In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion industry about how they broke in and found success.
The last few years have been a whirlwind for hairstylist Anh Co Tran. Yes, that term is often thrown around callously, making it sound cliché and bit hyperbolic — but it's also the most accurate way to describe Tran's meteoric rise. In the past seven years alone, he's given a supermodel a game-changing haircut, teamed up with colorist Johnny Ramirez to launch a namesake Beverly Hills salon, landed a coveted partnership with L'Oréal Professionnel, created a trademark name for his signature styling aesthetic (Lived In Hair™, if you've somehow managed to miss the hashtag, which currently boasts nearly 50,000 posts), started teaching his techniques to other hairstylists through master classes, garnered a following of more than 150,000 on Instagram and amassed an impressively devoted celebrity clientele. (Tran's roster reads like the Vanity Fair Oscars party guest list: he's worked with Alexa Chung, Riley Keough, Coco Rocha, Amy Poehler, Michelle Williams, Sophia Bush, Jessica Lange, Jessica Chastain, Rashida Jones, Kristen Wiig, Aimee Song, Chloe Grace Moretz — and that's not even all of them — both on the red carpet and in an editorial capacity.) But Tran's the first to admit that none of these accomplishments came easily, and he's not taking his success for granted, either. "As fast as you rise, you can fall. I've seen it in so many young stylists who are way too cocky. You don't know everything. So I try to stay humble," he says.
Tran took some time during a recent (and very busy) trip to New York City to chat with Fashionista about how he's made it this far, the role social media has played in his career, his advice for aspiring stylists and why his work is about more than just cutting and styling.
Let's start from the beginning. Can you tell us where you grew up and how you knew you wanted to become a hairstylist?
I was born in Vietnam; we immigrated here when I was four years old. We lived in refugee camps for a couple of years, then moved to Austin, Texas. We lived there for a few years and then we moved to Southern California. I've been [there] most of my life. But I didn't start in hair, I started in fashion. I went to fashion school at FIDM in Los Angeles, graduated and did pattern making for a living. But I'd watch a lot of runway shows — I loved Linda Evangelista, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell — and I knew I wanted to get into hair. So I decided to go to school for it. I always loved sculpting. I loved to create with my hands, and I always felt like I had a knack for it. Hair is the perfect form for me. It's so 3-D. After doing pattern-making it was like second nature to me.
What was your first job in hair?
I was an assistant to a colorist at Toni & Guy. I knew I didn't want to do color, but it helps me now to have that background. Working with a colorist just confirmed everything, that I really wanted to do styling. What came next was that I went on the floor [of that salon] and did my training, and they pushed me along to start doing [hair] shows. It was quick. They kept telling me I could do it, and I never really felt ready. They realized what potential I had even when I had no idea. The really awesome part about it all was that I was making clothes for some of the Toni & Guy shows. Then I became the senior creative director for the salon I was at; it was such a good experience because I was able to teach and be [immersed in] the creative part of it all.
What was your first big break?
I think it was cutting Coco Rocha's hair off. From that first time I cut her hair, my following exploded on Instagram. It was awesome, and I really got to see the power of social media.
Tell us about how you met [business partner, colorist] Johnny Ramirez and started to work with him.
I was working in Orange County, then I moved to a salon in Beverly Hills. That's where I met Johnny. I've always been a workaholic; I work from seven in the morning to 10 at night. I just love what I do. I don't even think it's work. It's just a thing that I love to create. I love the fast turnaround, because I have a short attention span. [Johnny] always works like that as well; that's one major thing we have in common. We just started talking and one day we found out that we shared the same philosophy when it came to hair color and cuts. That was about seven years ago. It just happened organically, it was meant to be.
How would you describe that hair philosophy you both share?
We use the term "Lived In Hair" to describe it. I always want to do hair that doesn't look like it's freshly done, especially in the salon. Most of the time, you go to the salon and you get a haircut that just looks like it's been freshly cut. But what I love is a week later, that's when it's really lived in. That's one thing I want to do, right off the bat, when you first get a haircut. It's hair that's already broken in. It's like buying a pair of new jeans and having them already broken in for you.
You opened the Ramirez-Tran salon in 2013. What was that process like?
When we first opened up the salon, it was a hot mess. The salon that we took over had carpet and it was horrible. We pretty much gutted everything. We'd sit in the space for hours and soak it in to figure out the energy of the place. We wanted to make sure that the stylists and clients would all feel comfortable. Having that approach and considering both sides is very important to us. We did have some help, but most of the work was done by us. We had a strong aesthetic of what we wanted to project: I love the Parisian aesthetic, I love the New York aesthetic and we wanted to bring all of these elements that we'd seen around the world to L.A. I think that was one thing that was missing in all of the places that we'd worked at.
What has the response been like since then, and how as your career changed?
The salon definitely has become a platform for us. It opened so many doors. We're approached with different product lines to do collaborations; we've done partnerships with L'Oréal Professionnel and have some other projects in the works right now. It definitely has opened up a lot of doors... and it definitely has added a lot more stress [laughs]. No complaints, it's what we want. It's what we love.
Another really crucial area where you've had success is social media. How do you think that's factored into your career?
Building a brand is so important, and social media has been the best way to do that. Johnny and I have that in common; it's about building a brand and knowing how to create something that's so important to your identity, that separates you from everyone else. Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook have all been tremendous.
Did you have some sort of social media strategy?
It just happened really naturally for me. Know what you do best, and do it. With the whole Lived in Hair thing, we didn't really plan it. It just happened at the right time, and it really took off. I don't see Lived in Hair as a trend, really. It's more of a lifestyle. We're trying to create a lifestyle for our clients, and that's one thing that our clients and followers are always coming back for.
Have you heard from other hairstylists who have been inspired by your social presence and want to learn from you?
Yes, so many. It's actually why we're starting classes now. We're starting an academy called Academy Ramirez Tran, so the initials are ART. And again, that's branding. We're doing different cities, and that's where we share everything. From how to do hair, to social media, to branding and even how to take photos.
If there's one major challenge that's stuck out in your career thus far, what would it be?
Balance. Balance is so hard. Your personal life definitely suffers. But now that I've been doing this for quite some time, I have to know how to balance because I don't want to burn myself out. I'm not at that point, but I also don't want to get to that point. And I'm always trying to reinvent myself, to come up with something different and new. People ask you to do the same thing because that's what you're known for, but you don't want to get stuck in a rut.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.