Musings of a cynical perfectionist, trapped inside a bubbly hairstylist.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Made with Love

There are moments in my career, or in life really, that help me refocus on what’s important, and help define my passion and what type of stylist I want to become. One moment has followed me for years, and really taught me a lot about how deep my personal connection to my job is.

I had just finished working a really exciting and beautiful Thakoon show for New York Fashion Week a few seasons ago, and I was feeling great about how it had gone, but relieved to be sitting and decompressing in a taxi. As the buildings flew by, I was recapping the frantic prep time and hectic backstage energy in my mind, and a passing image stuck out for a minute. I had noticed a model crying because her head hurt from the last show. These poor girls run all over the city doing show after show with no idea of what's going to be done to their head, whether that's extensions or spray paint. The stylists at my Kerastase show would never do anything rough or painful to her, we're like the holy grail of hair-health and concern for models (I meeean who else would care about heat protection backstage?! I love it), but she had had enough of being touched and it was obvious. Generally I like working on models. They're professional and paid to be opinion-less creatively, which is a strange but fun contrast to what I'm used to day to day in a salon. It's never fun to work on someone who's unhappy, though. So much of what I love about my job is making people feel good, even more so than making them look good. This was the day I realized how intensely I mean that.

I got back to the hotel and noticed I had a voicemail from a client. Usually I don't give out my personal number, but this client and I had gotten close over the years and I told her to call me if she ever had trouble getting an appt, etc. She sounded strained in her message so I called her, even though I was packing and distracted. As soon as she told me why she had called I stopped what I was doing and gave her my full attention. When you have long term clients, especially ones you do time-consuming color services on, you get to know a lot about their lives. This client in particular, “Erica", we'll pretend her name is, has a sharp wit and a tongue to match, and I think she's hilarious. When she first came to me a few years ago, she was newly pregnant and in love with her husband and I heard so much about her wonderful life and was so happy for her. Since then I've slowly watched her marriage deteriorate from behind my chair, and each visit I was more and more hesitant to ask how things were going. It was like I was looking into little windows of her life every eight weeks, and each time she seemed sadder and more exhausted. This update was different and much worse though. Things had exploded between them, to the point of him attacking her violently, and then emptying their bank accounts. She was still in shock and she started to cry as she told me what had happened. She told me she was calling to explain why she had to cancel her upcoming appointment. She didn't want me to think I had done anything wrong, but she couldn't even afford babyfood at this point, let alone me. 

"Well just come in anyway and let me take care of you this time, we'll figure it out after that," I said. She immediately protested and assured me that wasn't why she had called, she just hadn't wanted to disappear on me. But I was so angry for her, and for some reason the idea of her going and facing that asshole at her first court appointment with dark roots and split ends seemed so unjust it sickened me, especially after she had been such a loyal client and referred friends. I matter-of-factly told her to shut up and come in anyway (subtle, as always), because I might not to be able to fill her appointment slot with this little notice anyway, and then told her that after this appointment she was going to start coming to the assistant classes that I was an educator for, and I would give her one of the most advanced and talented assistants who I would train ahead of time and supervise, so that I could keep an eye on her hair indefinitely, and for much less money, until she got back on her feet. She started crying even harder and said something I will never forget… 

"How fucked up is it that my hairstylist cares more about me than my husband?”

I pretty much lost it soon after that and got off the phone so I could cry. 

That situation made me feel like no matter how dissatisfied or critical I can be of myself, my work or my career, I’m on exactly the path I want to be on. I want to be an artist, but I also want to contribute to other people, and put out love and positivity into an increasingly negative world, as cheesy as that sounds, and I’m in a career uniquely appropriate for that, especially in a salon, where I’m surrounded by other stylists each with hundreds of clients they connect with. If I focus only on the art, it will never be good enough for my crazy mind. I will always see that one backlit flyaway, or that damn bobby pin that shone through a curl in the flash and couldn’t be blended away by a hazy instagram filter. I will feel bored with braids my fingers still love but my eyes are sick of, or whatever pinterest picture I’m recreating for the 10th time on a bride, and I'll wish I were cutting a blue pixie instead. That type of intensity is good for creative growth but notsomuch for general life happiness. However, when I focus on the actual people I’m working on, when I see a face light up in the mirror or get texts or posts from clients weeks later sending love and continued excitement about their hair and confidence, or thanking me for the pressure I put on them to ask for the raise they deserved (Lean in, bitches!), that’s when I finally feel finished and fulfilled. A sweet bride/younger sorority sister whose wedding I worked recently told me she felt like I made her entire pinterest board come to life (which brides obsess over all year, no pressure though), and I was so flattered and happy she will always look at her pictures that way. Suddenly those updos and braids felt new and special to do again, because I knew they would be special to her. 

Now I know where I stand. I am not a stylist who makes models cry, and I never will be. I am still an artist for me, but I will never brattily poo-poo an updo as too “pretty” or too “bridal” like some of the editorial stylists I know, because I know how pretty hair feels to a woman, the challenge it is to replicate something someone has dreamed of forever, and the connection you feel to clients during important moments of their life. There will always be blue pixies, too. I saw Erica only a few times after that visit before she moved away for good, and changed her number. I still think about her and I’m still sending her love from behind my chair.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Manly Man's Girly Girl

In some ways my father is a very traditional man. He works with wood for a living and judges my boyfriends if their hands are "too soft". He's probably never worked out in a gym, and couldn't care less about "glamour muscles," but is stronger than any man his age from 50 years of carrying sheets of plywood and installing custom cabinets. I have never seen his upper lip shaved. He made himself a huge potato gun for christmas last year with a handmade switch, and hairspray as an accelerant (his favorite present was a huge sack of potatoes and cheap hairspray from my mom- I refused to waste Kerastase on that). He scoffs at the idea of cologne and likes curvy, womanly actresses like Salma Hayek. (Although who doesn't?) When I was little, he would grab a beer after he got home from a long day at work, and I would curl up with him and watch tv, tell him about my day, and generally try to make him laugh with the dry/stupid humor I got from him. (Thanks to both my parents I will forever quote Mel brooks and Monty python movies, which no one my age appreciates.) As a result, the smell of sawdust and Corona will always make me think of him. He was horrified by the idea of tattoos and piercings on a girl, and the biggest battle I had with him growing up was whether or not my door was closed while my sweet and respectful high school boyfriend was over. We still debate whether that rule was necessary every few years. (It wasn't!) 

a rare flannel-free day

But, in some ways, my father is modern and progressive. He, along with my maternal grandfather, always made me feel like my opinion was valid, valuable even. I was always part of the conversation, taught about science and politics, and brought up to value my brain more than my body. He always wanted me to help him in his shop and wished I was more into fishing, and weekend trips to Home Depot with him were a regular thing until I got old enough to be uncomfortable being ogled. He is the reason I connect with male clients and friends easily. I appreciate their simplicity and transparency; a conversation with a man doesn't have as many layers of communication as one with a woman. you don't have to translate tone or meaning separate from their words. I don't assume men are out to hurt me, because he never did. (unless I'm in a dark alley, and then my 'law and order' education takes precedent.)

He thought I was imagining feeling like my legs and torso 
were wet the whole time, and still feels guilty about the leak :)
 I was a lot more into learning how to perfectly tie woolybugger flies for him! (indoor kid)

My dad has always had a bemused appreciation for my love of all things beauty-related. When I was about ten, he made me an awesome manicuring station with compartments for nail polishes, and I painstakingly labeled each one with corresponding swatches for my 'clients' to choose from. He may not have understood why I loved it, but he liked my intensity and perfectionism. He used to go crazy watching me diligently butter toast, but he recently laughed when I told him nowadays I never miss a gray hair! He appreciates what I do, just in an odd way. For years he refused to sit still long enough for his perfectionist daughter's barbering, so he went to supercuts and got regularly disfigured. He liked that they spray you down and he didn't have to lay in a shampoo bowl, and he had a girl there he loved to tell stories to about his daughter doing fancy hair in Los Angeles. He swears she enjoyed these bragfests, I'm not so sure. His hair might have been longer on one side on purpose. At some point my mother started cutting his hair in their kitchen again, as she had my whole childhood, and now that my eye is trained I realize what a natural she is, and that I should probably thank her for that talent. 

My father and I understand each other in a totally new way now, simply because we have found so many similarities between our jobs. We talk about building a business, dealing with clients, mixing colors/stains and painstakingly applying (we both have matching stained fingernails), having the courage to charge a lot of money for something because you've worked hard to be good at it, and caring about your reputation. He will always be my mentor when it comes to how to be responsible with money and how to be professional and approachable at the same time, how to be passionate (on the verge of obsessive) about an artistic project while maintaining your personal relationships. I may be covered in bleach instead of sawdust, but even in the most unlikely industry, I am still my father's daughter.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Hairstylist Boot Camp

So I've been procrastinating about writing about my trip to New York for Kérastase TECH team training, partly because blogging is hard and I severely underestimated my tendency to check out intellectually the second I get home and sit down after work, and partly because my head is still swimming over everything we learned. It was amazing as always to have so many talented artists in one room, and the energy was so passionate and positive it was infectious. This training was for us as a team to learn the looks we'll be teaching in Kérastase salons all over the country, but it also was a chance for us to focus on raising our own level of skill and artistry. Doing hair next to 80 handpicked talented stylists makes you really up your game, which is awesome.

Our first day I received this Giving Key bracelet, engraved with the word, "Fearless", signifying a promotion to Level 2 educator along with some of my favorite team members. I've had such a great experience working with Kérastase and it was really humbling and meaningful to me to move up and help facilitate teaching the training for the first time, though there were a few styles I was so immediately obsessed with I was itching to get my own hands in the hair! Patience, cray cray. 

Our gorgeous studio overlooking the Hudson river

The air thick with talent and hairspray!

I couldn't agree more, Mr. Steinbeck.

TECH Artist Sarah Day's beautiful sewn-in finger wave, from our amazing "Needle and Thread" sewing class. This was when my crazy side really started to set in. When our Artistic Director Nina Dimachki was showing how to sew this look into place, which I have attempted before less successfully in the past without a stitch that brilliantly encouraged the direction of the wave the way this one does, I was desperately holding back my 4th grade teacher's-pet self from shouting, "You're amazing!" Must. control. the cray.

Luxelab's new addition to the Kerastase team,  Tiffany from our Pasadena salon!

Dressing like Audrey for our icon costume party, "Decades and Do's". I
never in my life considered having baby bangs or a pixie until this night. 

If I had known Craig was doing Marilyn, I would have gone Dita!

I learned nothing freaks people out more than a random head in an airport. I must have looked like such a little goth high school nightmare, with my all black outfit, red lipstick and clutching a head by the hair. Got upgraded though, so it'll probably happen again.

All in all, it was an amazing, exhausting, wonderful trip that made me excited for this year and everything I get to teach, and everything I have yet to learn. It was such a whirlwind of work and energy, and when I got home I found myself really grateful for all of my opportunities, but also for living in LA and loving the stylists I work with everyday, not just the ones I visit throughout the year. The next weekend, while NYC was gearing up for the second Polar Vortex, I went beach camping and witnessed the most incredible January weather/sunset, and 2014 seemed very promising.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dr. Sill's Office

When I went to Cosmetology school I told my parents I wanted to someday open up a salon that did hair and therapy. (‘Hairapy” it would be called, duhhh.) It seemed just LA enough to succeed- I pictured a spiraling starlet ripping out her extra-long extensions mid-session in distress and then immediately getting them redone, toy dog in lap, without the paparazzi outside any wiser. Now it’s pretty clear to me that this idea was just my chance to do what I had always secretly wanted to do for a living while pretending to combine the academic path I had always expected myself to take. As soon as I got into training as a stylist any other career ideas went straight out the window, though. Apparently it’s illegal to touch someone while you’re giving them therapy anyway, or something like that. I’ve clearly been very heavily researching.

Every female stylist has certain clients we regularly life-coach, advise, or encourage. (Male stylists, especially if they’re straight, can escape from much of this, although I’m sure have to deal with crazy in other ways. ) It becomes part of your relationship, and also part of what makes you irreplaceable to them. I originally wanted to be a marriage counselor, but was tired of school after I got my BA, so it’s appropriate that I found a way to still help people work out their problems and give advice that doesn’t have to be founded on anything but my still fairly ignorant gut opinion. Take that, Psychology Masters degree I thought about getting. 

Lately I’ve been playing therapist more than usual. There’s something in the water, or a full moon, or people are depressed from the holidays and the cold weather. (Is it insensitive to call it cold when most of the country is freezing and I’m currently sitting on my patio at night in flip flops and shorts and annoyed at my occasional goosebumps?)

I usually like hearing people’s secrets and drama; I get to watch a soap opera while I work and make people leave feeling better than they walked in. But, geez! In the last week (which personally wasn’t easy anyway), I had so many clients (some tearily) tell me about breakups, divorces, family feuds, abortions, deaths, and so on and on. Some of them were clients I just absolutely adore and it weighed on me more than I’ve ever noticed before.

So, it’s the perfect timing for Kerastase training in New York! I’m so excited to learn what we’re teaching for the year with some of my favorite hairstylists in the country! Only two more days. I guess I’ll wear bright red lipstick until then to improve my mood. Maybe start offering some Xanax with coffee. Solid plan, huh? 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Cut off all your hair.

Someday. Once in your life. Don't do it after a break up, don't do it on a dare. Do it when you're ready. But do it. You'll survive, I promise.

A few years ago I had a boyfriend who loved my long, shiny hair. He wasn't a particularly great boyfriend, and I had a sneaking suspicion that his attachment to my hair was stronger than his attachment to me, which was confirmed when we broke up a week after I chopped it to my chin (he immediately asked me to get extensions for his birthday!)... Of course now I realize that haircut saved me from wasting more time with him, but at the time I was devastated. How could I have so impulsively ruined the prettiest thing about me? Now I was single, sad, and didn't even have my long hair to cover up the extra 20 pounds I'd gained from drinking beer every weekend with Selfish and his friends...

This is what pretending to be happy looks like.

I'm not gonna lie, the next year was hard. I don't bounce back from breakups quickly, especially if I'm not feeling great about myself... I remember looking at long-haired pictures from college when I was thinner and browner (I still miss the days when I was unafraid of skin cancer and wrinkles) and lamenting my loss of self confidence. Where was the girl who used to pick out a guy across a bar and say, "You're mine", aloud, as my friends laughed at my bravado? How could I eyefuck with the same intensity without my mane to shake at him?

I may have been sad, but I was also observant, and the psychology student deep down started to notice a few changes in my life as a result of the haircut...

Women treated me remarkably differently
. Suddenly I had friends in the line at the grocery store, making small talk. In bathrooms at restaurants I was complimented without fail. I didn't have to be sugary-sweet with a first-time client for them to like me and listen to my suggestions. All of a sudden I had become either a cute little sister, or a ballsy girl who had cut her hair off the way many women wished they could, instead of the vixen they pictured flirting with their husband and gossiping behind their backs. I was never that mean girl when my hair was long, but I looked like her, and so I was subject to their suspicion. I have always been a girl's girl, and I loved this newfound sisterhood with strangers.
I've since talked to many friends and clients who've had similar experiences after cutting their hair, and I'm still amazed that we subconsciously assume so much based on appearances.

I got healthy. I decided I couldn't change the length of my hair (extensions were too much work for my lazyass, and I was still proud and stubborn enough I didn't want to admit I regretted the cut), but I could change my body. It was a matter of priorities, and I hated feeling insecure more than I loved eating Mexican food at 2am. I'm a firm believer in treating yourself well, especially after others have treated you poorly. That meant eating really healthy food, instead of just starving myself, and finding a workout that was maintainable and realistic. As my body changed, I didn't mind so much not having all that hair covering it up. Funny how that works. By the time I'd grown it out a bit, I was feeling so much more confident I was ready to cut it again. At some point along this road I became close friends with a model with super-short hair who possesses the kind of confidence that turns off women but makes men stop in their tracks, and I realized it’s all in how you rock it, anyway. I know you hear that all the time, but it never felt so true until I met her. She gets hit on way more with short hair than she ever did when it was long. When you feel hot, you look hotter. Simple.

The body doesn't hurt, either. Let's be real.

I stopped judging myself based solely on my appearance. I was a fairly plain, average-looking child, and I don't remember that bothering me. My family had always told me how smart I was, how funny I was, and I embraced the quirky side of my personality as what made me special. I'm not sure at what point being a "pretty" girl became so important to me. Cheerleading? Sorority life? I'm sure it was somewhat tied into my lifelong love of hair and makeup, but even that was always more about beautifying my surroundings than personal. Deep down I felt angry with myself. Why was I mourning my hair? When had I become so shallow? My self-pity and sarcasm slowly developed into a comedy routine for my clients and friends, usually involving my fear of dying alone with my cat and having her eat my face. As my heart healed, it actually became a joke and I began to look forward to dating someone who loved me for the things about me that were intrinsic and permanent, such as my warped sense of humor. I've since realized you attract totally different (better!) guys with short hair anyway, guys who like style and confidence in a woman. Guys who aren't looking for a toy who looks like everybody else or who feel ownership over your appearance/identity.  The guy who never wants your hair to change probably won't be so happy when your body changes down the road, either. I'm better off letting them weed themselves out.

Watching, waiting...

I realized it’s not healthy to be so attached to one thing about you. Nothing physical is permanent... Your body, your face, and especially your hair... I have clients every week dealing with hair loss, either from having a baby, or illnesses, or sadly, quite often from stress. Every client in law school has half her hair by the time she takes the bar. If you attach your identity or attractiveness to something so impermanent, what are you left with when it's gone, whether that's now or later? I volunteered for a cut-a-thon for Locks of Love that year, and a girl with waist-length hair sat in my chair and told me to shave her head and donate all of it. I thought I had misheard her, but she explained that she had been in remission for ten years and that she wanted to lose her hair by choice, to help others as she had been helped as a child, because it was only hair and she knew she could live without it. Talk about perspective. We both cried through that whole haircut, and I was a different person afterwards.

There are always moments in your life that define you, and change you. Cutting my hair was one of those for me... It was the impetus for me to really look inward and grow emotionally, it made me more focused on my health, my career, and my friendships, and it made me less afraid to experiment with my look and style, which has served me well as a hairstylist... I still like my hair long. I still feel more feminine, more "me", for some reason. But the next time I'm feeling stagnant or misguided in my life, I know my short-haired self is ready and waiting.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Love of my Life (so far)

I wrote most of this for an application to the cosmetology program at Vidal Sassoon. I was fresh out of college and used to busting out essays at the last minute. Let's just say, it seemed a little wordy and excessive compared to the paragraphs my peers wrote. (I got used to eye rolls from emo 18 year olds with blue pixie cuts- i think it was also because I looked more like one of the Hooters girls who worked next door, unfortunately) But, even as I wrote it, I felt more and more sure of the direction I wanted my life and career to go, so I'm glad I purged such silly memories onto paper. I think it sums up the path to my career pretty well...

I’ve been into hair and makeup for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up, I spent more time braiding my doll’s hair than doing pretty much anything else. My older sister would get angry with me because every time she saw her dolls, they had a different hairstyle, so she knew I had touched them. I spent a worrisome amount of time numbering and organizing my ever-growing collection of nail polishes and giving my mother pedicures and foot rubs, which I somehow was tricked into thinking were my idea. My most memorable fight with a friend from my childhood started when I wouldn’t let my best friend Ashley put make-up on me, even though she always let me put hers on. At the time it somehow made sense that I was the only one qualified.
As I got older I became interested in performing, and that consumed most of my time, between dance lessons, rehearsals, and performances. When I started doing musical theater, I discovered stage make-up, and my love of it. I will never forget how excited I was the day they gave out our make-up kits. I suddenly was thrilled at my miniscule role as a dancing flower in “Alice in Wonderland,” because it involved elaborate, bright, eye makeup with swirls of color that extended out onto the cheeks and temples. The make-up artist for our production was an overweight, grumpy man named Phil who did not appreciate an 11-year-old telling him when his lines were wobbly on her eyeliner, or constantly begging him to let her try it herself. Throughout the two-month run of the show, I slowly convinced him to let me do my own eye make-up, and gradually was allowed to apply it for more and more cast members, until I was arriving early every day and in charge of eight other girls’ elaborate bright swirls, which Phil lectured me over and over again “did not need to be so perfect; the audience is far away!” I, however, was more concerned with the pictures we took backstage, cheek to cheek, with me casually bringing the camera uncomfortably close to our faces, so the detail would be more visible. The next few summers I was in plays with the same theater troupe, but no longer had to fight for my right to apply makeup. I gleefully became a goblin with sunken eyes night after night, a riverboat dancer with a perfectly groomed wig and painstakingly applied false eyelashes, and a fairy godmother, who was much more wrinkly than was perhaps necessary for the role.

            When I went to high school, my love for musical theater took a backseat to cheerleading, which I embraced wholeheartedly, becoming Captain, Choreographer, and Poster-maker Extraordinaire. I slept in pink rollers before every pep rally or game, in order to pile perfect curls on top of my head, complete with a sparkly ribbon. Oh yeah, I was THAT girl. I also went through a phase where I applied colored glitter in place of eye shadow for every game, and used up all my “True Colors” glitter on the rest of my squad when they lined up before games for me to beautify. I actually think we spent more time primping than practicing, which was probably obvious from the performance. I also had my first taste of the business side of things when I started charging for prom updos. Yeah twisties!

            When I started attending UCLA in 2003, I thought I would never be around such “girly” girls again… then I joined a sorority. Suddenly I was living in a house with 54 other girls, getting ready every morning sharing a huge mirror with a sea of faces, exchanging make-up and tips before every big event, and constantly being bombarded (to my delight) by requests for me to do someone’s hair or makeup for an event or a big date. I had guinea pigs at my disposal like never before, and got to try things I’d always wanted to do, like highlighting hair (using kitchen foil, a pencil for weaving, and a poster sponge to apply, which was eaten away by the end!) or cutting it short (using only a Venus divine razor- she loved it!). When I think about some of the things these girls let me try on them, fully aware I was so inexperienced, I’m touched by their faith in me, and profoundly worried about their judgment.

           During college I got more involved in acting, and started doing student films and day player work. Every set I was on, no matter how low budget it was, had a make-up artist or hairstylist, and I was always intent on making friends with them and talking about their career, or their favorite tricks of the trade. I was always so jealous of what they got to do every day, jealous that they got paid for something I’ve spent so many hours, so many days, doing for free.

 Looking back on it now, I’m surprised it took me so long to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I think because doing hair and make-up has always been such an innate thing to me, and something I enjoyed so much, it never really occurred to me I could turn a hobby into a career. I finally realized that no matter how many phases I’ve gone through in my life, and how many hobbies or interests I’ve had, this really is the one thing I’ve never given up when something new and interesting came along. It’s always been a part of my life, and a way for me to be artistic and creative on a daily basis, and somehow it turned into something I could make a career and a name out of.

My job is amazing. People come in feeling crappy, and leave feeling hot. I watch an all-day makeover marathon in my mirror, and it satisfies me the way a newly painted room can. I have interesting conversations with people from absolutely any and every profession or walk of life, and am surrounded by 30 other stylists from all over the world with the most colorful, funny, and ridiculous personalities. I have a skill I can barter for many things I would have paid for anyway (my pilates intructor has beautiful hair), and can wear whatever weird outfit i want, whether its a tutu or all leather. When I need a change from the salon, I do work on tv shows or photography and get back into the artistry of it all. When I do weddings I'm part of an incredibly personal and sweet day and forever feel a connection to that bride, as she does to me. I've recently started teaching styling for Shu Uemura salons all over and just became a cutting instructor at my salon, where our hungry assistants have brought out in me a need to share knowledge i didn't know i had. Best of all, I feel vindicated for every time I was judged for being too ‘girly’, every time I got in trouble in school for playing with someone’s hair (it happened in three separate grades spanning ten years, to be exact) or being too chatty. Now it all just feels like job training. And yes, mom, I did find a job where I could sleep in every morning. I told you I would.

I can still bitch about my feet hurting, though, right?