A working theory: Electric Circus was an early, in-your-face harbinger of YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, YouNameChat.
It’s an idea that gets a twinkle out of Monika Deol, the ertswhile host of that bizarro, homegrown, dance-dance-dance TV program that once was all the rage in T.O., back in the ’90s when Drake was still taking a lunchbox to school. She nods meaningfully, dressed today in chic iterations of designer black, looking not unlike an Indian Miranda Priestly.
“It was a strange time,” she concedes, going on to reminisce about a show that aired weekly on City TV, then nationally on MuchMusic. It was, essentially, a 90-minute live-to-air dance party, groundbreaking then for its multiracial in-your-face-ness, its gay/straight/whatever mix, plus its high-energy authenticity. It was live-stream before live-stream was live-stream, and it made Deol a kind of Pied Piper of hip in this town. On any list of must-invites, she was it.
But then, just as quickly, she gave it all up, decamping for a new life and fresh marriage on the west coast, where she’s raised four children.
Full circles being what they are, she’s in Toronto all these years later, to launch her made-in-Canada cosmetic line Stellar, with a particular accent on women with medium skin tones. How did she manage to get the collection into Sephora stores, both in Canada and the U.S.? (That’s no small feat for a first-timer.)
When Deol started to shop around the concept, one thing led to another, which led to a friend-of-a-friend of a contact at the U.S.-based beauty behemoth accepting their cold call.
“I knew they were going to say no,” Deol says, “but it was OK, I wanted to personally hear them say no. When we called . . . they started to say, ‘It’s a very tough business . . . and every makeup artist in the world is trying to do this’ — what you’d expect them to say.”
Turns out the guy at Sephora happened to grow up in Canada, where he grew up watching Electric Circus, and happens to be married an Indian woman, so was personally clued into the market potential of a diverse clientele. What are the chances?
“I’ll take a meeting with Monika Deol,” she says he said.
Fast forward to now, where Deol sits with me in one of the residences at the Shangri-La, where the fruits of her labour are laid, candy-like, before her: six concealers, four loose powders, three blushes, 19 lipsticks, 22 foundations.
“If we’re going to go for it, we’re going to go for it,” she footnotes, underlining the potential there is in makeup targeted to women of Hispanic, Latino, Afro-American, Aboriginal, Chinese, Filipino, Middle-Eastern and Indian women,” as the Stellar press release pulp reads.
Though there’s a lot more in the market for women like herself than there was when she was growing up in Manitoba — where she’d plaster on the lipstick while riding the bus to school because her Sikh parents wouldn’t let her don makeup — there still isn’t quite enough, Deol argues. Her goal, clearly: to be there sharing shelf-space with likes of supermodel Iman, who was on the cosmetics vanguard 20-odd years ago, she acknowledges.
Stylish full-circle? Oh, yeah. “I never wore the same thing twice, I never wore had the same hair twice,” Deol remembers about her television boogie-party days. A bona fide fashion-plate in her time, she wore a lot of Canadian designers — though, this was definitely in the days before women like her on television had “stylists.”
Have her four children — ranging in age from 11 to 20 — seen their mom’s old TV clips? I can’t help but ask.
“I hid it from them. . .” she begins, reformulating her answer to say, “I didn’t go out of my way to show them.”
By now, they have certainly clued in, though, about her ’90s-era fast-and-fabulous days in Toronto and are now all on-board, in their own ways, with this new Sephora project. Her eldest daughter, who’s studying commerce (she’s possibly inherited the business gene of her developer dad), has been engaged in that angle of things; another daughter (who’s more into fashion) acts as a sounding board on that end; her only son is the digital whiz (he helps with storyboarding, apps, etc.) and her youngest child has turned into a kind of jack-of-all-trades worker bee.
“It’s turned into a family project,” she laughs.
The hustle is real, it’s clear. Off Deol goes to the airport any moment — to return home to Vancouver — only to turn around, soon enough, to visit Sephora stores, from Boston to Honolulu to Manhattan.
“I’m ready to be a road warrior,” she says. “I want to do it. I want to meet the people in the stores. That’s what it is for me.”
BY SHINAN GOVANI