HAIR TALK: Nina Kairouz Interviews George Papanikolas
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By now, we’ve all seen the work of George Papanikolas. Whether it’s on Kim Kardashian, Elle Goulding, or Kelly Rowland, George has quickly gained the name as one of Los Angeles’ most influential hair colorists with his work gracing the covers of countless magazines, red carpets, and runways. As a Matrix Ambassador, George travels the world to teach classes and is best known for his signature balayage techniques and beautiful ‘brondes.’
Los Angeles bred hair colorist Nina Kairouz is an emerging hair colorist on the rise. Working out of Chris McMillan Salon, Nina’s work contains a signature California style that is easily recognizable. You can see a sampling of her work below.
So when Nina got wind of our new feature, she knew she had to ask George a thing or two.
So we set the two up, and the rest is history! Scroll down to see Nina’s interview with George and learn some surprising tips about the road to success.
NINA: Hi George! I’m so excited I get to start my day off with you!
GEORGE: Me too!
NINA: So my first question for you is, how did you first start doing hair?
GEORGE: Let see, well first off my background is actually very different. This is actually my second career. I had gone to business school at USC and I had a corporate job in marketing and advertising, but I was never really that passionate about it. My mom wanted me to go to beauty school since I was 13 and I said no. I had bigger ideas of who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do, but then when I got older I saw a lot of my friends who were hairstylists flying everywhere in private jets and doing all these amazing things, I got really excited about doing hair. Hair was something I always really loved, but I had never seen it at that level. So at 27, I decided to quit my job and enrolled in beauty school.
My early years were actually really exciting. I apprenticed Chris McMillan and Sally Hershberger so I had a very strong pedigree early on. It kind of just all took off really quickly.
NINA: That’s pretty amazing! I love that you went to USC. So does that help you at all? Combining business with the art? They seem like such different avenues.
GEORGE: Yeah, yeah, definitely! I’ve been doing hair 11 years now, and when I went on the floor my best friend was a modeling agent, so he would send me a lot of the LA model girls and I was pretty much one of the only people at Chris McMillan Salon that had a website to showcase my work. Even though the other stylists I was working with had a ton of celebrity clients- way more than I did at the time, if you Googled their name, nothing would come up. Whereas with me, my profile would come up and my website. Then, I got approached by a hair product line- Joico, and they loved that I had a marketing background. They ended up bringing me on, and I was with them for about 5 years as an ambassador. They loved that I understood my role with the brand. They want you to be a great hairstylist, but they also want you to promote their brand and help them sell products. They also gave me great PR references. Every time I would do a celebrity, they would pitch it to magazines, which would then give me a lot of press. So it all kind of spiraled and I had this great PR team behind me.
NINA: It sounds like you basically started your own PR- using websites and social media, which is so impressive because now everything is online. I want to know how you started your own techniques. We all use foils and techniques we’ve learned with hair color, but I feel like everyone knows your work. Your work really stands out. What is that?
GEORGE: I apprenticed this woman named Zan, who was known for her beachy, sunkissed look. I pretty much took what she was doing, but there were some other colorists that were doing things like wrapping the tips in foils, so I took a little bit from both. I always felt like Megan’s placement was impeccable. She didn’t do a lot of foils, her highlights were always strategically placed where the sun would naturally hit it. So I just kind of took that and put it on steroids. That’s kind of how I put my own stamp on it, but it was a stronger version of what she was doing. Like for me- I do balayage with foils, but she never used foils. She was pure balayage- she never picked up a foil, and the other colorists I worked for were only using foils. So I combined both, creating a more modern movement with color. It launched a whole new way to approach hair color. Back then, I was one of the only people doing hair color this way, whereas now I do a lot of education and videos and there are more people out there doing this as well. For example, Guy Tang used to assist me on a lot of my Joico stuff, and he took what I was doing but took it to a whole other level. I think we all kind of learn from each other.
NINA: Going off of that, I think you make balayage look really easy, but it isn’t necessarily easy to do. Do you have any tips?
GEORGE: I think that’s what separates us from a lot of people, because it is art. You have to have a delicate touch. If you look at the way that I do balayage, I use very little lightener. It’s very sheer, it’s on the surface, everything is super delicate. I do get heavier as I go down the hair shaft, but you have to have the delicate touch. I always joke that there is balayage and there is balay-blah, which is heavy handed, stripey, and something I don’t want to do. I think that’s what makes it really difficult- that and getting it to lift. A lot of people struggle to get the hair to lift when they do balayage. That goes into application and not getting enough product onto the hair.
NINA: Are there any other processes that you are really enjoying doing at the moment? Are you into bleach and tone, super light blondes, etc. or do you just have a vision? Is there anything you don’t like to do?
GEORGE: I love everything. I love redheads, I love blondes, but I don’t love extreme color changes anymore. I feel like those are too unpredictable. My schedule is too full now. When I work through out the day, my team and I are like a smooth, well oiled machine. We run on time and we are very efficient, but if you throw in a black to blonde transition in the middle of it, that throws the entire day off and you don’t know what you’re going to end up with. It could turn out great, or it could turn out weird. I feel really lucky that I can now pick and choose my jobs. I want to set my day up to be successful, and it can either be really smooth, where I love my clients and they love me, or it can be really high stress. I also know that I don’t have the time to nurture those types of things, and you have to be really attentive to your client when you do an aggressive change. I think changes are better left to someone who does a lot of color, but has more time to put into it.
NINA: Right, so you have a vision for your workday, which ends up working out.
GEORGE: Yeah, I also think because I’m in LA I have a pretty broad range of clients, but when I travel it’s a little more specific. I think a lot of that has to do with what they see on Instagram. Some things photograph better than others, so you end up getting a lot of people who want what they see in your photos and what you put out there.
NINA: Right, I know what you mean. I’m middle eastern, and I know you travel a lot to the middle east. How do you tell all those women they can’t be blonde? I feel like they all want to be blonde and have black hair. I don’t know how you do it.
GEORGE: The thing is, I think that’s why they love me so much, because I don’t necessarily take them blone. I’ll lighten the hair and won’t make it brassy or leave them red. I think when you approach a brunette that wants to go lighter, it’s not the same approach that you would take with a blonde. If you highlight them everywhere and smudge them, it’s going to be bad. But if you keep their base within two shades of their natural and you put a few really bold strong blonde pieces in there, they get the effect of being a blonde, without having to bleach their whole head.
NINA: Will you be doing a class in LA eventually? I don’t know if you have already, but that would be amazing!
GEORGE: Yeah, I have!
NINA: Oh you have? Will you do it again?
GEROGE: Yeah, I have one coming up in San Diego at the end of July.
NINA: Oh perfect. To wrap it up with you, do you have any secrets to success? What would you tell someone like me who is so inspired by you?
GEORGE: I think if you’re just starting out, I always tell people to invest in education and apprentice someone really good. That’s what is going to set you up for your career. If they’re not successful, you’re not going to be successful. If you apprentice someone really great, you’re going to be really great. Really study them. Watch what they do, do hair at night, and do hair on your days off, because if you aren’t doing hair, you aren’t going to be good at hair. Secondly, use social media! They are such easy tools now and have completely changed our industry. Before, if you wanted to be a famous hairstylist, you had to do celebrities. Now you don’t. You just have to do good work and photograph it.
Most importantly, you need to have a signature look. You need to be known for something. If you think of every famous hairstylist- like Sally [Hershberger] has her shag, Chris McMillan has ‘the Rachel,’ everybody has a stamp that they perfect and it becomes really effortless. I hear about other colorists that spend like 8+ hours creating these looks, and I’m like “who the hell spends 8 hours on a look?! I book my clients every 30 minutes, and by the time they’re in and out, it’s only been an hour and a half. If I had 8 hours and I wanted to create a masterpiece and spend all day, then sure, but you have to do something that works for the client and also works for the stylist.
NINA: So find your niche.
GEORGE: Yeah, exactly. If you love blonde hair, make that your thing. If you’re into red hair, perfect it. Perfect whatever you do. That’s the most important thing- try to find your identity.