In the Kit

Hairstylist Kristin Ess Has an HQ Made for Instagram

You’ll want to double-tap all the crystals, sparkly accessories, and pretty products.

By: Katie Becker
Photography: Tristan Kallas

With more than 400,000 Instagram followers, her own line of hair products at Target, and a client list including regulars Lauren Conrad, Lucy Hale, and Jenna Dewan Tatum, hairstylist Kristin Ess is nothing short of killing it. Ess is often recognized as the stylist to Conrad, whom she started working with when she had a chair at the (now closed) Warren-Tricomi in West Hollywood. In fact, you might remember seeing her on some episodes of The Hills. But before setting up shop at celebrity-frequented salons around Los Angeles, including Chris McMillan, Ess started out her hairstyling career at home. At age eight. When she started cutting her own hair and her sister’s and did a such a good job her mom couldn’t even be mad about it.

We learned a lot more about the famous redhead stylist, including her knack for decorating her four-story Kristin Ess Hair headquarters in Los Angeles, which is complete with a private salon on the bottom floor and basically a living Instagram you can walk through. Click through below to see it all and read about her first-ever celebrity client.

“I started cutting my siblings’ hair when I was nine, and the first one was my little sister. I chopped her hair off, and I remember my mom wanting to be mad, but it looked really good, so she couldn’t.”

“It’s so scary [to start working by yourself]. I got so freaked out. I was like, ‘Am I going to become irrelevant in a couple of years?’ I actually asked [Conrad] that, and she reminds me of it all the time. She’s always like, ‘Remember when you asked me if you were going to become irrelevant?’ [But] it depends on how you manage yourself and market yourself and keep your momentum going. I’ve seen other people kind of go off and do their own thing. If they didn’t do so well, most of the time, it’s because they feel like they hated being by themselves. I loved it.”

The wall of Kristin Ess Hair products at her HQ.

“I only dry-cut, unless there’s a need for a wet cut. Now I think people are air-drying so much, it’s not necessarily the right thing to do to blow it out and then cut it because a lot of people want their waves, and they want to air-dry. It’s just a different movement now. So I rough-dry sometimes, and I let their own pattern come out, and I cut to that.”

Ess’s kit of scissors.

Accessories, Lelet an Epona Valley. Hair products, Kristin Ess Hair Depth Defining Water-Based Pomade and Signature Shampoo.

“I was very confident with scissors from a very young age. [It’s] because when I cut my own bangs when I was eight or nine, I cut them too short. I cut them when they were wet, and then they shrunk up. I learned that the hair shrinks that way. After that, I learned so fast. I was really fascinated by it. I always did dry cuts, too, when I was a little kid. I didn’t like cutting wet hair because you could feel it all over your hands, and it felt gross. So that was the reason I started doing a dry cut. When I started working in the salon, they teach you to cut wet. I would do it, but then I was like, well, once I’m on the floor then nobody can tell me how I have to do [it].”

Main working table at Kristin Ess Hair HQ.

Crowns, Jennifer Behr and Lelet.

“My very first celebrity client was Amber Valletta, who I met [when I was working in a] Santa Monica salon. She literally walked in the salon because she’s such a neighborhood girl. She ended up in my chair, she kept coming back, and then she had me do her hair and makeup for a Vanity Fair party. I was like, ‘Wait, what? This is crazy.’ It was crazy, but she just had such faith in me that way. From there, I had that tiny bit of experience, so I kind of knew how to deal with [celebrities] by the time I got over [to Warren Tricomi], which was great. There’s such a stigma around how you work with celebrities. [Valletta] was so normal and so real, that I was like, ‘Oh, so you just treat them like normal and real and everything is fine.’”

Emm Kuo clutch; Epona Valley and Lelet hair accessories.

“Lottie and Kristie Streicher were two of my first solid friendships in the beauty industry. Some beauty friends I’m always excited to see/hang with are Kelsey Deenihan, Allan Avendaño and Patrick Ta. Most are makeup artists because we spend a lot of time together with our mutual clients. When I do get lucky bump into hairstylists at a press junket or something I get very excited to see Adir Abergel, Lacy Redway or Jenny Cho because they inspire me so much.”

Sitting room in HQ.

Barrettes: Sylvain Le Hen, Target, H&M, Lelet, and & Other Stories. Crown, Lelet.

“IGK Smoke & Mirrors is great for when you want to skip shampooing, Oribe can detangle very tangled hair, Bumble & bumble Pret a Powder is a good alternative to dry shampoo, my own Kristin Ess Hair Serum gives you mega shine, the Davines Alchemic Red Conditioner is great for red hair to preserve color, LayRite I use on men’s hair, and IGK Call Time adds texture to second-day hair.”

Luggage, Calpak.

“I color my hair every three months. It’s been my signature color forever. It will start out kind of like a darker reddish, and then it washes out and it gets these tiny little pieces of almost blondish, reddish. It’s definitely about getting the right balance of orange and red.”

“I used to be blonde before that… and that was so sparkly and exciting. But it was so high-maintenance for me. I’m a hairdresser, and that’s the last thing I want to do: get my hair done. So then I went red, and it’s equally as exciting for me. It has a sparkly, fun, vibrant vibe. I tried being a brunette for like, one second. I got ignored all over the place. Literally went in the stores and no one helped me, no nothing. That shit is real. When you’re blonde, people are like, ‘How can I help you? What can I do?’ It’s so bizarre. It’s so wrong though. [As a brunette] I was a ghost.”

“I gloss [my hair] all the time. It’s a Redken Shades EQ Treatment. I swear that’s a life-changer. If you get those done in between services, it makes the dullest hair so shiny. It’s my favorite thing.”

Accessories, Jennifer Behr and Lelet.

Sunglasses, Dita and Karen Walker. Pins, Lelet.

“I’ve been a fragrance junkie forever. My go-to everyday casual favorite is Molecule 02. I stumbled upon that maybe close to 10 years ago on a random model at a Y3 show. I had to order it online. Most people can’t smell it. That’s the whole point. Now I feel like everybody knows about it. Then I love Radio Bombay from D.S. & Durga. It’s so good.”

Print, Matt Jones. Accessories, Lelet.

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