LOS ANGELES, United States — After almost 25 years on the awards season circuit, the red carpet hair master Adir Abergel has perfected his process. On the morning of the Golden Globes on January 8, he woke up early and meditated before going over the day’s schedule with his assistants. He had already pulled together extensive reference images for his clients Jessica Biel and Reese Witherspoon, and prepped some meals to-go before heading out.
“The most stressful part of it is the LA traffic,” he said. “I’m calm throughout the day. I’m able to take the behind-the-scenes imagery — all of that stuff is very seamless for me.” Even before his Golden Globes appointments began, Abergel shared an image of his kit for the day on social media: products from new haircare line Virtue Labs and a hair dryer from Dyson Hair. “If I were you, I would run out and grab these products right now,” read the caption.
The hairstylist is just one of many Hollywood image-makers who are sponsored by brands during awards season, when up to 35 million people tune in to see the industry’s biggest names at the Golden Globes, the Academy Awards and many other celebrations concentrated in Los Angeles throughout January and February. And while the red carpet is where fashion shines, social media has pulled back the curtain on the behind-the-scenes beauty prep process. The marketing opportunity can be huge, especially for established brands facing new competition from the new generation of social media-savvy beauty companies that are increasingly dominating shares and sales.
The social media accounts of artists like Pati Dubroff, Patrick Ta, Molly Stern, Jeanine Lobell, Kara Yoshimoto Bua, Jillian Dempsey, Sir John, Charlotte Tilbury and Jenn Streicher have attracted professionals and end consumers alike, eager to see images of artfully arranged counters, face masks in action and final touchups posted in real time throughout the night. And just as the business of Hollywood fashion styling changed when studios cut awards season and press tour budgets for most of its stars, so too did the business of the hairstylists and makeup artists who work alongside them.
Today, beauty artists often form their own partnerships with brands, and awards season has become one of the most profitable times of their year. Indeed, by using the right item on the right woman, artists can earn anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 in product placement deals per client, according to industry sources.
It’s all about authenticity and sharing with everyone the actual process, because none of us are perfect.
Tricks of the hair and makeup trade are much more relatable to the majority of consumers who rarely don gowns but increasingly approach makeup with photos in mind. “We are all now on some version of the red carpet in our daily lives,” said Cassandra Huysentruyt Grey, founder of the editorial and e-commerce beauty site Violet Grey. “Women here are representing multi-billion dollar franchises,” she added, calling Hollywood the most influential beauty culture in the world. “And I think with today’s accessibility, it’s all about authenticity and sharing with everyone the actual process, because none of us are perfect.”
Before the Golden Globes were over, Abergel posted several detail shots of the twisty chignons he gave both Biel and Witherspoon, the former of which included a gold hair accessory from his upcoming collaboration collection with Lelet. The hairstylist counts Anne Hathaway and Marion Cotillard as clients and has amassed 212,000 followers in the less than two years he’s been active on Instagram. “I do think outside the box in the way I create my craft, and it really does influence a lot of people out there, more than I really had imagined,” said Abergel.
Huysentruyt Grey likens artists and stylists to celebrity chefs, and she relies on them to choose the best of the best products that are part of the “Violet Code,” the site’s list of stylist-approved (and not sponsored) beauty products. “Awards season is like our vetting season,” she said.
Huysentruyt Grey has also advised brands about which artists to work with, stressing the importance of involving them in product development and creative direction. “It’s a community of freelancers that have an extraordinary opportunity in the market in terms of a business of a brand,” she said. Huysentruyt Grey has seen a shift toward partnerships with ambassadors who are “authentically gigantic users of the products and very passionate.”
Since ending his ambassadorship with Frédéric Fekkai in 2012, Abergel has been offered many long-term contracts but remained independent — until now. He has since signed on as the creative director of Virtue Labs, the new haircare line he used for the Golden Globes, because he thinks the brand is going to “revolutionise the haircare industry” with its keratin technology. He also has a prior relationship with the founder, Melisse Shaban, former chief executive of Fekkai.
“I don't believe in attaching my name to something that I don't believe in and something I can't go out there and be proud to sell,” said Abergel. “The impact was immediate and significant,” said Shaban about increased awareness for the brand after the Golden Globes. “A quantity of free trial kits that we had intended to last the entire month of January ‘sold out’ in a matter of days due to the wide-ranging attention to Adir’s artistry on the red carpet.”
Not all stylists have same passion for their partners as Abergel, however. “If you are already a spokesperson for a brand, you are obligated to use their products, talk about their products, that sort of thing, whether you are actually using the product or not,” said another hairstylist who wished to remain anonymous, explaining why “how to” explanations often always feature the same product from a particular brand.
Branding opportunities for artists and stylists without a contract can go one of several ways. If an actress has her own beauty contract, that relationship takes precedence. Stylists working with Natalie Portman, for example, use Dior makeup and those working with Lily Collins use Lancôme, brands for which both actresses are, respectively, ambassadors.
While partnerships are usually forged between hair and makeup stylists and brands, it is not unusual for a beauty brand to reach out to an actress directly to sponsor her look for a night and, often, insist its ambassador stylist work with her.
“That's why a lot of times, you could get a great opportunity to work with someone and one way or another [it doesn’t happen],” said the stylist. An artist can be put on hold a month in advance of an award show to work with an actress who has requested him or her, but be pulled from the job a week before because she has landed a last-minute sponsorship.
“Say Garnier comes in and says, 'Okay, we want Garnier to sponsor this look and want to use this [stylist] and obviously the celebrity is going to say, ‘Cool, it is what it is,’” said the stylist. The sponsoring brand then pushes press coverage of the look the next day, in addition to social content.
If a freelance artist is working with a covetable but lesser-known client for a season, such as a nominee who is guaranteed to garner attention before and during an award show, it is easier to reach out to brands about sponsoring her look for one particular event.
An artist can be pulled from a job a week before because the actress has landed a last-minute sponsorship.
An unforeseen change in a client’s beauty preferences — say, for all-natural products or those that have not been tested on animals — might force a stylist to renege on a commitment to a brand. “If a client said, ‘Don't use this type of product’ and then you say that you used it or something, you could lose a lot of trust with your client," said the stylist. “I’ll have to go back to whatever the brand is and say, 'You know what? I'm really sorry my relationship with the client is really important to me.’” The stylist either won’t get paid or will try to work in the product in a way that seems organic. “Sometimes I think the brands respect that integrity,” said the stylist. “And the end of the day, it’s a business… It all depends on the relationships you have.”
Artists whose clients are mega-stars — like a Kardashian, Jenner or Hadid — have the largest social media followings, of course, because much of the audience is less interested in hair tips than it is in behind-the-scenes images of their favourite celebrities. So too do artists who gained fame and massive followings through YouTube, even though their talents often lie in applying makeup to themselves, not others. But for some brands looking for the widest possible reach, a high follower count can be more valuable than skills — especially in makeup. “There are a ton of apps to make their work look better than it actually is," said the stylist. “You can’t Facetune hair.”
In rare circumstances, an actress (or designer before a runway show) working with a brand-contracted social media artist might even call in "ghost hair and makeup people” for final touch ups. Such lengths are a testament to how much influence social media has on the beauty brands, especially those targeted towards younger mass-market audiences.
And yet despite all the behind-the-scenes negotiations that take place before Hollywood’s most significant awards shows, for end consumers the seemingly unbridled access to the A-list as they prepare for the red carpet afforded by social media is fascinating in both its glamour and humanity. The results are not high-concept like the fantastical looks so often seen on the runway, but just innovative enough to be both admired and copied.
“You wouldn’t think that doing a top knot on Rooney Mara that's a little bit off centre [would resonate],” said Abergel, referring to a 2015 look he styled on the actress that has since spawned countless “how to” articles online. “People are reacting to that, people are wanting individuality. They don’t want to be homogenised like everyone else.”