Celebrity Hairstylist Chris McMillan: The Hard Part of My Job is Dealing with Personalities

Living Proof hairstylist Chris McMillan with his longtime client, Jennifer Aniston. (Photo: Living Proof)

Living Proof celebrity hairstylist Chris McMillan created the “Rachel” cut for Jennifer Aniston, a ‘do you may remember rocking yourself in the early ‘90s. Likely the most influential hairstyle since the “Farrah,” it spawned a million imitations and catapulted McMillan’s career. He’s also tended to the famed manes of Cameron Diaz, Sandra Bullock, Courteney Cox and Gwyneth Paltrow, and most recently his Miley Cyrus makeover overtook the Twittersphere. The California native is known for his low-key, pretty aesthetic — the result of perfecting the tousled waves and natural texture of surfer girls’ locks with which he became well acquainted because of his sunny milieu. Here, he shares about his mentor when he was in his 20s, how he defines sucess now versus then, and his plaid-pants regret in the ‘90s.

My mentor in my 20s was Sally Hershberger. I was her assistant; I learned so much. She had this methodical way of doing hair — very structured in her approach, both in the way she cut and blow-dried. Then, she did this haphazard finishing look at the end. I loved that contrast, which I still do today. I used to go with her to get her hair cut from this Chinese woman. Then, she would have me blow-dry it and while I was doing that, I’d go in there and texturize it.

I was so insecure in my 20s. I think it wasn’t until my mid-30s that I really started to let go of that. The funniest part is when I used to smoke pot, I didn’t care. And once I got sober, I started caring a lot — that was at 33. I remember I started caring too much. I really cared about what other people thought. But I also saw the result of success in a different way. I was working smarter. I was more creative with this new awareness and sobriety. I saved money. I bought a home. I got more settled in my skin and my life. That made me more confident.

In my 20s, I shaved in the shower. I didn’t use sunscreen — I regret that. I used Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturizer sometimes, but not all the time. I had no regimen in my 20s – it was just about taking a shower and getting clean. I started taking much better care of my skin in my 30s and 40s. Now, I try everything and anything. I use a Clarisonic every other day. I use Shiseido SPF 30 or 50 Wet Force moisturizer on my face and body no matter what. I use Boscia facial cleanser – it’s my favorite.  

In my 20s I used to love this product called Tri Ecollogen shampoo and peppermint conditioner that made your scalp tingle. When Sebastian came out, I was obsessed with those products.

Now my favorite product to use on myself is Living Proof’s Full and No Frizz shampoos and conditioners — I switch back and forth. For a styler I use Amp Instant Texture Volumizer. On my clients, it really depends on their hair type. I use Amp on all my guys — they don’t leave the salon without it. I use Flex Shaping Hairspray or Control Hairspray all the time. I use Flex as a root lift and a finishing spray. I use a lot of Instant Texture Mist too.

Fashionwise, I regret the plaid pants of my 20s. I remember I had these black watch plaid pants from Benetton. Horrible.

Living Proof celebrity hairstylist Chris McMillan. (Photo: Living Proof)

Oh my god, I remember defining success as the ability to do just do five haircuts at $100 apiece in one day. That was $500. If I could do that 5 days a week, it would be $2,500. I would pay my rent, my car, and then have $500 leftover at the end of the month after paying all my bills. Success to me was really about that basic thinking. Having $100 was success. Trust me, I thought I was rich. I could buy whatever I wanted, which meant going to the Gap, then. Now, I define success in my relationship with my husband, Martin. Success is having a healthy relationship with him. I find success in the fact that I have had a hair salon for over 12 years. I have dogs who love me whom I can take care of. I have a healthy relationship with as many people as I possibly can. I can pay my bills and not worry.

I’d tell my 20-something self to skip the drugs, pot, and alcohol. It’s just a waste of time. The smartest advice I ever give, especially to the people who work for me, is focus on buying a house. Save money and buy a house. Because when you do, you have a responsibility to take care of. Then, take it one step further and get married and have a kid. These things keep you motivated and showing up to work. They keep you motivated to work. It creates a sense of stability. Buying property is the smartest move I’ve ever made.

In my 20s, I was a little too insecure to notice certain good qualities in people. I would focus too much on one person and didn’t pay attention to the good in others. I wanted the guy who didn’t want me. Typically, that’s what happens in your 20s. I am sure I have that in common with a lot of people. I always liked the wrong person, and the right person always liked me but I was too busy liking the wrong person.

I do get noticed every now and then, but typically people are more focused on the celebrities than on me. The hard part of my job is dealing with personalities. The actual hair is the easy part. Sometimes the challenges can be the photographers, the talent that you’re working with, or the makeup artists. Sometimes, you have a difference of opinion. You want to please the client and the photographer, and those aren’t always the same thing. Most rewarding for me is seeing a beautiful picture on newsstands. Also, making someone happy enough to rebook me, in addition to liking the work, myself.

As told to Amber Katz.

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