His hands have touched the hair of A-list stars like Jennifer Lopez, Sienna Miller, Kristen Stewart and Fergie, and top models ranging from Kate Moss to Adriana Lima. His work has graced the covers of over 150 magazines and been seen in the advertising campaigns of brands such as Givenchy, Lancôme, Hugo Boss, Diesel and Sephora. Yet, despite an impressive resume of high-profile clients and jobs, hairstylist Nicolas Jurnjack has managed to fly somewhat under the radar.
Born in Marseille, France, Jurnjack, who regularly flies back and forth between the US and Europe, discovered his passion for hair almost by default. “I wasn’t born with a brush in my hand,” he explains. “I was just really bored at school around age 16 and knew it wasn’t for me, so I needed to find an apprenticeship. My father worked on the docks, but I wasn’t interested in that or any of the other opportunities available to me without further schooling. When it came to apprenticeships, hairdressing was one of the “clean” options.” Yet even after he started working in a salon, Nicolas still wasn’t in love with the profession, often just hanging out in the salon waiting area or back room instead of practicing his new craft.
Everything changed one day when a crew from Elle came into his beachside salon looking for some help on a shoot because their hairdresser didn’t show up. Jurnjack, still a teenager, volunteered “for a day at the beach.” He went back again the next day to finish the job, and the seed had been planted. “All of a sudden, it clicked,” he recalls. “I saw a highway of possibilities that I hadn’t realized existed for me.”
We sat down with Jurnjack at our offices and talked to him about where this newly discovered road led him, the importance of having confidence in your abilities and how he’s teaching other hair stylists how to accomplish their dreams.
What did you do after fully realizing your passion for editorial styling?
I found an agent to represent me and started working on small jobs. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to break into fashion, after a year and a half, I got another amazing break. Vogue Paris was doing an haute couture shoot and had to postpone it, none of their usual hairdressers were available for the new date. They somehow found my agent and I got the job. Months later, that shoot was the cover of the magazine.
Did you feel that you had really “made it” with a Vogue Paris cover so early in your career?
I was happy, but I was also scared! I didn’t feel like I was technically ready to be at that level. Despite what I had achieved, I was really just starting out I was far behind the top editorial stylists like Julien d’Ys, Didier Malige and Garren when it came to technical skills. So I set out to change that. For months, I spent day and night cutting out pages from magazines and trying to recreate the hair. I spent hours at a library in Paris going through old books and magazines and studying the classics from each decade—Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, Brigitte Bardot, etc. I searched out illustrations and step-by-steps and practiced everything. I deconstructed and reconstructed and experimented with creating styles that came into my head. I knew the cover would get me jobs, and I knew I had to be ready.
How long did it take before you felt ready?
Each job built up my confidence, but it took a lot of covers and editorials, around ten 10 years worth, until I felt like I was technically skilled. During that time, I turned down several fashion shows.
When did you start taking on Fashion Week?
My first show was for Alexander McQueen in London in 1997. The theme was “It’s a Jungle Out There,” and there were animal skins and cars exploding and a ton of gate-crashers, it was intense, the energy was raw, it put him solidly on the map. From there, I worked on many more McQueen shows, plus Givenchy, Galliano, Gaultier, Albaz, Ricci, Kenzo, Jeremy Scott …the list goes on. I was doing up to 25 shows a season with an incredible team. My team was together for 10 years; they were my family.
Tell us about your process on an editorial shoot.
It’s always different. Sometimes I will plan a magazine shoot weeks in advance, then change it up an hour before we start. I check out the lighting on set. It's clue to what texture and style I choose to do and how I do it; lighting is key to gloss, shine and shape. I generally try to imagine myself with the model and see what kind of hair I can do for her. I like to take basic elements and shape them into artistic creations. I’m very inspired by light and shadow. I go deep in my heart for inspiration—I believe art lives in your heart and catches the soul. Creativity and emotions drive me.
Do you generally have the freedom to do what you want or do you have to take direction from the client?
If you show confidence in your ability, most of the time you’ll get to do what you want. On advertising jobs, I always do what the client wants, but I have my own option to show them as well. Many times, they end up going with that one.
What’s your goal with your body of work?
I always want to do something that surprises (and is surprising to me in the process), it can range from the extremely subtle to the intensely dramatic, something that can inspire people. I want them to look at it and say, “wow! The possibilities are endless.”
What’s your signature style?
I don’t have a signature style. I want to remain loose and not be afraid to try everything from the simple to the most complicated to the seemingly impossible. Even the most minimal of styles are interesting.
Your creations are works of art. Do you practice any other artistic mediums?
Hair is my only form of artistic expression. I do use many different materials to accessorize and create the pieces for specials and invitationals: twigs, foliage, metal, wood, spray-paint, varnish, paper, cardboard, steam-irons, wire-wool, there is no limit. At times my studio more resembles a carpenter's workshop or an arts & craft store. I am interested in how hair can be presented, I've produced a few short videos to play with my ideas and I do the concept, direction and hair for all my online tutorials and Project Hair Inspirations. With all I’ve done, I feel I’ve only explored maybe 35 percent of hair—there’s so much left to experiment with I want to continue to learn, discover, explore and be surprised.
Despite all you’ve done and the many celebrities you’ve worked with, you’ve remained somewhat under the radar in terms of consumer recognition. Do you have a desire to be a celebrity in your own right?
If you go back 20 years, hairdressers weren’t really stars in their own right. Now, with the Internet and greater access to a wider audience, it's relatively easier to become a celebrity. It is always gratifying to have my work acknowledged. I love creating l don't feel frustrated because I am creating 'behind the scenes' and not in a spotlight. For me, the focus of hairdressing is to make the client look beautiful and feel confident."
You’ve been in the business for more than 30 years. What’s the secret to longevity?
The most important for me is love what you do. Keep learning. Be confident! Be passionate. Be open. Have fun on set! Be involved. Know when to push but don't be pushy—remember it's teamwork.
What advice do you give to your assistants?
Hair has its own unique movement and personality; it has life. I tell my assistants to listen to the hair—it will tell you which way it likes to go, what texture it wants, etc. I know it's sounds silly, but I tell them to make friends with the hair. To touch it, watch it, get to know it, talk with it. You should always use what the hair gives you and work with it.
On another note, it’s super important to me to give my assistants positive feedback and help them build their confidence. They all know how to do hair, but they won’t succeed if they lose their confidence.
What advice can you give hairstylists wanting to embark on an editorial career?
You need to spend time studying, get familiar with what’s come before. Fashion and beauty is a time wheel and everything comes back eventually, reinvented in some form or other. You also have to keep up with what’s new, be able to have conversations with clients, whether they’re fashion aficionados or models. Always look around yourself and be inspired; don’t limit yourself. Be passionate, believe in your talent and push yourself
You have to learn the basics: Know how to curl, how to tease, how to blow-dry, how to listen to the hair, how to consult, how to dream. Once you know the basics, you can learn texture and style. From there, you can do anything. The possibilities will be endless.
If you do your homework and put the work in, you're on your way.
You have an amazing website, Hair by Nicolas Jurnjack, with comprehensive education for all levels—from advanced hairstylists to those just interested in learning the basics. How did that come about?
Over the past five years, I’ve received so many emails and messages from hairdressers, assistants and people who just love the possibilities of hair and want to learn more; all asking for advice, a critique. My education website is a way to pass on my knowledge. I don’t have a magic formula or a quick fix; there is a chronological way to learn. Hair is really not that complicated, but you have to take the time to learn it. If you have the basics (see above), you have the tools ready to build your career
The website features a selection of detailed step-by-step tutorials in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. There’s also Project Hair, an inspiration section to show the apprentice what is possible with hair and where you can go once you've mastered the basics, and a comprehensive library of hair tools and products with tips and technique. You can spend three minutes or three hours on the site and always come away with something.
What are your thoughts on using social media?
I’m a big fan of putting your work on social media and using relevant hashtags to make it part of a larger conversation. There's an enormous world out there to discover. I put my work up to share my passion. I want young stylists to dream big and know there are no limits.
What’s next for you?
I will continue to develop my educational site—Hair by Nicolas Jurnjack, and build on Behind the Scenes by Nicolas Jurnjack (tips and how-tos from my shoots). I’ll keep adding to my professional portfolio and to an archive of my work going back to the early ’90s, as well as experimenting with more hair and video ideas. There’s also a book coming out. It features my philosophy on hair and my thoughts on the history of hair.