Nicolas Jurnjack: 30 Years of Crafting Fashion’s Most Iconic Looks

by Milana
Nicolas Jurnjack: 30 Years of Crafting Fashion's Most Iconic Looks

Nicolas Jurnjack is an integral part of the fashion industry for more than 30 years. His life is one crazy roller-coaster of success, hard work, dedication, and passion. His work was published in magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. And he has shot with the world’s famous photographers, models, and celebrities. Six black and white portraits styled by Nicolas were even exposed at the International Fashion Photography Exhibition at the Louvre Museum. Furthermore, in the 1990s and early 2000s, he worked with some of the biggest creative forces in fashion. Such as Alexender McQueen, Galiano, and Gaultier to name a few.

Along with them, he created some of the most stunning and iconic runway looks. And marked the golden era of fashion. Passion for his profession, craft, and creativity led him to write a book called In the Hair. A fashion hair stylist’s journey of creativity is a must not only for hair stylists but for every creative and fashion-loving soul out there. In December 2019, he launched masterclasses and seminars to share his knowledge. And also equips a younger generation of hair stylists with skills to chase their dreams in the hair industry.

We had a great opportunity to talk with Nicolas and learn more about his journey and plans for the future. And as his body of work testifies, he’s bursting with inspiration and ideas.

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A Conversation with Nicolas Jurnjack

CM: What was the defining moment when you realized you wanted to become an editorial stylist? Or are there a couple of events that led to that? 

That question brings back good memories. It was at one of my favorite places, the beach in Marseille, the city where I was born. I was in my teens, working as an apprentice in a hair salon. Frustrated by the limitations of my work but inspired by the infinite possibilities of hair. Then, I discovered that I had an affinity for it and was motivated by the challenge and impatient to discover more.

The Beachside Revelation

One day an editor came into the salon asking for a hairstylist to help on a shoot, the person they had booked had not shown up. I rushed forward to volunteer myself. Admittedly being a teenager my first thought was of a day at the beach instead of being stuck inside the salon!  Also, it was a shoot for a fashion magazine: swimwear. I immediately fell in love: with the creative process, the teamwork, and the freedom. I left for Paris with the goal of working in the fashion and beauty industry. 

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Guiding Future Stylists

CM: How long did it take you to become confident in your technical skills? 

In my early years in Paris, I would tear out pages from magazines, go to the library, and make photocopies of hairstyles. And practice, practice, practice, create the styles in my apartment.  Furthermore, gaining confidence was a gradual process. Mastering a skill in the comfort of one’s own home is entirely different from being on set. On set you have a tight schedule, last-minute changes, requests, and people waiting for you. And often the producers, clients, their assistants, and PR teams scrutinize every move. I was determined to master skills and techniques to the highest level so they became instinctive, fluid, a part of me. 

Along the way, I fine-tuned my skills and adapted them to my approach. Which was to express myself while respecting the integrity of the hair. That probably sounds strange considering there are so many ways to manipulate hair and force it to one’s intention. But I wanted to have as my starting point the source material and what it offered and evolve the style from its nature. Hair has its own unique personality. Whether a simple slicked-back style or something more edgy and intricate I always work with the hair so its natural personality remains intact.

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Crafting the Future

CM: What is one of the best career investments you’ve ever made? (could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.) 

I would have to say time and energy. And you need to devote an abundance of both in the fashion industry or you will not survive. When I started out, travel was big, exotic islands, mountainous regions, remote deserts, villages, hours away by pot-holed roads, and famous archeological landscapes in hard-to-reach places. I might be in the Maldives one day. India in the Arabian Desert the next. New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Sao Paulo. And each and every shoot has to be your best no matter how jet-lagged, tired, or uncomfortable you are. And no matter what the weather does when on location. Started to practice Ashtanga Yoga decades ago to lessen the impact of jet lag. But also be in the moment, and concentrate on delivering my best. 

From Creative Conversations to Innovative Techniques

I spent time and energy expanding my repertoire and knowledge. You need to be up for creative conversations, presenting ideas, and explaining your choices especially on hair campaigns and with celebrities. Often a hair reference would be suggested out of the blue during the shoot. From a film, an old painting, a book, or mythology, and there was no quick reference, no tablet or phone, you had to have it at your fingertips. I have always been curious and wanting to learn more so it was another joy of doing what I love, being steeped in an incredibly creative atmosphere. Also research and self-development and fine-tune my techniques and innovate new ones, you can never learn enough.

I also produce my ideas and inspirations both as a creative director and hairstylist. Years ago they would have gone into my portfolio. And no one, maybe only editors, would see them. But the beauty of social media is you can share your ideas with others and see other people’s work, inspiration, and experimentation.

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CM: How different is the approach in doing hairstyles for a runway and for an editorial?

It’s night and day. A fashion show is a live event that demands a hairstylist to think in 3-D. (Time is not a friend either, everything has to be perfectly in place before the model starts to walk, and there is no calling her back). A simple dancer’s chignon tied at the nape of the neck may hide a spectacular volume, an artful design, or a rainbow of colors, all are created to be revealed when the model moves and turns.  Even music is an actor in an event like this. I once created long braided ponytails with a heavy voluminous floating end to bounce in time with the model’s steps that kept the beat of the music.

In contrast, an editorial is strictly 2-D. The movement is frozen in time you only see one angle in each shot. You have the luxury of time, to shape the look, tame a wayward tress, finesse the style before, and change the light and shadows, between and after each shot.

Another major difference is the assistants. Great teams and teamwork are of course optimal across the board. But for a fashion show, this is make or break. Also, I was lucky to have stellar assistants in my atelier in Paris. Hardworking, passionate, skilled, and innovative. Without that kind of dedicated and harmonious support, it’s impossible to do a spectacular show however spectacular the ideas and talent.

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A Creative Journey of Influence and Expression

CM: You worked with numerous designers and produced with them some of the most iconic runway looks. Who was the designer that pushed you the most creatively, or gave you enough creative freedom? 

True, I have been fortunate in my career, I have worked with many visionary people. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, often referred to as the ‘golden era of fashion’, fashion shows had a different purpose. They were spectaculars to showcase creativity in the fashion industry, larger than the life they were fashioned to awe, and were often kept secret until the day of the show.  In the past, designers demanded uniqueness and stunning. Three designers (and there were many I was honored to work with) that come directly to mind are Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, and Jean-Paul Gaultier, all pushed hard for exclusive hairstyles. Some of the styles for Givenchy by Alexander McQueen demanded a massive amount of preparation, 4 weeks, and a large team of dedicated, skilled assistants working long hours in my atelier before the day of the show.

The demands I most often heard were  “I want the absolute best of you, the best hair ever in every way, stunning, memorable, never seen on a runway before my show, there are no limits”.  Also, some days I left the designer’s studio with hundreds of pages of references. Not hair references, but references such as Godzilla, monster trucks, pieces of fabric, travel photos from around the world, or just a string of emotive words. It was fantastic. I loved the challenge and being part of that incredible explosion of creativity.

Shaping Hair History

CM: Your style is diverse and unexpected is what people can expect from you. Can you tell us more about how you go about creating a new look? How much research and planning do you put in, and do you leave room for improvisation? 

I see it as a journey of discovery. I know where I want to go but not what I may meet along the way. Then, I allow the journey to unfold and inform my creation. Something grabs my attention and I find myself examining it, pursuing it. I may go to the library to expand my vision, do research, watch a movie, walk down the street and watch the play of light in the skies or trees, or listen to music. Or, doing any of those things may be the initial spark that suddenly illuminates my idea.  You could say my hairstyles respond to an order that is beyond me but in which I also participate. 

Unveiling Creativity

Source:  In the Hair. A fashion hair stylist’s journey of creativity by Nicolas Jurnjack.  Chapter 22. ILLUMINATIONS 

For example. “I had saved a pot of white orchids from being thrown out after a shoot.  In my apartment they just kept on growing and, on my wall, the sunlight expanded the shadow of the sticks that I had arranged to help support and guide the orchid. Looking at this floral mini-theatre some vague notions came to my mind – finesse, evanescence, height, lightness, and suspension.  I turn on the radio tuned to France Culture and someone mentions the word “Brazil”.  Suddenly, everything becomes clear. Shadows, height, suspension …  everything I saw spoke to me of lightness and elevation.

I remembered the light playing with the volumes of the buildings in Brasilia and the astonishing way in which Niemeyer had used it as his first assistant by delegating to it the power to design the shadows. Now, I wanted to make this very perceptible presence of volumes, shadow, and light seen in certain buildings in Brasilia my primary source from which to take flight. I also wanted the head of the model to become a fully-fledged element of the production. I didn’t want a head passively supporting my hairstyle. And my thought of the head was as the ball in a ball-and-socket joint capable of holding and grounding the empty spaces and suspended volumes.

CM: What are some of the biggest artistic influences that shaped your work? 

That’s tough. It’s a broad spectrum and spans many disciplines. I particularly love James Turrell’s work. Also an incredible artist whose exhibitions I go out of my way to see. Oscar Niemeyer; Avant-garde art in general. Roland Barthes and Avicenna’s thoughts and writing. Art directors Fabien Baron and Marc Ascoli. And Peter Knapp a trailblazer in art direction who started in the 1950s, I had long admired and been inspired by his work. He was one of the rare people who received me when I was just beginning to make my way into the fashion industry.  He was generous with his time, attention, conversation, and encouragement. And to my great joy, he gave me my first chance to create with complete freedom an avant-garde hairstyle for publication in Sept á Paris, an artistic and cultural journal in the 1990s.

I discovered hairdressers such as Sydney Guilaroff of MGM fame, Kenneth Battelle aka Mr. Kenneth regarded as the first celebrity hairstylist famous for Jacqueline Kennedy’s bouffant in 1961, Christophe Carita a technical master, Garren, Aldo Coppola, Monsieur Antoine, Le Grand Guillaume.  They are all excellent, inspirational hairdressers who I greatly admire—grand classic hairdressers, solid craft, and artistry combined. There is no limit to what can be achieved when you have a solid base it sets you free.

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“In the Hair”: A Journey of Passion and Possibility

CM: Can you tell us more about what your book In the Hair is about and what made you want to write the book?

It’s about nurturing a passion and navigating a route to success. The highs and lows, the tough, the funny, the crazy, and the joys of living a life of creativity and aspiration.  The book is a series of questions and answers illustrated with sketches of hairstyles I created for fashion shows and editorials. It all started when I was approached to do an interview with a Dr. of Literature for an art and design magazine.  After 50 pages of conversation, there was still no end in sight, there was just so much to talk about and it was really enjoyable, that it developed into this book.

I invite the reader to follow me behind the scenes of fashion on a journey of discovery and adventure.  It’s a reflection on hair and beauty, creativity, and aspiration through the lens of my trajectory in the fashion industry, animated by anecdotes, ideas, memories, conversation, daily life, and the people I meet along the way.

Hair is my medium and hairstyling is my profession but the power to transform positively lies everywhere.   An assistant of mine told me how inspired she was by reading my book. And how it had made her even more determined to keep following her passion. That’s the message – ­one of hopes, dreams, and possibility.

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In the hair: A fashion hair stylist’s journey of creativity

Empowering the Next Generation of Hairstylists

CM: What advice can you give hairstylists today who want to embark on an editorial career?

The most important thing is to love what you do, don’t limit yourself, and have fun. Meaning explore your creativity, experiment, and don’t be afraid to take risks!  Technique, skills, vision, and talent are absolutely necessary for a solid, sustainable career but they alone won’t necessarily open the door for you or keep you working. It’s important to be confident, and determined, and push your vision – but don’t be pushy, it’s teamwork!

When others say you’re crazy, your idea is insane, it’s impossible – don’t listen.  Guard your integrity, and have the courage and determination to follow your instinct. Also, keep educating yourself and fine-tuning your skills, keep your eyes wide open, research, and develop the expertise and discipline needed to transform and convey your ideas.  In some of the Demos (seminars) I offer I talk about what I consider to be important know-how for a successful career: preparation, skills, ambition, the ups and downs of a career as a hairstylist in the fashion industry, and how to focus on your goals and build a solid, successful and satisfying career.

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Crafting the Future

CM: You are gearing your career towards education now. Can you tell us more about your educational site, the motivation behind it, are your plans for opening the school? 

I really do believe that education, knowledge, and skills set you free to follow your bliss. Also, years ago I discovered that I enjoyed teaching and had a talent for it. I want my students to succeed, believe in themselves, and discover their means of expression. I had a large atelier in Paris with many assistants, we would work there to prepare the looks for fashion shows. The realization was that I was running a school because I needed to teach my assistants techniques and skills and involve them in my experiments with new looks and how to achieve them. I learned from them too. 

A side effect of this was that many people asked me to teach them and more and more people started saying “Nico you should open a school you’re an inspirational teacher”. At the time it was early in my career in the fashion industry, but the idea always stayed in the back of my mind.

And there it remained for many years, I often thought about it.  And in December 2019 I told myself now, now is the time. I launched Ateliers Nicolas Jurnjack with master classes and seminars catering to different levels of expertise, from novice to advanced.  I didn’t want to delegate the teaching I wanted to do it.

The classes are limited in number to ensure that each student receives personal attention. The aim is a rich, immersive, and rewarding experience with solid and sellable skills to show for it.

To begin I decided I would offer two types of classes: 

Demos (seminars) are generally a one-day event.  I present the seminar and students are encouraged to be involved and curious with a question and answer session.  

Ateliers (master classes), at present, I offer seven, they are between 2-5 days depending on the theme. They include instruction and demonstrations followed by individual hands-on training. During this time I mentor each student as they practice the skills and re-create/create the styles. 

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CM: What is next for you, and what is the best place for people to follow your work? 

Opening a school is definitely something I am thinking about. Initially, I plan to expand the Demos and Ateliers I offer to cover a broader range; there are probably more than fifty different kinds of hair texture! Many techniques of hairdressing are fading from lack of common knowledge, becoming outliers, simply because fashion no longer demands them. The repertoire of hairstyles seen in fashion magazines today is fairly limited. Fashion is on a different trajectory; it is less about creativity and more about sales. Fashion is always reinventing itself. But, it would be a shame if a large part of the art and craft of hairstyling is lost, its riches and history no longer recognized or available to inspire future generations. I am keen on expanding my classes to embrace these techniques and skills.

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In thinking of the ‘next’, two dreams come to mind. Designing the perfect hairbrush and seeing the opening of a Museum of the History of Hair.  And also hair tells incredible tales about mankind’s initiative, desires, dreams, character, development, and culture. A few years back I had even gone as far as working seriously on an idea, a hairdressing event in Marseille, where I was born. I had come up with a project for a cultural event combining archives and new creations of hair to reveal the history of looks specific to Marseille along with current styles and trends.

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Thank you for taking the time to answer all our questions for Cosset Moi.

To learn more about Nicolas’ work, visit these links:

As our insightful conversation with Nicolas Jurnjack draws to a close, it’s abundantly clear that his journey is a testament to the profound interplay of dedication, passion, and boundless creativity within the realm of fashion and hairstyling. So, from the sandy shores of Marseille to the world’s most glamorous runways. Jurnjack’s narrative is one of continuous growth. Where time and energy invested have sculpted a career of remarkable significance.

His openness to inspiration, be it from avant-garde art, literary treasures, or the hidden chapters of history, speaks volumes about his multifaceted approach. As he ushers in a new phase of education, sharing his wealth of experience with aspiring hairstylists, the future remains bright and teeming with artistic possibilities. Through his words and deeds, Nicolas Jurnjack embodies the spirit of unyielding dedication, urging us all to embrace our passions, push boundaries, and etch our own unique marks on the canvas of the fashion world.

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