Ken Paves is one of the most influential hairstylists of the 21st century, styling some of the biggest music performers in their prime. Yes that’s right, he was on tour with Jessica Simpson, styling J.Lo, working with the Beckhams, creating a namesake salon, and building a line of haircare all at the same time. While we are huge fans of his, we are equally huge fans of Larry Sims, who in Ken’s image, styles some of the biggest pop and R&B sensations, including Mary J. Blige and Zendaya. But we didn’t know when we set the two up for this feature that Larry was a dancer prior to his career as a hairstylist and that he actually assisted Ken. Having met on set for a Jessica Simpson dance rehearsal, Ken quickly took Larry under his wing and moulded him into the hairstylist he is today. To learn just what song Larry was dancing to when they met and what haircut they both made iconic, just keep reading!
KEN: Larry!! What’s goin on? What’s happening man?!
LARRY: This is so cool! I’m so glad you were able to do this!
KEN: Oh my god, are you kidding me?! I was so excited when I heard, I was like Larry?! of course! Larry inspires me.
LARRY: Aww you inspire me!
KEN: I think the coolest thing about these hair talks is that I’m so inspired by other artists, that’s one of the things I love about hanging out with you and getting to see your work. It’s really cool to see people who come together who know each other and people who don’t know each other getting together and talking about what drives youl.
LARRY: I love it!
KEN: You and I have talked so much about work, being artists, going to the next level, and pursuing your dreams. I really do think you are such an amazing example of an artist whose found a way to transition that vision and artistry as a hairdresser. The funny thing is I’m here in New York for Fashion Week with Victoria Beckham. Victoria and David were both clients of yours for quite a while and you left such a great imprint on both of them. I think that’s one of the things that’s trademark Larry Sims is that you’ve got this infectious personality and it’s an honor to the craft.
LARRY: Thank you!
KEN: You know that! Anyone that’s ever worked with you has always been left with this amazing feeling and great respect for you. I think that’s one of the biggest things you need in this industry for longevity, and I’ve been doing this for 22 years. I think leaving an imprint on people and always doing your best is really important. You and I met oddly enough because you, at the time, were a back-up dancer, with some really killer moves. You were dancing to a country song in cowboy boots with Jessica Simpson for These Boots Were Made For Walkin’. With a little heel toe and a spin-around. I think you had on a flannel shirt and a tank top. A mutual friend introduced us and said ‘he’s an amazing dancer, but he’s also an amazing hairdresser.’ I’m just curious, as an artist, how everything you’ve done in the past, where you’ve travelled, where you’ve come from, etc. I want to know how your history lends itself to your artistry.
LARRY: That is a great question. Absolutely. It’s been an incredible journey for you also. I’d assume it’s one of those things you’re born into. You can’t be taught to dance and you can’t be taught to have the talent you have that inspires me and so many others. And I’ve always admired everything that’s beautiful and being able to exercise my god-given talent. You know I didn’t go to college, instead I went South Africa to dance for Gillette!
KEN: That is college! The world is the best university!
LARRY: Exactly! So I’ve always just had to rely on the things I was naturally okay at doing. I guess the validation came from people saying, ‘Yeah, you’re good at that and we want you around.’ That’s what’s always driven me to pursue the things that I have. Being in the industry, I’ve been really lucky to be able to be a dancer and work on sets and have glam friends and see what that world looks like. I thought at one point, okay I don’t want to look up and be 40, auditioning for Britney Spears, I gotta kick this hair thing into high gear.
KEN: And what moment was that? When did you have that revelation?
LARRY: I was about 27, and I remember thinking to myself. and it was weird because everyone I danced for from Missy Elliot to TLC, I became their hairdresser on the side.
KEN: Yeah like, I wouldn’t mind getting a paycheck for this too!
LARRY: Exactly! There was no pay involved. But you and I have talked about this. If you never got paid to do this, you’d still do it because it’s what you love.
KEN: It’s the passion.
LARRY: Yeah, it’s the passion! That’s one thing that I’ve admired about you. Especially when you gave me the opportunity to just be around you. I was such a sponge. People always say, ‘be around the best’, and I was lucky to have the opportunity to learn from one of the best. I’m completely honored and completely lucky in that respect. I remember you once said, ‘I’ve never done this for the money.’ Your money and your success and accolades have come because you’re passionate and amazingly talented at what you do. That’s something that I’ve always carried with me. People miss out on beautiful opportunities and experiences because they think about money first. That’s something I’ve always carried with me that you taught me, so thank you for that.
KEN: Of course, and it is true. I think I’m pretty decent at what I do and I’ve done this for a minute, 22 years, but I also say that I don’t think I’m the best business person because I’ve never asked how much I was making. I was never that person that said, ‘well what’s the day rate or what am I getting?’ It was never that. I did it because of the passion, because of the client, because of the job, and I just absolutely love it. That’s how you gotta do this. I think it’s cool that at 27 years old, you made this huge change too and you were driven by something else, the desire to do this. What other career path can you change? At 27 years old a lot of people have already put so much school behind them and they gotta keep moving forward in what they’re doing, but you were able to make this incredible change and follow your heart. I completely admire that. So I thank you for what you said to me, but you also inspired the shit out of me.
I’m glad that we’ve remained friends through all of this and it’s cool to see you work. The thing that everyone always asks is ‘what’s your look? or what’s your style?’ and one of the things that I always admired about you, and I hope that my work embodies as well, is that a lot of people think of me as ‘big sexy hair,’ I’ve heard that eight MILLION times (and eight million times too many), but traveling and seeing things, I love the fact that your work is all over the place in the best way. You’re not in a box, you don’t do just one look and I think that your history lends itself to your artistry. You take every situation and you evaluate it and you create a look based on that situation, based on who that client is, based on where she’s going, how she’s feeling, based on what the mood or the fashion is. I think that’s a really cool thing to be able to do.
LARRY: Thank you so much. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work with so many different facets of women. The things that I would throw on Lupita N’yongo I obviously can’t throw on Mary J. Blige, you know what I mean? I t feels good to have that versatility in terms of clientele that allow me to basically play. It’s like a kid playing in a playground. I remember working with you and you showed up with a ton of hair.
KEN: A Uhaul in the back of my car full of hair! Yeah I remember.
LARRY: A Uhaul! That’s another thing I learned from you is to always be prepared for anything. The arsenal that you carry around in your kit is so unbelievable. I remember just being with you and brushing out tons and tons and tons of hair. I remember you brought me to work with you and J.Lo…and that was the day I lost your kit.
KEN: I wasn’t gonna touch base on the day the Uhaul got lost!!!
LARRY: You had an arsenal you pulled out of your left sleeve!
KEN: We picked up hair off the floor, some gum we were chewing, and put it all together and made it work!
LARRY: Exactly! And that’s another thing I’ve always taken from you: be prepared and show up for whatever is thrown your way. There is nothing that you can’t pull off in the Ken Paves Kit.
KEN: I do remember that day, looking back at each other like ‘oh shit, where’s the kit?’ But the great thing about it too is that nobody knew, and that’s the other thing I think is important. We’re in such an intimate space with these incredible people and incredible artists who are affected by our energy. I think it’s really important to never allow whatever’s going on with you to influence the person that you’re working with. Our job in the service industry is to serve them, and provide the best service possible; which also means the best energy and environment. So the great this is I was looking at you like ‘oh shit,’ but nobody knew what was going on.
LARRY: Nobody knew what was going on, cut to I was shaking in pants like, I cannot believe that this happened to me. And you were so gracious and so sweet, so professional, and so amazing. That’s the thing I have to say about you Ken, what you embody. You are the nicest, most humble, genuine, and generous person of the people that I’ve known in this business.
KEN: Thank you!
LARRY: It’s so true! Your generosity catapulted my career. Everybody across the board has said this about you. Ken, everybody loves you, your energy is infectious, and you make everyone feel special. I remember when you were taking me to the Oprah makeovers, and one thing I always remembered about those experiences is how you made people feel. You would run through Oprah’s staff, and you would do their hair. They weren’t even getting makeovers, but we would makeover the staff! Insane! I remember just watching you tirelessly work without hardly getting any sleep (because our call times were so early). You would stay and prep everything, and the staff of women would come through your chair and just want to be touched by you. You would make everybody feel amazing and I think that is so beautiful.
KEN: I know you’ve said this too, but I’m so grateful for this. I went to school originally to teach deaf children and tried to figure out all the things I wanted to do and was too scared to tell my dad I wanted to be a hairdresser. I really wanted to do this and when I finally got into it, I was embraced by a community, but also embraced by the people that I work with. Giving them something, they gave me something back, which was self-worth and value in myself, and for that I am always forever grateful. Those were some crazy days, those 18 hours at the Oprah studios, and it’d be 1am and I’d be like ‘oh great! let’s bring 7 producers down and let’s all start doing some haircuts!’
LARRY: You made everyone feel amazing.
KEN: It is funny when you said Jennifer [Lopez], because I thought of the whole Victoria [Beckham] thing. When Victoria first came to the U.S., I was in Rome at Tom and Katie’s wedding. I was doing Jennifer’s hair, and Victoria said ‘I want the guy that I met that had all the hair,’ which was hysterical! But, you and I had been working together, and I thought that you were such an amazing fit for the both of them, for David and Victoria. It was really cool for me while I was still working with them to see you work with the two of them and do so many incredible things. What are some of your favorite looks that you’ve done with David and Victoria?
LARRY: First of all, you sending me was one of those nervous, pep talk ‘Larry, you can do it, you can do it’ moments. They were really the first people of that magnitude that I had ever touched outside of working with you, or blowing out Eva Longoria, or helping you out with Jessica [Simpson]. But to go on my own, where you believed in me more than I believed in myself, you trusted me. Most people in our profession aren’t generous in that way. They wouldn’t send someone on their behalf for a job or a client of that magnitude. People think, ‘I want to keep it for me.’ It becomes an almost selfish, insecure kind of a thing.
KEN: That whole ‘that’s my client’ thing is kind of one of the worse parts of our industry because at the end of the day, it’s about the client. We have to be selfless and ego-less enough to want what’s best for him or her. At that moment with David and Victoria, we had been working together for awhile, and you had come out to do cool stuff with me. When they needed somebody full time, I did think about you, and I knew that you could absolutely do it. The funny part is I do remember when someone asked, ‘can you send over his book?’ and at the time we were just working together so we didn’t have anything set up. I just answered, ‘he doesn’t need a book, this is Larry Sims!” And they’re like ‘oh okay, send him around.’ Pan to a couple months later and you’re doing Armani and traveling around the world on a tour!!! Go get it Larry!
LARRY: But you helped me prepare for that. And that whole era of the Victoria Beckham bob became the bane of my existence. That was the pivotal moment in my career, where people paid attention, people wanted to know who Larry Sims was because of the bob that really took on a life of it’s own. The David Armani underwear campaigns also became this huge massive thing for me and from there, people just started calling. But it wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for you and your generosity.
KEN: You know the takeaway from that moment is that there are times when other people believe in us more than we believe in ourselves. Oribe was a huge influence in my career and there were amazing people who believed in me and pushed me more than I was pushing myself. But the reality check in that kind of thing is that you can give people opportunities, and I think that’s so important.
I remember running into you at the Met Ball, you worked with David and Victoria and I remember checking it out and being like ‘so how’d you do that? Wait a minute…’
LARRY: That twisted updo, out of that bob!
KEN: When I knew how short her hair was I was like, ‘okay, so Larry’s done with the bob. He is officially done with the bob, the bob has left the building kids!’
LARRY: The bob has left the building! The thing with David and Victoria is they’re such style icons. They’re so chic and she’s very directional, which I love. When she trusts you, she trusts you, and that’s a beautiful thing.
KEN: My favorite quote from her I always say, we were filming one of the videos for Vogue or something and somebody said, ‘oh you have a flyaway’ and she says ‘flyaways are modern,’ and I was like OH YES, I LOVE THAT. Anytime a camera person ever says to me, oh there’s a flyaway, I look back and tell them ‘flyaways are modern’ in my English accent. It was better executed when she said it, but nonetheless I will use that quote for all eternity.
LARRY: I want to talk about the whole Jessica Simpson ‘Bardot,’ thing you brought back. You brought that to life. That was like an iconic era that became a staple, like a Ken Paves staple. You had raised the bar so high that it was a thing and a technique that people would pay tickets to sit in a class to learn from you, seriously. I was able to learn firsthand from you, ‘no, no, no, leave that fringe there, we want that fringe,’ and ‘no, no, no, don’t curl it too tight, don’t curl it too perfect, leave those ends straight.’
KEN: Lived in!
LARRY: Lived in baby, yes! Those things from what you did, it has completely evolved. When you look at hair from back then to now, it’s more of that good stuff. The flyaways, the textures, the texture sprays that gives it all of that magic, I love that. Lupita was definitely another ‘aha’ moment in my career with the evolution of what we had been able to create with her, from the first golden globes in that red dress..
KEN: Come on! Like seriously, that was so incredible. I remember I wrote to you and said you shut the whole thing down. Everybody else, go home. It’s great to see when people work with natural texture and shorter lengths of hair to show all the different variations that you can do, because there’s not enough out there of people showing different options and ways to wear shorter hair and textured hair, and it’s really just cool to see you do that. Where are you going now with Lupita’s hair?
LARRY: So we have grown it out, she was done with the shaved side. She’s also collaborative and directional. We send each other references all the time. We decided to grow her hair out, but we’re still looking for inspiration. I’m always looking on Pinterest and what’s going on overseas, and at your work. Coming up with really cool inventive things that read modern and read fashion. We’re playing with natural hair extensions, which a lot of people aren’t using inventively or coming up with cool styles and shapes to pull it off. We’ve been playing with a lot of extension pieces and I’ve gotten into making specific pieces for her, which I had never done before. I had never picked up a wig cap and, you know, made pieces, but we’re gonna run with it so it’s been really cool to have a client like her that’s daring and is like ‘yeah let’s go there.’
KEN: And she wears fashion so well, hair is such an amazing accessory and it literally completes the look. I hope you give her some mahogany hair at some point. The mahogany moments, there’s so many,
LARRY: Yes! Absolutely, I think that would be fabulous. You would be great working with her also, just so she can experience what that feels like. That Ken Paves touch. I think that would be amazing.
KEN: You know I’ve worked with so many different people, and I don’t often get starstruck but I flew next to her on a flight and I was so excited that I didn’t say one word. Just sat next to her and smiled awkwardly and weird. She’d probably be like, ‘oh there’s that weird guy from the plane, he kept looking at me weird.’ I didn’t even get up the courage to say ‘Hi, I know Larry, I love your hair.’ I didn’t even say anything, just smiled at her awkwardly all the way from New York to LA.
LARRY: She would love you Ken, she would love you. She also uses Ted Gibson, who is amazing.
KEN: I love Ted.
LARRY: Yeah, I love Ted too. She just has a great group of people around her. Next time you see her, you HAVE to say something! I’m gonna tell her we had this conversation. So what inspires you?
KEN: What inspires me, you know me, my thing has always really been even the luxury of all those times we did hair and makeup on the Oprah show. My thing has always been wanting to celebrate women; and celebrating them as themselves, not trying to change them. So I’m always inspired by women everywhere. I was travelling to Italy and China and I’d go out on the street just to meet people and absorb the culture. It’s important in this industry that we stop homogenizing everything, It’s about changing that and breaking all those rules and creating your own beauty. So for me, what inspires me now are women everywhere. I embarrass myself with women all the time. I’ll go up to them and ask if I can take a picture of the back of their hair. I want to learn from the women who are doing amazing things with their own hair. Art always inspires me. Mahogany is my favorite film on the planet. I got to meet the legendary Diana Ross once. I did her daughter’s wedding in Hawaii. I could barely speak, I was so starstruck. Oribe told me to watch the film, Eyes of Laura Mars. That’s an amazing film. I think watching film is important. That was actually one of the really cool things that I loved about Oribe when I first started working. I was still doing all the stripper’s hair at the strip club, and just trying to make ends meet, honing in on my craft, and Oribe said ‘watch old films.’ The first one he recommended was Eyes of Laura Mars with Faye Dunaway. The fashion in that film is just ridiculous. If I could recommend any two films, to anybody, it would be Mahogany with Diana Ross and Eyes of Laura Mars with Faye Dunaway. I think art imitates life and life imitates art, but I think you just have to get out there, absorb all the culture that you can. I’m also inspired by people like you and a lot of people that work in the salon with me. There’s an amazing guy, Geno Chapman, who won NAHA and is now cutting David Beckham’s hair and Gordon Ramsay’s hair and all the guys’ hair that I cut because he’s a far better men’s haircutter than I am, way better…
LARRY: He’s so talented!
KEN: I go in and watch him in awe and then I have to leave, because I’m embarrassed of my ability, I’ feel like I have to slowly moonwalk backwards and just check myself outta there, because what he’s doing is so crazy and technical. He’s so talented! I like to be inspired by other people and look around and see what everybody else is doing, and in that, giving kudos to what they’re doing because I think we all deserve to be acknowledged for our talent and our gift and just share that, it’s like a responsibility to share that. I was just reading the Hair Talk between Sally Hershberger who I love and Mark Townsend who I worked with years ago and I was reading their interview and I was like, ‘oh my god, that’s so crazy and so cool.’
LARRY: Yeah! Okay so let me ask you this because I feel like you can take over the world. You started so many things, how did you get to a place where you wanted to write? You are beautiful, publicly, you’ve had amazing huge success with HairDo, you’ve done so many amazing things with your career, what could possibly be next? You’re already a life-changer, a philanthropist, an amazing hair artist, master. Also what has been the highest moment in your career? I would love to know both of those!
KEN: Wow, okay, the high point in my career, there’s so many amazing moments. I’ve had so many incredible moments with Jessica, and Eva and Jennifer. There’s a Met Ball picture with Jennifer that’s just my favorite thing I’ve ever done. It was a short, kind of 1920’s fuzzy bob with this million dollar Lorraine Schwartz brooch in the hair that I just live for. Then there’s her CW or CFDA Awards updo, and that old kind of Breakfast at Tiffany’s updo on Jessica. It’s funny because they’re all moments where it’s not that big sexy down hair, it’s all the moments where the hair is up! Then there’s with Eva and Victoria. When I did them before the Elton John Oscar Party, Victoria had this really short cropped hair and I wanted them to look like they were on a date.
KEN: So I gave her a very manly style, very Victor Victoria because she was wearing a long gown and Eva was in a tuxedo, so I gave Eva this really crazy beautiful Bardot updo with curtains in the front. But then there’s also moments, standing in front of Oprah Winfrey, who I idolized for so many years before I was even on the show, who I thought gave a voice to people, who don’t necessarily always get a voice; even to me, growing up gay in Detroit. I didn’t have a voice, but she gave voices to the people who stand in front of her. I raised 2.2 million dollars in 10 days for a children’s charity with the help of all my friends, Victoria, David, you, Eva, everybody. All the human moments, making over women, and making over homeless women to walk down a red carpet in a way that nobody knew that they were homeless. Those are the most defining moments for me, it was something that meant something to somebody else.
Then with HairDo, I gave up to a million dollars a year in free wigs to women around the world in medical need. I’d tell them to send me a picture of their best hair day, then I would take a wig and cut it up just like that and send it out to them.
Then there’s my products, You Are Beautiful. I created my product line and launched it into Walmart because I wanted it to become a mantra for the majority of women, so that every time they looked at that product, they defied any label or any adjective that someone may have put on them and they looked at that bottle and could say you are beautiful to themselves.
I’m so blessed. I’ve accomplished so many amazing things. Now I want to take this opportunity and make a difference. Our work can either intimidate and exclude or our work can inspire and include, and I want to be a part of the movement where our work only inspires and includes. My product line was one of the first multitextural lines where I took every hair texture and type into consideration.
So moving forward, philanthropy, I’m part of a big new charity called Campowerment. I met the woman from it on Oprah makeover. I’ve got a trip coming up to Africa soon, and I want to do more and more things that just make a difference. Whether it’s in my backyard or anywhere around the world. We have a responsibility with success to give back. We have to recognize that it took people helping us to get to where we are.
Thank you for mentioning it, because my philanthropic heart is what I’m most proud of, and touching people’s lives with this career..
LARRY: Yes, exactly. I have to say that your career has been such a blueprint. You gotta have a lot of balls to even try to accomplish a portion of what you’ve done. You continue to inspire us all, to push, to be great, to think outside of the box, and take our careers to levels that have been unreachable before you. You are a game-changer in this industry and you’ve set the bar so high. You’re one of the hardest working people that I know. You work tirelessly and you deserve every accolade and every accomplishment that comes to you, because you work your ass off. It’s so inspiring to see on so many levels.
KEN: I love love love the work, it doesn’t feel like work. I love to be busy and I think all artists, if we don’t have enough going on, our minds start going crazy. But I’m actually looking at you in the exact same way. I adore so many incredible artists, I love seeing what Orlando Pita’s doing and Guido Palau. There are so many artists out there and I’m humbled when I hear you say that because I don’t feel like that. I’m looking out at people like you and I’m so blown away. It continues to push me to do and be better. Even with Mane Addicts, I love seeing all the people, the younger generations of everybody coming up and coming together. Etienne Ortega and all these amazing people. It’s like this huge community. It’s so interesting how our professions have really come to the forefront. We’re definitely celebrated for having a talent, and that is such a cool feeling. I remember getting a haircut for 8 dollars, thinking that I wanted to be a hairdresser, and the hairdresser was perming me and my mother and shaving us up on the back and the sides, it was glamorous believe me! It’s completely different today.
LARRY: It definitely is! So last question that I have for you is what advice would you give to the younger Ken Paves knowing where you are now? What advice would you give your younger self?
KEN: I would’ve worked for more people. I would’ve assisted more people. I went to Vidal Sassoon straight out of school, I went to Mark Parson’s academy, and I assisted this amazing guy outside of Detroit, Kenny Mcdonald at the Q, and then I went to Oribe and Oribe was so kind to me. He saw a couple strippers I was working on and said their hair was genius! Then he went to the strip club with me at night to see what I was really doing. Everything kind of happened very quickly. Mind you, at that time I was having a really difficult time making my rent in Miami and I was doing any job that came along, but I wish that I would’ve taken more time. Luckily jobs came along that were paying when I was an independent hairstylist, but I wish I would’ve assisted more people and taken things a little slower just to see what people were doing. It’s what I’m doing now, playing catch up. I’ll go to the salon, you know I don’t work out of the salon taking clients because my schedule doesn’t necessarily permit me to take regular clients, but I go in all the time and I’ll sit back and just watch what other people are doing. I believe we become a culmination of all the things that influence us, like picking up things from other people and seeing how somebody does it. Even when we worked together, seeing you do one part of the hair while I did another part, then I’d step back and say, ‘oh your part actually looks better!’ Learn from as many people as you can, it will all happen in due time, just don’t rush it. Learn and be a student for as long as you can.
LARRY: Well the younger Ken Paves and the older Ken Paves and the now Ken Paves are all brilliant. I just want to thank you for doing this, this was absolutely a joy. It’s so cool to have a conversation or an interview with someone that really inspires me and has been so influential in my career. I feel super special to even have my name mentioned in the same article as you. I’m really honored and I just want you to know that.
KEN: That means so much to me, you have no idea. The ironic thing about this is this is a conversation you and I have had and do have every time we run into each other. I am so crazy happy for you. I love Instagram so that I can watch and see what other people are doing. We may not get to chat on the phone everyday, but I still get to watch and see the amazing stuff that you’re doing. The cool thing is as artists, we’re always inspired and recognized by each other, so I think this is an amazing platform to reach out to each other with our conversation.
LARRY: It is and now we’re sharing that conversation with the world.