The Mane Matters: Becoming An Editorial Hair Stylist

So, you’re a trained hair professional looking for a challenge? Perhaps editorial styling could be the niche for you. Behind the scenes, in between the MUA station and the racks of clothes, sits the editorial hair stylist. Working with the rest of the creative team, they help to craft a complimentary style that will tie the entire look together. Granted, working on a photoshoot, tv or film set does sound exciting. Nevertheless, there a few things you need to set in place to transition into this fashion-hair world; and we’re not talking about laying down those edges. Here are some tips to consider:

[Image: Veronica Azaryan / Hair: Denis Khudognikov]

Getting experience

Whether it’s for print, broadcast or the runway, most creative teams want to work with an editorial hair stylist who knows the ropes. The first place to start is to get your training down through beauty school. It helps to be certified and to understand the art and science of hair grooming and care.

[Image: Attilio D’Agostino / Hair: Sharday Johnson]

From there, you want to get some on-set work under your belt. That will include some volunteer work on your part. It’s not uncommon to start out as an assistant. Particularly with runway shows or big editorial photo shoots, the lead hairstylists will require helping hands. So, it pays to understand the dynamics and expected behaviour required behind the scenes.  Get out there and offer your skills to an upcoming photo shoot, music video recording or ad campaign. It doesn’t have to be strictly editorial, but it should be a scenario where you work with a team made up of industry professionals. Your main aim here is to gain experience and network with industry insiders that can point your career in the right direction. Building up a rapport can make it easier to ask the photographer, MUA or creative director to refer you to other projects you can work on.

[Image: Bet Orten / Hair: Tereza Pracharova]

Portfolio requirements

Editorial hair stylists need to be able to select the looks that narrate the story but also portray well on a variety of editorial materials. This includes visual creations such as album covers, movie posters, broadcast, magazine spreads, print adverts, and digital commercials.

[Image: Victor Peace / Hair: Corrine Muthoni]

Networking comes in handy here as you’ll be able to ask the photographers to send you images of your work. But what kind of work should you be incorporating? Firstly, hair stylist should be able to create two-dimensional looks. But it doesn’t hurt to be able to take things in the 3D direction as well. Your portfolio should also reflect that you can do multiple looks and genres, as well as, understand camera angles and pro tips to make them pop on film/print.

[Image: O.U.B.P]

A portfolio shouldn’t be static, rather, it should reflect that you’re constantly in touch with industry progressions. But above all, it should reflect your level of taste. After all, you are aiming to be lead hair stylist one day. A position that creates looks that could influence upcoming trends beyond the fashion industry.

[Image: Mario Sorrenti]

The Kit

In a nutshell, it will be a mini salon. From the heat styling equipment to the hair products, you’ll be expected to have it all. You’ll also need to invest in a wig and hair extensions selection that varies in colours and textures. Not only will it give you a variety of options, but it will also come in handy in terms of timesaving or dealing with unexpected situations. While most models are briefed on how their hair should be, the stylist needs to be prepared for any eventuality.

[Image: Andreas Verheijen]

Speaking of products, today’s hairstylist needs to be able to style a variety of hair types. In the recent years, there have been increasing exposes of backstage discrimination concerning afro hair and hairstyles, such as the story of model Londone Myers being ignored for hours on end at Paris Fashion Week. Thus, your styling and products should also incorporate natural and afro categories as well.

[Image: Viktoria Stutz Photography / Hair: Chris Schild]

The meetings

As you grow in your career, ensure that you’re as involved in the planning process as much as the rest of the creative team. Before the shoot day, meet with the MUA, Creative director, photographer and models to get artistic vision that will guide your strategy. We can’t stress enough how important doing your research is here. Understanding the history of fashion and hairdressing, as well as, knowing where the industry is headed, all play a part in building an authentic story. It also helps you craft your own signature style. From there, set up a date where you will do a run through with the model to ensure the vision is achievable. If it isn’t, the stylist needs to communicate this in good time to the rest of the crew and suggest an alternative that will. Remember, once you’ve paid your dues in the volunteer world and have earned your stripes, you now need to align your brand with projects that match your values and career goals.

[Image: Island Boi Photography]

During the shoot

After setting up before the call time, your job is to design the hair and prepare for the shoot. That includes knowing the order of looks and setting up your equipment and props accordingly. You also will stay on throughout the shoot to maintain the model’s look and adjust where necessary. Now, it may be tempting to be hands off once the model gets in front of the camera, but your skills are still required. Your knowledge on hair’s best angles will come in handy while assisting the photographer to capture the strategy that was agreed upon during the meeting. Check for how the lighting and angles are affecting the colour and shine of the hair and make edits. Plus, it ensures you’ll get some great shots of your hard work for your portfolio.

[Image: Lindsay Adler]

This is also a place research and practice will come in handy. As much as you’ve prepped, there are variables that will be out of your control. Your model may show up without setting their hair as instructed. Or perhaps you could find that the hair is badly damaged, and you need to find a solution that the hair can handle but still fits into your theme. You’ll have to do all this quickly and with precision. At times, you’ll also have to get your assistants up to speed in such a way that your signature style is still preserved.

[Image: Pinterest]

It’s no secret that being an editorial hair stylist will require some resolve, discipline and patience for the long hours on set (and waiting for your pay).  It does take time and energy to learn different fortes in hairdressing and applying it under limited time situations. But if you do put in the work, both commercially and with your personal projects, you should see growth within your career. Don’t forget to network, build your confidentiality muscles and, above all, always grow your skillset, creative eye and portfolio.


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