Jen Atkin’s career is a lesson in ambition and openness—so it comes as no surprise that her new book, Blowing My Way to the Top, strikes a note of innately charming candour. The story of her own journey from ex-Mormon-in-L.A. to sought-after hairstylist serves as a foundation for in-depth, straightforward advice—the sort of tips one would expect to glean from a chat with a BFF who is also a master in their field. Whether making her bones in a pre-Internet era, bonding with an unending celebrity clientele, launching product line Ouai and hair-share platform Mane Addicts, or amassing a social media empire best represented by her more than 3 million Instagram followers, Atkin has cracked the industry code. We caught up with the stylist and entrepreneur to chat about her first book, hair trends, and what she expects of a post-COVID beauty world.
Vogue: Do you have a “pinch me” moment—a point in your career where you realised you had made it, or were on your way?
Jen Atkin: It sounds so cliché, but I call it my Devil Wears Prada day. I got a phone call from Gwen Stefani’s manager that was like, “Can you come down to the studio, we’re with Annie Leibovitz and we’re shooting the cover of Vogue with Gwen, and she wants to see if there’s any chance you can come and do her hair.” That was my first Vogue cover ever. My husband and I were dating at the time, and he remembers me screaming, throwing my phone down, quickly putting clothes on, and just bum-rushing it to Sony Studios. It was such a moment of, “Holy shit, how is this my life.” I had her posters on my wall in high school. So, that was really cool.
How do you think social media has changed the beauty industry?
I feel like social has democratised beauty in many ways; it’s made it feel more accessible. Even outside of Instagram—Mane Addicts’s Pinterest, we get, like, three million hits a month. It’s so incredible to see how everyone is just so hungry for inspiration—with YouTube tutorials and now Reels. It’s so fun to share little quick tricks, like the proper way to place a ponytail, or the best way to get a really sleek, snatched facelift pony, the things that I learned working backstage with Guido and Danilo and all these incredible hairstylists, I now get to show in 15-second clips on Reels, and it’s really, really fun for me.
I have a Finsta account, which I’ve never admitted to anyone. It’s @toobusycallback, and it’s basically like a mood board, and a lot of it is Barbie and Bratz dolls and Mary-Kate and Ashley when they were young—it’s all over the place. I think we’ve moved on from the ’90s supermodel moment. We just shot Addison Rae for a Mane Addicts Mane Muse feature, and the inspiration was early-2000s. It was so fun to look through old Delia’s catalogs, and pictures of baby Mandy Moore and Christina Aguilera’s “dirrty” days. We pulled out a crimper. I really feel like we’re moving into early 2000s. And a bit of ’70s.
What’s your favourite element of the community that you’ve built via social?
I love the fact that I can have so many honest conversations—that my audience is honest with me. Whether we’re crowdsourcing products for Ouai, or doing a poll to see what people want to see as far as content from Mane Addicts, or if I literally just need to know if people think I should cut my hair or not, having a brand that is digitally connected (and being one of the first in hair care) we’re kind of just like the middleman. We get to grow and produce products [and content] that our audience really wants and our customer really wants.
What are your favourite hair looks from the last few years?
Hailey Bieber’s wedding hair and just that whole moment was so fun. I loved her dress and the whole thing just came together so well. There was this really gorgeous dress that Bella Hadid wore at amfAR at Cannes [René Caovilla, 2017], like a sparkly crystal moment, and we just did a really cool sleek bun with the edges sprayed and flat ironed. Then some really fun, like, Disco brushed-out hair that we did for Bella for CFDA—I think she wore Michael Kors. Kendall’s Met Ball look [Camp, 2019], I wish I could live that day every day. We did this really fun Veruschka-inspired curl that was on her face. That entire day, actually: Hailey Bieber’s Met Ball ponytail, we got to do with Alex Wang and just like, turn her into Alex Wang Barbie, that was so fun. Met Ball and Cannes is always really fun for me—it’s a time when we can really play. And also Paris Fashion Week, even if it’s not for a red carpet moment. I remember we did Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, we did this really pretty vintage updo, and we just left a piece of her bang down and took pictures in her hotel room, and those are still some of my favourites.
What has 2020 been like for you?
The number one thing with me, when COVID hit—my CEO is incredible, and we just agreed that the most important thing was taking care of the team. And that’s when we thought it was just going to be a month! We’ve definitely been Zooming it up, trying to have Zingo days where we play group Bingo, or we just had like a charcuterie class, just trying to do what we can to make things feel a little normal. But I’ve been really inspired. My life was like running on a treadmill. I was on a plane every week. It’s been so nice for me to be able to be in one place and actually sit and create content. That has been the silver lining for me.
Obviously, hair health has been a big message this year—I feel like everyone has long hair or grown out bangs, we’ve all just been kind of hydrating from head to toe. So it’s been interesting to see, with my followers, how everyone is in the same boat of, “Oh my god, I have this Rapunzel hair now.” Pre-COVID, we saw such a huge resurgence of hair accessories and clips, and clips with words and different sayings and messaging. I’m excited for post-COVID because I feel like we’re on the cusp of, like, what the Roaring ’20s was after the Great Depression. Like I think there’s going to be such an amazing resurgence of artists and creativity. Everyone’s making mood boards. I feel it.
What’s your most crucial piece of advice to aspiring hairstylists?
The book is jam-packed with so much advice; I wrote it in the hopes of giving aspiring stylists a guide to skip the line, because I wish that had existed when I was their age. I give tons of tips on how to run your own business because as an independent artist it’s so important to have your ducks in a row. You can be so talented, but if you don’t have the business sense, it can kind of all just go to waste. The other thing I really talk about is the importance of building camaraderie with what I guess what would be your competition. There’s a Serge Normant quote that I love, “Don’t be jealous of your peers, be inspired by them.” That’s been a very important motto that I have lived by in what can be a very emotional industry.
This article originally appeared on Vogue.com