These days, hairstylist Laura Polko spends her time styling the strands of stars like Lea Michele, Kim Kardashian, Chrissy Teigen and Olivia Munn on the regular. But just a few years ago, the budding hairstylist was working in Ohio, trying to decide if she should make the leap to a big city. Today, Polko [above right] has over 40,000 Instagram followers, is a member of Hollywood’s cool-girl squad of hairstylists, and has just become Aussie‘s latest celebrity pro – but the tale of how she landed there is as inspiring as the hairstyles she creates. Which is why we spoke to Polko to learn her story — and celeb secrets — for our Pro Files series, below.
How did you know you wanted to become a hairstylist?
I always knew I wanted to do hair through high school, and I kind of gave up caring about really anything else in school. But it was tough for my parents. I’m the oldest of three and my mom and dad both had [multiple] degrees, so they didn’t understand the concept of skipping college. My mom went around and got her hair cut in all different places, and the young girls in different salons told her the same thing, like, “Yeah my parents made me go to college, I failed out the first year and so I ended up doing what I wanted to do.” And she was like, “Oh my God.”
How did you get your start?
I ended up going to Aveda. But I lived on Ohio State’s campus with a bunch of friends, so I just stuck around and bartended and took my time deciding what exactly what I was gonna do. I worked in a salon in Columbus for about a year and a half and I did really really well; looking back on it, it’s really hard to build a clientele really fast and I did a great job doing it. But I kinda felt like, “Is this it? Is 19 gonna look the same as 30?” So I sold all my stuff, found a place in N.Y.C. on Craigslist, and opened up Allure and applied to all of the salons in their salon and spa directory. I ended up getting a job at Ted Gibson, and worked there for about a year and a half, but that was kind of the same thing, only in a different city. So I became the personal assistant to a DJ for about a year, until one of my [hairstylist] friends asked if I wanted to assist her on a Fanta commercial for $500. That’s how I started picking up work in that world.
Who was your mentor along the way?
I was working as the hairstylist for Alloy and Saks catalogs for years, and I kept missing opportunities … Then my photographer friend Miko came to me and was like, “I’m gonna shoot this girl tomorrow, and I want you to do her hair.” So I quit my job and we shot Ashley Benson. That was two years ago, and all of a sudden this story took me to a whole new place and I was able to just make my way in more of a celebrity world from there. I met some of my makeup friends, like Patrick Ta, and that really helped me a lot as well.
What was a defining moment in your career?
Doing Kim [Kardashian’s hair] is always something that everyone wants to do. So when that happened, and then I got a call to do it again the next day, I was like S–t, this is awesome. You sit back, you reevaluate and you’re like, These are all the things I’m grateful for, these are all the things I accomplished. Look at where I was a year ago, two years ago — what is the route that I want to move onto now? I found myself doing more actresses and I’m like, “Okay, rad. This is a great route. This is a perfectly acceptable, amazing route that I’m so stoked to be on.”
What look are you most known for?
People know that I can braid and that I can do that easy, effortless hair.
Who was your first celebrity client?
Josh Groban, who I still work with sometimes. I met his assistant and his publicist and him through them and I did like a couple jobs … and then I just started working with him all the time.
What made you partner with Aussie?
When the initial conversation started, I’d just found out that I was pregnant and I was like, no one’s gonna want to put me in contracts. But I came to find out that they’re catering towards millennial moms and moms that care about looking their best but don’t have a ton of time. It’s really nice to have a partnership with somebody that is not trying to change you, you’re just trying to grow together. So it worked out great.
How has social media added to your success?
I think social media has like been one of the most important things. If you really care about it and you look at how the overall content looks on your page, you can really see the patterns you create. If I’ve done the same hairstyle on five people, I should probably change it up. It makes you think, it makes you really look at your own work and change it up, and I think that’s really helpful.
What’s your favorite look that you’ve created?
I’m still really into the long wrapped ponytail I did for Chrissy not long ago. I was really into that one. I was really into the Burning Man braid I did for Poppy and Cara [Delevingne], I thought those were fun. Those were days that I was like, Let’s do something cool, and they were open to it. When Poppy wanted braids for Burning Man, I was like “Okay, great!” – ’cause at that point I was pregnant and I couldn’t go so I was like, Well, this is as close as I can get.
What’s the coolest thing about your job?
At the end of the day, I have an amazing job and I get to show up and help people get ready for things but I don’t have to be the one on a carpet … So all I can do is set a good tone for the people I’m with that are about to do it.
What’s your favorite celebrity memory?
Probably that shoot with Ashley and Miko. We just shot her at The Jane Hotel and then we sat down and ate some food and had a drink and got back into it. It just ended up being really fun.
What’s your beauty mantra?
Less is more, and your attitude is what keeps you around.
If you could use one product for the rest of your career, what would it be?
On myself, it would be deep conditioner — Aussie’s three minute miracle moist. And then on other people, it would be leave-in conditioner.