Naming the single busiest celebrity hairstylist working in Hollywood right now is no easy task; plenty of beauty pros fill their days catering to long lists of A-list clients. But Adir Abergel — the man behind the hairstyles of Anne Hathaway, Kristen Stewart, Reese Witherspoon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Sienna Miller and many more — would land near the top of the pack, no question.
Moving from Israel to Hollywood at a young age, Abergel realized his affinity for hair — if not the fact that it could be a potential career path — as a 10-year-old, when he would color his mother's friends' hair for a couple of bucks a pop. Fast-forward a few decades, and he's one of the biggest names in hair, not only tending to his celebrity clientele, but also working on big-name fashion campaigns and serving as the creative director for hair-care brand Virtue. With so much going on, it shouldn't be surprising that Abergel isn't a fan of labels when it comes to his career. "I look at myself more as an artist than just a hairstylist, and I make sure that I don't put myself in that box," said Abergel during a recent phone interview.
In between red carpet gigs and photo shoots, Abergel took some time to discuss how his early interest in hair became a prolific, decades-long career, where he finds inspiration and the importance of relationships.
Tell me about your background and how you got started working with hair.
When I was 10 years old, the way that I'd make extra money is that my mom's friends would come over and have me apply color all over their roots. They'd pay me $3. I didn't even know what I was doing, and I didn't know that I liked doing it. It was just my way of making extra money.
Then, weirdly enough, I'd take all my friends — at 10 years old — and, with these throw-away cameras, I'd do fake photo shoots. At that point, my passion was really in dancing. I was focusing a lot of my attention after school dancing, singing and doing musical theater. When I was 13, I moved to New York City, and by the age of 15, I got injured and couldn't dance at all anymore. I thought, I'm ready for the next thing.
I moved back to California and signed up for hair school. I guess I chose it because I didn't know what else to do; school was never something that really spoke to me. I signed up at Santa Monica College, and within the first two weeks, I heard from one of the kids there that a hairstylist named Arthur John was looking for an assistant. Being this driven 15-year-old, I took the bus to Beverly Hills and walked into this man's salon and convinced him to hire me and that he should get an apprenticeship program going. That allowed me to not go to school so I could get my license through him. That's basically the start of my hairdressing career.
What was that initial experience assisting him like?
I ended up assisting him for around six and a half years and, within the first week of working for him, I was working with Tina Turner, Julie Christie, Diahann Carroll. I didn't know these celebrities — I didn't even understand what celebrities were at that point. But this man was really one of the most influential hair people of the '80s and '90s in California doing all of these iconic, incredible women. And these women really kind of raised me.
What came next after that beginning portion of your career? How did you build up your own celebrity clientele?
The truth is that for a very, very long time, you're doing a lot of smaller jobs. You end up meeting people along the way, and you end up building friendships and relationships.
You also have to remember that Anne Hathaway wasn't the Anne Hathaway that we know today [back then]. Kristen Stewart wasn't the Kristen Stewart that we know today. Now, I work with Marion Cotillard, Kristen Stewart, Jen Garner, Emma Watson, Emilia Clarke, Jessica Biel, Reese Witherspoon, Rooney Mara, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sienna Miller. But all of them have been clients of mine for the past 14 or 15 years. We all came up together.
I did so many jobs for so long where I wasn't making money. It's truly about building real relationships — not only relationships with the actors, but also with their representatives.
So would you say that relationships are one of the keys to being successful as a hairstylist?
Yes. I've learned to just treat everyone equally in this lifetime. It's incredibly important to give love, and to connect and to be present with every single person because everyone has a road to getting somewhere. You have to remember that, one day, the assistants to the big publicists are going to be the big publicists themselves. The young actor who is, today, trying to get there, will be the big actor of tomorrow.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
I'm very, very blessed because my life is very full. I'm married to a Harvard scientist, so we get to talk about a lot of innovation and a lot of technology in my household. Another part of my life is being the creative director for a hair brand called Virtue that's truly revolutionary in the hair-care industry and is literally changing the way that hair is being repaired. So that takes a lot of my day.
I'm still actively doing hair, so that's also a big part of my day. I have a hair accessories collaboration that I do with my friend [Sara Bielet Sasson] from Lelet that I work on, too.
Where do you find inspiration?
Street style is incredibly important to me. I'll go and sit down on a stoop on a corner that is super busy, whether I'm in London or on the Lower East Side of New York City, and watch the way that people put their looks together — the way that they're playing with their textures, the way that they're coloring their hair. I look a lot at the early '80s London punk movement. And I look at a lot of classic, old hairdressing, from the '30s all the way to the '70s, from Louise Brooks all the way to Studio 54.
So much of this job is sitting down being able to quickly pull from a bank of references in your brain. You don't have the time to go and look at Pinterest or Google something. It really needs to come from within you. And you need to be able to describe it and talk to your client about that, and build their confidence around why you're doing it.
You've been touted as one of the most prolific style innovators, so you're really creating new trends rather than looking at existing ones. How do you maintain that creativity?
It's humbling to hear that my community really believes that. I don't try to homogenize anybody, and I'm very blessed to have such incredible muses who allow me to express and who take the risks, as well.
I look at the individual, I then pull references from really weird places — it could be from a girl that I saw walking around Japan in Harajuku, and then pull another reference from some sort of braid of an African tribe. And then I put both of them together and do that on, say, Rooney. And, all of a sudden, it becomes this other thing that feels very innovative and now.
How did you decide to work with Virtue?
I have to believe in what I'm doing, and I've only really represented two lines in my career: Frederic Fekkai and Virtue. Virtue is literally shifting the way that I'm doing hair because of its technology of finding human keratin that's repairing hair.
It's humbling for me to work on creating products that I know will give them a much higher chance of achieving [professional-level hairstyles] and getting the end result that they're looking for. This keratin is like a GPS system that goes into the hair and finds the damage and repairs it. Every other keratin product in the marketplace is all fragmented, so it's either made from wool sheep or feathers, broken down amino acids. This is the first time ever where it's from hair; our body knows it as our own and repairs it because it's the exact same size of the damaged site.
What are the proudest moments in your career so far?
The proudest moments for me in general are my relationships in life: my publicist, who's been my publicist for almost 11 years; my relationship with [Virtue CEO] Melisse Shaban, who I've known for almost 10 years; my relationship with my agency that has represented me for almost 19 years; my relationship with Jennifer Garner of almost 18 years; my relationship with Jessica Biel of about 14 years; my relationship with Kristen Stewart of about 12 years; my relationship with Gwyneth Paltrow of forever; with Maria Sharapova since she was 18 years old. My relationships are what I hold nearest and dearest to me.
Having moments like doing Anne Hathaway's hair and creating nine looks in under an hour and a half for the Academy Awards when she hosted, doing Gwyneth Paltrow's hair when she wore the Tom Ford white dress, doing Sandra Bullock's hair when she won her Oscar — so many of these are incredible, big moments in my career, but if you take all of these, they all relate back to my relationships with these human beings.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.