If there is one downside to being the go-to hairstylist for Gabrielle Union, Tracee Ellis Ross and countless It-girls in Hollywood, it’s a lack of personal R&R. Just ask Schwarzkopf celebrity stylist Larry Sims, who after years of non-stop styling realized he hadn’t taken a few days off between blow-outs in years. But recently, the pro got the opportunity to not only go on the vacation of his dreams, but to have his getaway taped for a new Bravo series called Invite Only Cabo. With the show set to premiere Sunday, May 14, we dialed up Sims (who’s also created unforgettable looks for Lupita Nyong’o, Kerry Washington and Zendaya) to take a take a trip down memory lane and share the secrets of his success.
What was the moment you knew you were going to be a hairstylist?
My dance career took off when I was a sophomore in high school. But I’d always been obsessed with hair, and while doing commercials, music videos TV shows and tours, I met glam squads. I became really close with a few pros, one of whom was makeup artist Christopher Maldonado, who passed away with Aaliyah in a plane crash [in 2001]. He really was the first person to encourage me put my knee pads down and pick up a blow dryer, and after that, I left L.A. to go to cosmetology school. People thought I was crazy.
What was your big break?
A couple of years later I was back in L.A. and dancing for Jessica Simpson while I built my career as a hairstylist from the bottom, up. I ended up meeting [Simpson’s hairstylist] Ken Paves, who hired me to work in his salon, While I was assisting him, Eva Longoria was one of his clients and she knew Victoria Beckham, who had just gotten to the U.S. and needed a hairstylist. Ken wasn’t available because he was off working with Jennifer Lopez, so he sent me, which was really generous of him, and the rest is history.
Of all the looks you created with her, which was your favorite?
The Met Gala [in 2008, above]. That was the first time that we decided to go against the grain and not wear the bob but throw her hair up into an updo instead. Another was when she and David went to the ESPY Awards together [in 2008, below]. We went for an Audrey Hepburn-esque feel. That was also one of my favorite moments because it felt soft and retro, but really cool.
How did you initially connect with your longtime client Gabrielle Union?
We met each other when I was dancing through the movie Bring it On. She let me do her hair, and after she was like, “I like what you’re doing, let’s give this a shot.” We’ve been inseparable ever since.
Gabriells’s always switching up her style, do you feel pressure to keep things fresh?
She depends on me to keep my ears to the ground. We always joke, “we’re only as good as our last red carpet!” So I do a lot of research, and I look for a lot of inspiration in different cultures and countries. But she’s a consummate researcher, too. She has a great eye, and knows what works and what doesn’t. If you look at our body over of work over the years, we’ve done just about everything under the sun, and I think we’ve hit a lot of home runs!
Which look of Gabrielle’s do you love the most?
Well, I think the recent bob is really great. But she and I have also done the Met Gala a couple of times, and I love the braid that she wore when she went [in 2014, above]. I think it was a great moment because it was one of the first times people had seen her hair off her face in that way. It was bohemian, but fresh.
What hairdo do your clients always request from you?
I have a spin on the beach-y wave that’s been my signature for many years [Seen on Naomie Harris, below]. For it, I always start off with a great shampoo and conditioner that has oils in it (he recommends Schwarzkopf GLISS Oil Nutritive Shampoo and Conditioner) because African-American hair in particular tends to be a bit more dry. Then after washing and conditioning the hair, I use the Weightless Oil on it to provide moisture and shine that thermal styling tools can take out. Next I use a quarter-size curling iron and wrap sections from mid-strand down in opposite directions. And, so that it’s just a little bit messy, I run my fingers through it.
After years of creating styles behind the scenes, you’re stepping in front of the camera for your own Bravo TV show, Invite Only Cabo. Were you nervous about putting your career on hold?
I had anxiety. A part of me thought, “your clients depend on you.” So I had to prep some of them before and talk them through! But [during the trip] I tried not to be on my phone. I never get a chance to get away and this was an opportunity for me to invite six of my closest friends who really haven’t connected with one another to go on a crazy, over the top vacation for four weeks.
Did the trip ever prove more tense than relaxing?
It was stressful! The vacation was such an adrenaline rush, and I was the only tie that bound everybody together. I actually had to take a vacation from the vacation. For two weeks after we returned, I didn’t leave my house, and didn’t want to talk on the phone. I love them all, but I told them, “Please give me 14 days!” But even thought it felt like a lifetime of craziness, I would absolutely would do it again.
Describe your career in two words?
Unpredictable and astounding. I never knew what the vast options were in terms of how far a hair stylist could go. I never would have imagined that I would start off carrying bags for people and shampooing for people and handing Ken Paves Mason Pearson brushes before I even knew what a Mason Pearson brush was to being spokesperson for Smooth ‘N Shine, göt2b in 2010 and now GLISS and having my own Bravo television show! The possibilities have been endless and I’m just humbled and appreciative of everything that’s happened thus far.
What’s been the coolest part thus far?
Being able to see the world because of my clients, who have been like my passport. But on a deeper level, being able to see, after I’ve created a style for someone, their self-confidence beaming through their body. When you feel like you look good on the outside, it does something to your spirit and your soul on the inside. For me, to know that I make people feel amazing about themselves, that’s more fulfilling than anything else. It makes me smile.
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What words of advice would you impart on up and coming stylists?
Work hard, don’t take any short cuts and be 100% authentic in terms of how you express your skills. Don’t do something for the money or the fame but because you’re passionate about it. That always pays off.
Will you tune into celebrity hairstylist Larry Sims’ new Bravo show?