Jen Atkin, Khloe Kardashian, and makeup artist Joyce Bonelli. (Photo: Instagram)
If you think celebrities live the most exciting lives, you haven’t met Jen Atkin. The celeb hairstylist started doing hair at Chris McMillan's salon (he created The Rachel), toured with Madonna, and regularly grooms stars like the Kardashians, Jessica Alba, Chrissy Teigen, and Reese Witherspoon for red carpet events. Read on to find out how she rose to the top of her game, her must-have products, her take on celeb-driven trends, and exactly how Kim and Khloe come up with their ever-changing hairdos.
Yahoo Beauty: Have you always been so obsessed with hair? How did you break into the industry?
Jen Atkin: Yeah! I was really obsessed with makeovers and the idea of changing into someone else. I always make a joke that I won’t watch a movie unless there’s a shopping montage or a makeover scene. [Laughs] In high school I was doing friends’ hair in Utah. A friend and I decided to move to LA, and I started working as a receptionist and then a manager of a salon. Then I assisted Andy Lecompte at Chris McMillan Salon, and that just kind of changed everything.
That was post-Rachel. He was known as The Guy. The salon had been open for a few years, but it was definitely the place to be. I learned so much from him and I got to go on Madonna’s tour and do the dancers’ hair with Andy Lecompte.
Wow. Which tour was that?
The Confessions tour. 2006.
What was that like?
It was amazing! She’s really inspiring. Being on the road is tiring—it was a little bit of Groundhog Day. We were all jetlagged. I was behind the scenes falling asleep, but they were all dancing onstage.
Katy Perry for CoverGirl. (Photo: CoverGirl)
I bet. So what was next?
When I came back, I fell in love with editorial and being an editorial stylist. I used to work with John Galliano when he was at the House of Dior, and I would go and do the shows and work with Guido on his team. So, then I started learning about runway work and doing these amazing looks paying attention to detail but really quickly and efficiently being on a time crunch.
That’s awesome. What was a highlight?
I remember one time I was backstage prepping his hair and then Anna Wintour comes in to wish him luck before the show, and then Kate Moss runs in and I got to a little touchup on Kate. I was like, OK, I’m done. I can retire. [Laughs]
I got to go to Shanghai, and he did the Dior show on the Bund, and it was exhilarating. As a stylist going to do the shows it’s so much work and you get very little actual pay, but it’s like hair university. You learn so much. I have been so lucky to assist amazing people. I’ve got to work with Danilo, Bob Recine, and Guido. You just pick up things here and there. There are times when I’ll be in a job and they’ll ask me to do disco curls, and I’ll remember Guido showing us how to do hair wrapped around a French hairpin, flatiron over that, and taking it out. It’s funny, things will come back randomly, but you’re like, “oh my God, I forgot I knew how to do that.”
Kim Kardashian on the cover of ELLE France with her briefly platinum hair. (Photo: Elle France)
That’s awesome. And you work with the Kardashians a lot now—Is that a very collaborative process, or do you just know what they like by this point?
What’s fun about the girls is that they’re always changing it up. They’re always looking to reinvent themselves. They’re very collaborative. There are times we’ll all bring images from an editorial that I saw overseas, and I’m like, “oh, I just love this vibe,” and vice versa. They always have great ideas and we’re always inspiring one another.
Where do you find inspiration?
I have an arsenal of over 3,000 images that I have categorized in my iPad, and so I constantly update that. I go to websites like Byrdie, Yahoo Beauty, and Fashion Gone Rogue, and then I’ll bring it to clients and sometimes that will spark something.
Makeup artist Joyce Bonelli, Jen Atkin, and Kim Kardashian. (Photo: Instagram)
Who do you feel dictates hair trends? Celebrities or models?
I think it’s a combination, and I think that they influence one another. There are times when I’m working with a big model and they’ll reference an actress, and then other times an actress or a personality will reference a model. Lily Aldridge and Miranda Kerr are so influential with hair color. Actresses have a little bit more freedom when it comes to haircuts because they change it up for roles. Models aren’t necessarily encouraged to cut their very often, but then again, Karlie Kloss cut her hair short and it was so popular.
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in ELLE. (Photo: ELLE)
What about New York versus LA?
With fashion, everything tends to go towards Paris. With hair, everything tends to go towards LA.
Yeah, my clients in New York all want that California girl bend. It’s still so popular. It’s not necessarily Victoria’s Secret hair—it’s a little bit more relaxed.
What’s the big trend for spring?
I think a relaxed bend—that French model hair that’s really non-fussy. I remember seeing Freja Beha having that. Right now I’m telling clients to kind of use the curling iron to give that bend in your hair, and use that flatiron to kind of relax it a bit more.
How do you do your hair own?
Oh my God, I’m in a bun literally every day of my life. I personally just cut off about nine inches of my hair. I call it the power lob. Occassionally I’ll take it out and wear my hair down, but most of the time it’s still in a bun.
What are your 5 current product go-tos?
Sachajuan Ocean Mist ($30). I use this to prep hair before almost every blowdry! It creates hold, texture, and second day movement to the hair.
Oribe Dry Texture Spray ($42). I love this product to finish hair. It’s like a hairspray and dry shampoo all in one—it soaks up excess oil and adds airy texture, volume, and hold.
Leonor Greyl Eclat Naturel ($46). Like lotion for the hair, this adds just enough moisture and the tiniest amount of hold and separation.
Bumble and bumble City Swept Spray ($30). Perfect for piecey definition on longer lengths, this spray adds more shine.
Osmo Clay Wax ($9). I use this to finish hair. Most girls can be scared of using a wax in the hair, but the tiniest bit controls frizz and flyaways, and adds definition to the hair.
If you could only use three products for the rest of your life, what would they be?
That’s a really good question! I would say definitely a hair oil. I love coconut oil. I grew up in Hawaii, so I’m all about natural products that you can buy at the grocery store. Then my Mason Pearson brush, and a hair tie.
Tell me about your site, Mane Addicts.
I was frustrated because, like I said, I’m always looking for inspiration for clients, but there was never really a place I could go that was just strictly hair. So, that’s how it was born. I have so many peers that are amazing stylists, and I wanted to help expose this community of artists that I work with here in LA and in New York. We have how-to videos, celebrity editorials, and the number one thing I wanted to focus on were educational seminars. We have a class coming up in a few weeks in LA with Tracey Cunningham that sold out in 20 minutes. We have another class in Dubai with Harry Josh and Sir John, and I’m doing one in Dubai at the end of May with Mary Phillips and Khloe Kardashian as our model.
Khloe Kardashian on the February 2015 cover of Cosmopolitan. (Photo: Cosmopolitan)
Amazing. What do you like working on more? Red carpet or editorials?
I love it all. I even go to the salon still and I love to be in the salon. It’s the strangest thing, but so many of my long-term clients—they’re like my therapists. I love mixing it up, so I feel like I never get stuck in the same routine.