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The Specialists

Victoria Wurdinger | October 16, 2015 | 1:06 PM
BRIDAL STYLIST -- Diffused texture, braids and loose styles are on-trend for brides. Hair: Antonio Corral Calero; Makeup: Nico G P; Fashion styling: Rod Novoa
Photo By Roberto Ligresti Photo 1 of 6
BRIDAL STYLIST -- Behind the scenes of Kenra's To Have and to Hold collection. Hair: Mirella Hullum; Haircolor: Robb Dubre
Photo By Michael Pool Photo 2 of 6
MAKEUP ARTIST -- An over-the-top airbrush technique seen at The Makeup Show Chicago's Mehron Inc. booth won't be your every day, but dramatic styles can be a good fit for photo competitions.
Photo By Alex Maldonado for The Makeup Show Chicago Photo 3 of 6
MAKEUP ARTIST -- At Yellow Strawberry Salon in Sarasota, Florida, Laura Halasz retails about $2,000 a month in cosmetics sales.
Photo By Richard Weintraub Photo 4 of 6
HAIR EXTENSIONIST -- Hair: Victoria Casciola for Hotheads; Makeup: David Maderich; Fashion styling: Rod Novoa
Photo By Roberto Ligresti Photo 5 of 6
BLOW DRY STYLIST: Hair: Deborah Parkinson, Trish Avalos, Angelina Guerra; Creative director: Steve Elias; Fashion styling: Katelyn Johnson
Photo 6 of 6

What does it take to specialize and what do you need to know to consider yourself a service specific virtuoso? We spotlight four emphasis areas - bridal/updo artist, makeup artist, hair extensionist and blowout specialist - to shed light on what it takes to make it in these unique paths.

Bridal and Updo Specialist

If you love the excitement of weddings—and waking up at 5 a.m.—becoming a bridal-style specialist might be right for you. Naturally, the skills translate into prom and red-carpet looks, but the most lucrative work is with the wedding party. Three days a week, Tara Benish rents a chair in Long Island, New York, to conduct trial styles and haircolor, and almost every weekend, she’s on-site styling bridal parties.

Licensed at 17, Benish got her start in a family-owned salon. She learned foundational hairdressing skills from her mother and grandmother, who was great at creating beehives, twists and roller sets. By 23, she owned her own salon, where she specialized in color, and sold it 10 years later to go freelance and embrace her true love of bridal work.

“I went to a vocational high school for cosmetology, which made it free, which was great,” Benish says. “But after that, I put aside $2,000 to $3,000 a year for education.”

For years, Benish attended every bridal expo she could and followed updo specialist Martin Parsons and long-hair educator Patrick Cameron. She went to their shows, bought their videos, attended classes and watched training online. Her advice for getting started is to join a reputable salon that offers continuing education. Then, go to shows, take specialized classes and get all the books, videos, DVDs and tutorials you can until you’ve mastered every bridal style from classic chignons to fishtail braids. Additionally, because many bridal specialists also do makeup, you should have some experience in it, whether or not you do the makeup yourself.

“Always keep up with bridal trends,” Benish says. “Right now, loose, romantic looks are popular, off-to-one-side styles are big, and braids and textures are important. But what matters most is practice—something I still do today.”

Beginning with trial styles and moving up to bridal parties, you can consider yourself an expert once you’ve done 50 weddings, Benish says. She now has her timing down to 30 minutes per head and does parties of as many as 10 with no assistant.

Benish says you should also have skills with hair-extension application, but surprisingly, she says she rarely uses them. Instead, she uses spray wax and texturizing powder to create volume.

“My biggest oops was the day a bride brought all these extensions she wanted me to use, and after I put on the head piece, I turned around and saw them laying on the chair,” Benish says. “The bride never even noticed because I got the look she wanted with teasing and products.”

Today, weddings are booked so far in advance that Benish does trial styles a year before the wedding and touches up the cut and color a few weeks in advance. “I love clear glosses and glazes for adding shine and reducing frizz—they’re key to fabulous photos,” she says.  On the big day, she arrives at 6 a.m. and re-creates her trial styles at a fast clip.

Her average bridal-party charge is between $700 and $1,000—more if the bride wants Benish to follow her all day and do touch-ups for photos. She leaves every bride with hairspray, a hair band and bobby pins, which should be included in the bridal-package price.

Once you’re an expert, the best way to promote yourself is online (Benish built her own website for $50) and through referrals and testimonials.

“You need a lot of patience to do this,” Benish says. “Always remember that it is the biggest day of the bride’s life.”

Makeup Artist

Career paths for makeup artists range from doing para-medical makeup or high-end editorial work to selling cosmetics in a store. You can also work in a salon, but often, salon makeup artists have secondary specialties, such as skincare or hair removal. Education beyond cosmetology school is critical, even if you live in a state with a separate esthetics license, like Kinley Dickrell, who attended the Aveda Institute in Milwaukee. Today, she runs her own business, Kontour Kouture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

“I’ve been in love with cosmetics since I was 4 years old, when I’d paint my dog’s nails and put curlers in her hair,” Dickrell says. “I was working in a CosmoProf store when I met a lot of hairdressers and realized beauty could be a career. In 2012, I went through the esthetics program at Aveda and worked in a MAC cosmetics store during school.”

Like many makeup artists, Dickrell supported her training with YouTube videos, particularly those of Jaclyn Hill and Alex Faction. When she became proficient, she turned to salon owners and local manufacturers’ educators she’d met at the CosmoProf store, and they began contracting her to do makeup and hair removal on an as-needed basis. Dickrell says versatility is the key to success.

 “You should be able to do wedding makeup and airbrush work,” says Dickrell, who invested about $2,000 in her initial makeup kit. She also became a beauty advisor for Motives Cosmetics, a celebrity-endorsed Internet retailer. In addition to working in salons or at shows as needed, she relentlessly promotes her private lessons, done in her home or at a client’s.

To keep clients coming back for more after one $75 lesson, Dickrell limits and varies content. “Make it fun and cover just one or two things, like contouring,” Dickrell says. “Retail the appropriate products, then offer the client another lesson and give her 20 percent off if she brings one or two friends along.” Dickrell’s average retail sale after one lesson is $150. Follow-up lessons that friends like to book as a group include trends like the blended ombre lip and face baking, which involves using powder to bake in concealer, resulting in an airbrushed look with diminished lines.

“For fall, contouring is huge, along with a flushed cheek and eyes with less shadow and more liner,” Dickrell says. Working in the salon or on her own, Dickrell says each day is diverse, exciting and high-energy. At least twice a week, she gives private lessons. She spends about 10 hours a week prospecting for clients by “searching for shows and events I can plug into and by contacting photographers, friends and those who have a big event coming up,” she says. Saturdays usually fi nd her doing wedding makeup for bridal parties, particularly in the summer months.

Although just one bridal event can bring in $700, the consistent money is in retailing. Dickrell says clients never fail to buy as long as you make them look great. “I have a very classic style that is tailored to each person for soft, simple beauty,” Dickrell says. “Makeup artists need to discover who they are in terms of style.”

Dickrell wants to get into editorial work and plans to attend specialized makeup academies on the coasts and in Europe. “My motto is passion, practice and persistence,” she says. “That’s what it takes to make it as a makeup artist.”

Hair Extensionist

Thanks to celebrity endorsement and a shift in the ease of application, hair extensions are a service clients of all age ranges, textures and lengths can enjoy.  “In the ’90s, my entire client base shifted to professional women who wanted extensions for either fullness or length, or both,” says Tina McIntosh, owner of Hair by Tina McIntosh in Tampa, Florida, and UltraTress educator. “Now, I’m booked as much as I want to be when I’m not teaching. My main market is professional women in their 40s who want to look 25 and have the money to make it happen.”

If you are considering specializing, choosing the right company, the right classes for you and the best extension system for your clients all matter. Naturally, so does practice. “Tape-ins run the world right now, but you should excel in at least two or three systems,” McIntosh says.

Start by investigating companies that offer certification classes. Some are so simple they offer certification online; others require significant investments for three days of training.

First, check out online videos that demonstrate tape-ins/seamless extensions, individual hot-fusion extensions and links/cold-fusion extensions, which usually use a metal tube to secure the natural hair to an individual extension. Then determine educational costs for the system you want to start with, what you get and what you need to maintain a relationship with the extension-hair supplier. Some might require you retail their shampoos and conditioners to get hotline help. Next, ask your salon to survey the clients’ interest level, what type of extensions they like and how much they would pay.

To join the big leagues, you should be more than proficient at doing tape-ins, hot-fusion extensions and links, at minimum. McIntosh also includes wigs and 10 different techniques in working with the top of the head alone.

After your class, be sure you have models to practice on. Buy the hair and offer to do a few models for free or at a nominal fee as long as they will allow you to follow them for feedback. McIntosh advises taking 10 different classes to get basic system techniques down. After that, to be a true expert, go by the number of heads you’ve done on your own. After 30 heads, she says, you’ll have encountered most of the potential disasters.

In addition to being an expert at removing extensions without damaging the natural hair, you must be able to cut them properly to blend them. This is an art in itself, and one of the issues you’ll encounter when experimenting is pairing extensions with a blunt cut. It’s the hardest blend to make look great, McIntosh says. Her solution, is experience in slide-cutting. This takes real-life practice—the last thing you want is a blunt line above extensions.

Once you’ve got the skills, make certain guests rebook at the correct intervals. Tape-in clients must rebook every six weeks—at eight weeks, the hair can rip out, McIntosh says.

“The key to success is to avoid damage and create a name for yourself as an extensionist who is dedicated to the growth and preservation of natural hair, which is my tagline,” McIntosh says.

Then prepare your clients for compliments, tell them people will notice the fabulous difference and ask for referrals. Stress that your consultations are private. Otherwise, McIntosh says, clients won’t talk about extensions the way they do cuts. “This is one service where you have to ask for referrals and tell clients what to say to promote you,” McIntosh says.

Blowout & Styling Pros

With the proliferation of blowdry bars and the trend toward red-carpet looks for every woman, you might wonder what it takes to be a true blowdry and style pro, making clients look fabulous all day long. Elle Rizza, who works at Ten Friends Blow Dry & Style House in Hinsdale, Illinois, says it’s a very rewarding career path. After all, it’s that salon-fresh style that women who go to blowdry bars want most.

Rizza graduated from Paul Mitchell The School Chicago in 2011 and had been working for three years when she saw a Facebook ad for a new blowdry bar near her home. It turned out that the co-owner was the financial-aid counselor at her school, so she decided to check it out. When she discovered the salon offered a 401k plan and health insurance, she was sold. At just six weeks of working, she was already busy and feeling right at home at Ten Friends.

“The salon cares about our success and has been marketing us like crazy,” Rizza says. “I’d already been doing bridal work on a freelance basis, but they taught us a whole new approach.”

The salon had stylists attend a three-week training session so everyone could master the looks on the menu, including their menu items: Beachy Waves, Sleek & Sassy, Full & Fabulous, Just Updo It and more. Although the names are specific to Ten Friends, you can expect to create similar looks in any blowdry bar. “We learned to start around the face, which dries fastest and is the area where clients have the most problems,” Rizza says. “Then, we take small sections and hit them with heat every time we pass over the section with the brush. This is very different from traditional salons, where stylists pre-dry just to remove moisture, then add product to damp hair and go back in blasting sections with the blower. In the blowdry bar approach, each section must be completely dried, one by one. This is what allows for styles that last for four to five days."

A good amount of tension is also required, taking hair type and condition into account. There are little tricks like using a root-boost product fi rst, then over-directing smaller-than-usual sections one by one and drying them completely. Speed matters, too; the basic blowout should take no longer than 45 minutes.

“We are really setting hair with heat,” Rizza says. “And when women follow our product suggestions, we guarantee the look will last—even on fine hair."

Retail items Rizza always suggests include a clay-like product to inhibit flyaways or a strong-hold hairspray for those who want a polished look, plus a dry shampoo for every client. In addition to retail opportunities, she says, there are many ways to upsell, including offering braids, chignons, scalp treatments and packages.

“Some women like to come with friends, and many like to buy blowouts in packages of five or 10 for a slight discount,” she says.

Besides upselling and retailing, an important key to success, and career longevity, involves ergonomics. “All stylists need an ergonomic mat to stand on during long days, but when you are blowdrying all day, body position matters a lot,” Rizza says. “We learned to stand up straight and pay attention to our elbow position, which should be at 90-degrees to the shoulders and no higher unless necessary. Also, we use lightweight dryers that turn on and off automatically, whenever we pick them up or lay them down.”

At Ten Friends, the busiest times are 7–10 a.m. and 4–6 p.m., but on Fridays and Saturdays, she’s booked solid with six to eight clients a day. The slowest days are Monday and Tuesday. During any downtime, she says, the best thing to do is pass out cards and menus, learn about the products (clients are very ingredient-savvy today) and practice on one another.

Rizza’s salon is building business fast for her—which brings home the fact that if you want to specialize, look for a salon with a strong marketing plan.

“You should have a least a year’s worth of experience to do this because diverse styling skills are lacking when you get out of school, and even in salons, you need time to gain expertise in different hair types and styles,” Rizza says. “But if you love homecoming, prom time and styling hair, a blowdry bar is a great place to be. Clients think it’s the best thing.”

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