From interning as a hair stylist at the age of 14 to riding across North-West England with beauty products to giving free haircuts, Adhuna Akhtar has done all things quirky with flair. The boho chic entrepreneur, who played a pivotal role in changing the way hair styling was perceived in India, tells Rinky Kumar why cutting tresses is therapeutic for her, how she manages home and hearth adeptly and loves to live life on her own terms
Adhuna Akhtar, Co-founder and Creative director, BBlunt
Think boho chic and one of the names that strikes you is celebrity hair stylist Adhuna Akhtar. The mother of two, who is known as much as for her individualistic fashion sense as for her quirky hairstyles, lives up to the term when I meet her at the Kemps Corner outlet of her chain of salons — BBlunt — one afternoon. Dressed in a lime-green shirt teamed with turquoise pants, a saddlebag around her shoulders and hairpins tucked in casually to keep her tresses in place, the 47-year-old can easily pass of as someone in her early 30s. As we settle down for a chat in her salon, she tells me that staying in the United Kingdom for the first 25 years of her life honed her fashion sense. “While working in the UK, I was exposed to diverse kinds of styles. I would describe my style as street style,” she says.
Adhuna Akhtar, co-founder of BBlunt, at the Kemps Corner outlet. Pic/Sameer Markande.
Romancing the tresses
Born to a Bengali father, Dr Asheem Bhabani and a Brit mother Anne, Akhtar and her younger brother, Osh, weren’t exposed to Bengali culture per se. Losing her father when she was just 12 made things tough for her and brought her closer to her mother who raised both the kids single-handedly. “My father was a non conformist. He was not fond of India and had moved out of the country for the same reason,” she says wistfully.
At the launch of her product range, B System. Pic/Shadab Khan
But Akhtar’s face lights up when she talks about her mother, a career counsellor. “She was the key person in my life who allowed me to be myself. She inspired me to pursue my dreams,” says the co-founder and creative director of BBlunt. Incidentally, it was her mom who introduced her to the magical world of hairstyling. Young Adhuna often accompanied her mother to a salon. The adeptness with which stylists would cut tresses, coupled with the transformation that people underwent, intrigued the 14-year-old. She started working at the salon on weekends and on holidays. “I found hairdressing therapeutic. What fascinated me was how a person showed enough trust in me to let me into his/her personal space and make him/her look stylish,” says the entrepreneur.
She quit Rainford High School and pursued an apprenticeship at Worthington Salon in North-West England at the age of 16. “I started off by making a lot of coffee and tea for the staff and patrons and of course, by shampooing the latter’s hair. Tony Connell was my mentor. He was a larger-than-life character who had great command over his art. He would get huge tips from women. He was always open to sharing his knowledge and I learnt a lot from him,” she says. At the age of 17, Akhtar won the under-21 national junior hairstyling championship in England.
After a three-year apprenticeship with Worthington, followed by a two-year stint, Adhuna joined Tony Connell for two years when he set up his own establishment. The artiste realised it was time she broadened her knowledge about the technical aspects of the business. She joined Wella as a technical specialist for North West England. This field job, which called for networking and meeting other stylists to tell them about the products, was in stark contrast to her earlier job. She says, “I had a big white car with a bagful of products and would travel from Carlyle to Liverpool and Ireland on my own. My biggest lessons during this tenure were discipline, dedication, professionalism and punctuality. I got to meet other hairdressers who introduced me to newer aspects of the field.” Later, Akhtar worked in the flagship academy of Wella in London for three years and followed it up with stints at Toni&Guy and Vidal Sassoon.
Journey back home
After proving her mettle abroad, Akhtar began working as a guest stylist at the Oberoi Hotel, Mumbai, in 1994. She met production designer Sussane Merwanji, who was also from North England. The duo connected immediately and Sussane helped her with contacts, including that of photographer Rafique Sayyed. “Rafique gave me an opportunity to work on magazine covers and freelance jobs that would help me pay my rent,” she explains. In 1996, she joined L’Oreal Professionel and launched their technical division. Akhtar realised it was time she had her own set up. In 1998, she, along with her brother, set up Juice at Worli. “Osh was very keen on doing business and cashed in on my talent. Our goal was to create an army of proficient hairdressers. We roped in our friends to paint the wall and cut hair for free. Then Avan Contractor joined us,” she says. How they met is an interesting story. Akhtar recollects, “At a party, she was the only girl with short hair. We started talking and she told me that she’s a hairstylist. I told her about our salon and she came onboard.”
Around the same time in 2001, Akhtar and Avan shot into the limelight after they did the styling for Farhan (Akhtar)’s directorial debut Dil Chahta Hai. Akhtar says, “Avan was responsible for the looks of the three lead actors — Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan and Akshaye Khanna. Avan has great command over men’s hair. Farhan wanted the movie to look very fresh and every actor to have an individualistic style. That was the first time we got credits in the film. That movie showed everyone how hairstyling is a crucial element to build a movie character.” Akhtar has styled for films such as Lakshya, Lagaan, Rang De Basanti, Don, Rock On!! and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.
In the interim period, Osh, Avan and Akhtar set up BBlunt in 2004. “The name comes from Bhabani, my maiden surname as well as the fact that we were very honest with our clients. We show them visual references before doing their hair. We charge one price for everything right from shampooing your hair to using the products. Initially, we would use a tub of Vaseline to style curly hair. Over a period of time, products became easily available in the market with an influx of big companies,” she says. Over the last decade, they have set up three academies across the country — Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore and a chain of salons. Three years ago, BBlunt donned a more corporate avatar. Seven directors came on board and they decided to create their own range of products, B System, which was launched in August this year. The creative director says, “We took into account what were the common problem that Indians faced when it came to their hair and the climatic conditions. The products were tested for 18 months till we decided on the right formula.”
Managing home and hearth
Despite leading a frenetic professional life, Akhtar ensures that she spends quality time with her daughters, Shakya and Akira, and husband Farhan. She says, “I’m an extremely hands-on mom. I send my daughters to school every day and I’m around when they come back. I love reading with Shakya, who is 14. She is a voracious reader and loves listening to music. Akira is seven and very energetic. Both my daughters, however, have their father’s witty sense of humour.” Akhtar confesses that it has taken her many years to master how to manage home and hearth. “I switch off the phone when I’m at home. Farhan and I ensure that one of us is always around the kids,” she says, admitting her love for painting and horse riding. “I learnt horse riding at the age of four. Some day, I would like to represent India in horse riding at the Olympics. I love to lead life on my own terms. I’m a free spirit,” she signs off flashing a million-watt smile.
Born: March 30, 1967
Place of birth: Liverpool
First job: Intern at Worthington Hair
Best advice she ever got: Don’t ever grow your hair long
Movie: Away From The Keyboard, Dil Chahta Hai and Lakshya
Role model: Madonna, as she is open to change and is constantly evolving style icons: Arjun Bhasin and Payal Khandwala. Both of them have their own sense of personal style
Hairstyle: Bob. It’s an all-time classic hairstyle, which has inspired many hairstyles
Sport: Horse riding
Destination: Barcelona. But I want to go to Brazil and Peru, too. I want to explore the whole planet
Dream: Learn to fly a small plane and represent India in horse riding at the Olympics