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Woman Crush: Kristin Ess, Celebrity Stylist

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We’ve had a bit of a stylist crush on Kristin Ess for a long time now. We love her larger-than-life personality and her easy-to-follow tutorials on one of our favorite beauty sites, The Beauty Department. Her path to becoming a celebrity stylist is anything but ordinary, and she continues to inspire us constantly. Anyone who can break down seemingly impossible styles into looks we can create on ourselves is a winner in our book.

Name + Occupation:
Kristin Ess, Celebrity Hairstylist and Founder of The Beauty Department, Entrepreneur

How did you get your start?
It wasn’t exactly glamorous. I started doing hair at a chain salon in a mall (that’s not the unglamorous part). Just before my 16th birthday, I got a work permit from my high school through a program called Work Experience. I would go to school in the valley from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Then I would take 3 MTA buses over the hill to get to the salon by 3 p.m. I would work there from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. After that I had to go home, do homework, get up the next morning and do it all over again. Ahhhh, youth. I was too green to know how difficult that was. I just wanted to get to work!

What would you consider your big break?
Getting that first job without ever going to cosmetology school. NONE of what I do would ever have happened if I didn’t land that job and I don’t think I can even explain how the odds were not in my favor, but I’ll try! I left home (very) early because home just wasn’t working for me. I came to live with family in LA. My aunt happened to be friends with the manager of that salon mentioned above. She asked him to give me a job sweeping floors and folding towels. HE SAID YES. It made no sense and I could not believe it. Why? Not only was I technically underage, I was also unlicensed and had no way to pay for hair school in LA.

As luck would have it, back in the day there was a thing called an apprentice program (there might still be), which was the only alternative to going to hair school. It involved hands-on hours from a licensed master trainer instead of completing hours in a cosmetology school. The stars aligned and I jumped at the chance to be an apprentice. My boss enrolled me in it and basically made me a hairstylist. I would not exist in this industry without that one single opportunity, because I certainly didn’t have a dime to go to cosmetology school. That was the biggest break I would ever have career-wise.

What inspired you to create The Beauty Department?
Being fully honest?? Omissions. When I started doing get-the-look interviews for celebrity hairstyles, editors would ask me to give them a step-by-step tutorial on how I got the look. It took very little time for me to realize most steps were being cut out and products for advertisers were being shoved in. It’s no offense to editors! I was still so grateful and I know it was their job, but I thought, how is that college girl in some random city ever really going to learn how I got those waves when it’s all about products I didn’t even use?? And there I saw a white space. I talked it over with Lauren (Conrad) and Amy (Nadine) for months and we just went for it! We had no plan but we wanted to see this happen. No one had ever done a website like that for beauty so we jumped at the chance.

How do you come up with fresh content?
I just tend to sit a girl in my chair at my studio and do whatever feels right. I always stress to my team: NO COPYING. I’ll go down trying to be original. But it’s hard. It’s one of the most challenging things that I do. My brain hurts from coming up with new tutorials and features. But we keep going because of the letters we get and the girls/women we meet who tell us what a difference it has made in their lives. It makes it worth the struggle 10,000 times over. I just brought a new team on board to contribute ideas and do stories which will be important as we’re finally relaunching the site.

What are your most popular posts?
Braids, waves, and nails. Depends on the trend and where the need is at that moment. It’s not nail art anymore but that did give us some mega spikes in traffic back in the day.

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Three things you’re most passionate about:
HAAAAAIR, photography and building a brand while living my best life! (I would be lying if I didn’t say my dogs absolutely top this list. 😂)

Best habit:
Taking care of my skin. I don’t sleep much but I don’t want to look as though I don’t sleep much. Feel me?

Worst habit:
Not washing my hair. I just don’t want to. I would rather do your hair.

First thing you do when you wake up:
Look at my calendar with one eye open.

What’s your typical hair/beauty routine?
Hair wise, I wear my hair down and wavy, up in my signature “fun bun,” and I’ve been known to sport a voluminous pony on occasion. Makeup is so simple—Bobbi Brown BB Cream, Glossier lip in jam, and Tom Ford Terra bronzer. I have lash extensions so rarely any eye makeup but if I do there’s definitely a cat eye involved.

Favorite Living Proof product:
Restore shampoo!!! Hands down the greatest. Nothing can come close to it.

How often do you wash your hair?
2-3 times a week. I love dry shampoo more than the average human, but I won’t abuse it.

What’s your favorite hair hack?
I really love the undetectable bobby pin trick which I just did a TBD tutorial on and will forever love the 2-3 ponytail holders to get more volume out of your pony.

Favorite 5-minute hairstyle:
My fun bun, duh.

Biggest hair regret:
None. Well, last year I started going blonde. Once I got there I was like, who has time for this?? Bye. Went right back to red. Never leaving again. But I don’t regret it because how else would I know red was my forever color??

One thing you would never do to your hair:
Change it? Hahaha. I’m so boring. I’ll continue to pour all my creative ideas into others. I like it that way.

Who cuts YOUR hair?
Anyone who’s around and willing? I have someone/anyone cut a straight line across the back and then I do the rest. I usually color it at home. I don’t work in a hair salon so it’s realllllly hard to just “get” my hair done with my schedule. I have 5 full time jobs!

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Who is your role model? 
Adele, maybe? You know why? That girl DGAF about any opinion formed by people she doesn’t know. I love that more than I could ever explain. It’s so important. When you become any kind of public figure, you’ll have people ready and willing to tear you apart and she just seems to laugh/cackle it off and keep working her ass off.

What about your Woman Crush?
I’m going with Halle Berry. There’s no denying that she tops the list of the most stunning humans ever on this earth.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Be present. Of course. What is life worth if we don’t stop and take it all in?

How do you act confident (even when you don’t feel confident)? 
I just put my confident pants on. Being confident is a choice—you either let your insecurities get to you or you don’t. Sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how many people don’t understand that. I was lucky to understand that from a young age, because I was very insecure. Once I learned how to get on the other side of that, there was no turning back!

Most life-changing innovation:
The iPhone. For better AND for worse.

Favorite inventor/gamechanger (living or dead): 
Diana Vreeland. She was a true original. She (with her team and favored photographers) changed the way we look at beauty and fashion. She didn’t go with the flow. She was a free thinker and because of that she’s a true legend. She didn’t just market herself well and make herself look like she was the best. She truly was the best. She LIVED that life. There’s nothing I respect in this world more than someone who’s willing to do the hard work and not just make it look like they work hard. Another thing I love about her is that she was insecure about herself at an early age and I think ultimate creatives are birthed by feeling out of place at a young age.

What do you wish someone would invent next?
Do you want to sign my NDA?

What’s the next big thing:
Hair-wise? Curls. Big bouncy curls and natural textures.

More #womancrush profiles:

Tiffany Masterson, Drunk Elephant Founder

Katia Beauchamp, Birchbox Founder

Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, theSkimm Founders