heralding in an era of events which would finally be referred to as fashion shows and not cultural shows. Frieha Altaf was choreographing, Tapu Javeri was responsible for the music, Tariq Amin was the man for make-up and styling and Aliya Zaidi emerged as a supermodel.
With his larger-than-life personality, his wild I-couldn’t-give-a-damn attitude and his keen business sense, he knew what would work and he was proven right, time and time again.
By 1992, a decade after defining what style was aesthetically Tariq had set the gold standard for style. At the peak of his career, Tariq was already immersed in myth and legend surrounding his work.
(to be continued)