In the privacy of his apartment in Bengaluru, Zeeshan Ali looked at himself in the mirror and wondered how he could turn himself into a unicorn.
It took him a day. Ali figured a way to sculpt a unicorn’s face on his own using papier mâché. For the unicorn’s mane, he created a wig using hundreds of strands of wool in pastel shades of mauve and pink. Then came the delicate and painstaking task of applying unicorn-appropriate makeup to the exposed skin on his neck, forehead and around his eyes. A few more hours passed in front of the mirror before he was finally satisfied. He snapped a picture on his phone and uploaded it to Instagram.
Tomorrow he will be a geisha.
A 24-year-old makeup artist and budding costume designer in Bengaluru, Ali was raised in Mumbai’s suburb, Bandra. He was studying to become a doctor, when he realised he was in the wrong career path.
“Making this big change was primarily fuelled by wanting to experience a more independent life by living on my own,” he said.“ I came to realise that pursuing a serious career in medicine lacked an element of excitement which in the long run could have destroyed my spirit. It was really hard to confront this truth with my family but I knew I had to be real with myself.”
Ali’s love for make up, he said, wasn’t only because it allowed him to be someone else, but because once it came off – he was able to appreciate the contrast. “It helps me appreciate both my real world and my fantasy world,” he said.
A graduate of the International Institute of Fashion Design, Bengaluru, Ali was recently shortlisted among the top 15 in a competition held by international professional makeup brand, Nyx Cosmetics. For his entries, Ali used a woodblock to create a pattern on his body in gold, and wore a two feet long, ornate golden headdress festooned with strings of beads and roses made of metallic fabric. “It took me three days to make the headdress. I used melted plastic to make the main body and had to shape and reshape it till I was happy with how it looked.”
Ali claims he is terrible at drawing and never creates a look on paper before he actually begins to put it together. “Each of my looks is created bit by bit and built from the bottom up. I have a concept in mind and then I use material and makeup to try and achieve a look I’m satisfied with.” Most recently, a headdress he made by cutting the aluminium mesh of fruit baskets and reassembling them with flowers and beads was featured in Harper’s Bazaar Bride.
Drawing on an assortment of inspirational sources, Ali’s style combines elements from sci-fi characters like Star Wars’ Padme Amidala and Japanese Manga characters. Ali meticulously experiments for hours to achieve a look. He usually photographs himself, creating stunning compositions with little else than the lights in his apartment, the timer option on his smartphone and backdrops engineered out of familiar block-printed bed spreads.
Once he is done photographing a look, he salvages what he can from the ensemble, carefully storing it in a room in his apartment, used exclusively for makeup, costumes and raw materials.
To gather materials and inspiration, Ali spends hours trawling through small shops and hawkers in Bengaluru’s Commercial Street area. “I love street shopping, [it is] something I learnt from my mother,” he said. “Fabric, artificial flowers, lace, beads, bits and bobs that catch my fancy; all find a way into one look or the other.”
Ali counts himself extremely fortunate to have parents who are progressive and encouraging. “My mother is the sweetest. she follows me on Instagram. A lot of the vintage style jewellery and traditional Kutchi embroidered fabrics that I use for some of my looks comes from her vast collection.”
All images courtesy Zeeshan Ali.