“My greatest joy is in glamourising an ordinary face”

Cory Wallia’s mantra: A true makeup artist must always be ready to work on any face or skin type.

Cory Wallia’s greatest joy is not doing fabulous makeup but turning an everyday face into a fabulous one

In the short walk to makeup guru Cory Wallia’s top floor house in Khar, you see colourful paintings, vintage photographs, interesting artefacts and film posters. 

It’s a prelude to what you see in his efficiently designed and colourful house that’s repository of all things pretty, reflecting Cory’s aesthetic, a master artist who loves working on faces. 

The businessman-turned-makeup artist, who speaks several languages, loves his colourful shirts and finger rings, cooking and feeding people and does everything for love. He got into the makeup industry purely for the love of it, for the love with which his mother and two sisters dressed and for the love of transforming ordinary people into glamorous divas.

In his 32-year long career, Cory has worked with Raveena Tandon, Aishwarya Rai, Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif, Malaika Arora, Lara Dutta, Sonam Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut. He designed the entire look of the Priyanka Chopra-starrer film Fashion (2008), including 11 full length fashion shows. He has also trained leading makeup artists Anil Chinappa, Mehera Kolah, Salim Sayyed, Lekha Gupta, Pompi Hans, Divya Chablani and Mallika Bhat.

PathBreakerZ speaks to the makeup guru about his career trajectory and the pointers he has for aspiring makeup artists.

How were you introduced to the world of makeup?

My love affair with makeup began in my formative years. My two older sisters and mother would always dress to kill. Both my sisters were models before marriage. The dressing table at home had a plethora of cosmetics. Right from eyeliners to mascaras and blush, we had it all. My mother had an array of lipsticks, mostly in the shades of lilac. Purple is my favourite colour, too. That’s how my romance with makeup began. Back in 1970-80, I remember going shopping for makeup, which was then purely a woman’s domain. 

Why didn’t you join your family business?

My father was an indenting agent. He imported different commodities and then sell them for a two percent commission. Having a great personality, my father was able to carry out deals with people from across the globe. He was one of the top importers of wool. Eventually, he became a liquor distributor. I did run the family business for a few years. But for me, money wasn’t the only goal. I was always artistically driven. Also, corporate life did not suit me.

How did you learn the art of makeup?

In 1984, I went to London for a holiday. I did a three-week holiday makeup course there. I read about a course in a makeup school on the back page of Vogue magazine. Call it coincidence or luck, but the school was barely 10 minutes away from where I was put up. It was like a sign, and everything was so exciting. Even though the course was short and basic, it was enriching. That’s when I realised I was on the right track.

After returning to India, I spent some time here and shifted base to the US for two years. There, too, I took a course in haircutting.

My connection with the corporate world broke then.

When did you start your career in makeup?

I decided to become a makeup artist in 1989, in my 30s. Normally, people take up this career when they are in their early 20s, but I began late. Initially, I did not pursue it as a full-time job. I had a couple of friends who were studying at St. Xavier’s College and were pursuing modeling. They had a fashion show in college and I was backstage, helping some of the students with their makeup. They loved my work.

Even while running the family business, I was well connected with the glamour world. I would frequently visit nightclubs where I met choreographers, models and artists. I was also in touch with Sangeeta Chopra, who is a choreographer and my ex-classmate from school.

There was a nightclub called Studio 29. It was housed in Bombay International Hotel, now known as Hotel Marine Plaza, on Marine Drive. Many fashion shows were hosted there and some were choreographed by Chopra for which models Anna Bredmeyer, Rukshana Isa and Aarti Surendranath walked the ramp and I did the makeup.

Also, when I decided to make the switch from the corporate world to makeup, it coincided with the boom in the advertising sector. Television media was expanding, fashion magazines and editorial spaces were becoming trendier. Fashion shows were also picking up steam.

The media industry boomed in the late 80s and early 90s. It was somehow as if a special niche was created for me and I fitted in.

What were you paid for your first gig?

I can’t remember the exact amount but I think I was paid around ₹500 for it. However, my first magazine cover was for Magna Publications’ Savvy magazine. I also worked a lot on catalogue shoots for different brands.

How did you get into fashion makeup?

I would accompany my friend Edward Joseph Mendonsa, well known as Jojo in the fashion world, on shoots. At that time there were very few makeup artists who had a flair for western style of makeup. Besides me, it was Mickey Contractor, Michelle Tung and Jojo. However, Jojo had to shift to Paris and a lot of his work in India came my way. 

I lived in a building opposite photographer Atul Kasbekar’s house. He had just returned to Mumbai after completing a course in San Diego, USA. Almost every morning at 5 am, I would go over to Atul’s place where we both would prep the models and then drive down to Mukhesh Mills to shoot portfolios.

Most of the models I have worked with went on to become famous models and actors. I have done makeup for Aishwariya Rai who was one of the contestants at the Miss India Pageant. I also worked with Malaika Arora when she was barely 17 years old. She had just completed her Class XII exam when she came for a shoot. The photographer, late Prabuddha Das Gupta, looked at her and said, “O God, you want me to shoot with this girl”. I then asked him to just give me an hour to work on her. After seeing Malaika’s hair and makeup done, everyone was speechless because she looked stunning. Actually the credit goes to Malaika. She gave so many perfect frames that the photographer and art director were both very happy.

I have also done shoots with former supermodels Sheetal Mallar and Meghna Reddy.

How has your professional journey?

I have been extremely fortunate timing wise. I think any sort of success in any field requires a bit of luck. You need to be in the right place at the right time. I like to believe that success requires extreme talent and skill, but luck plays a role as well.

Even after 32 years in the industry, I still feel like a student. I am in awe of young, fresh talent, the advances in technology, lighting and makeup. Overall, my journey has been great, the one in which I met a lot of interesting people and learnt a lot. 

How has the Indian makeup industry evolved?

The makeup industry in India has grown exponentially. There was a time when I used to ask people travelling abroad to buy certain brands from there. But with the opening up of the economy here and social media, things have changed. You can now buy makeup at a click of a button.

But there are certain cons as well. There are many who watch makeup videos online and call themselves professionals. Some of them also get appointed by reputed salons. It’s only when these ‘so-called professionals’ actually work on a model or a bride is when they realise that it’s not a cake walk.

What are the high and low points of your profession?

My greatest joy is not doing fabulous makeup on a beautiful face but turning an everyday face into a fabulous one. Doing justice to hidden glamour or hidden feature is my USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Usually at a seminar, packed with women of all skin tones, I chose someone with a dusky complexion and preferably wearing no makeup for the demo session. 

In just five to 20 minutes I transform her into someone whom no one would have ever imagined. At that point, I am not explaining the look of that person but I am simply explaining the concept of beauty. That process is very enriching.

No matter what face is in front of me, I cannot be and never am despaired. If I do, that will be the end of my game.

The low points of my working career are when brides’ mothers, friends and in-laws tell me that they want the dusky-skinned woman to look white, without realising that it may just ruin the bride’s entire look. Also, it’s just not right. 

What is the first thing you tell your students?

The first thing I tell my students to do is to recondition and unlearn everything they know about esthetics and beauty. They need to know how to make any one look different and beautiful. The ability to find grace and glamour in the least expected face is what aspiring makeup artists need. The joy of making a simple woman look ‘wow’ with just four, five products in 20 minutes is a feat. It’s just an unveiling of what an artist sees or rather perceives in that face.

What makeup trends do you like and dislike?

Makeup is a visual medium. I am not a tattoo artist or a magician. I am an artist. I see my art placed on a living canvas. I dislike de-glam looks and hate caked faces and long, false eyelashes.
There are some things that are fit for reel life and some for real and one must design different
looks accordingly.

The magic in makeup is much more about sleight of hand, you must highlight something to take away the attention from something that is not so good.

What advice would you like to give aspiring makeup artists?

The first thing that needs to be done is to not think of makeup as a commercial career. Think from an aesthetic view point.

I have turned away many students from my class as they had false expectations about the profession. Many students fail to understand that aesthetics, eyes, brain, hands, tools and makeup have to work in synergy. You have to ideate. You have to think about makeup before doing it and you must have passion and discipline.

How much can a makeup artist earn and how long would it take for them to learn the ropes?

One can’t predict. It’s all about having patience and passion in whatever you are doing. A student must work hard. And one of the things that I try to teach is to develop a sense of integrity. It is as important as doing great makeup.

Start by doing a foundation course and then upskill. In the beginning, catch hold of any of your neighbours, friends and relatives and work on them. Makeup is all about ‘doing’. It is about how you take that material out of your kit and use it in combination with your eyes, hands, brain and aesthetic sense. Practice will help you carve a balanced, beautiful face, which must always appear as if the person wearing makeup has done it on her own.

Give yourself approximately two years. No journey is easy in the beginning and there is no definitive time frame to success. Your skill, approach and attitude and being at the right place at the right time is important.  


Riddhi Doshi
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