In the prep room at a recent Kérastase class in Chicago, celebrity stylist Jennifer Yepez tells me she has always loved doing hair. Growing up in New York, she would braid her classmates' hair on her stoop for $30.
Yepez is Latina, and says knowing how to do hair is pretty much in her blood.
"All my friends were like either black or Spanish," she says. "So when you have that kind of hair, you'll know how to do hair because you're young and also Latinas are growing up, you see your mom and beauty is very important in our world."
Priding herself as a New Yorker through and through, Yepez travels between both coasts, and frequently internationally. Her celebrity roster of clientele includes likes of Gigi Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski and Salma Hayek. Yepez herself is likely confused as a celeb as well, with super-long hair, perfectly bronzed skin and a cool-and-confident demeanor. She says her Instagram page is curated to match her aura, with both herself and her clients oozing with sex-appeal.
But Yepez did her homework before jet setting to Mykonos and Cannes with famous clients and friends. When she was 18, she went to work at John Frieda. Serge Normant began working there, and she assisted him.
"I always picked a place where they were doing session styling," Yepez says. "I would go with them. I would be in a salon one day, next day we go on a photo shoot and I really liked that."
She worked at five different salons, but never really became obsessed with the environment a salon offers. In the meantime, she would research what artists were doing work in magazines. She'd study the credits and see them as references to what she eventually wanted to do.
"I would just look at people's names and I would do my research," Yepez says. "I think it's really important for every stylist who wants to do freelance and session work, they should definitely still look at magazines. Pick up a magazine, look at who did the hair, and then you could see who you'd want to assist."
Yepez would email agencies of the likes of Orlando and Guido to see if she could assist them. In order to work with celebrities, Yepez says it's essential to assist artists like these. You also have to set yourself apart and make sure you know how to do everything to cement your value to that artist. To set herself apart, Yepez learned to become great at cutting, for example, because she noticed that a lot of people freelancing didn't know to to cut hair.
"If you don't know how to do black girl hair, know how to do black girl hair, watch a YouTube video, go to a salon, ask your girlfriend, whatever," Yepez says. "Learn how to do everything possible. That way when you do have the opportunity [to assist] and if you say you don't know how to do it, you're gonna lose your client."
Also when working with celebrities, she says etiquette is key: Don't ask for photos. Be conscious of what you say around people, how you dress, how you look. And if you have an assistant, make sure they follow the same etiquette.
"You always have to be conscious of how you look," Yepez says. "You don't want to look too pretty sometimes. If I'm with Bella [Hadid], I wear a crop top or shorts. It just depends on who I'm around. There's just certain people that you have to be conscious if it's your first time working with them. You don't want to be like you're the star; you want be behind the scenes...A celebrity wants to feel they can trust you, they can be themselves around you."
Yepez advises that if you want to work with celebrities, beyond doing the research and preparation, you have to put yourself out there. Now, she says she's traveling more than half of the year. She says if you're willing to travel, you will have so many more opportunities.
Each year during the Cannes Film Festival, for example, she flies herself there and gets her own place to stay. That way, if a client needs here, she is ready and available.
"So I would let Emily know that I already happen to be in Cannes, so she said, 'Okay, can you come with me South of France,' and then we went to Paris," Yepez says. "You have to make yourself available sometimes."
And the press and recognition of your work that comes from that? Yepez says it makes that small expense more than worth it.