When it comes to iconic hairdressers, there’s no bigger name then Sally Hershberger. Having been in the industry for over 20 years, Sally was styling hair at the forefront of pop culture, transforming some of the biggest celebrities including David Bowie, Jane Fonda, Tom Cruise, and Michelle Pfieffer [to name a few]. And by her side through so much of that was the legendary Mark Townsend, who was just starting out as her assistant. Now he is the go-to Mane Master for Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen, Dakota Johnson, Minka Kelly, and styles the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon, and Zooey Deschanel. With the launch of Sally’s new product line, 24K, and Mark traveling the world, the two had a lot to catch up on. Keep reading to find out their pivotal career stand out moments and learn a thing or two about the beauty business…
SALLY: Mark! I’m excited to be doing this with you. There couldn’t have been a better choice! It’s been too long and now you’re in LA at my salon and I’m out here. You know I was going to LA a lot too, but I’m pretty much out east now.
MARK: Yeah I don’t blame you. We met in New York because I was assisting you but you were always in LA then, we totally switched places. I was flipping through my calendar and I realized I started working with you in 1997. Cervando Maldonado was assisting you in LA and I was in New York and he and I would coordinate your schedule.
SALLY: That’s when I met John Frieda right?
MARK: Yes, I met you for the very first time in the John Frieda Salon on 76th Street.
SALLY: Oh yeah that’s right I remember!
MARK: What are you inspired by right now?
SALLY: I feel like there is a white space with hair care right now that I’m inspired by. There’s so much opportunity, but it’s so much different then it used to be. Of course, back then I was inspired by shoots with Steven Meisel, Annie Leibovitz, Helmet, or Avedon; anyone of that caliber, but since then, I’ve been more business-oriented with my hair care line and my salon. I just did a great shoot with Gearon, which was very inspiring. I’m getting ready to launch my line 24K at Sephora. I’ve got four items on their site right now. What’s so exciting is I got my company back. Who I am as a brand is luxury. I’ve always been the most expensive hairdresser for the fanciest people in the world! It didn’t make sense for me to be where I was. It feels good to have it back.
MARK: I wanted to ask you about your new line, 24K. You made the shag sexy and modern and I was with you when you gave incredible iconic cuts to Jane Fonda, Cheryl Crow, Julia Roberts, and like you said you’ve worked with everybody. You’re the queen of texture. You have such a meticulous appreciation for texture. You were using baby powder in the 90’s way before anybody heard of dry shampoo (outside of hospitals)! I wanted to ask you if it was the texture that inspired your new line. The products that I’ve used so far are the root mist spray, the dry shampoo and the texturizing paste, which I’m beyond obsessed with, but you almost created the perfect kit for women to get that perfect texture on themselves. You know that cool second day lived in feel that every woman dreams about having.
SALLY: You’re so smart! Yes, exactly! You couldn’t have said it better. You have always been my dream spokesperson because nobody knows me like you do. I’m so happy to have you back in my salon because having you in my salon is like having me in my salon.
MARK: I was in the salon yesterday and my girl Lizzy Olsen came in and it felt like being home. I’ve worked with Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen for so many years and they actually ended up opening The Row where the Sally Hershberger at John Frieda Salon used to be. I used to shampoo their hair in the same space that they’re now working in. It feels like such a circle. Now I’m back in the salon in LA. It’s a new space, but it feels exactly the same. It’s a vibe that only Sally Hershberger can create. When I’m at the salon in New York, there’s such a camaraderie, it’s not a competition. When Lizzy came in yesterday I think I gave her the best haircut I think I’ve ever done and it was so much fun! I got to play around with your products! I used the root mist spray at the root, dry shampoo all over, and then the texturizing paste for the ends and it’s exactly the look that everyone wants right now. We’re seeing such a return to 60’s and 70’s hair. It’s not beachy texture, it’s amazing dry texture. It’s the perfect formula. Women are going to be able to create this texture at home now.
SALLY: Did you know the Olsen twins are opening up their next shop below my uptown salon?
MARK: I know! They’ve been following you.
SALLY: They are my favorite designers. I wear all The Row. I had to present at the Fragrance Foundation award show and I wore only them. And Mark, the hair, the texture you’re doing on them, their style is what I live for. I think they’re the coolest of the cool.
In my salon, I’ve always wanted to create a space of creativity where there’s no competition and everybody can jump over to their neighbor and say I’ll teach you this. That’s kind of my upbringing as a hairdresser. I remember having to cut Tom Cruise’s hair off for Top Gun and Rebecca De Mornay was sitting with him. I didn’t know him but they were both like ‘no go shorter go shorter!’ I go ‘really? you think?’ And we did that with every celebrity that came in. Everyone would just kind of join in the conversation. I’m not about competitiveness. I always pass work to my staff. I never believed in having it all just for me, because if you have a house of experts it just makes everyone look better.
MARK: One hundred percent. I sometimes feel bad for the younger generation because they don’t get those kinds of experiences. I’m the hairdresser I am today because of the time I spent assisting you. I learned a wealth of knowledge about hair, but I also learned how to conduct myself on a photo shoot, how to talk to incredibly creative people, celebrities, and publicists. These kids now just jump right in and think it’s about working with famous people. You were an amazingly generous hairdresser to work with because once you broke into Sally’s world (which was really hard to get into) you were really part of a team. Like you said you were working on Matthew Shields and Meg Ryan doing You’ve Got Mail and you put me on Vanilla Sky doing Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz. If I was ever traveling in LA, I would work in your salon. I met Minka Kelly, whose one of my best friends now, through you because she came into your salon for a casting. She was a scrub nurse who did hair model jobs on the side!
SALLY: No way! That’s hysterical!
MARK: So I would be on set with Tom Cruise one day and the next day, doing a casting with you. It was so incredible to have that, knowing that I could always call you a mentor and look up to you for advice on how to do things. I called you and asked ‘hey how do I handle going on a movie, how do I handle going on a press tour’ and you were incredible about that, incredibly generous. I mean who else can say they’ve trained as many amazing hairdressers as you have?
SALLY: Thank you Mark! I think that’s what makes it fun! Because anybody who knows me, knows I can be pretty tough, but I also love to have fun. I also think it goes for colorists too, because I remember when Bette Midler and L’Wren Scott used to beg me to hire Tracey Cunningham, remember that Mark? And I was like ‘who is she??’ And finally I hired her, and she had only three clients, but I did it because they called me maybe for a year straight! I had Lorri Goddard and Marie Robinson working for me, so many great people! I had the world working for me. But then I got John Frieda involved and they ended up cutting a lot of their salaries, I didn’t have a lot of control back then. But it was great to build so many people when they were just getting started.
SALLY: Yeah and I feel like it’s back. When you asked what am I feeling inspired by right now, it’s that. 2016 will be a big year for me. I want to blow it out, like I want to do things in hair the way I always have- like charging more than anybody, or opening up my salon on Melrose Place when no one existed there, or the meat-packing district or starting Sally Hershberger at John Frieda. There’s so many different things that I’ve done that now I’m a loose cannon. There’s no stopping me.
MARK: You always have had a finger on the pulse; the beach blonde, the ocean waves that you developed for John Frieda, I mean it really set the standard for all the salt sprays that have come along over the past decade. And then you did it again with glam waves. Again it goes back to your love and appreciation of texture. I really see it in the 24K line I feel such quality in those products. They feel expensive!
SALLY: They are so high in quality, that’s why the name is 24K! They are so major. You’ve got to try the mousse. It just came out. It’s insane, and the dry oil is to die for. You’ll live for it.
MARK: I haven’t gotten my hands on either!
SALLY: It just came out on Sephora and it’s at five stars already!
MARK: Oh my god I’m going to get it today. I’m leaving on Sunday for China, but I’m going to get it overnighted to me.
SALLY: What are you doing in China?
MARK: Ashley and Mary Kate, they’re going for The Row.
SALLY: I just want to say, of all the people, you are the most creative and cool. And your hair is always changing, you don’t ever keep it the same. There are some people that learn something and then they just do that one thing. I love seeing all the different things that you do; like when you cut bangs on Reese Witherspoon! And that’s the thing that I think makes you so exciting for me to have (when I can afford you) as a spokesperson. You know hair in a way that most hairdressers don’t. You know how to talk about a product. Very few people know how to talk about a product.
MARK: Thank you for that! Do you think that because of the internet we don’t have seasonal trends anymore? Trends don’t even have a chance to really live unless it’s something super acceptable that women can do. Does that change the way that you approach styling? Like the 24K ads, for example. The images are some of the most beautiful photos I’ve ever seen of hair. How do you approach something like that knowing that trends and fashion can change so quickly?
SALLY: In a way it’s really tough because I did that shoot for no money. I got Tierney Gearon to shoot it for me. I had her get Annie Leibovitz’s studio assistant. I wanted all the girls naked, just with hair and skin, and I want it feel like old Calvin Klein; just raw, but all different kinds of hair. Ideas come out of my head constantly, the hard part is making them happen quick enough before the big brands start copying you, because they will, and they have the money. I know my Instagram should be all hair driven, but that’s just not my personality, I’m a lifestyle person. If I see my dog being cute, I’m going to take a picture of her. That intrigues me. I’m not only hair. I think part of what makes somebody successful is having a life. You gotta have other things that make you happy. I notice you post pictures of your dog and funny moments too.
MARK: I’m obsessed with my dog. Anybody following me knows it’s 50% hair and 50% dog. Well, and maybe a lot of food and wine too.
SALLY: What’s next for you, what are you feeling excited about Mr. Townsend?
MARK: I’ve been traveling a lot recently and it gets me super inspired. I just got back from Tokyo with Elizabeth Olsen and it was probably my favorite trip in my career because I got to see the city and because I’ve known her for so long. I met her through her sisters when she was in middle school. So now to see her as an actress traveling the world, it’s really incredible. I also feel like I can relax around her. Sometimes when you’re traveling with clients you have to be “on.” What’s your favorite place that you traveled to for a job?
SALLY: I went to Tokyo twice, once with Meg Ryan and once with Tom Cruise. When I went with Meg, we went to Kyoto. She was such a big star then. I had my own geisha girl the whole time. She dressed me, fed me, poured my sake, and then when I got back from dinner, she would be in the room waiting to undress me and give me a massage.
MARK: Oh my god.
SALLY: I was really lucky because when I was working with everybody, it was the 80’s. Money was no object. Every time we did a shoot with Herb Ritts, he’d take a helicopter. ‘Oh we have to go to Malibu, let’s get on a helicopter, oh we have to go to the desert, let’s take a helicopter’ and we would only work in the afternoon. I was on set with David Bowie, it was amazing! My first traveling job was the pivotal point in my career with Olivia Newton John. It was the Let’s Get Physical tour. I was an assistant, just getting on the floor, and her hairdresser couldn’t do her because, you don’t really go on tour with people when you’re already successful. You don’t get paid the same as you would for other jobs.
MARK: And it takes you away from all other work for a year.
SALLY: I met Herb Ritts on that tour. He said we should work together, so we did some shoots. Then I did a Vogue cover with him within a month! It was with Michelle Pfeiffer! She was the most intense about her hair. I did her hair for 15 years after that.
MARK: I was there so many times when she was double and triple checking your haircut.
SALLY: Oh yeah, as if I don’t do that already! Oh my god, she’s so funny. I dealt with the most iconic movie stars in the world who didn’t miss anything! It wasn’t easy. Everything mattered- especially to photographers. Herb and Annie were all about the hair. They didn’t care about the makeup. I’ve never been pushed so hard in my life.
MARK: Annie pushes a hairdresser. I’ve never seen anybody be on set and handle her the way that you can. I think it’s because you have such a long relationship. Just the conversations I got to overhear between you and Herb Ritts talking about hair. There was such a passion about it! Every hair mattered. It was at a time way before retouching existed. Now it’s of out of control. Nothing looks real anymore.
SALLY: They didn’t even retouch then! Everything was checked on Polaroids!
MARK: And you didn’t have to! If there were flyways, it was because you put them there on purpose. So much thought and collaboration went into it then. You weren’t just a celebrity hairdresser, you were doing fashion stories and campaigns. Do you think it was because of your relationship with the photographers that you were able to cross those lines?
SALLY: Herb Ritts shot fashion and I was Tatjana’s hairdresser when she was doing so many covers! I met so many of the biggest editors. Then I started doing Tonne Goodman and I became the Vogue hairdresser, working with Mario Testino and Annie. I ended up working with Steven Meisel and it was full-on. We worked together for a really long time. The thing with Steven is you have to give up your life for him. I could do it at that point because I already had my salon and my product line.
MARK: You were shooting back to back Italian Vogue covers with him. The story with all the supermodels is so iconic. That will live on forever.
SALLY: Yes with Tatjana, Christy, Naomi! That was a major shot. That happened at Herb Ritt’s house. We were all hanging out, they came over, and it happened in ten minutes.
MARK: You’re kidding?!
SALLY: Nope! Those are the magic moments that happen. We were shooting maybe one of the girls and then they all came over cause we all hung out; honey, we went out every night. In the 80’s we partied, we had fun, and we worked incredibly hard.
MARK: Well it was such a smaller community then and everyone knew each other.
SALLY: Now the problem is social media because so many people work with celebrities once, barely charge anything, and now celebrities don’t want to pay. It’s ruining our industry. The rates have been cut, like really slashed.
MARK: You wouldn’t believe how bad it is out there. There’s always someone willing to do it for free. The new generation doesn’t spend time learning the industry first. To tell you the truth, I think the red carpets have become so unglamorous.
SALLY: I agree.
MARK: There’s no real beauty moments anymore. You’re really lucky if you get that one great special red carpet moment, but now it’s become so homogenized. So many hairdressers are showing up just to get a picture with a celebrity instead of putting all their attention into creating these beautiful silhouettes for the client and making sure she looks and feels her best. Even when I just want to take a selfie with a makeup artist and then they spend more time touching themselves up than the actress we’re working with. I feel like the attention has gone away from the actresses who we’re all supposed to be there supporting. It’s become more of how many followers am I going to get from this. What’s one of your favorite red carpet looks you’ve created?
SALLY: I loved what I did with Nicole Kidman in Prada.
MARK: I was hoping you were gonna say that!
SALLY: Were you with me on that one?
MARK: I was not there that year, but boy I wish I was.
SALLY: The makeup artist took four hours on her; I’m not kidding, playing music for her, doing this and that and I was like I have got to do her hair! Then I only got twenty minutes. I’m not kidding. I did these braids that Miuccia Prada was into. We wrapped them around her head and she looked so chic and regal. Another great red carpet was when I met Jane Fonda and she had very long hair.
MARK: I was with you for that!
SALLY: So this goes down in the books! Ted Turner’s divorcing her and they’re like, ‘you gotta give her a new look but don’t go crazy cause blah blah blah,’ all these rules, and I’m thinking I’m going to give her like a Julie Christie with the cascading bangs and the bob. But she sees me [and I had short hair then] and she goes ‘I love your hair, let’s do that’ and I was like yes! So I cut all her hair off and Mark, do you remember when she went onstage because she skipped the red carpet? There was an actual gasp from the audience because she looked insane! She looked better than anybody that night. It was one of those style moments.
MARK: It’s still incredible. I did an interview just last week and one of the questions was ‘what’s one of your all-time favorite career moments?’ and I said it really doesn’t have anything to do with a red carpet, but one of my greatest career moments was when I got to assist you cutting off Jane Fonda’s hair. You had cut maybe eight inches off and I remember it like it was yesterday. She looked right at you and said ‘you have the greatest hair. I wish I could do that.’ And you said ‘you could!’ Jane Fonda said ‘does anyone have a cigarette?’ I said ‘I do!’ And she said, ‘will you light it for me? I haven’t had one in years and I’m about to cut off all my hair.’ So I shared a cigarette with her in that private room at the 76 street salon. Remember she even called her son to come hold her hand? I’ll never ever forget that. It was such an incredible moment.
SALLY: Now tell me what was your favorite red carpet moment?
MARK: The Reese Witherspoon was a great moment for me. It was 2007.
SALLY: That was the best you’ve ever done.
MARK: I was so confident in showing off how beautiful she was. I did a fake updo with that beautiful dress. She was a ray of sunshine with beautiful blonde hair. Lorri Goddard had just made her really blonde and I asked her if I could cut her bangs. She was going to grow them out cause she cut them for a movie and I said ‘well you’ve already got them, why don’t you commit? Let’s make them a little thicker and shorter. I remember at the time being so nervous, like ‘oh god, I hope she doesn’t think I’m lazy.’ I just felt like that was right for the moment.
SALLY: That’s a memorable moment. It’s hard for me to remember what people look like from year to year, but that was a definite stand out.
MARK: The thrill of that moment! That was back when you used to have to do three women in a day for an award show.
SALLY: Yeah I remember one morning I had Richard Gear and Cindy Crawford then I had Geena Davis. Then I went to do Nicole Kidman and Tom, Meg Ryan and Sandra Bullock. It was insane. These days though, they don’t let you do that.
MARK: No, not at all. That day I did Reese Witherspoon, Natalie Portman, and Cate Blanchett. Those are major women and they have their trust in their hairdresser. I’d leave an assistant for each one, I’d try to get back there for touch-ups, but you hear things now like ‘no sharing.’ As soon as the publicist calls for you they try to put you on hold, like you can’t do anyone else.
SALLY: And then you get 10,000 dollars for the day.
MARK: Maybe fifteen if you’re lucky! But the thing is you have to make so many incredibly hard decisions. All with someone feeling like you don’t love them enough to be there for them.
SALLY: And then they get mad and they want to use somebody else.
MARK: Yeah and you know, it’s a business for me too. I have to look out for my career and what’s going to be best for me. I didn’t have many clients when I started working with Jennifer Lawrence because I was so dedicated to her. Then, out of nowhere I had clients that would say ‘why are you saying no to me to be with her’ and it got really difficult. It gets so political these days.
SALLY: I know what you mean. But your clients still love you and they still will!
MARK: Thank you so much for this talk Sally.