For the first time the renowned stylist par excellence opens up about life, fashion and much more
An acclaimed fashion stylist, image consultant, fashion director are just a few things that describe this youth icon. Tabesh Khoja is a name that resonates with the Pakistani fashion industry and why not he’s not only given the industry a fresh take on fashion but also contributed greatly through the models he’s discovered and mentored along with several other contributions.
Having had known Tabesh for more than two years I had on many occasions wanted to interview him but always wondered what to exactly ask him but the recent introduction of the Fashion Stylist category at the Hum Style Awards and his very well deserved nomination only justified to speak to the person who brought fashion styling to Pakistan and worked as a stylist without any credit or recognition for the longest time only to today beam with pride seeing the younger lot get the appreciation he worked hard to create in the industry.
Although I interviewed him before the awards were held, it was kind of poetic that the first fashion stylist was one of the first nominees in the first-ever category however Khoji didn’t end up winning the award in a shocking upset but then do pioneers even need awards to prove their worth.
“Even today I sometimes wonder why did they laugh and why was I made to feel stupid about wanting to pursue a career in fashion”
During the interview, he revealed a side of his personality that many don’t get to see as the usually very composed and sorted Tabesh turned vulnerable as we talked about his childhood and especially while reminiscing about a certain incident that has stuck with him till today.
“I still recall even after all these years how the entire room burst out laughing and my teacher escorted me off the stage,” said an uncharacteristically emotional Tabesh as he shared how during his sixth grade he was asked what he’d like to be in life to which his very excited young self said that he wanted to be a fashion designer.
“Even today I sometimes wonder why did they laugh and why was I made to feel stupid about wanting to pursue a career in fashion,” he added. But this passionate 6th grader never backed down as he set out to pursue his life-long dream of making people look beautiful and today stands as one of the biggest names in the fashion industry.
Talking more about his childhood, Tabesh shared that he had lost his father when he was only three years old and was raised by his mother as a single parent that motivated him to be financially independent at a very young age and he was always working even while completing his studies.
“I have two mothers —my biological mother and Nabila — my mentor”
But how did Khoji set out in this big bad world of fashion? “It was actually through Asim Jofa whom I was interning for back in 2011,” telling me more about the Khoji from a decade ago, he revealed he used to wear kilts and skirts at that time which eventually caught the eye of Frieha Altaf.
“Frieha was impressed by my unique sense of style and confidence,” he said adding that soon he started working with her and became her “Emily from the Devil Wears Prada.” Working with someone like Frieha who at the time used to direct and produce several fashion shows gave Tabesh a chance to learn the industry inside out.
From Frieha to Nabila — with whom he has been associated for nearly a decade, Tabesh has been mentored by the best of the best. Talking about his first interaction with Nabila, he shared that he first met the beauty maven at the PFDC fashion week in Lahore and later when she visited his university where he was serving as the council vice-president— of course, it’s not a surprise that Mr. Congeniality we know was also the most popular kid on campus.
“[Nabila] is an institution and whatever little I know about fashion, beauty and style I owe it all to her”
He further shared that the two worked together for the very first time in 2012 for a hair show for L’Oreal that featured supermodels of the time like Iraj, Fouzia, Ayyan amongst other popular names.
“It is very difficult for people to understand the relationship I share with Nabila. We have always been a family,” he said adding he considers Nabila as his only mentor. “She’s an institution and whatever little I know about fashion, beauty and style I owe it all to her,” said Tabesh with a loving smile as he recalled his long journey in a split second. “I have two mothers —my biological mother and Nabila — my mentor whom I love to bits.”
Tabesh — whom we today know as a powerhouse fashion stylist walked me down memory lane as we talked about his very first styling gig. “I styled a beauty shoot for Nabila with Ayyan. I still remember I draped a white cloth over her and the final image turned out so fantastic that Nabila included it in her LSA portfolio and that’s where I discovered that I had this talent in me,” he said — and well as we know the rest is history.
“I have never been greedy for fame or fortune as I was styling at a time when there weren’t even any credits for it”
Of course given his illustrious long ten years in the industry, the deeper you go down Khoji’s Instagram the more you realise how much work he has done over the years as a pioneer in fashion styling. From Sonya Hussyn, Sohai Abro, Meesha Shafi to Sadaf Kanwal, Fouzia Aman and so many more. There is a host of celebrities that he’s styled even at a time when there weren’t even any separate credits for his work.
Not just fashion but Tabesh started quite a few social media trends back in the day like backstage coverage at fashion weeks. “I started capturing candid backstage moments and gradually this became a trend,” he revealed. “I also started making collages of the looks I styled that were never done before in Pakistan,” shared Tabesh which was very interesting to know as even when there was no concept of social media he still had a vision of creating engaging content.
“After a decade in the industry, I don’t feel like competing for any award. My fellow nominees are like kids to me and honestly, I feel a bit old pitted against them”
Talking about his nomination as Fashion Stylist of the Year at the Hum Style Awards, Khoji remarked that it is indeed very important for an industry to grow like that noting that after all the years since he first started styling there’s finally a category to honour this work.
“I started styling at a time when people didn’t even know what a stylist was,” he said. “However people now realise the importance of a fashion stylist and am glad that I was able to make whatever impact I have towards bringing about this change and opening up avenues for many other stylists.”
“I don’t think of anyone as my competition but only feel happy when I see a new stylist join the industry”
When I asked him about his chances of winning the award and how he felt after being nominated, Khoji said he feels nothing but pride that today there’s a separate nomination for all these new and upcoming stylists to look forward to as compared to when he had started doing this job without a sign of any such recognition.
“It’s great to be nominated but after a decade in the industry, I don’t feel like competing for any award. All my fellow nominees are like young kids to me as they have all recently started their careers and honestly I feel a bit old pitted against them,” he said with a quick jibe that he’s definitely not that old but his journey this far makes it feel like it’s been a lifetime. “I don’t think of anyone as my competition but only feel happy when I see a new stylist join the industry.”
During the chat, I could sense how secure Tabesh feels about his place in the industry, and rightfully so given he’s one of the pioneers of the current fashion industry but also he was very welcoming of upcoming stylists as we talked about a few of them. Maybe if he was nominated some five years ago Tabesh would have given me a more competitive vibe but today he’s in a league of his own and unfazed.
“I have never been greedy for fame or fortune as I was styling at a time when there weren’t even any credits,” he said.
“It is my biggest reward when I see young people coming up to me and tell me that they want to be a stylist because I have inspired them. There isn’t any award that can overcome that feeling”
“I truly feel I have achieved something and it is my biggest reward when young people come up to me and tell me that they want to be a stylist because I have inspired them. There really isn’t any award that can overcome that feeling,” he said adding that this change in mindset proves he’s done his part in getting stylists that place in the industry and turning styling into a career option for others.
Shifting the conversation towards what makes Khoji a distinctive fashion stylist. He said, “I create and curate looks. I am not someone who picks something off the rack and wraps it over a celebrity,” he said adding that people who can’t trust a stylist shouldn’t come to him as he doesn’t believe in people-pleasing.
Along with being an acclaimed fashion stylist, Tabesh has also launched the careers of several models including Mushk Kaleem, Maha Tahirani, Fahmeen Ansari, Roshanay, Trinette Lucas and Sarah Zulfiqar.
Talking about the dearth of supermodels today, Tabesh said that being a supermodel is all about having a personality that towers above everyone else. “You can’t become a supermodel till the time you have your personality, personal style, and a vision that sets you apart,” he added as we discussed a few of the past supermodels but one name made him light up the most— Sadaf Kanwal.
“Sadaf Kanwal is my muse. She’s a supermodel,” said Khoji adding that on many occasions he’s advised her regarding career decisions although we had started our careers around the same time.
While we both agreed that a model is someone meant to sell clothes for designers as he chimed in, “but what makes a supermodel is when you do that job but with your edge.” He further talked about how social media has made it much easier to become a model today as girls can take inspiration from the benchmark set by the likes of Mehreen Syed, Fouzia Aman and Sadaf Kanwal.
“Sadaf Kanwal is my muse”
And as we talked about these three names we also discussed an interesting scenario that happens at every fashion week when a former supermodel is asked to close a show. “A designer should approach you to open or close a show for them not the other way around — it just proves your worth as a model,” said Khoji as we talked about how some models get upset when someone like Fouzia or Mehreen or Sunita are picked as showstoppers. “You cannot choose modelling, modelling will choose you,” he said which is something everyone needs to understand.
As the night set on and three margaritas (it was a Monday so non-alcoholic of course) later it was time for us to wrap up our chat but not before I asked him a few more questions particularly related to industry politics and backbiting.
“It will only affect you if you let it but when you learn to sideline it and keep moving forward that’s your real win,” he said. “The more they talk the better it is,” he jibed adding that it’s good if people are talking about him but he’d only be worried once they stop.
“The essence is still the same. Of course, I have evolved a lot over the last 10 years but I have held my morals and my ethics closest to me throughout my life,” he said adding that over the next five years he’ll be still learning, growing, and evolving — and with this, we called it a night.