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Mane Master George Papanikolas on Working With Celebrities and Why He Chose Color

Celebrity colorist George Papanikolas is a Mane Master for a million different reasons, but mostly because we’ve been requesting his color looks for years. The man behind Fergie, Penelope Cruz, Paris Jackson, Adriana Lima, Madonna, and Ellie Goulding’s glossy, sun-kissed locks, spills all about what he loves most about working in the salon, how he got his start in color, what it’s like working with celebrity clients and the color trends that need to be on our radar.


How did you get your start in haircare?

Like most people, I went to beauty school. However, after school, I got to apprentice with some of the top stylists in Hollywood and worked at the Sally Hershberger and Chris McMillan Salons.

When did you know you wanted to be a colorist?

I have always loved hair color (ever since I was a kid) but I really decided to pursue becoming a colorist once I worked in the salon. Although I love styling, color is my true passion.

What made you decide to focus on color?

I love major transformations, and, also, color requires you to use both sides of the brain—it’s truly half art and half science.

What do you love most about working in the salon?

I mostly love my clients, especially the chitchat and banter that happens in the salon. I feel like I hang out with my girlfriends all day.

What’s it like working with celebrity clients? How is it different from your normal clientele?

As a colorist, it’s more of an icing on the cake rather than a day-to-day (the way it is for a stylist) because you only see them about once a month, or even once a quarter.

The demands are different with celebrities, because they typically need the color to look a specific way for a movie or TV role. There are also many more people involved in the color decision, including producers, directors, and agents—so you get a lot of input from multiple people on the final look.

With my regular clients, I am the art director and they are my superstars—and we are able to make decisions much more easily and quickly.

Is there a difference between color requests in NY and LA?

Social media has made everybody want the exact same things. Trends have become instantaneous, so what happens in LA today, they want tomorrow in New York.  Since celebrity has become so dominant, LA has definitely started to dictate the hair and beauty trends.

What do you take into consideration when mixing your color formulations?

I really try to keep my formulations simple and use my highlights as the artistry. I also really focus on non-ammonia colors like a Matrix Color Insider, and Matrix Color Sync, which keep the hair in healthy, shiny, optimum condition using the latest non-ammonia technology.

What is your favorite color technique and why?

Balayage is my favorite technique and my signature look. It requires a definite artistry and allows you to control all color placements, so that you can accurately mimic what happens when someone spends time in the sun.

What are some recent projects you’ve been working on that you’re really excited about?

Most recently, I worked with Penelope Cruz before the Golden Globes and with Jessica Stam.

What hair trends should we have on our radar?

Natural hair. When I say natural, I don’t mean like actually untouched; the trend is more of a seamless blend of highlights that looks like what the sun would naturally do to your hair. I would also have copper on your radar—this luxurious hue pairs well with tone-on-tone highlights and creates dimension. Also, glow in the dark neon and vivid colors—whether just added to ends or painted all over—color will be very big. Look out for new dyes that glow under black lights, like Matrix SoSolor Cult Neons.

HERE’s our prediction for spring’s most in-demand color.

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