Makeup was readily available at home with an actor-mother around, and, yet, Masaba Gupta wasn’t allowed to apply any while growing up. Neena Gupta — as is the wont of mothers — would often tell off her teenaged daughter, worrying the cosmetics would make her already “bad skin” — with “huge pores” — worse. Masaba would still put on her mother’s makeup before going to school, but that made her stick out as the makeup — three shades lighter than her skin tone — would leave white spots on her face and a punctured confidence.
Days ahead of the launch of her own line of makeup — for the Indian skin tone — in collaboration with beauty-products retailer Nykaa, the Mumbai-based 30-year-old fashion designer, walks in wearing jeans and an oversized black-and-white striped shirt. Her hair is pulled back in a tight bun, and a light brown lipstick is the only embellishment on her face.
Two years in the making, the collection, as of now, comprises 12 shades of nail paint, and corresponding lipsticks, and a nail-polish remover. “Pop” is the word to describe Gupta’s creations, even though the colour palette is very muted, minus the drama of Gupta’s favourite colours — fluorescents, bright pinks and greens. There are several shades of nude, ranging from pink to brown, as well as a blue-tone red and a shade of orange, among others.
Not everyone has a makeup artist at her disposal, and so, “makeup needs to be super inclusive. There are all kinds of us — girls with great skin, girls who tan easily, girls who want to tan. We needed something for everyone,” she says, “I have put together five shades of nudes, because what’s nude on you is brown on me. Makeup should, perhaps, only make you slightly better, and we should not use it as a place to hide.”
The world of fashion opened up to her when she was only 17. The creator of The House of Masaba label started with ushering at the Lakmé fashion week in Mumbai. A GenNext designer at the 2009 Lakmé Fashion Week, Masaba got her first break under fashion designer Wendell Rodricks. At 24, she was also one of the youngest people to have helmed Satya Paul as its fashion director. But it was the quirky prints of a comb, camera, Tamil script, and animal motifs combined with playful colours that helped Masaba come into her own. Cheap copies of these prints sell by the dozen in wholesale markets. For inspiration, she says, she looks to the past — “to history and the vast heritage of our country, from the south to the north.”
Earlier this year, she unveiled her jewellery line Ghana Ghana (an 85 piece collection, inspired by the West African Akan tribe, blending animal motifs of crocodile, fish, with those of face masks, horns, etc., in large chokers, earrings , pendants and oversized cuffs, in silver and gold) in collaboration with the Rajasthan-headquartered brand Amrapali. This, in addition to a cricket-inspired sari collection for Banarasi-wear label Ekaya. While an Ekaya sari/lehenga would be priced at Rs 70,000 upwards, an Amrapali statement piece is below Rs 13,000. “I’ve always wanted to push myself. I’ve never wanted to repeat myself, am not happy with presenting one line in three months and be done with it. I want to be the master of all trades,” she says, adding, “People think that I have it easy, but I have built something on my own for 10 years. I’m going to work doubly hard to deliver, and continue to create.”
The fashion industry, she feels, should introspect and look towards our past for inspiration. “I was taught Ralph Lauren, Alexander McQueen and their ilk in college (she studied apparel manufacture and design in 2010 at Premlila Vithaldas Polytechnic of Mumbai’s Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey Women’s University, whose alumni include Anita Dongre, Neeta Lulla and Sonakshi Sinha), but why is Ritu Kumar, Rohit Bal or Anita Dongre not taught as part of the fashion curriculum? We need to look at our heritage, history and learn. Why wait for a Chanel to create an ‘India-inspired’ makeup line?” asks the designer who calls herself “India-proud”. The embroidery for all the leading fashion houses and labels in the West, she says, happens here, and, yet, “we don’t embrace it. We, as an industry, have modelled ourselves on the West, but as a society, we function differently. Wedding shopping, for instance, is a social affair — the whole family has to approve of the bride’s lehenga,” she says.
Today, she has become a go-to designer in the Hindi film industry. Sonam Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Karan Johar, and Alia Bhatt are all Masaba regulars. “Bollywood sells,” she says, “It is a part and parcel of who we are. It’s just better that we accept it. The life of a super star is what we sell.”