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Mane Master Sally Hershberger on Building a Brand, Styling the Obamas and Breaking Glass Ceilings

Dahvi Shira

Mar 8, 2021

Trailblazing, imitable, iconic—these are just a few words synonymous with Sally Hershberger, a name that stands out as much as her trendsetting chops, which typically start at $800. Regardless of what the name means to you, there’s no chance you haven’t heard it. 

It could be an association with one of her eponymous salons—three in NYC and one in L.A. Or, perhaps, it’s her work that’s been plastered on red carpets and magazine covers over the span of her career, which launched in the early ‘80s. Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tom Cruise and Jane Fonda are just a handful of the manes she’s had the opportunity to master. Most notably, of course, there’s Meg Ryan’s signature ‘90s ‘do coined the “Sally Shag.” In fact, with the current rise of the long-layered modern shag (a la Taylor Swift), the attention has been diverted back to Hershberger, a forever association with the iconic cut. 

Hershberger is all for the classics. Unlike many of the star stylists for whom she’s paved the way, you won’t find her Instagram lit up into a colorful, cohesive aesthetic. Her feed is more a hodgepodge of media clippings, memes, throwback editorial photography—and, of course, the occasional shot of current client and pal, Miley Cyrus. The star does things her way, which is on brand for how she’s continuously lived.

While Hershberger will always connect with her early career roots, she doesn’t seem to have issues staying afloat in the ever-changing world of hair, technology and everything in-between. The stylist keeps it moving, whether in terms of her critically acclaimed 24K haircare line, her modern updates on traditional styles or keeping her salons continuously flowing with skilled and rising talent. 

Given Hershberger’s colossal impact on the hair industry over the span of decades, we felt it was only necessary to feature the legend as our latest Mane Master. We had the opportunity to dig deeper into the stylist’s past, while diving into her present and what’s on the horizon. 

Breaking Glass Ceilings

Mane Addicts: You shattered glass ceiling for women hairdressers — How did it feel to be a woman hairdresser starting out in the 90s/00s in a male dominated industry?

Sally Hershberger: I never felt as if I was facing any obstacles because I was always dedicated to following my own path. I never gave the fact that I was a female in a male-dominated industry much thought since I have an androgenous energy, it just felt normal. I was just doing my thing, and didn’t follow people’s footsteps. I never really paused to congratulate myself, either, since I was always looking forward and moving on to the next thing.

MA: How did you get your start in hair? Did you always want to pursue it?

SH: I actually got started in the hair industry because I needed a job! I had always been obsessed with my own hair, but never gave much thought on doing it for other people, and actually thought I would only be in the hair industry temporarily. But, it quickly stuck.

MA: What was your defining career moment?

SH: Working with renowned fashion photographer, Herb Ritts, was definitely a career defining moment because when you work with him, you work with everyone. And, shooting covers with Herb Ritts, Polly Mellon and Carlene Cerf at Vogue and working with Matthew Rolston at Harper’s Bazaar were really great career defining moments and milestones.

MA: When did you start to think / feel that you had “made it”? Did you have that “aha” moment?

SH: I really started to feel that I had ‘made it’ when I would pass a newsstand and notice I’d styled for most of the covers, spanning across Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Interview, InStyle and Allure. That really was an ‘aha’ moment.

MA: Did you have any mentors along the way?

SH: The first person I assisted was the talented Arthur Johns, he was a mentor during my time assisting him.

MA: Once you got your feet cemented in the hair industry, did you ever doubt yourself or consider a different career path?

SH I never doubted myself in terms of my ability to do hair, but I did give up hairdressing for a while to pursue another passion, photography – I wanted to become a photographer – and also started my own clothing line. I only waivered from hair for that time as I had achieved so much at such a young age that I wanted to do more, but I kept getting pulled back to hairstyling.”

That Iconic Shag

MA: When you first started out, did you have to deal with diva-like behavior? If so, how did you stay positive in such a cutthroat industry?

SH: Yes, I’ve definitely delt with diva-like behavior during my career, but I just stayed focus on the job at hand. I recognized that I’m there to serve talent as a stylist, and ultimately please them, so it was always more about them than me.” 

MA: Even though Meg Ryan’s iconic shag was styled with French Kiss in mind, did you go into it thinking it would be so impactful all these years later?

SH: I’m definitely still a fan of the shag – it’s one of my favorite iconic looks. At the time, I had no idea that this look on Meg would become so popular; I never really thought about it. My focus was solely on my artistry, but was of course thrilled to see how the haircut gained and continues to gain popularity today.”

MA: What’s a retired hairstyle you’d like to see revived with a fresh twist?

SH: I’m always a fan of the French Bob, and while it hasn’t ever left, I would love to see it return in a bigger, more modern way. Since people are stepping away from super polished haircuts and towards something more lived in, my 2021 update of the French Bob would be to add additional layers for a tousled, cool girl twist.

MA: You have namesake salons all over, what was / is the biggest challenge as a salon over? What is your advice to those wanting to pursue this?

SH: It’s definitely challenging to be a salon owner, especially in the cosmopolitan states, as it can be difficult to generate revenue. Providing the space, waters, towels, assistants, receptionists and everything else that comes with a salon can be financially tasking. The salon business is incredibly hard.

While I’m always dedicated to teaching and having people assist me as a method of learning, in terms of employing stylists and colorists, once percentages exceed 50%, it’s incredibly difficult to make money. As a salon owner, I automatically have an overhead of costs that all adds up.  Once you deduct the assistants, cost of running a salon and other various expenses, a salon chair feels more like real estate than anything else. This tends to happen more in Los Angeles than in New York. 

To set your salon apart, it is important to hand pick great talent and create a cool, fun vibe that encourages clients to come back.

MA: You also have your product line 24K — tell us about your favorite products, why you decided to create your own line and any advice to those who want to create their own?

SH: I created Sally Hershberger 24K in an effort to create products that I cannot live without when styling. Of my collection, the 24K Get Gorgeous StylePro Shampoo24K Get Gorgeous StylePro Conditioner, 24K Supreme Body Volumizing Mousse and the 24K Vanity Hair Shaping Balm  are my absolute must-haves. I never style without them.

For those interested in creating their own line, I would say, make sure you have a sufficient amount of money for creation as the production of hair products can be very expensive, and also create something that’s new and innovative, that isn’t readily available in the market.”

MA: What has been your most memorable moment either on set, in the salon, with a client… can be anything fun, insane or wild, that you can share of course. 

SH: I’ve had countless memorable moments to date, but one that stands out as a real ‘wow’ moment was when Michelle Pfeiffer, Fay Dunaway, Barbra Streisand, Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts were all in my Los Angeles salon at the same time. That was definitely a major moment for me.

MA: What has been your career highlight / proudest moment and why?

SH: Doing Hilary Clinton’s hair for her Vogue cover was definitely a career highlight. Another was when I worked closely with Steven Meisel for an Italian Vogue cover that featured 50 of the biggest models at that time, ranging from Twiggy to Linda Evangelista.” 

MA: All these years into the business, do you ever get nervous? I mean really here, what was it like styling the Obamas?! 

SH: Of course. Any time I’m going to work on a big job, I’m nervous. I’ve worked with some of the biggest photographers, like Annie Leibovitz, the greatest Vogue editors and a lot of big personalities and talents. I’ve always had to focus on pleasing at least 4 people, with myself being one of them.

Legendary Styling

MA: Is there a present hairstyle that should be retired?

SH: I’m ready to see the ‘beach wave on a Bob’ retire. While I think it’s a pretty look, I feel it’s a little played out.”

MA: How have you managed to stay relevant and iconic all these years? No easy feat!

SH: I’ve never really stopped and thought about relevance or being iconic. As a creative, I’m always looking to the future, and hardly stop in the moment to look at what I’ve accomplished. I think that’s why I stay relevant, because I’m always evolving and doing things differently.”

MA: The 2021 debate: Should the side part really be retired?

SH: No.

MA: Who are some newer names in the hair industry you have especially high hopes for?

SH: I’m fortunate to have a fantastic salon team, and have high hopes for all of the incredible talent employed across all of my salons. I do feel like NoMad colorist Kirsten Stuke is absolutely major, and am loving the work that hairstylist Alex Antwerp, based out of the NoMad salon, and Steven Ford out in LA are doing.

MA: What’s your best advice for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

SH: Never stop moving and forge your own path. Make sure to be authentic and know your worth. It’s crucial to be on top of your game in every way, perfect your craft, and never stop learning. I also recommend assisting someone great that you admire, and say yes to all opportunities that come your way.”

MA: Do you have any regrets?

My only real regret is wishing that I had launched my product line years and years ago, before the consumer market was so competitive, and before so much money was required to invest. But otherwise, I’m very thankful for all I’ve accomplished and like I said, have no plans of stopping or looking back.

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