A Tête-à-Tête with Namrata Soni

By Simmi Singh .

Over the last decade, Namrata Soni has risen to become one of the leading hair and makeup artists in Bollywood and fashion industry. True Sonam Kapoor fans will know Namrata for the creative talent behind creating some of the most memorable looks for the actress on and off the screen. Her impressive client list includes Deepika Padukone, Jacqueline Fernandez, Anushka Sharma, Kajol, Nargis Fakhri, Alia Bhatt to name a few. She has also been an award-winning creative force behind some of the most iconic looks in Indian cinema including Om Shanti Om, I Hate Love Stories and Aisha.

A quick browse through Namrata Soni’s Instagram account (@namratasoni) and it is easy to see why celebrities trust Namrata Soni with their looks. She is a versatile artist with experience across a range of mediums including films, magazine editorials, major events, campaigns, fashion runways and also some weddings! A hard worker and a perfectionist, Namrata has built her reputation upon creating unique looks that stay true to each of her client’s personality and perhaps why, we the audience at large, all relate to them so much.

We were lucky enough to catch up with the ever-so humble Namrata during Melbourne Indian Film Festival a couple of months ago where she provided an insight into the looks she created for Sonam Kapoor’s appearance at the Fashion and Awards Night. Now, as part of welcoming her to TCB Community, we find out about Namrata’s journey to the top as a leading celebrity hair and makeup stylist, her creative process, inspiration, tips for aspiring creative professionals and of course some hair and makeup tips for brides-to-be.

Below is an edited excerpt from our interview…

Becoming a Celebrity Hair & Makeup Stylist

What inspired you to become a hair and makeup artist? 

Namrata: I always wanted to be a pilot or a lawyer, but I grew up with very creative people in my life. I was always in awe of my mother and my nani (grandmother) and the way they would apply their makeup so flawlessly on themselves. As girls, we were always fascinated by it.

While I was at college in Mumbai, I worked part time for Coleen Khan, a very famous hair stylist in India at that time. While I was training with her, I did a self grooming course and realised I had a knack for it. I went ahead and enrolled myself at the Delamar Academy of Make Up in London and also studied in New York.

So that’s how I started. It was really by chance.

How did you transition into becoming a celebrity stylist?

Namrata: My first ever hair and makeup job was for the film ‘Main Hoon Na’. I was only doing hair for that film and had the opportunity to work with Shah Rukh Khan and Amrita Rao. From there, I went on to work on ‘Mussafir’, doing Sameera Reddy’s hair and makeup. So my career in hair and makeup really started in film.

I was also very lucky. I had the support of some really fantastic film directors like Farah Khan and Karan Johar, who were willing to give women in the industry a platform to refine their skills and experience. Because of that, I got the opportunity to work with a lot of big actors.

I then started doing a lot of editorial work which also included working with celebrities. I was able to get my work out there by working with magazines such as L’Official, Filmfare, Elle Magazine. It was great fun because I got to do beauty editorials and fashion editorials and fortunately for me, a lot of covers with a lot of great people.

I think editorials are a great way to build your name and develop your expertise. You get to do a variety of creative work and you are working with completely different faces every time. You really get to expand your horizons as a makeup and hair stylist. You get to work with so many skin types, faces, skin colours, hair types, etc.

All in a Day's Work

You are almost exclusively Sonam Kapoor’s hair and makeup artist. How much influence do you have in creating a look for her?

Namrata: It’s a team effort but I do have a lot of influence. Either Sonam or her stylist usually confirms the outfit for an event by sending me pictures. I do my research and I send them image references  of what I think will look good, but we all brainstorm ideas. On the day of the event we will figure out what will work best for makeup and hair. So it always has to be a joint effort.

At the end of the day, we are all specialists in our field of work. I am a specialist in hair and makeup. The stylist knows best how the clothes will look on the client. So we all need to take each other’s advice into consideration and come up with a neutral look that we all like. And most importantly, my client needs to be happy and feel comfortable when she walks out that door.

There are thousands of hair and makeup artists out there. Why do you think celebrities return to you and trust you with their look?

Namrata: I don’t know! No one has ever asked me that question before. I think maybe because I always give my best and I always make every person look different whilst trying to stay true to who they are. I also work on bringing their best features to the forefront.

For me, it’s not about following a trend – it’s about what makes that person look the most beautiful with as minimal make up and hair styling as possible. I am a minimalist and so even when I do very dark eyes, the skin or the face is still very fresh or very nude. For me, it’s always about balance as an artist.

And I think that’s what my clients value and that’s why they perhaps come back to me. When they see themselves in pictures from an event, they can still recognise themselves. Whilst makeup can make you look like a whole new person, I like to stay true to who they are when they are sitting in my chair. So I really hope it is because of that!

What do you love about your job?

Namrata: I wake up excited to go to work every morning because I get to work with different people and different faces. Nothing makes me happier. I have always considered myself very lucky. With God’s grace, I am so grateful to be doing what I love.

Style & Inspiration

What is your signature style?

NS: My signature makeup look is ‘natural’ for me. It is important to have a signature style, but it is more important for this to come through when you work on a particular facial feature or the way you use a particular product.

For instance with me, people recognise my work because of the way I do my foundation. As soon as they see my clients face, they know that it’s my work. I have had so many editors and actors who, before opening the magazine and checking the name, knew it was my work because of the way I did the eyes. Or for instance, whenever I do nude makeup, I always do it with really pretty brown, very smoky, very soft, subtle tones.

Who are your style icons and inspirations for the work you do?

NS: Within India, my biggest style icon is Sonam Kapoor. She is amazing to work with. She’s an experimentalist – she loves to try new things. As a makeup artist, it’s so important to find that one person who allows your creativity to flow. She sits on the chair and trusts me completely. It’s the best feeling a makeup artist can have.

Otherwise in India, I think Alia Bhatt. She’s young and can look different because she wants to try different looks, which is wonderful. She has a really good basic sense of style which comes through quite clearly.

Internationally, it would have to be Gwenyth Paltrow. I love her style – so effortless. I also love Cate Blanchett – she is amazing too.

Favourite Looks

What have been some of your favourite looks to date?

Namrata: Some of my favourite looks have been in the movie, ‘Aisha’. That film truly represented who I am as an artist. Minimalistic makeup and beautiful, effortless hairstyles. I love experimenting. Even when we did eyeshadows and lipsticks, we did it with a few subtle changes here and there. I think the looks in that film represent me and my work in totality.

In terms of iconic looks, for me, it would be Sonam’s look at the International Cannes Film Festival in 2013 where she wore an Anamika Khanna sari with a nose ring. To me, that was stunning. I think that represented Indian women in their truest form; and to do that on an international platform was phenomenal. People actually sat up and noticed and said, ‘Wow, this is Indian. This is India’. So, that was amazing for me. I also created her look in the Dolce and Gabbana dress, which was showcased at the same festival. That was definitely another favourite of mine.

Other than that, there have been a billion looks that I’ve done that I am proud of. One of these is the look I assisted with for Deepika Padukone at the International Indian Film Awards (IIFA) this year. That was gorgeous because it was showcasing Deepika in something I’ve never done: very dewy, very fresh skin with just a red lip. To carry that off on a red carpet where everybody else is so super made up, was very daring. And I think she pulled it off with so much grace and beauty.

Tips for Hair & Makeup Professionals

How important is it to have a signature look for a hair and makeup artist?

Namrata: I think it is very important to have your own style. This is how people recognise your work and influences the type of clientele you attract. When you are learning hair and makeup as an assistant, it’s easy to lose yourself in the head make up artists’ style. Try to remain true to who you are.

Also be open to new styles and techniques and evolve your own style accordingly. For me, I am constantly researching the latest products and how to use them. I am doing courses every two years to update my skills and keep myself abreast of latest trends. That’s important because it adds a lot of individuality to my style, which is needed if you want to stand out from the crowd.

How do you manage clients when they suggest looks that don’t align with your style?

Namrata: I try very hard to never say no to a client. Sometimes if a bride does ask to try a red or purple eyeshadow that I know won’t suit them. In such a situation, I will always explain my thoughts and how else they could perhaps incorporate the colours or trends into their look. If they are still adamant, I am not comfortable with it and tell them that it might be better to choose someone else who is happy to do that look for them instead.

So whilst I can do the job and it’s what the client wants at the time, I would also know that two years or even six months from now, they will look at the pictures and think what the hell was I thinking? And why didn’t my makeup artist tell me not to do that? I have to remain true to who I am and if I were to bend the rules of my work that is uncomfortable to me, I’m not going to end up doing a good job anyway. Instead I’d rather not do it and suggest someone else who’s style might be better aligned to what the client is looking for.

I am also very picky with new clients. I have to be on the same wavelength as them and have to get along with them. With every new client, I always ask them to go to my Instagram page more than my website. My Instagram page shows, in pictures, my style and all the different makeup and hair looks I have created.

Bridal Tales 

You also do bridal hair and makeup. How much of your work is bridal?

Namrata: To be honest, I don’t do more than 7-8 brides a year. Last year I did 12 brides which was huge for me. Apart from being busy with my other work with editorials, movies and events, I believe I need to be exclusive when it comes to bridal work. I believe because of my exclusivity, I will get good work.

I also don’t want my bridal work to be monotonous. I want to make sure I give my best  to every bride. So I space out my bridal work over the year: two brides a month from December to February and maybe one or two during July and August. Because I only do a few brides a year, I try to do different and unique looks for each client. I always try to extract the best look for my bride.

How is bridal different to your other work?

Namrata: Bridal work is very different to all my other work. It’s a completely different genre in itself. It’s real time work and you’re creating something which is very relevant and very important to the client. You’re becoming part of that person’s life. So there is a lot of pressure.

Of course we don’t allow the brides to feel that but there is also a lot of pressure because there are always 20 people entering the room and telling them oh don’t do this, don’t do that. So it can get very scary and intimidating.

But fortunately today, the brides are a lot more educated and aware about what they want. It’s not like how it was 7-8 years ago. They know they want to do a red lip, they know they want to do dark eyes. Of course that makes it easier for us but at the same time it can be very intimidating because they are used to a certain look.

I try to get my brides to try something different and get them out of their comfort zone. Of course a dark smokey eye looks good on you but how about try something different for your different events? How about for Mehendi, go for something nice and light with tinted moisturizer, beautiful cream blush with a pretty coloured liner with mascara. Keep it simple, keep it pretty.

So how do you decide on the lucky few brides you will work with for the year?

Namrata: I never give my dates more than 6 months in advance. I don’t believe in that. You never know what’s going to happen one year from now so it doesn’t make sense.

For me, it always comes through recommendations. I may have done a bride a particular year,  then that bride will recommend it to her friend and they will have seen my work and then contact me. I mostly take bookings that way because it is likely the bride is on the same wavelength. Sometimes if someone contacts me on email and I have the date available, then they get the booking!

I always meet brides two times before the wedding day. The first time is to get an idea of who they are whether we get along and whether our wavelengths match. Then at the second meeting, we discuss their looks with them because they usually have their outfits ready.

Bridal Hair & Make Up Trends

What are the current trends in Bridal Makeup and Styling?

NS: Dark eyes and dark lip is the trend this season. But I would say instead of doing black smokey eyes with burgundy, keep it to a beautiful brown, dark smokey eyes. When do you brown, it makes your eye makeup look very soft and sexy and sensual. Instead of doing a very dark lip, do a burgundy wine lip. It’s pretty and sexy. It looks beautiful on Indian clothes, because you are complementing it correctly.

If you are a bride that wants do something traditional, of course the winged liner is always current but with a very english rose lip. It’s like you’ve been kissed! It is a very romantic look.

So there are two very distinct looks this season: For the more daring girls, going for the slightly darker brown smokey with a wine burgundy lip and for the more safe, classic brides going for the winged liner, with english rose petal lip.

We loved the look you created for Cookie Boolani’s wedding day. What are your favourite bridal looks?

NS: That is my favourite kind of look actually. She wore a beautiful red lip. We did a simple red lip for her and we complemented that with khol eyes. Because Cookie has such big eyes! She looked beautiful. Her hair and makeup went perfectly with the outfit – an amazing Anamika Khanna lehenga.

I think my most favourite bridal look is a red lip with a winged liner or a khol smudged eyes. It’s just so beautifully Indian. That’s if you are wearing colours that Cookie wore like a red and off white lehenga or a jewel tone.

But if you are wearing a more pastel colour, like I wore to my wedding, then I would do pretty pink cheeks with smudged black liner and a lip balm- which is exactly what I did. I was wearing a beautiful salmon pink lehenga and however much I wanted to wear a red lip, I would have looked stupid.

Nowadays people wear almost any colour for their wedding day – from indigo blues to forest greens and bottle greens, you can wear red lips and get away with it. But if you are going pastel, always go for more fresh, pretty makeup. I think the classic makeup will go a long way for looks like that.

Hair and Makeup for Her Own Wedding

Tell us more about your recent wedding and how you came up with looks for yourself.

NS: To tell you the truth, I didn’t plan it at all. I knew the only designer I wanted to wear was Anamika Khanna because I absolutely love her clothes. She makes the most beautiful garments. So I left it to her. I went to meet her at her workshop in Calcutta and sat with her for a couple of hours. I told her that I am not a quintessential bride, I am not a classic bride, I am very subtle. I don’t want heavy embroidery, I don’t want anything glittery on my outfit. Everything has to be very subtle. She said to leave it to her.

I didn’t receive my wedding outfit until a week before my wedding. I took it out of the box and fell in love with it. It a beautiful salmon pink lehenga with lovely, beautiful handmade silver zari work on it. And it came with a beautiful lace dupatta. It was perfect!

I always wanted to wear pearls for my wedding, so I had this beautiful pearl matha patti made for myself with just one string of pearls but with no maang tikka. I was going for a simple, Grecian vibe. I twirled my hair around the string of pearls around my head and put lots of flowers in my hair and that was it. That’s all I wanted to do because when you over plan it, it can go so wrong.

On the wedding day, my team and I were getting my sisters ready before I got myself ready. I just thought I would just stick to who I am. I wasn’t going to sit in that makeup chair for two hours – I wouldn’t have been able to handle it! I quickly did my own makeup and I asked one of my team members to pin my hair back and that was it!

Tips for Brides-to-Be

What are your recommended beauty regimes for brides?

1. Do your facials and treatments at least a month before the wedding. The biggest mistake I see brides making is that they go for a clean up and a facial one week before the wedding. Everybody’s skin reacts differently. For some people, it doesn’t matter what they do to their skin – it doesn’t break out. But for others, their skin gets affected because of stress or even a product that they haven’t used before. Unfortunately, if you are going to have a breakout just before your big day, your makeup artist or you yourself are going to have to cake yourself up. However, before that happens, go see a skin doctor at least 6 months before you get married, just to ensure that your skin is under control.
2. Drink lots and lots of water everyday. Start at least 2-3 months before your wedding. Do some yoga – it helps a lot from a wellbeing perspective but keeps your skin healthy.
3. Also, a little home remedy. I always recommend using a really light honey and brown sugar scrub once a week to exfoliate any dead skin. This will maintain your skin and help keep your foundation for longer period of time.

Top Bridal Dos & Don’ts:

1. Pick a hair and makeup look that balances out and complements your outfit.
2. Always meet your Hair and Makeup artist or do a trial before you book them in. This will help you understand whether you are both on the same wavelength. Regardless of whether they are a well known professional or someone just starting out, it shouldn’t really matter. It’s very important to make sure you are on the same page when it comes to hair and makeup and that you understand each other’s styles.
3. Know your skin undertone so you can match an appropriate foundation. People generally have either cool (pinkish or blueish) undertones or warm (yellowish) undertones. I have written about how to very easily work out your skin undertone on my website.
4. Experiment with different looks for each of your events. For instance try a different lip colour for your pre-wedding events to your wedding day. This will ensure all your pictures don’t look the same from each event and will create a fun, free-spirited vibe. Also try different eye make up. It might not make a difference for those far away shots, but for those closer up photos, it does add a different look. So try different things, your wedding is a great opportunity to experiment with things you might not otherwise.
5. Try not be a bridezilla and don’t stress on the big day!

Find out more about Namrata Soni including her latest work here.

About The Author

Simmi

Founder & CEO at The Crimson Bride. As I planned my own wedding not long ago, I really enjoyed the creative process of putting together a wedding that would be true to who I am and our story. I loved discovering amazing designers and wedding professionals and found myself spending countless hours being inspired by their incredible work. I began sharing my musings on a humble blog titled called The Crimson Bride, and the rest is history. Well, actually you can read more about it here. The Crimson Bride is also my creative outlet and an opportunity for me to share my love and admiration for all things Indian - art, craft, culture, film and fashion. I am also a bit of a film geek and may have a mild crush on Ryan Gosling. I love travelling, spending quality time with family and friends.