Amy Farid's career path is one for the books: A small-town girl from Wichita, Kansas with a love for hair and fashion finds her own tribe of young creatives in high school. "Our own Andy Warhol's Factory," she says. They would spend their weekends recreating photo shoots by Ellen Von Unwerth, Steven Meisel and Bruce Weber. At 19, while living in LA for a few months, Farid had a revelation on Redondo beach: Go back to Kansas, attend hair school, work in a salon and move to New York City to become an editorial hairstylist.
In 2000, Farid took a Greyhound to New York where she climbed the ranks at Bumble and Bumble, assisting Laurent Philippon, Ward Stegerhoek and Jimmy Paul on photo shoots and fashion shows. By 2005, she was snagging lead hairstylist jobs for indie designers, including Chromat, Kempner, Kaelen and Hood by Air, who she continues to collaborate with every season. She also works at the salon Suite Caroline, run by hair color guru Lena Ott and frequented by models and celebrities; travels for brand-name shoots — most recently the Victoria's Secret Swim catalogue and Valentine's Day campaign; and is the go-to hair gal for singer Florence Welch whenever she's in town.
We chatted with Farid just before her Calvin Klein show during New York Fashion Week: Men's about how she learned the Fashion Week ropes while working at Bumble and Bumble, the collaborative process behind a beauty look and tips on how hairstylists can get their own gigs backstage.
How did you get your start working backstage at fashion shows?
It was part of my role as an assistant at Bumble and Bumble. I was doing shows in New York, Milan and Paris. It was the glory days in New York, so we worked Heatherette, Chado Ralph Rucci and Catherine Malandrino. Then I would spend two weeks in Milan and Paris, working behind the scenes for Fendi and Rick Owens.
What was the first time acting as a lead hairstylist like for you?
One of my very first shows was Hood by Air. I knew Shane when he was a club kid who would come up to Harlem when I used to live there. We would hang out and party, and he told me he had this T-shirt line he wanted to do. The first show was in Chelsea in an art gallery so small that we did the hair out in the hallway. I put black paint on the models' hair. Who does that? The show was so packed. I couldn't even see what was going on.
Brand sponsorships play a major role backstage. Has that affected you in any way?
Back when I started out, it was about the creativity. It's now run by money. I've lost a show before because a designer gets another hair sponsor. For instance, if Moroccan Oil comes in and offers $50,000 to a designer, then Moroccan Oil has the choice to have their creative director do the hair. Then the person who has been doing it season after season gets totally knocked to the side. And I get it, especially if a designer is getting bigger; that's just how fashion is. I try to be very Zen about it and I'm happy for the shows that I am doing.
What's the process like behind a hair test?
A day or two before the show, I meet with the makeup artist, the designer and the stylist. We'll look at the inspiration, the collection and the fabrics to formulate ideas like "'60s rockabilly" or "super sleek" or "undone." Then the makeup artist and I test out looks on the model and put them in an outfit. The model will walk and I'll see how the hair flows and moves, and how it looks with the clothes. If everyone approves, we take a picture of the look. The longest hair test I've ever been at was eight or nine hours, but usually it takes an hour.
How do you prepare for the day of the show?
The hair and makeup teams arrive three hours before the show. I bring my kit, set up my stuff and if there's a model, I'll do a demo of the look for my assistants. It can get fast-paced really quickly so I try to stay balanced because it's so easy to get sucked into that frenzy.
Once the models are ready and the show is about to begin, what's next?
The key hair and makeup artists stand where the models walk out for last minute touch-ups. Sometimes I'll fight with producers because they don't want anyone in that area but this is my look with my name on it. I touch every model's hair before they go on the runway.
What advice would you give to a hairstylist who wants to work backstage?
Reach out to hairstylists' agents and ask if they can put you on their roster, along with a link to your book or a list of people that you've worked with in the past. That way, when a hairstylist doesn't have a team, they'll formulate their own. For example, Calvin Klein doesn't do sponsorships, so the team is who I pick, which is really special because I'll have people who I can trust. And be adamant. I get messages on Facebook and it's great. Send a note to check in and say that you'll be in New York for Fashion Week.
What are your thoughts on runway beauty trends? Do your salon clients try to translate runway looks into wearable, everyday hairstyles?
I think the runway's version can be a bit severe — and not everybody is a model — so we have to adapt a look according to the client's own face, hair and bone structure. But I think runway is so important for trends still. It's like the "high art" version of beauty. The ponytail, for instance, has been redone so many times because it is, by nature, an effortless thing. For shows, we are always trying to elevate the ponytail.
This interview has been edited and condensed.