For Ami Desai, representation and fashion have always gone together. After the former journalist began working as a stylist she quickly developed a reputation for having an eye for classic, personalized looks for her clients. A former television news producer, Ami began working as a style correspondent at WealthTV’s show Lux Lifestyles and hosted #OWNShow, a digital program on Oprah.com. She’s now the head of her own style business and works with everyone from celebrities to brides.
We reached out to Desai to talk about the path her career has taken, being a busy mom, and how to develop a personal style.
The Teal Mango: You’ve worked in fashion and beauty for a while now, including celebrities who regularly walk the red carpet. What do you think are the keys to creating a memorable red carpet look?
Ami Desai: I always like to stick with timeless pieces that five,10, or even 20 years down the road you look back and think that was a great choice at the time. To keep it fresh and fun, I like to add elements that are in on trend as the time which you can do with a pop of liner or even with your accessories.
TTM: What is the most interesting or fun part about working with someone on their makeup and hair for the first time. How do you figure out a client’s personal style?
Desai: The best part about working with someone for the first time is looking at their features and seeing how I would make them stand out. Usually clients would come with no makeup on so I didn’t have a sense of how they prefer their eyeliner or overall look. Makeup is very subjective, what one person likes another may not. So to figure out an individual’s personal style I love having them create mood boards with celebrities they most admire both physically and personality-wise. This is the best way for me to understand their overall style.
TTM: Working with a bride must be different than working with a celebrity. Because South Asian weddings tend to involve lots of traditional clothing and jewelry, how do you insure that the bride gets to put her own stamp on things?
Desai: When I worked the South Asian bridal space, I used to ask my brides: “Will you want to see this look hanging in your house for years to come if we choose this hair and makeup look?” Long story short, do what you feel comfortable and confident in. Luckily, we tend to have multiple events so I recommend playing with color or different hairstyles for pre-events and choosing something more classic for the big day.
TTM: You’ve often said that you began noticing the lack of South Asian representation in American media at a very early age. Do you remember the first time you saw someone like you in television or on film?
Desai: Great question..I’m an 80’s baby so it was a long time before I really saw someone that looked like me that I felt was a true representation. I remember when Bend it Like Beckham came out and I was so ecstatic that my friends would be able to get a glimpse of what Indian culture is really like. I also loved Parminder Nagra and Archie Panjabi in the film and was so happy to see them crossover into mainstream US TV with ER and the Good Wife.
TTM: Some of your fans might be surprised that you got your start in journalism working on very serious international topics for CNN when you worked on the network’s “Crisis Desk” in 2006. Can you tell us about what that experience was like?
Desai: I’ve always enjoyed hard news, actually investigative journalism was my favorite. While at CNN I was interning for the national bureau in Atlanta and our main mission was connecting stranded U.S. citizens traveling abroad with their families. This was at the advent of Facebook so there were no Instagram posts or stories to help people stay connected. It was a surreal time but I also realized hard news was often times daunting to deal with on a daily basis. I admire those that can be around it 24/7.
TTM: How did you make that jump from CNN to developing your own brand? What advice do you have for other women who want to start their own projects?
Desai: There were a lot of years in between the two. I was just finishing grad school when I was at CNN. I settled back in California and produced for years at the veteran news-magazine show Inside Edition. It was here I realized my passion for hair and makeup, so started my own business working with primarily South Asian brides. Then an opportunity to work with Oprah came along and that was a dream come true. I also had 2 babies during this time. It was when the OWN show ended in 2016 that I decided I wanted to share my love for beauty and lifestyle sprinkled with motherhood in the mix. I had see fashion bloggers and beauty vloggers, but had yet to see someone in the South Asian space combine all of that with being a “modern mom”. So I started doing that last year and haven’t looked back.
TTM: You often write about balancing your time with your kids with your work. I was stuck by your recent post titled “Why I date my kids.” How did you come up with this idea?
Desai: Let me start by saying I think it’s more about being in harmony than a work/life balance. I’m realizing this more and more as the kids get older and I talk to other moms, the balance isn’t really there. We sometimes have to choose work over family and vice versa, so it’s about making sure it’s harmonious for our own lives.
I actually created that blog post after I did a few Instagram stories on a date night I did with my son. So many people reached out asking how we decided to do date nights and what they consisted of so I thought it’d make for a great post. Honestly, it’s just a form of spending real quality time with your children, one at a time preferably. I try and let them lead the outing so they feel they have ownership and say over what happens. Starting the open lines of communication and just talking and listening at an early age is what will help a ton when it gets to the harder stuff down the road.
TTM: What are some little things busy parents can do to make sure their kids are getting the one-on-one attention they need?
Desai: One of my favorite times to really get QT in is on car rides. I turn the radio off and make sure it’s just us. This is when I ask a ton of questions about their friends, school and what they love. I end up learning so much more in those 5-10 minutes then I do at dinner time. I also realize that we’re in a constant state of “hurry”. I really try and be patient with them. My son is 5 and has so many things going on in that little head of his. Sometimes it gets jumbled and he takes a minute to get across what he’s saying. Instead of trying to finish his sentence I just keep asking questions until he’s able to express his thought clearly. Also, the littlest things bring such joy for these little people, from picking up the mail together, grabbing something from the garage or just taking a walk together. These are all things I’ve been doing with my kids and see they get the most out of from me.
TTM: Could you tell us a bit more about your partnership with Cover FX? What’s exciting to you about this product?
💪🏽✨💪🏽 POWER PLAY GIVEAWAY! 💪🏽✨💪🏽 This week’s panel with @coverfx x @createcultivate x @livetinted was so amazing to be part of and shed light on a very relevant topic around why beauty is about inclusivity on every level- regardless of color, age or orientation (click the link in my bio to read more & watch the panel👆🏽) •• And now, I want you beautiful people to get a chance to try out the new Power Play foundation for yourselves. This is going to be a more interactive giveaway because I want to make sure you’re getting the right shade. •• Here’s what’s going down- I’ll be choosing 10 people to have a quick personal consult with (FaceTime type a thing) so we can figure out what your best match is with your coloring and undertone. •• Here’s how to enter: 1️⃣ Follow me here @amirawaldesai & like this pic 2️⃣ tag 2 friends that are in need of a new foundation 3️⃣ share your biggest challenge (if any) with finding foundations that fit you **Giveaway is US residents only at this time & closes 3/29** . . . . #giveaway #coverfx #foundation #panel #createcultivate #makeup #diversity #inclusion #beauty #livetinted
Desai: Cover FX reached out last year when they were launching their first “Nude is not beige” campaign. I absolutely fell in love with their overall messaging, and the products even more. They are one of the first and few high end brands to cater to a wide range of skin tones, covering 40 different shades with their foundations. Their natural finish oil free foundation mixed in with a few custom enhancer drops in rose gold is my go-to combo for dewy, sun-kissed skin. It’s empowering to know that there’s a brand that is standing up for inclusivity on multiple levels also- not just with color but age and gender. They love that I speak from a mom’s POV and a diversity panel I was recently on with them also included a male makeup artist. It’s diversity on all levels!
Read more about Desai and her expertise in How Beauty and Lifestyle Expert Ami Desai Became an Expert.