Meet the geniuses behind some of ELLE's most iconic covers
by Mamta Mody
From Alia Bhatt's first grown-up cover to Arundhati Roy's first cover ever, ELLE has had the fortune of creating some iconic moments over the past 20 years. Stars aside, this wouldn't have been possible without the genius make-up artists and hairstylists who helped fashion these pop cultural landmarks. These maestros defined an era, a mood, a star. Hit rewind, will ya?
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The go-to artist for a red carpet look, Soni says she’s always “vibed well” with ELLE’s understated approach to beauty. But even her most minimal editorials, such as the 2015 one with Anushka Sharma, pack an interesting detail or two, like the way she styled Sharma’s hair. “There’s always a different kind of pressure on an ELLE shoot,” she says. “I remember doing my first editorial in the streets around James Ferreira’s house and then years later backpacking in Hampi on a cover shoot with Sonam Kapoor. It’s all worth it because I’ve shot my best covers with ELLE.”
The German make-up artist moved to Mumbai while the beauty scene was going through a big change. Now, eight years later, he is one of the most sought-after professionals of the new landscape. He enjoys going against the tide. “Alia [Bhatt’s] 2014 cover was special because it marked the first time she was seen as a woman and not a college student. And boy did it work! Every shoot after adopted this mature approach with her.”
A frequent collaborator, Verma has proven to be a total chameleon. She can conjure up over-the-top theatrical looks as well as perform magic using just lip balm as she did in her shoots with model Lakshmi Menon. We’ve had some memorable cover shoots with her, including the one with author Arundhati Roy in July this year. She credits the level of comfort she shares with the ELLE team. “Everyone’s inputs make it to the moodboard and the final imagery is the result of good teamwork”.
As a young make-up artist Vagal did one of his first covers for ELLE with model Laila Rouass in March 1997. Fast forward a decade and he is in every Bollywood star’s style entourage. His subtle, classic make-up still stands out each time, much like that streak of colour he added to Nafisa Ali’s nine-to-five look. He says about the early days: “I remember I would get together with Nari [Narendra Kumar] or Anaita [Shroff Adajania] and since there were no specific trends, we could have all the fun we wanted.”
Within six short years, the South African make-up artist has become popular for pushing the envelope in her editorial and film shoots (have you seen Katrina Kaif lately?). We got a taste of it when she painted tattoos on Freida Pinto and gave Esha Gupta perfectly tousled hair. “ELLE stands out with its fresh clean style—the actresses and models always look naturally beautiful and effortless.”
Since his early years with ELLE, Fernandes’ shoots have stood out for having a more artistic bent. Nothing’s ever too outrageous for him, whether it’s creating a body suit out of Swarovski crystals for model Saira Mohan or a futuristic beauty editorial with Monikangana Dutta. “Whenever I’ve worked with Malini [Banerji] or Mohan [Neelakantan] there’s always been a strong thought process that’s translated into high-key glamorous visuals.”
The Greek hairstylist has worked across the globe and recently completed his first Hollywood project with Deepika Padukone. Whether it’s on screen or in print, he makes the most outrageous updo (like on Kalki Koechlin) look as effortless as a braid. “It’s always fun to work with the ELLE team and I always go home feeling happy because I’ve been part of creating a great story.”
Some of the most influential make-up artists of today have trained under this veteran. Since the late ’90s, he has worked with the biggest Indian beauty houses, influencing the trends that came into the country and also what we saw in the pages of ELLE. While most artists played it safe, Wallia gave retro trends a contemporary feel, like with the June 2004 cover or the shot with Sheetal Mallar in simulated rain. “It was largely ELLE that contributed to the rise and status of make-up artists. It was the first magazine to print the make-up artist’s concept note—it elevated us to the status of artists. There was no better showcase for your work. ”
Over the years we’ve learnt that you can’t go wrong with a classic Contractor look. His love for understated glamour has given ELLE some very memorable covers, like the one with Priyanka Chopra (“It was the first time she agreed to try nude make-up”) or that controversial Aishwarya Rai Bachchan cover shot by Suresh Natarajan (“She looked like a royal princess”). He says, “I don’t know why people thought she had been whitened—it’s just the way she was shot. In reality, I always use make-up that’s two shades darker on her to balance her light skin.”