Whether his work is gracing the covers or insides of our favorite magazines, or is seen in our favorite ad campaigns (hello Celine) Jimmy Paul is the man behind some of the most beautiful, touchable, and glamorous hair we’ve seen. Styling the likes of Michelle Williams, Lena Dunham, Emma Stone, Lara Stone, and Gisele, Jimmy comes from a legacy of Bumble and bumble hairstylists who transform and innovate, creating the most coveted looks of our time. So what’s behind the mind of a master? Just keep reading to find out.
How did you get your start in the industry?
The long version is my mom’s a hairdresser. Then I moved to New York from Pittsburg and I was in the nightclub scene. I met some hairdressers and one of them said you should do hair! I got inspired, and I thought ‘Oh! I’ve been around it my whole life, that’s a great idea!’ It came to mind before, but in the context of working around fashion in New York, it seemed more like something I would really want to do. So I went to beauty school in New York and then I started working in hair salons. From there, I was fortunate enough to know Danilo the hairdresser and he started to work for Oribe so I went to work for them. I was Danilo’s assistant and then I worked with Oribe on fashion shows and with his agency. After a little while, I met Steven Meisel and got to do some work with him.He has an incredible eye and he has the gift of being a leader. That really changed me. I’ve basically been working steadily ever since.
How did you get your start with Bumble?
Bumble was originally started by a man named Michael Gordon, who sold the company a few years ago. He approached me and asked if I would consider working as a consultant. I’d always admired what he did with the products and the company. I was thrilled to be a part of it, and I still am ten years later!
What was one of your biggest career challenges and how did you overcome it?
At one point, in the mid-2000’s things started to slow down for the first time and I had this steady rise of things getting better and better, I can’t say what happened exactly, but maybe I got a little complacent or bored. So I started to lose some clients and my work started to slow down. From there, I got really inspired and really worked on my craft and on myself. I took some chances and did some really avant-garde editorial, and then started to build. I had to really push myself and the idea of something being taken away from me was the best fuel. It made me appreciate what I had.
Who are some of your biggest role models?
I’m very inspired by the art world and creative people of all types. People that take chances and that are off the beaten path, so I’m lucky to live in New York where some of my first friends were artists. Growing up in Pittsburg, the hairdressers were very avant-garde people and they were the creative people, so I really believe in the legacy of that. I love the avant-garde creative world whether it’s movie directors or film or art or books and all forms of creativity. Pat McGrath is a huge role model for me. She’s an incredible creative person and an extraordinary business woman. I’m very inspired by the women I work with. One of my favorite models has been Linda Evangelista. She’s absolutely awe-inspiring and it shows the ability to be a great model and people don’t know that there’s an actual craft there.
One thing I think that makes me kind of unique and I’ve been able to become proud of is that I’m American. I think American hairdressers have a unique point of view. One of the greatest hairdressers to me was a guy named Kenneth and then Oribe and Garren. They’re both American hairdressers. Julian and Christian are really examples of people that live like artists. They’re very unique, eccentric people and I find that extremely exciting. I would say that I’m probably more, it’s a dirty word in the fashion business but, commercial. My work is more sexy, a little softer, a little bit more commercial, a bit easier. I get to work on some avant-garde things but I would say my overall is very woman-friendly so I don’t put myself in that class of the most avant-garde hairdressers but I do admire that a lot.
Do you have a signature look that you’re known for?
It’s funny, I think that people tell me things. Like retro glam or edgy glam. Usually the word glamour is involved and I like that. It very much reminds me of my childhood because I do believe we are the people that we’re meant to be. I feel like I have this great gift that I’ve always worked on (unbeknownst to me) when I was little. Just loving television, music, and glamorous women. I always thought my mother was really glamorous, so when I was younger it was really thrilling to see her dress-up. Then I came to New York and I was looking for the glamorous life in nightclubs. So when people say my hair is edgy glamour, it’s like wow! Unbeknownst to me, I’ve achieved what I’ve dedicated my life to.
It’s funny that you say you’re not very avant-garde, I loved the honey bang you did a while back…
My work does have an avant-garde thing to it but it’s women-friendly is the thing, it’s not like I’m putting plastic things on people’s heads, no melting wax, you know there’s things people do that are really crazy but even the honey bang I think is something wearable that I could see a girl wanting to wear.
Do you have any favorite hair products or tools that you swear by?
Yes I work for Bumble and Bumble and I really love Prep, it makes my life so much easier. It’s a hair-wetting product and it’s a de-tangler, it adds shine, it has a very light hold but it’s lighter than water so it helps me to change hair very fast, but then it dries faster than water too so that’s one of my favorite things. And the great thing about that is it’s great for layering, like you put that on first and then I use the thickening hairspray as a thickening agent and that’s probably a recipe that I use on 80% of my hairstyles. I use it all the time.
I’m mad about curling irons and blow-dryers. My approach to hair is extremely classic, like I come from salon so I’m using blow-dryers and brushes, and curling irons and rollers. Kind of the basics.
I’m always looking for new things but I love Babyliss for curling irons. They have these really beautiful ones that are matte black and matte red and I just think they’re so pretty and they work really well. My blow-dryer right now is called Parlux, it’s a fancy one and I love things that are expensive and fancy and beautiful. When you open up my kit, everything is beautiful and that’s what I love!
What is the best piece advice you’ve received or what advice would you give to new stylists?
Never stop looking. Just keep your eyes open. If we have an arsenal of images in our mind and an arsenal of education, our technique becomes comfortable and confident. At that point, you can do anything. As hairdressers we have to really think fast and be very alert. We have to come up with things on the fly. So I think that we need an arsenal of imagery in our mind for inspiration. We have to have a lot of technique so that anything that comes into our minds, we can do with our hands.
The other great advice I’ve got is that it’s such a bore when people make things up to be so labor-intensive; like ‘oh my god I just got off the plane, oh my god I just put in extensions for three hours!’ I say just keep it light and fun, no one cares, it’s just a bore. I’m so tired of complaining about planes, it’s not interesting.
What advice would you have given yourself ten years ago?
Go to therapy! Stop drinking so much coffee, and gratitude. Just have gratitude because this is a gift. I have a dream-come-true job.
What is the next chapter for you?
Oh gosh, I would love to know! First of all, I love what I do and I want to continue what I do. I wouldn’t want to do something that takes me away from that, and a lot of things take you away from what you love. I absolutely love wigs and hair pieces and I think I’d be great at doing something like that. I also love hair accessories. I love a million things! I just want to keep my options open and my eyes open and see what I can do. I don’t really have any desire to make products because there are already really fantastic products out there. I love Bumble and Bumble and I know how hard it is. There’s so much to do with chemists and red tape and I know enough about it that I’m not interested. Not that I’d ever say ‘oh forget it!’ if someone came up to me with a fantastic situation, but I would love to do something else with hair for my next step. I have been given this amazing platform, this amazing opportunity, and I’d love to be able to use it!
There’s so much in this business that the end-result is money. And okay fine, if that’s what it is and that’s what success means I’m a big fan of being successful, but I don’t want to compromise myself. I wouldn’t want to put my name on something I really didn’t believe in.
For more #manespiration, be sure to follow @jimmypaulhair