Hair Talk: Anh Co Tran + Jen Atkin
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One day, their names will be printed in encyclopedias. If it weren’t for the hands, the scissors, and the hustle of these Mane Masters, every A-lister in LA and NY (and abroad) might fizzle out for having lackluster hair. Anh Co Tran and Jen Atkin—they run this town’s tresses. When the father of Lived In Hair™ and the mother of Mane Addicts™ take twenty out of their too-busy-to-breathe schedule to interview each other, the conversation itself is bound to become a conversation piece. Ahead, Anh and Jen talk building and flexing their muscles on social media, the three-letter word that guarantees success, and the hippie-dippy lives they lead during downtime.
JEN: Hi, I’ve been looking forward to this for forever!
ANH: Me too, this is gonna be fun!
JEN: How are you? How is your Mane Addicts bomber jacket?
ANH: Oh my god, I love it! It’s very 90’s.
JEN: That’s exactly the vibe. Like, we were in middle school type vibe.
ANH: Totally, and oversized looks are totally in.
JEN: I agree. I am so psyched for you and Johnny [Ramirez] and everything you’re doing— I’ve been watching you teach your A.R.T. classes, everything happening in the salon, you guys killing it in Paris and New York. It’s insane, you guys are killing it! And I know how much work goes into it, so hats off to you.
ANH: Thank you, if anyone knows, it’s you. I look up to you tremendously.
JEN: Vice versa! It’s funny because I think about our generation in LA. It’s so fun watching everyone blossom and become entrepreneurs. We were totally raised at such an amazing time.
ANH: Yeah, it was on the verge of social media. What’s great about it, Jen, is that we don’t take it for granted. A lot of my assistants are new and it gets to their head. It’s crazy. That’s one thing, is we still stay humble.
JEN: Yeah, because we knew life before it, that’s why.
ANH: Yes, exactly, exactly! And before that, you had to walk around door to door and tell people you cut hair. We understand the struggle of that aspect and stayed grounded.
JEN: True, but we were smart enough to utilize our resources. When I look at any Pinterest board, there are so many pictures from your salon. I feel like your salon is the place where stylists are documenting their work. It’s really cool how you helped your staff. The squeaky wheel gets the oil so you gotta make noise.
ANH: That’s everything right now, the more noise you make, the more noticed you get. Closed mouths don’t get fed.
JEN: Sometimes I feel lucky because we were the generation that grasped on to social but I think of the new kids. The industry is almost more competitive because everyone is on Snapchat and Instagram. Instagram makes you stay on your toes. The competition is just a little more fierce in the professional world. It’s sink or swim.
ANH: Yeah and it’s also redefining people who are good and actually makes them better. One thing I give major credit to you for is branding. Your stamp separates you from the rest.
JEN: Throughout the past five years especially the one thing I’ve noticed that sets brands and people apart is authenticity. Whether it’s consumers or clients in the salon, people appreciate someone who’s authentic. You can’t fake that on social—you can fake it on Instagram but on Snapchat you can’t fake it. When people ever ask me what my strategy is, I’m like literally it’s all authentic. I used to do extensions and work in the salon and I let go of the extensions part of my career because I knew I couldn’t keep up with it properly. For me to build other parts of my business, I knew I couldn’t stay in LA for clients who needed extension refills, so I quit doing it because I knew I wouldn’t be able to juggle it .
ANH: Right, and spread yourself too thin.
JEN: Yeah, I always say to people if you’re in a salon where it’s better to do cut or color, don’t be afraid to let one go and really focus on the other to perfect that part of your craft.
ANH: I absolutely agree. I’m so glad I don’t touch color. When you don’t have the passion for it and it doesn’t come from within, just don’t do it.
JEN: It also ruins your clothes, so we can dress cute.
ANH: Haha right! And like you said, when we get offers, all the money in the world won’t make us do it if it’s off brand.
JEN: I would love your thoughts on that. I talked to Alli [Webb] a lot about this. I remember the resistance people had to Drybar. The more I talked to stylists, they say no I’m glad there’s a space for my blowout clients to go to because then I have more time for haircuts.
ANH: If I’m in the salon a certain amount of time, I have to quit doing men’s hair for that one reason. I’d rather do women’s haircuts. Sometimes I’ll have my assistants do blowouts, and if there’s a red carpet event, of course I’ll do it myself, but 80 blowouts? I’m glad they’re going to the Drybar.
JEN: It’s also good training for people to have before they come to your salon.
ANH: Yes, absolutely!
JEN: I want to know how you balance the salon and your work and life? Are you and Johnny [Ramirez] just the best co-parents ever?
ANH: Haha, balance! That’s one thing that I want to focus on in 2017, is finding balance. And I’ll be honest, I still don’t have a balance. The longer I’ve been doing this, I understand what’s important to me. I have to let things go that I can’t do anymore or recommend to other people so I can have personal time, When you have more personal time, you can grow as a person, as a business, and be more creative. Sometimes you’re just riding this work train and you’re not growing as an artist. We have to learn how to say no and that’s the hardest thing to do.
JEN: Because we got success from saying yes to everything!
ANH: Exactly! In order to get to the next level of success, you have to learn to say no, which is kind of ironic.
JEN: That’s so inspiring. How long have you been in LA?
ANH: 14 years.
JEN: And where were you working before that?
ANH: Toni & Guy’s in Long Beach.
JEN: Oh I love that, an LBC boy!
ANH: Haha, yeah, I’ve been doing hair for about 16 years. What about you?
JEN: Yeah, same. I was assisting in 2005, so I’ve been on my known for 10 or 11 years. I think about what Mane Addicts is and I love that there’s a place where we can talk about the professionals who I think need to be more talked about. I really want the site to not be all peaches and cream. I think it’s important to let people know just starting out in their career that it is not going to be peaches and cream the whole time. There are going to be moments when you want to give up or you think you’re the worst hairstylist in the world. There’s always that little demon in the freelancer’s head. When you’re not busy enough, you feel like you’re never going to work again and when you’re so busy, you feel like you’ll die if you don’t have a day off.
JEN: I like to paint the full picture to let people know this didn’t just happen. You didn’t just pick up your phone and start doing an Instagram account and all of a sudden you’re someone. You worked so hard to build your clientele and to make a good name for yourself. I like to share my stories of getting yelled at by an actress who’s on Desperate Housewives (I can’t say who) or that one client in the salon who you really want to fire because she’s a total nightmare but you have to do her hair and smile through it.
ANH: Haha! It’s very important from assisting to where we’re at now. When someone yells at you now, you know how to deal with it. It’s good that all these things happened. It’s about how you learned from it. Now days, especially for the younger generation, things do happen overnight. And even if it did happen overnight, you have to maintain it. It’s about the struggle to get where we are–if there was no struggle, the journey wouldn’t have value.
JEN: Our generation can share the best horror stories. I remember I used to assist a colorist and I’d be holding his foils and if I wasn’t paying attention or my mind wandered, he would paint my fingers with bleach and it would sit there and burn until we were done.
ANH: Oh my gosh, mine too! Back in the day, we had to scrub toilets and I never complained.
JEN: And my parents made me get a job at 16 to for my car and balance a checkbook. I hated them at the time but now I’m so thankful, they were making it so that I wasn’t a loser in life.
ANH: Definitely. What’s your family background? That’s something I’d love to know.
JEN: It’s so not interesting because it’s my story but I grew up in Hawaii, like the north shore area of Oahu.
ANH: Oh, cool!
JEN: And then my parents were worried about the education system there because I went to public school so they moved my sisters and me to Utah when we were in middle school. So I grew up in Southern Utah a little desert community. I’ve always been obsessed with pop culture and makeover scenes in movies and shopping montages. I knew I wanted to help make people look pretty and that’s when I started doing hair on friends. I never thought it could be an actual career and I moved to LA. I was a receptionist at Estilo Salon for Robert Ramos and Philip Caryon. That’s where I met my friend gay friends, which was life-changing because they taught me how to talk and dress. I always say I was raised by gay wolves when I moved to LA.
ANH: Hahaha, that’s incredible.
JEN: No, honestly, they taught me about Helmut Newton and I abandoned the whole dictionary and encyclopedia in my head. Then I met Andy LeCompte and worked at Chris McMillan. That’s where I met Johnny. The rest is kind of history.
JEN: How did you and Johnny meet?
ANH: We met at Neil George. He worked for Chris McMillan and I was at Neil George. The funny thing is when I saw him, I was like who’s that guy? We’d both start early and finish late. We didn’t talk for six months and one day he said what’s your name? It was an organic, mutual collaboration. One of those things like, “Hey, wanna partner up?” I’m like sure!
JEN: It’s crazy because your guys’ work compliments each other so much. So it’s like a match made in heaven.
ANH: Yeah, but we didn’t know that at first. We knew we both had a crazy work ethic though. It just happened. I believe in destiny.
JEN: I feel like that’s why it worked, because again, authenticity, it came naturally. Who decorated the salon? I need to know that because the salon is so beautiful.
ANH: We both did. Thank god we have a similar aesthetic.
JEN: It’s crazy, it’s so good!
ANH: Aw, thank you! Coming from you, it means the world. We went to all the furniture stores. The funnest thing was browsing but the hardest was choosing pieces and staying within our budget. He’s vintage and I’m modern so it’s coincides really well.
JEN: Well, I’m moving into my house on Wednesday so you’re welcome to come decorate it.
ANH: Woohoo! I would love to see it!
JEN: No, I would really love for you to decorate it! I know you’re busy.
ANH: You have crazy aesthetic.
JEN: No, I have crazy. My husband has aesthetic, I’m just the crazy part.
ANH: Haha, that’s awesome!
JEN: You’re known for your haircut and I feel like we embrace that aesthetic of women looking like themselves and not looking like they took forever to do their hair. You’re also really savvy with social media. I’m curious to know what social media accounts you follow and love?
ANH: The accounts I follow are either about hair or vacation destinations. I’m manifesting. There’s another aspect of me that people don’t know about is I’m a crazy naturalist. I love to be in nature and camping. If I could leave the city and live in the country in the mountains, I would. Nature is a full-on recharge and that’s how I balance my life. I love the concrete jungle and all the fashion but there is part of me that’s super granola.
JEN: I’m the same. We’re getting older and I think we want quiet because we’ve been in all the noise.
ANH: Exactly. That’s totally true. I’m planning the next part of my life and I want to focus on spirituality because I want more than the material things. Besides the accomplishments, at the end of the day what matters are the memories that live inside of me, the friends I’ve made, the people who’ve helped me. Those things live longer. What’s your plan for the next part of your life?
JEN: Two or three years ago I was so focused on goals and what I wanted to achieve with Mane Addicts and OUAI. This time last year, it was like giving birth to a baby—you’re not sleeping, you’re stressing about everything, it’s hard to balance. What helped me is I wasn’t afraid to ask questions. I called Andrea Lieberman from ALC and Sonia Kashuk, both who I respected and knew were balancing family and career. Sonia kept hearing me talk about my plan and how I had an end date for things. She said to me, “You have this entrepreneurial spirit and you’re blessed and cursed with it. Don’t think that’s just going to turn off because it’s not.” That one thing she said to me made me realize I need to stop feeling burdened by my entrepreneurial spirit and be more at peace.
I want to make sure both OUAI and Mane Addicts, including my own work, don’t lose the authenticity that they started with. I work myself like this because I really, truly love what I do. And I feel like you’re the same.
ANH: I really respect that you were seeking advice from other successful females. I want more females to run the country! It’s time.
JEN: Who’s somebody you really looked up to in the hair world when you were starting out?
ANH: I’ve always been such a huge fan of Eugene Souleiman, Guido and Odile Gilbert. I saw Odile! I’m such a nerd. I saw her at a sushi restaurant across from El Coyote and I told my friend “OMG, that’s Odile.” She’s like “Who?!” She was so nice. Someone who’s been in the business for some time producing timeless hair art.
JEN: It’s so weird to think that we’re at the age where we’re influencing peoples’ mood boards. Isn’t that crazy?
ANH: It is crazy! Wait, how old are you?
JEN: I’m 36.
ANH: Oh, you’re still young.
JEN: Did you think I was 22?
ANH: Yes! You look young, babe.
JEN: And we live in cities where there are doctors who can make us look younger. I’m so happy we got to talk. I want to break the mold and have us teach a class together.
ANH: I would love that!!
JEN: Let’s color outside the lines!
ANH: I just know you through social circles, but I’m so glad we talked!
JEN: You have to come to my house and tell me what furniture you like and don’t like.
ANH: Haha, I’d love that!
JEN: For 2017, I’m putting on my mood board that I finally get a haircut with you.
ANH: That would be amazing!
JEN: Wait for it, I’m going to need a cut in March around my birthday.
ANH: And then will you cut my hair?
JEN: Yes! How fun would that be?! Why don’t we make it really crazy and you’ll do my color and I’ll do your extensions. Haha!
ANH: Haha! Well I only know one palette, black.
JEN: Perfect! I love it.
ANH: I had so much fun.
JEN: Love you, congrats again, and I’ll see you in the salon!
ANH: Love you too, take care!