Years ago a friend of mine had started her hairdressing training at college in my hometown in Essex. I was one of her helpful/brave/slightly skint friends who would let her practice haircuts on me during one of her first times picking up the scissors. I was completing my A levels at the time.
I completed my own training in hair, moved to London, and enjoyed getting more confident working in the wonderful industry of hairdressing. I entered a competition through a product company to become one of their educators. I had to perform a haircut, preferably a complete restyle, in front of a panel of judges, whilst talking through what I was doing and attempting to sound entertaining. It went better than I thought it had as I was called back and gained a place. This opened up my working month to a day or two out of the salon in different places. Enjoying the change, I jumped at the opportunity when the product company asked if I would assist one of their ambassadors at a hairdressing evening he was hosting.
I had no idea what I was walking in to and felt completely out of my depth on stage, terrified, passing pins and holding hairspray. But equally as amazed at the hair I was watching being created in front of me. The hairstylist's agency asked me the next week if I'd like to work on a photoshoot, assisting again, then after that at London fashion week. I was having a baptism of fire, going from not really understanding how a hairstylist fits into the fashion industry, and certainly never thinking it was something I wanted to do, to working on shows and shoots regularly enough that eventually I had to make a decision on my job in the salon. I took the position to go full time as a first assistant, which meant a 3 year position working on every job, travelling, and receiving training to eventually lead me to be able to pursue my own career as a session stylist working in the fashion industry.
Working on shows and photoshoots I would meet other assistants regularly, and I soon came to realise that my transition from salon to fashion was quite a rare route. I spoke to people who were working very hard assisting many different people to make money, learn new skills, and allow them to continue working in the fashion industry. Not that I wasn't working hard, but I realised I was in a very fortunate position, and that there was not much knowledge out there to help salon stylists who aspire to take their career in a different direction.
So I thought I would like to give a few tips to anyone wishing to try something new. The first tip, and one I found quite hard to get my head around at first, is that hairdressing in the salon and creating hairstyles to be photographed is really quite different. Your salon skills are absolutely crucial in forming a base for session hairdressing, but to work on set you are often required to rarely pick up your scissors, but still totally transform a head of hair, whether it be a subtle change of texture, or dramatic changes after each shot. So, how to learn this? I would say the best route is assisting someone who has been doing it for years! There are people out there who have worked on photoshoots every week for over 20 years! Their knowledge is incredible, and being able to stand and watch some of the transformations they create is invaluable to your own career. Look at hair & make up agency websites at which hairdresser's work resonates with you. Email the agents direct saying you admire the stylists work and would love to assist them. Agencies are always looking for assistants and will be more than pleased to hear you admire their clients work. Be honest with your abilities, if you've never worked on a photoshoot in your life, tell them. In my case I believe this was a part in me getting the job! I had no 'bad hairdressing habits' to be ironed out before training began!
There are also many fashion weeks throughout the year, these are an amazing time to learn new skills and get to know which teams you like working for. You work with the key hairstylist, their first assistant, and then a team of 5-50 hairdressers! It is always busy, always fun, and always extremely insightful. Remember that the key hairstylist's first assistant is basically their eyes and ears, so talk to them. Tell them how interested you are in learning. In my case I would regularly debrief the key hairstylist after each fashion week show about who would be great to be a regular fixture in the team.
Another important step is testing. This is basically working on a photoshoot with a photographer, model, hair, make up, and clothes stylist. These shoots are just for everyone's portfolio, no one gets paid and the shoots are rarely published. You may find that some agencies will ask to see examples of your work as you progress into assisting. This is often because if you are to be working on a high profile shoot, the hairstylist may want to know that his or her team of assistants are at a skill level that they can feel comfortable to delegate certain tasks. Instagram is an amazing tool to help you get started with testing. Private message photographers, make up artists, and fashion stylists expressing your interest in testing for your portfolio.
Once you start regularly assisting and testing, the motion generally seems to build itself. Posting images online where you have created the hair yourself is a great idea to help people see what you can do. I've always been of the mindset to not post images of shoots you have assisted on, as it's someone else's work and can send out mixed messages. But each to their own path!
Testing and assisting can be difficult to get in to at first, and for some reason it has remained a bit of a private club. But I don't think it should be, so I'm hoping me writing this will help give access to some amazing future hairstylists out there!