Whenever we watch a music video, movie, red-carpet event or even a news broadcast, most of us admire what the singer, actor, the singer or news anchor is wearing. But very few think about, and appreciate, the kind of work that goes into making these people look so good.
I can bet my last penny that most entertainment consumers do not know that before Lupita Nyong’o received her Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 12 Years a Slave, she had to have her face made up, and also wear a dress chosen for her by her stylist.
The audience might not be keen on such details, but 23-year-old Brian Babu is. A local fashion stylist, the fourth year economics and finance student at Kenyatta University is on a career path few have trod, and which is frowned upon by some people.
“Every time I meet someone I was with either in primary or secondary school, they are usually shocked when I tell them I make a living as a stylist, after which they ask me sarcastic questions like, “So what exactly do you do?’”
Not one to be bogged down by sardonic and belittling remarks, Babu continues to do what he does best: styling celebrities and other personalities.
Interestingly, he got into the profession by accident, rather than design.
“While a high school student in 2009, one of my sisters was shooting an East African Breweries Ltd commercial at the coast for a “Don’t drink and drive” campaign. Since back then some of the actors used to dress themselves, she was really nervous because she didn’t know what to wear. I came to her rescue by putting together a really nice outfit for her,” explains Babu.
The favour he did his sister turned out to be the spark that lit the way to a successful venture into the capricious world of styling, if the jobs he has had so far are anything to go by.
For instance, when I first ran into Babu, he was running up and down at the SuperSport studios on Ngong Road where the Coke Studio was being recorded.
And no, he was not jogging but readying to prep Nigerian hip-hop artiste Ice Prince of Oleku fame for the final scenes of his upcoming single, Boss, a music video he recently shot in Kenya.
“It was exciting working with Ice Prince. He is such a cool guy,” recalls Babu.
Although he joined the profession by accident, styling might as well run in Babus’s blood since his late mother used to make clothes for Catherine Kasavuli, Christine Nguku, and Mercy Oburu sometime back.
Initially, his family did not understand why he wanted to be a stylist by they eventually came round and lent their support, but they urged him to complete his studies at the university, to which he agreed.
Banking on his family’s support, Babu has had quite a number of gigs. At the Coke Studio, he got to style back-up vocal musicians and the Coke Studio bands, Sauti Sol and Dama do Bling, an artiste from Mozambique.
But before the Coke Studio opportunity came knocking, Babu had styled some of the actors in Sense 8, an American TV series whose crew shot some scenes in Nairobi, TV commercials like “Facebook for Africa” and models on advertisement billboards like the “Safaricom Big Box”.
Kenyans might not take the profession seriously, but in the West, stylists are held in high regard. For instance, in Tinseltown, fashion stylists matter as much as managers, agents, movie directors, entertainment studio executives and publicists do. The Hollywood Reporter, a trusted publication focusing on matters entertainment, even has a list of the 25 most powerful stylists in Hollywood.
Babu is not one to compare the West and the local scene in terms of the fashion industry although he recognises that it’s not where it was a few years back. A recipient of the Upcoming Fashion Stylist of the Year Award at the Kenya Fashion Awards 2014, Babu is really passionate about what he does. At our second meeting, his backpack had, apart from a laptop, Bazaar Magazine, a world-renowned fashion publication.
His views on the local situation?
“Our industry lacks recognition and support. It’s something we need to change,” he says.