In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion and beauty industries about how they broke in and found success.
There are hairstylists, and then there's Lacy Redway. Styling hair is something she was practically born to do and she has, in fact, been at it since early childhood. So perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising that she's managed to cultivate a dedicated, jaw-dropping celebrity client list that includes — but is by no means limited to — Olivia Palermo, Tracee Ellis Ross, Karlie Kloss, Ruth Negga, Tessa Thompson, Jourdan Dunn, Ilana Glazer, Tatiana Maslany, Sofia Richie, Teyana Taylor, Ashley Graham, Priyanka Chopra, Alicia Keys, Naomi Campbell, Amandla Stenberg, Lucy Hale and Jenny Slate. It doesn't get much more impressive, extensive or diverse than that.
Redway's work spans the gamut from editorial shoots (in such publications as Vogue, Elle, Paper, Love, Teen Vogue, Essence, Town & Country and more) and advertising campaigns (she styled Kendall Jenner's hair for that Pepsi ad), to the red carpet and the runway. (For the Spring 2018 shows, Redway prepped multiple front-row attendees and also served as the key hairstylist at the Juicy Couture presentation.) She's represented by the prestigious Wall Group, spent her early career days playing protégé to the likes of Guido Palau and Odile Gilbert and last month — somewhere between said gigs at New York Fashion Week and getting clients prepped for the Emmys, — she was also tapped as "Style & Trends curator" for Nexxus.
But Redway isn't in it for the Instagram fame or the glamour. When it comes down to it, she just wants to make art, make women feel good and inspire other people (particularly women and people of color) to go after their own dreams of success in the fashion industry. I got ahold of Redway — who was lovely and energetic, despite having just returned from Paris Fashion Week fewer than 24 hours prior — for a phone interview. After spending probably too long professing my fanaticism for her work, I got down to business: I quizzed Redway all about how she built her highly successful career, why she thinks social media is a blessing and a curse for modern hairstylists and how she's inspiring so many others through her work. Read on for the highlights.
Can you tell me about your background, where you're from and how you first got into hairstyling?
I was born in Jamaica — the island, not Queens! — I always have to say that. Then I came to the states when I was around eight years old. I think as far back as I can remember I've always done hair, whether it was playing with dolls or styling my friends' hair. [It's something] I've always known how to do. Even growing up, my sister would do my hair, so I think that's kind of where [it began]. I have memories of getting my hair done ritually every Sunday by my sister.
And when did you realize it was something you were talented enough to do professionally?
I was the girl braiding everyone's hair and giving everyone blow-dries in school. When I came to the U.S., my family lived in New Jersey. I started working at a salon in high school, just to earn extra money for myself, not thinking it would be a career decision. I also went on to go to college — I studied communications because I thought I was actually going to be a publicist. Hair was always something that I had the ability to do, but I knew I wanted to work in fashion. But I didn't know at the time how I would get there.
I was only exposed to the salon atmosphere, and at that time I didn't even realize that there's someone behind the scenes who is helping to create the hair on a magazine shoot or working on a movie set or working on a fashion show. None of that ever crossed my mind. But then, at one of the last salons I worked at before I decided to move to New York and really pursue hair, the woman that I worked for in my local town did photo shoots — but not on the scale that I do them now. She wasn't doing Vogue shoots or anything. It was for, like, hair packaging, but still pretty substantial things, and I was just her assistant. I loved being a part of the process and seeing the end result. When a hair was out of place, I would brush it back into place, and I started to really get intrigued by that. As an assistant, seeing her in the leading role really inspired me. And then I eventually went to beauty school.
I went on and studied at the Aveda Institutes and started my own portfolio — I hired a photographer, makeup artist and models. It was around the time of MySpace and Model Mayhem. I started to showcase some of my work on there and I met really cool, interesting people that I'm still in touch with today. Some of them are big artists in our business, and I met them through Model Mayhem.
Eventually I started assisting on fashion shows. The way I managed to be successful in this industry has always been word of mouth, just referrals from other people, so that's how I was able to get onto show teams and that's how I was able to get the attention and assist artists like Guido [Palau], Odile [Gilbert], Eugene [Souleiman], Didier [Malige], Luigi [Murenu] and Yannick D'is. [Editors' note: I had to ask Redway to go back and repeat that list, which, for the uninitiated, is basically a Who's Who of Important Fashion Hairstylists.]
Wow, that list of hairstylists you assisted is incredible. What was it like working with those types of big names in the fashion industry?
I was primarily on Guido's team. With Eugene, I did shows and shoots, but the majority of it was show teams because I was also doing my own thing at the same time, building myself up as an artist. So I never assisted anyone on a full scale. Usually when you're assisting artists at that level you don't get to work with so many at once, you kind of have to pick one. But I was unique in the sense that I had the ability to do things that a lot of other assistants didn't know how to do — for example, specializing in natural and textured hair — but also being able to braid and being an extremely fast braider.
The first fashion show that I assisted Guido with I think was Alexander Wang. I had been very highly recommended to them and I don't know why, but for some reason I wasn't available at the call time they needed me to be there, but they just said, 'We don't care, come whenever you can.' So when I arrived I took the direction, braiding like I do, because to me it's normal. But then I started to notice that the other assistants were kind of crowding around me, watching what I was doing, and that's when I started to realize, I guess I'm a pretty good, fast braider. This was probably in 2009 or 2010.
So did things just sort of snowball for you, career-wise, from there?
That was one of the highlights for sure. I would say it was a general snowball effect, getting constant referrals from other hairstylists to work with top artists on shoots or shows. [I also signed with] my first agency, Utopia. They contacted me because they were referred to me, and at that point I didn't think that I was even worthy of being represented.
How did getting representation initially change things for you?
I think as an artist, sometimes you don't know your worth and you don't know what you're capable of doing. So to have that made me feel professional. I felt like, this is a real job now, it's not just something that I do. It felt legit at that point.
You're known for your work with an amazing list of major celebs, but what always strikes me so much in addition to the quality of your work is that you're so adept at styling every single hair texture and type, and even in 2017, that's something a lot of hairstylists don't necessarily have down. How did you master that and how important do you think it is for hairstylists to be able to work with a diverse array of clients?
That's definitely something I do pride myself in, being able to work with all hair types. You can't really say you're the best if you don't work with all hair types and textures. Especially with my training, working on [runway] shows, you have to work on all hair types. But it's interesting because I find that even now, models are still complaining that there are people backstage that can't work on their hair type. I saw a model post about that recently and that made me really sad.
I always strive to really kind of outdo myself, I'm not in competition with anyone, but I strive to improve myself. I strive to do my best, so I just want to always know how to do everything that pertains to hair.
Why do you think some hairstylists are resistant to learning about working with a diverse range of hair types?
[It's important to] have the mentality that there's always room for growth and you can learn from anyone. In the day and age of Instagram, training is so different from when I was coming up. A lot of them don't want to assist anymore. I feel like being able to assist so many of the artists that I worked with, I was able to take a little bit from each of them and make it into my own, so I think the training really helps to know what you're doing, and kind of be the best. With social media, people are really getting to kind of skip steps and jump to the top without really training the way that I did. I had to schlep bags, catch rollers in my hands, hand hairpins off and really just watch the artists work.
People are just interested in being famous and just catapulting to the top without having the proper foundations. So I really value that I was able to learn that way and train that way.
But at the same time, you seem to use social media a lot in your work — you made a lot of your contacts on social media in the early days and it seems like it must also be another form of that word of mouth you were talking about before.
I definitely think social media is important. It's the way that you can really control your voice. With makeup, you can retouch makeup and can really hide imperfections, but as a hairstylist you can't really hide that on social media.
I also love being able to reach people and inspire people. I've had people send me DMs from all over the world, and especially being a woman of color and being able to work on the projects I get work on and being able to partner with Nexxus, that makes me really proud. I've had people tell me that I've inspired them to want to got to beauty school or move to New York, so social media for me is definitely a great tool for touching people's lives.
Where do you look for inspiration?
With the types of women that I get to work with, I'm really blessed. I have clients like Olivia [Palermo], and she literally trusts me to just do whatever. Having the freedom to be able to create [has led to] so many amazing hair moments that have gone vital just because of the trust. It just kind of happens. I'll just be inspired by whatever the makeup is that's going to happen and what the outfit looks like. I'll get inspired and my fingers just kind of go to work. I don't really have any specific place that I get inspiration, it's everywhere: the runway, from movies, from architecture.
I was working with Jourdan Dunn in Paris and what's so interesting about my relationship with her is I met her as an assistant backstage on shows when she was 17 years old, just starting out. She couldn't find a lot of people backstage who knew how to do her hair, so she'd literally wait for me until I was available to do her hair. Now I do her for her personal stuff and she also trusts me to do whatever to her hair. We just started doing a blunt bob, that she just trusts me and it's really fresh and cool to her.
How do you balance all of your many projects and decide what to prioritize?
I really enjoy doing a little bit of everything; that's why I don't necessarily consider myself a celebrity hairstylist or just an editorial hairstylist.
What is something you hope to communicate to the world through your work?
I try to break down stereotypes, to change the way the industry views women, to create more opportunities for women of color and to change the voice that we have in the business.
What other hairstylists inspire you?
One of my fave hairstylists of all time is Odile Gilbert, because when we think of hair, the biggest names we know, so many are men — Frederic Fekkai, Paul Mitchell. She inspires me so much because she's been able to stand her ground in this industry for so long. It allows me to realize that my dreams are possible because here is this woman who has been in this business and created so many opportunities for herself.
What advice would you give your younger self, when you were just starting out?
I think it would be to listen to my own voice. When you're starting out in the business, you tend to listen to what everyone else tells you to do because you think that's the way to be successful, but when you get to a place when you're comfortable with yourself and your own voice, that's when you really are successful.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Homepage/main photo: Courtesy of Nexxus