What It's Like To Do Famous People's Hair

The following is an interview with Andy LeCompte, a celebrity hairstylist who has worked with Madonna, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Richie, and more celebrities, as told to Taylor Bryant.

I got my first taste of the hairstylist life at the age of 10, when I worked at my sister's salon for a week in Santa Cruz, California. I instantly knew that doing hair was my passion, and when I was 13 she hired me to be her assistant/salon receptionist/housekeeper.

Turning 16 couldn't come soon enough — I wanted to follow in my sister's footsteps and start the Regional Occupational Program in high school, then attend beauty school. But even before I went to beauty school (I started at 16, the youngest age that they accepted), I was working with a photographer to build my portfolio. It was a good thing, because not only did I use it to graduate from school early, but it also helped me book my first freelance gig.

My favorite part of beauty school was working on the clientele — who were all little old ladies. This is where I learned how to do wet sets, which have been a great asset throughout my career. Though they're not as popular now, knowing this technique is the foundation to great hairstyling.

Coming Up
My big break was when I was 18 and went to Los Angeles to interview at Privé Salon. My good friend was working there and had me come up to check it out, and I got the job! It gave me a chance to work with celebrities like Britney Spears, Jenny McCarthy, and Courteney Cox. This is where I became a celebrity cutter of hair, and began my journey to becoming a celebrity hairstylist. There, I also started working with studio head executives and a roster of celeb clients including Lindsay Lohan, Mischa Barton, Nicole Richie, and Sam Ronson.

When these girls' careers blew up, so did mine. They booked me for the biggest covers, and my looks were in all their paparazzi shots. Word got out. Madonna saw my portfolio with my work on Rebecca Romijn, and we started working together and have been ever since. It was around 2003 or 2004 when I started to become the fashion and editorial hairstylist I am today.

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I was on tour with Madonna since July 2015 — I just returned this past month. Touring is the most stable part of my job because, normally, my life is a roller coaster.


On The Job
Starting out, I was mainly cutting and styling; now, I'm a jack-of-all-trades. My weeks are crazy! I jump from magazine shoots, to styling celebrities for music videos, to behind the chair at the salon. I was on tour with Madonna since July 2015 — I just returned this past month. Touring is the most stable part of my job because, normally, my life is a roller coaster.

I've met a lot of interesting and exciting creative people. Tina Turner's life story inspired me. Madonna inspired me to believe in myself. I remember watching Truth or Dare before I met her. Her message helped me be fearless and go after my dreams, and know that I could achieve anything. So it’s not a surprise that I later became her hairstylist.

It's All About Timing...
The craziest situations are when I have to book jobs back-to-back with no breathing room and little time to prep — something always seems to go wrong. One time, I was shooting a music video for Fergie in L.A. and had to go straight to the airport to go shoot V magazine for Madonna in New York. There was no room for error, but my flight was cancelled. As a repercussion, I had no time to prep for a Steven Klein production that required a ton of wig options. My hotel room turned into a hair studio, with myself and my assistants working all day and all night. No sleep and crazy hours.
...& Personality
What some people sometimes don't realize about being a hairstylist is that you need to be very personable, have a dynamic personality, strong people skills, and be warm and friendly. I had an assistant once who joined the apprenticeship program — he hated hearing me tell the same story over and over to my different clients. Small talk was so foreign to him and, as a result, he wasn't cut out to be a stylist.

I recommend that stylists go through an apprenticeship program after beauty school to learn some of these skills. I've led many stylists who have worked at my salon, including Jen Atkin, Mischelle Navar, Jennifer Blanchard, and Angelo Tsimourtos, through the Los Angeles County Cosmetology Apprenticeship Council. It's a great way to learn on the job, get paid as an assistant, but more importantly, learn things you won’t learn at beauty school.

Hair In The Internet Age
These days, with the internet, it's easier to book a job since you don't need a portfolio; you just have a website or even Instagram. It's also easier to break into the world of hair with the help of Photoshop and filters. We didn't have that on our phones back then; your work had to be amazing on set. On the flip side, it’s great because there are more opportunities and ways to showcase your work.

The world has become more globalized, so wigs and accessories are more accessible and easier to find. I miss the days when you would go to a great beauty-supply store and buy the interesting and special things that you couldn't get anywhere else. You used to have to travel to Europe to get certain products, but now you can get everything delivered to your door the next day.

Stage Fright
Looking back, I wish I had learned more about public speaking and being comfortable talking in front of an audience. I’ve been a celebrity brand ambassador for Wella Professionals for the past five years, and have done a bunch of on-camera work, and the nerves never stop! I love doing hair, and that's something I can do naturally, but giving a presentation publicly is not my forte. Behind the chair is my stage, but when the lights are on me I'm like a little turtle and I crawl into my shell.

The Key To Success
Never say no. If you want to be successful, you have to put 10,000 hours into it, and even when you reach 10,000 hours, you have to be willing to put in 10,000 more. As Rihanna says, "Work work work work work." Learn from the best; be a sponge; develop confidence in your own technique. To build a strong business and clientele, you have to always say yes and be prepared for anything on the job.

It isn't easy. All people see is the end result — an effortless red carpet look — but they don't see the hours of prep. For every wig worn, there are 20 other options we went through before it. I may be put up in luxurious hotels and flown first-class and on private planes, but I’m always traveling by myself with five pieces of luggage — with all of my hair, wigs, equipment — so I can turn my hotel into a portable salon. It's hard work, but I couldn't imagine doing anything else.
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