Between dinners with Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, trips to Paris with Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid, and working out with Kourtney, Khloé and Kim Kardashian, hairstylist Jen Atkin rarely has a moment to relax. She’s a constant presence in the lives of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, who also happen to be her BFFs — and she somehow also makes time to style hair, manage her own haircare brand, Ouai, and engage with her 2.1 million Instagram followers. Meaning not only is she one of the most major names in hairstyling right now, she’s also one of the busiest.
Luckily, Atkin was able to take a few minutes between styling sessions to spill her secrets, tell us how she broke into the industry, and of course, share the story behind how she met the Kardashian krew.
How did you get your start as a hairstylist?
I moved to LA in 2000 and basically started looking in Allure’s salon directory; I would just call the hot salons. Finally I got a call back after probably a year from a salon on Beverly Boulevard; they were looking for a receptionist so I started off there. I then worked there as a manager and kind of learned the money side of things.
Who has been the most influential in shaping your career?
I met Lorraine Schwartz, the jewelry designer, when I began assisting at New York Fashion Week. She’s been really influential in helping me connect with the right people and just such a great friend. One year, she changed my life by introducing me to John Galliano, who I worked with for the next three years while he was at Dior. He would fly me to Paris and all over for Dior. It was incredible. I got to do Kate Moss’s touch up on stage at one show and got to sit in a room with Anna Wintour. John was really influential in my career as well.
You’re one of the most well-known celebrity hairstylists in the industry. How did you begin working with A-list stars?
I began working for Andy LeCompte at the Chris McMillan salon. Andy works with Madonna, so when I was 26 he asked me to go with him on tour and do the dancers. We got to travel the world for about 8 months and then I came back and started working on my own at Chris McMillan and started building my own celebrity clientele. I started doing extensions for Mischa Barton, Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie.
Minka Kelly, who is a dear friend today, was one of my first red carpet pictures. Then I got Sofia Vergara as a client which was life-changing because Sofia had just started Modern Family … She was really fun to work with.
Now, you’re a staple in the Kardashians’ glam squads. How did you first meet the family?
I met Kim through Lorraine Schwartz, just socially a few times. Then, Kim asked me to do her hair for the cover of Cosmo and it was on that job that I first met Khloé and Kourtney. I really loved Khloé. I thought she was really funny, she was very spirited and I loved her energy. After that job, Khloé asked me if I would do her for X-Factor because she had just got hired as a host. I eventually worked through the family and just continued building my book and then my business has evolved from all that.
What clients do you work with now that you had always dreamed of styling?
Gwen Stefani, Jennifer Lopez, and Cindy Crawford were all major “pinch me I cant believe I’m in the same room as these people” moments. I recently got to cut Adele’s hair and I think she’s so cool. I also fan girl over the weirdest people too, like Bethenny Frankel.
Whats one of your favorite transformations?
I think cutting Khloe’s hair short for the first time. We had talked about it for so long and she never felt comfortable enough to do it. She was just like “I’m not the girl who can have short hair.” That was really a fun moment.
And your favorite celebrity moment in general?
I got to do the cover of Vogue with Gwen Stefani and I literally got called the day of. They were like, “Can you come down? She wants to change up her look a little bit.” It was like out of a movie. I rushed down to the set and got to work with Annie Leibovitz — it was amazing. I couldn’t drive fast enough.
You have over 2 million followers on Instagram. What does it mean to be such an inspiration to so many people around the world?
I’m very active on Snapchat and I like showing a lot of my journey and my life. I do it because I think about who I was when I just moved to L.A.. I wish I had a female role model back then. I had Sally Hershberger and that was pretty much it. I kind of just snap and live my life like no one is watching so when I do get pulled aside at Sephora or the airport, it’s awesome. My favorite thing is getting snaps from people saying I’ve encouraged them to continue taking hair dressing classes.
What’s your most popular request from clients?
To hurry. But I feel like right now we’re all in a ’90s super model phase. So a lot of times we all show up to a job and were getting ready for an event and we have 15 Christy Turlington pictures.
Your clients, like Khloe and Chrissy, are always alternating between their natural length and extensions. How do you keep their hair so healthy?
I always try to tell them to take vitamins to help with things internally, but I am in constant contact with them about what hair color they’re doing and what state their hair is in. We’re really good about getting trims and realizing when their work schedule is gonna get crazy and when they have time off when they can really let their hair relax. We have a whole schedule. I’m always yelling at them and sending them DM pictures like, “I see split ends!”
You launched your own haircare line, Ouai, about two years ago. How involved were your friends and clients in the creation process?
Every single girlfriend of mine and every single client has been a part of the process. I talk to these girls every day so we’re constantly sharing ideas and tips. I feel like between watching Jessica Alba create the Honest Company and between the girls with all of the different ventures and beauty brands that they built. I would be an idiot if I wasn’t learning from the people around me.
What’s the best advice you’ve received about starting your own brand?
I think one common message I get from them, from my clients is don’t be so hard on yourself and like just do as much as you can and just be really true to your vision and trust your gut. That’s kind of the overlying message I get from all the girls.
If you could only use one product for the rest of your career, what would it be?
I would say Ouai Wave Spray. It always saves the day no matter what the hair type is. It’s kind of like giving you that texture that your hair has when you get out of the water and it dries really great.
You’re always traveling the world, as are your clients. Do they ever call you for hair advice when you’re not together?
Yes all the time. Khloé actually FaceTimed me when I was in Dubai and she was curling her own hair and asking me if she was doing it right. Honestly if a client’s timing has gotten moved, I’ll send on of my girls and they’ll start and we can just talk about what the outfit is. FaceTime is a lifesaver.
Your clients in the Middle East have the most amazing, long hair. What have you learned from them about maintenance?
They have the longest hair, it’s so healthy; they’re so good to it. One thing I’ve noticed the girls will spend one night a week and do a hair mask or hair oil treatment to their hair and they’re really regimented about it. That’s the one thing I really wanted to bring to the US and UK and girls who are on the go — just realizing that there is time when you’re at the gym or getting a massage put a treatment in and make sure you’re not forgetting your hair. We spend so much time on our face that a lot of times people get mad that their hair isn’t doing what they want it to do and it’s because they’re not taking the time to take care of it.
What’s your beauty mantra?
I tend to tell women to be realistic about their beauty goals. I always tell clients that I don’t want to give them something complicated and hard to do on their own because then they’re gonna hate it. So I try to teach women to embrace their beauty and the time that they have and learn to be realistic about a beauty routine.
What do you think of Atkin’s story? Sound off below.