As told to Bee Shapiro.
Rock star hairstylist Sally Hershberger. (Photo: Getty)
If there ever was a rock star hairstylist, Sally Hershberger would be it. Over the years the New York resident has trimmed, cut and styled the famous tresses of Meg Ryan (she’s responsible for Ryan’s much-imitated shag cut), Joan Jett, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and even Hillary Clinton. Today, she has three salons in NYC and LA, is a top seller on HSN and is working on a new luxury haircare line called 24k. Here, Hershberger talks about her career arc, from how she finally grew out of her spoiled rich girl phase to the iconic look she came to define.
Sally Hershberger and her family. (Photo: Sally Hershberger)
I was born in Wichita, but I moved to Beverly Hills when I was six with my mother and brothers. My parents got divorced then. Later, my father remarried and so did my mother. My father was an oil man. He was very wealthy so I never thought I had to work. You just don’t become a hairdresser when you come from that kind of family.
Sally Hershberger as a child in Los Angeles. (Photo: Sally Hershberger)
Growing up in Hollywood, I hung out with Joan Jett, and my brothers hung out with other musicians. I was also a surfer. I had this really wild life and always thought I would have a trust fund to fall back on. I dreamed about designing clothes (after a trip to Europe, that was what I was passionate about). But I was partying. I didn’t get anything together. By the time I was 18, my mom said, “You have got to do something; you have got to go to school.” Well, one of my friends was like, “You’ve always been good with your hair, why don’t you do that?” He told me to go to Arthur Johns, who was one of the top three hairstylists in California. So I became an apprentice there and I went to beauty school and got kicked out.
Actually, I went to three beauty schools. The first one I got kicked out of. The second one was supposed to go on at night. Well, I would go and clock in, go out to dinner with friends, and then go back and clock out. Finally, I completed the course and I had to sit for the test for my beauty license. It actually was very complicated and all about electricity, oddly, and somehow I passed.
By then, I wasn’t really partying that much anymore and I started working at Arthur Johns. I was doing well. And then I left to go to a salon called Armando’s. It was the top, top salon at the time. Arthur actually got burnt out a bit by then. So I went to Armando’s and I was like the punk kid. When I walked in, they were like, “Ok, let’s see what you can do.” They made me do a cut on the spot and they loved it and hired me. Each stylist there was incredible in his or her right. This was the salon. Arthur used to do Olivia Newton-John and started partying a bit, so Armando started doing her hair. Then she went on tour for “Let’s Get Physical.” Usually, big hairdressers don’t go on tour because they are too expensive. So instead Olivia took me. Suddenly, I’m flying out in private jets—it was fun! It was through her that I met photographer Herb Ritts. He was photographing her for a spread. I did the hair and he loved it. Then he was throwing me into his shoots with Vanity Fair, with actress Michelle Pfeiffer—this was the Scarface era! I was very known for texture and volume in the ‘80s. It’s almost like matronly hair but more rugged and rough. It was like a gesture. I was all the girls’ (Cindy, Tatiana, the supermodels) go-to hairdresser because they knew I would make them look sexy.
Sally Hershberger’s work on the ‘90s supermodels. (Photo: Herb Ritts)
From there I started working with [photographer] Matthew Rolston in the evenings, he had all of the Hearst magazines. Then I started with [photographer] Annie Leibovitz and then [photographer] Helmut Newton whenever I could. One time I was walking by the newsstand and I had every single cover: InStyle, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar and so on. I had this huge career and I was 22.
Then, I just gave up hair. I didn’t really want to be a hairdresser. It was the ‘80s and I was making a fortune and it was the height of the supermodel reign. I really wanted to do photography and Vogue gave me my first job and I was really taking off. I was shooting actors then. But then they kept hauling me back to do hair. Basically I ended up working on every major movie star of that time—Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, etc.
Sally Hershberger did Tom Cruise’s hair. (Photo Vanity Fair)
Julia Roberts had that big hair! One day I got this voice message and it said, “Hey it’s Julie, can you get my hair off?” I didn’t even realize it was her at first. Well, I ended up going to her makeup artist’s place and cutting off her hair in his kitchen. There wasn’t even a mirror. “I don’t want to be known for my hair,” she said. Of course it made headlines. The press really started calling me at the time.
Sally Hershberger gave Meg Ryan her iconic shag cut. (Photo: Sally Hershberger)
Then I did Meg [Ryan]. Somehow the haircut I did on her became so iconic.
That was my thing: I would take short hair and make it look cool. But it’s something I’ve been doing for a long time, which was to take the same old bob and make it look new and kind of messy. I remember I was with her when the LA Times called and they wanted to talk to me about her hair—and not her. I was thinking, “Oh great. As an actor, the last thing you would want is for them to talk to your hairdresser and not you.”
I also cut Jane Fonda’s hair after she divorced Ted Turner. She had an appearance and she came out on stage and everyone gasped because she looked 10 years younger.
Sally Hershberger does Joan Jett’s hair. (Photo: Sally Hershberger)
I still did the rockers like Joan Jett (I’ve been doing her hair for 30-something years!) and Courtney Love. Joan is also known for her shag. The thing is, short hair is more iconic. You’re not going to be known for your hair unless you’re like a Gisele.
Sally Hershberger did Gisele’s hair for Vogue. (Photo: Vogue)
But at a certain point, I thought I needed to take a step back. I bought my first house in Bel-Air so I was working on that. I also thought I might do hair products. I got reacquainted with John Frieda through Brooke Wall, who has the Wall Group. I started developing products for them. I also did the hair ads: we didn’t do what usual ads did then. We took twins and did them with iconic cuts. Eventually the line sold for something like $450 million to Kao brands. Kao let me start my own line but I went mass because that’s what I knew, and learned from John.
Sally Hershberger did Hillary Clinton’s hair for Vogue. (Photo: Vogue)
But after being in mass for five years, I realized it’s just not me. I’m one of the most expensive hairdressers. When I’m at the salon, my rate is very high. I first opened on Melrose before the rents went astronomical. (Today, we’re on La Cienaga.) Then I went to the Meatpacking in NYC and I have a salon uptown in a brownstone on the Upper East Side. I moved to New York almost 20 years ago and I love my life here. And now, I’m going back to what I know. I’m in a partnership with Sephora to get ready for my new line called 24K. It’s the best of the best—that’s what the name suggests. That’s what I know.