When Create + Cultivate launched their first-ever list of 100 influential women, the girls-only platform for entrepreneurs had some expected names: Mandy Moore, Rebecca Minkoff, and Rachel Bloom all took top spots.
Then there's Kristin Ess, the California hair guru whose faithful client list includes Lauren Conrad and Lucy Hale... and whose latest project is a new line for Target. (It's sold out in many stores, but still available online!)
We spoke with the redhead about pregnancy hair, female competition, and if The Hills' blonde beach waves will ever die. (Spoiler: nope.)Lauren Conrad wasn't your first client. Who was?
My little brother! But my first "repeat client" was my sister. She was my little doll. I was nine when I started cutting everybody's bangs. I had a fake business card that said "bows and bangs." I was a hustler really early. But I knew it was working when my mom's friends would slip me a few dollars to cut their bangs! I was like, "Hey, this is for real!"What did you spend your money on?
Ice cream and makeup. I would go to the CoverGirl section of Thrifty in Bakersfield, California, which is basically Rite Aid now. I would buy those CoverGirl compacts every chance I got!When did you start cutting hair outside of your living room?
Pretty much the day I turned 16, which is when it was legal. That's when I got my first apprenticeship. It was at this place called Carlton Hair International in Century City. It's a chain of hair salons at upscale malls all over California. I was an assistant in their flagship salon, and I worked my way up.And who was your first famous client?
Amber Valletta. She lived down the street from our salon in LA. Her friend came to me, and she came once to keep her friend company. Then she came back and asked for a blowout. Then she came back and asked if I would cut her hair. Then she came back and asked if I would style her for an event. I did her hair and makeup for the Vanity Fair [Oscar] party, and I almost passed out when I saw photos of her. It was such an epic thing, because it ended up in tabloids, and then it would go into fashion magazines when they'd do stories like "the best haircuts for short hair" or whatever. I had a meltdown.Did Amber Valletta help your career?
Absolutely. I was 24, and she was a great client-she passed on her friends, so through her, I met more people in the [fashion] industry. She was so supportive and really cool, I have to say.When did you start working with Lauren Conrad?
When I moved to the Warren Tricomi salon across town. Lauren [Conrad] literally fell into my chair at the salon. They were filming The Hills at Warren Tricomi, and on the show, they always credited the places onscreen. I happened to be working that day, and she just sat down. So that was my first taste of "celebrity hair," with the cameras and the press.Sometimes reality shows aren't "real." Did you have to keep curling the same piece of Lauren's hair over and over?
No! They wanted it to be as real as possible! They just filmed me doing her hair straight through. And I was clueless. I'd never been on a TV show. I'd never been on a reality TV set, especially. I was very skilled at hair, but the fame aspect of it? So foreign to me. I didn't even think I would be on TV.But you were SO on TV.
I still get texts from people saying, "I see you on The Hills!" Still. Lauren will find old photos or clips and text them to me, too. And we were children! But in so many ways, The Hills really did start my career. I'd never spoken to a beauty editor prior to appearing on that show or touching Lauren's hair. It was a tornado of press after that. And people would call the salon and say, "I want the girl who did Lauren's hair." We were slammed.What's the difference between the "LA hair" on 'The Hills and "LA hair" now?
The [beachy] wave is almost exactly the same, but the texture is a little more matte. It's not so sleek and shiny. You don't want it to look like there are extensions and gloss. And because of the products that are available now, which are more texturizing products-when I first started doing [Lauren Conrad's] hair, the best products were shine spray, holding spray, and that was basically it. Now we have so many more options and that super-shiny look isn't seen as very "cool" anymore, but the color and the wave of Lauren's hair, that's still 100% the most requested thing I see in the salon.Full disclosure: This will be a total tabloid question.
I love tabloid questions.How has Lauren Conrad's hair changed since she's been pregnant?
Oooh... I will say that everyone mentions that. It's a real thing during pregnancy, that your hair gets longer and thicker no matter what.Does that mean more trims?
Not in my experience. Because you've got longer hair, you've got bigger boobs, it's kind of this goddess moment for you-it's like you get natural hair extensions! A lot of my clients say they feel sexier and prettier during pregnancy. It's a real phenomenon.If I want great hair but I'm not Lauren Conrad, or someone with a huge budget, what one product should I splurge on?
First of all, I wish Target was around when I was a kid. It didn't used to have all this great stuff. You'd go there for a washing machine, not hair products. So it should be easier to shop for great things on a budget now. But if you can only get one thing, I'd say my leave-in conditioner can go on every single hair type. It's literally weightless. Wet hair. Dry hair. It's forever the best thing you can buy for your hair. So if that's the only thing you can buy, get it immediately.You're one of the Create + Cultivate ambassadors, and their programs aim to bring women in business together. What's a big obstacle keeping women in the hair industry from collaborating?
I think a lot of times, women have a perception of how someone else in their industry will be before they actually meet them. So you see them on TV once, or you read one tweet, or you hear one story from someone-but you've never had any face time with that person. And still, you assume "that girl is a snob" or "that girl is really difficult." And I will say 100% of the time when I've met someone in my industry and I've come in with those assumptions, I've been proven wrong… you hear things about someone, you meet them, and they're awesome. I'm sure that happens with me, too-someone thinks they know what I'm like, but they've never met me. And that level of gossip, I hope we can break it down.What's the first step to stopping that gossip?
Just the understanding that we're all doing our own thing. There's enough hair in the world for everyone. Opportunity is everywhere all the time. Not to sound cheesy, but it's true. And there's so much more power in alliance. I would say, don't judge anyone's process until you meet them.And finally–how should you style your hair for a selfie?
Number one, if you're gonna selfie, you've got to pull all your hair forward. So bring it all in front of your shoulders, in front of your forehead, and clear your face a little. Then tilt your face forward just a tiny bit, so your hair looks as thick and in-motion as possible. That's the trick.
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