How Chris Appleton’s Former Assistant, Rikke Gajda, is Making a Name for Herself

Norway native Rikke Gajda started working in the salon at the age of 14—now she calls LA home and assists some of the biggest names in hair. Formerly Chris Appleton’s assistant, Rikke specializes in extensions and styling, as well as coloring blondes. Here Rikke shares with us how she broke into the industry to assist Appleton on hairstyles for Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, and Katy Perry. Plus her tricks of the trade for creating custom hair pieces, like the ones she recently made for Lily Collins and Cara Delevingne’s MET Gala looks.

 

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What’s your background in hair?

I started working in a salon when I was 14. I always wanted to do hair since I was a little girl! So every weekend next to school until I got my license I was working in the salon. I was lucky and started training with the apprentices when I was 15 so I already knew how to cut and style hair by the time I started hair school. After I got my license, I stayed working there for a few years but I always wanted something more and something bigger, and I knew I wouldn’t find that in Norway. It’s too small of a country and not much going on in the hair world out there. So I packed my bags and moved to California. I had to go back to school to be able to get a license here so I just chose the school that was closest to Hollywood on the map, because I had heard that Hollywood was where it was happening. I ended up getting a barbering and cosmetology license here, but I then moved to Vegas and did hair there for two years. 

How did you start assisting Chris Appleton?

I was actually living in Vegas at the time and one late night, I saw he posted that he was looking for a full time assistant. I just had a feeling right then and there that I would get that job so I jumped out of my pajamas, went into full glam and made a video and sent it in. The next day I got called into a interview and I drove that night to California. Two days later, I was on set with Katy Perry. 

Did you assist any other celebrity hairstylists before Chris?

No, he was the first celebrity hairstylist I assisted. I had done many hair shows and fashion shows but never really celebrity hair.

 

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What’s one thing you learned from assisting Chris that you’ll never forget?

I was with Chris for a year and I definitely learned a lot, we were quite busy and had a lot going on. The one thing I learned that I’ll never forget is that everything is possible. You can always make something work even if seems impossible.

When/how did you learn how to make custom hair pieces?

I actually never really learned properly how to make them. I’ve always been crafty and enjoyed making things and I love to sew. So one day on set I had to make a pony super quickly. I had never made one before. Having seen some ponies that you can buy in stores, I just did what I thought had the similar shape and that was the start of it. I’m sure that one wasn’t the best but it’s been many after that and I’ve just perfected it as I go, seeing what shapes worked better, which one looks more natural, and then take away and add things accordingly. It’s so much fun!

What’s the most challenging part about making custom hair pieces?

It can be very tedious. As a creative hairstylist, I go crazy sitting still for too long and it takes hours to make them. You can make quick ones with just glue but the proper ones that l sew take a long time. I’m just now learning how to ventilate and make wigs from scratch. That’s a whole other art that I’ve yet to learn. Making a wig from scratch can take 40+ hours.. 

 

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Can we talk about the Met Gala pieces you made for Cara Delevingne and Lily Collins?! Both were incredible! What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about hair pieces that are made for the red carpet? 

Oh my gosh, both these pieces almost got the best of me. Lol. Of course I want to make every hair piece perfect, but when you know they’re going to be on the red carpet and especially the Met Gala, you feel the extra pressure. The fall for Lily definitely took the longest. It’s over 400g of hair in that piece and I kept on adding hair to it. It gets harder and harder to sew the more hair you add. I honestly don’t remember how long they took, maybe around nine hours on this one. I always take a few days for each piece.

The pony for Cara is 300g of hair and didn’t take as long, maybe 6-7 hours. I have to thank Violet from Hair by Violet in Beverly Hills for giving me the opportunity to make these pieces. She has the best hair in town and I feel lucky I get to work with it!

They’re not very comfortable to wear. They’re super heavy and they have clips and pins to hold them in place, so the saying beauty is pain is definitely true. For the regular pieces that are not as heavy as these ones, it’s more comfortable to wear, it can just take some time getting used to if you’ve never worn it before.

 

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What are three tools/products that are crucial to making a hair piece?

Hairnets (these can be hard to find but they have them at Sally’s), Salon Pro 30 Sec super Hair Bond Glue from Nigel’s, and a sewing machine (a basic one works perfect).

What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the industry?

Be patient and be humble. None of us are made over night, and it can be a tough industry to be in. I’ve been licensed for 10 years and I still learn things every day. There’s so much to learn in our industry, it’s constantly evolving and everyone does hair differently. By assisting as many people as you can, you pick up different things here and there and that’s how you become good, when you take all that and make it into your own techniques.

 

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Read Mane Master George Papanikolas’s journey to becoming a celebrity colorist 

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