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 International Fashion Photography Exhibition at Louvre Museum. 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 a 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 which 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 equip 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.
What was the defining moment when you realized you want 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. I was frustrated by the limitations of my work but inspired by the infinite possibilities of hair. I had discovered that I had an affinity for it and was motivated by the challenge and impatient to discover more. 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! It was a shoot for a fashion magazine: swimwear. I immediately fell in love: the creative process, the teamwork, the freedom. I left for Paris with the goal of working in the fashion and beauty industry.
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, creating the styles in my apartment. Gaining confidence was a gradual process, mastering a skill in the comfort of one’s own home is entirely different from being on-set with a tight schedule, last minute changes and requests, people waiting for you, and often the producers, clients, their assistants and PR teams scrutinizing 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 it’s own unique personality, whether a simple slicked back style or something more edgy and intricate I always work with the hair so it’s natural personality remains intact.
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, 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 desert, villages, hours away by pot-holed roads, famous archeological landscapes in hard to reach places. I might be in the Maldives one day, India 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. I started to practice Ashtanga Yoga decades ago to lessen the impact of jet lag, be in the moment and concentrate on delivering my best. 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, 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. I continue with my research and develop 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.
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 thinks in 3-D. (Time is not a friend either, everything has to be perfectly in place before the model starts to walk, 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, 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, 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. 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.
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 life they were fashioned to awe and were often kept secret until the day of the show. In the past, designers demanded unique 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”. Some days I left the designers 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. The initial phase of my work was to sketch ideas for hairstyles that embraced and transmitted these ‘ideas’ before working on producing and realizing them. It was fantastic. I loved the challenge and being part of that incredible explosion of creativity.
Your style is diverse and unexpected is what people can expect from you. Can you tell us more about how do you go about creating a new look, how much research and planning 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. 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, listen to music. Or, doing any of those things may be the initial spark that suddenly illuminates my idea. What starts as a feeling gradually evolves into a solid form of what I want to express, I then examine it and plan step by step how to achieve it effectively. You could say my hairstyles respond to an order that is beyond me but in which I also participate.
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. I now 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. I thought of the head as the ball in a ball-and-socket joint capable of holding and grounding the empty spaces and suspended volumes.”
Source: In the Hair. A fashion hair stylist’s journey of creativity by Nicolas Jurnjack. Chapter 22. ILLUMINATIONS
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, 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 in 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.
To the more particular for my profession, a continual source of inspiration and a fascinating read is Histoire de la coiffure féminine by Comtesse Marie de Villermont. When I first moved to Paris I would go to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and Bibliothèque Forney hungry to research hair: history, fashion, society, culture, politics, etc. Fascinating! hairstyles often symbolize movements for change: “citizen haircuts” during the French revolution, Punk, Goth, etc.
I discovered hair dressers 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. I believe that excellent technique and skills are a ‘must-have’, they are the solid ground from which your inspiration and imagination can take flight, they build confidence and allow exploration and experimentation. There is no limit to what can be achieved when you have a solid base it sets you free.
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 formatted as a series of questions and answers illustrated with sketches for 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, 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. The book discusses the history, politics, and culture of style, hair, woman’s aesthetics and the business of fashion, it talks about the importance of knowledge, education, and imagination and never giving up on your dreams.
Hair is my medium and hairstyling my profession but the power to transform positively lies everywhere. An assistant of mine told me how inspired she was on reading my book, how it had made her even more determined to keep following her passion. That’s the message – one of hopes, dreams, and possibility.
To people in my line of work I would say the hair business is a great place to be, the possibilities for expression and development of self and career, of fulfillment, reaching out and touching others are endless and come in myriad forms: the smile on the face of a hair salon customer who discovers herself anew; performing in a hair show in front of 10,000 people; teaching and inspiring students in a beauty academy; traveling all over the world for fashion shoots and working with a team of creative people; developing products …
What advice can you give hairstylists today wanting to embark on an editorial career?
The most important thing is love what you do, don’t limit yourself and have fun—meaning explore your creativity, experiment, don’t be afraid to take risks! Technique, skills, vision, 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, determined, 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, have the courage and determination to follow your instinct, keep educating yourself and fine-tuning your skills, keep your eyes wide-open, research, 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 fashion industry and how to focus on your goals and build a solid, successful and satisfying career.
You are gearing your career towards education now. Can you tell us more about your educational site, the motivation behind it, are there plans for opening the school?
I really do believe that education, knowledge, and skills set you free to follow your bliss. 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. I realized 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. But working in my profession was a commitment with an extremely irregular schedule: last-minute bookings, availability for options, ever-changing dates, extensive and exhausting travel, it was difficult to pin down a time when I could be available. 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. Everyone who comes to my classes is driven by passion, to stoke that passion I am personally invested in my students making progress and I am available as a mentor in my classes to encourage them in their dreams. To that end some classes also cater to people who want a career in the hair industry, but not necessarily as a hairstylist.
To begin I decided I would offer two types of classes:
Demos (seminars) 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 which time I mentor each student as they practice the skills and re-create/create the styles.
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 hair styling 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.
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. 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. The project was ambitious, designed to appeal to a large audience: colloquiums alongside presentations of sculptures based on hair, placed on their cubic foundations or laid out on rails and falling into empty space, others moving in cinematic fashion in strange, perpetual motion … no hairstyles on human heads, nothing but a pure celebration of hair and its infinite textures. I had considered bringing together all the talents Marseille has produced, and those who had gone on to develop their careers internationally. But this adventure as yet remains on the virtual stage alone.
Above all I want to keep evolving, my future alive with passion as my past has been and my present is, keep practicing, keep working and keep dreaming of the splendid and the awesome – they may yet come to pass!
Thank you for taking the time to answer all our questions for Cosset Moi.
To learn more about Nicolas’ work, visit these links:
- Check out Nicolas’ portfolio: Nicolas Jurnjack
- Learn more about ateliers and demos at Atelier Nicolas Jurnjack
- Buy the book In the Hair
- Follow Nicolas on IG: Nicolas Jurnjack
- Follow Atelier on IG: Atelier Nicolas Jurnjack
- Check out more on YouTube channel : Nicolas Jurnjack