1. How old were you when you became obsessed with hair?
Well, according to my mother, infancy… She said as a baby I would cuddle on her neck and my hands would instantly go for her hair. I would always fall asleep playing with her hair. My mother started graying pretty young. Whenever I’d play with her hair and find a gray hair she’d ask me to pull it. I would spend hours patiently looking through my mothers hair for more gray hairs to pull. As I got older I loved to watch my mother get ready. She had the most beautiful thick dark brown hair and she sometimes let me brush it. I can still remember her paddle brush and what it looked like, how it felt in my hand. She said I would harass her daily to brush her hair. So when I asked for a My Little Pony, she didn’t see the harm even though my father didn’t approve and I’m sure she was looking forward to getting a break from me always asking to do hers. I was obsessed with playing with hair. My mother taught me how to braid and I would spend hours braiding my My Little Pony in various ways. It’s funny because I never played with it in the traditional sense, I just liked doing its hair. I always tell people I owe my career to my mother and My Little Pony.
2. When did you decide, “okay, this is it, I’m going to be a professional hair stylist!”
I was at a time in my life where I lacked direction. I was on a hiatus from college and working doing auto detail at a car dealership. My brother’s best friend’s wife was a trainer for the premier salon and spa company of the PNW, Gene Juarez. I went to her house to get a haircut and saw all these hair diagrams and mannequin heads and was mesmerized. I spent the entire haircut asking her questions about what she was doing and what affect it would create. I’ve always done this with all my hairdressers, even as a child. And like all my hairdressers before her she told me I should do hair. I figured, why not? I hated the job I was doing and I knew I had always had a knack for hair. I enrolled myself in beauty school and from day one I took to it like a duck to water.
3. What were the early days of your career like? Did you have to test a lot in the beginning to build your book?
It was all about testing! I was fortunate to find a photographer starting out in the business of shooting fashion and a make up artist who was just as hungry as I was. Together we would test every week. Sometimes a couple times a week. Even though we had full time jobs we’d meet up after work and test into the wee hours of the morning and burn up our precious weekends shooting so we could build our books. Testing is soooo important to your career and even 17 years later I almost never miss an opportunity to test.
4. What are the benefits of being represented by an agency as opposed to being on your own?
Being freelance is hard work. You have to hustle constantly for work, promote yourself, send invoices, countless emails, updating your website, etc. No one is going to do any of the work for you or tell you to get out of bed in the morning. You are your own boss. You are your own business. There is a lot of responsibility that comes with that but also remarkable freedom. However there are certain jobs that as a freelancer you will not be considered for unless you are signed with an agency. A lot of the money jobs like e-comm or big campaign shoots almost exclusively use represented artists.
5. How do you communicate with the photographer you’re working with on a shoot to achieve his or her goals?
Communication with a photographer can be challenging. Some people are verbal processors and need to be talk through all the details. Some are visual processors and unless they can see a picture of it they can’t imagine what it is you are talking about. You have to be able to communicate in various ways with very different personalities and build trust sometimes instantly with people you’ve just met and never worked with before. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The best advice I can give is to have patience and zero ego.
6. How much of your input do you add to achieve the results the photographer is looking for?
As much as I can if the situation allows. Sometimes you are on a set and the photographer has a very specific vision and may not be the most open to suggestions. At times you have to swallow your pride and go with the flow. Once you’ve worked with people and built up a relationship you can have those opportunities to say here’s what I think would look stronger or this may not work on this model’s hair. Some people are really open and collaborative straight out of the gate. I think its important to stand your ground and be realistic with what is achievable but never be difficult and inflexible or argumentative. It’s a collaborative process and everyone’s goal is to create something beautiful at the end of the day.
7. Tell us what a dream job is for you?
If you’d ask a younger Niko, Italian Vogue!! Dream jobs for me now are the ones where you get to work with your talented friends who’s work inspires you to elevate your game every time and stay on your toes. Being on set and feeling appreciated and trusted for your expertise. The days where you can laugh all day and at the end of it look at the beautiful art you made with others. Dream jobs for me are the ones where I know I made the client/photographer/AD very happy. Even if I was running around the entire shoot working my ass off. If I was able to deliver and exceed expectation, that’s the best feeling in the world.
8. What are the three tools in your hair stylist kit that you can never, ever be without?
Paddle brush, a good dry workable hairspray, and a rat tail comb.
9. What advice do you have for young hair stylists who are just starting out and want to be where you are, at the top of the industry?
Be patient. Be humble. Be kind to others.
10. What is your favorite quote?
“You can be the ripest juiciest peach in the world and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” – Dita Von Teese