Nearly 20 years ago American Salon published an article called “Women on Top” that posed this question: If 80 percent of hairdressers are women, why aren’t any of them as famous as men like Vidal Sassoon or Frédéric Fekkai? Producers at Lifetime Network called my office to arrange an interview. The result? A segment on its popular nightly talk show, New Attitudes. The episode featured Sassoon’s Annie Humphreys as well as Paul Mitchell’s Jeanne Braa and John Paul DeJoria. The crew filmed celebrity hairdressers at work in their salons in New York City and Beverly Hills—Fekkai, Oribe, Brad Johns, Christophe—and asked experts like myself why women just weren’t being recognized in the same way as their male counterparts. Humphreys pointed out that it was men whose names appeared on bottles of shampoo and conditioner, raising their public profiles considerably because their companies spent so much money on advertising. Crystal Wright, publisher of 1st Hold Magazine, posited the theory that women simply like having men—gay or straight—run their fingers through their hair. I suggested that beauty editors in New York City held the keys to the kingdom. Think about it. You’re 24 or 25 years old, and Frédéric Fekkai just gave you the cut of a lifetime. His seductive French accent was merely icing on the cake. That you’d gush about him in the pages of Vogue or Allure was a given. Christophe alluded to the power of celebrity. “Who you do is very attractive to the media,” he said. “If you’re in LA, it’s celebrities. In Washington, D.C. it’s politicians. In New York, it’s models and fashion.” Imagine if we’d had social media back then? This story would have gone viral. Despite the grim findings, however, Braa believed that the “power of feminine energy in a feminine industry is there.” The only thing missing, she said, was public recognition. But social media has changed all that in ways none of us could have imagined in 1998. Kim Kardashian’s hairdresser, Jen Atkin, who co-founded Mane Addicts with Redken celebrity colorist Tracey Cunningham, was profiled in The New York Times recently. The headline? “Is this the most influential stylist in the world?” Last year, both Variety and WWD honored Atkin with a Stylemaker of the Year award. Most likely none of that would have happened if she had not taken matters into her own hands and started a hair blog and a website, maneaddicts.com, that became hugely successful. With 900,000 followers on Instagram (@jenatkinhair), Atkin just launched her own product line, Ouai. Her name may not be on the label, but it’s all hers nonetheless. With their stars finally ascending, we decided it was time to revisit the issue of women in beauty to see how they’ve fared in the last two decades. We’ll be looking at women who’ve broken through the glass ceiling to become CEOs, presidents and general managers; entrepreneurs who started their own companies; creative directors for major brands; celebrity hairdressers whose names are dropped as frequently as any man’s; and rock stars of social media, who are changing the way the game is played. Tell us what you think by sharing your stories on social media. And don’t forget to use the hashtag #americansalon. We can’t wait to see what you have to tell us.
To view all of the women included in this feature please view our digital edition here.