Rita Hazan and Nikki Lee may just be two of the most recognized female powerhouses in the beauty industry. As celebrity colorists on opposite coasts, both women juggle owning a salon, working on clients, traveling, and training their employees, while balancing other businesses. In addition to her namesake NYC salon, Rita is the woman behind the cult favorite beauty product, the Rita Hazan Root Concealer (among other equally amazing hair treatments). Nikki co-owns West Hollywood’s popular 901 Salon (with a recently opened new 2nd location) and beauty blog The Beauty Coach with Riawna Capri. Together, Nikki and Rita talk balance, hard work, and happiness in the beauty biz.
RITA: So you were busy yesterday with the Emmy’s. How was it? Did you go or did you just do hair?
NIKKI: No just the hair, I just did Emma [Roberts]. I’ve been busy with her all week because she has her new show coming out, ‘Scream Queens,’ so that’s been fun. You know, I don’t typically like to style hair but it’s been fun to do it here and there.
NIKKI: I just love being in the salon. I love coloring and I love doing extensions. I just like being able to run my own schedule in the salon. You know how it is when you have to go style someone, you rely on their schedule all the time.
RITA: Yeah I can’t do anything like that anymore.
NIKKI: But you! You have so much going on! First of all your product line is insane. Everyone’s literally obsessed with your root concealer. It’s amazing.
RITA: I know, and I don’t even have any grey! That’s the funny part. I just made it because everyone was always asking me, ‘what could we do at home in between hair color?’ and I thought, I don’t know man, why don’t these big companies come up with something? And nobody was! So I said, okay fine, I’ll just do it. It took me about four years to come up with it. It’s one of my favorite things. That and The Weekly Remedy. So between working in the salon doing these celebrity girls and coming up with products, it feels like I have three full time jobs.
NIKKI: No seriously. Are you dating? What’s going on with that? Do you even have time for that?
RITA: Haha, I try to make time for it, I swear I try to make it time for it. But seriously by the end of the day, I’m exhausted and depleted and sometimes I have nothing left to give! I feel like I can’t have one more conversation with another person. And men are needy! They need attention, I can’t deal with it. But you’re married, right?
NIKKI: I am, yes! And it’s crazy because that’s why I said that about styling people’s hair, because you have to travel with them and it’s just hard. It’s been difficult to find balance, but it’s so worth it because we do need that peace of mind too, you know? We’re the same, we own our own businesses, we want to do everything and Riawna and I bite off more than we can chew all the time. Now we have our blog and we just expanded to Melrose Place. It’s crazy, but it’s fun and it keeps us excited.
RITA: Well you do it if you love it.
NIKKI: That’s true.
RITA: You know, I really don’t believe in balance because balance is very personal to each person. Like your balance is different than someone else’s balance… but what are you balancing? It doesn’t make any sense to me, what are you trying to balance? Having fun and working? There’s no balance in that. People who are successful work really hard. You can either have dinner or meet with a client.
NIKKI: Yeah, that’s true.
RITA: A balance is what makes you comfortable, but I always say my life is balanced because I’m happy doing what I’m doing.
NIKKI: Yeah, as long as you’re happy, I think that’s always what makes sense. Whenever I find myself not being happy, that’s when I know I have to reevaluate to remind myself what I want to be doing.
RITA: You probably just need a day off!
NIKKI: Right?! You just need a massage and you’re good!
RITA: That’s true, or a manicure. But you know what?
RITA: Whenever I feel shitty, I get highlights. I swear people think I’m crazy but I’m like, no, I just need highlights. Don’t you feel the best when you have fresh highlights?! Who doesn’t feel the best when they have fresh highlights?
NIKKI: One hundred percent. I did a post of my hair for the first time in maybe a year and I got the works done. I scheduled it out, because you know we never have time to get our own hair done, and I felt like I was on cloud nine, it was the best thing ever!
RITA: It’s true! Especially when you have those fresh highlights, you’re like, oh my god, I know what everyone else feels like right now, this is amazing!
NIKKI: You know it’s funny, I was thinking about when we first met and I’ll never forget when I first met you. It was at Ken’s salon…
RITA: That was such a long time ago!
NIKKI: It was over nine years ago, and I was in awe because you literally flew in and took over that whole salon! I was like ‘oh my god, this woman has a full-blown clientele out here and she doesn’t even live out here!’ It was incredible to me that you had maintained everything for so many years, it’s awesome! Do you ever think about opening up a place in LA?
RITA: No, I think there are so many great places in LA that another New Yorker in LA doesn’t really need to happen. When I was going back there a lot, there wasn’t that many great places, like colorists! We didn’t have that many great well-known colorists but now there are a lot of really great people that it’s not necessary. And also it’s exhausting for me, I fly black and forth for clients. I’ll do one person, but to do a day in the salon is too exhausting. And now that I have the product, I really have to pick and choose where I’m going to spend my time and how I’m going to use it that makes the most sense. Instead of going to LA and doing a day there, I’ll just spend a day here working on product. Products are a whole different world, it’s insanity! Who knew?
NIKKI: Oh my god, I know. Everyone tells me and Riawna to do a product line and I always say NO because honestly, we have so much on our plate. I think it’s awesome that you’re doing that and it’s truly successful because that’s the thing for Riawna and I, I don’t know the first thing about that stuff.
RITA: I didn’t know anything either, I still don’t even know! It’s been a real learning experience, and it’s actually nice to do different things. I have a friend that was doing hair for so many years and he retired a long time ago because he said after twenty years of doing it, he kind of got bored of just highlighting. And I thought- you know what? I don’t think that’s gonna happen [to me] because when you try new projects, the brain is always evolving and learning and changing and you don’t have time to get bored.
NIKKI: Yeah it’s true, and literally, every day is different, which is fun! Which I’m sure it’s like for you too. One day you’re in the salon, and then the next day product and then you’re traveling. How often do you come to LA? Once every six weeks?
RITA: My life is so funny because I could say, ‘oh there’s not a lot going on this week,’ and then five minutes later, a client says, ‘can you come tonight, I need you in the morning!’ My time is not my time!
NIKKI: I know!
RITA: My brother-in-law was throwing my sister a surprise birthday party for her 40th, and he wanted me to be the decoy! I told him I should be the last person for that task because if I get a job, you’re screwed! And basically, that’s what happened. He said, ‘just do it, I trust you,’ and I said, ‘please don’t give me that responsibility, I’m going to fail!’ And then that day, I got a phone call and Beyonce needed to get her hair done and I had to say, ‘sorry guys, find somebody else!’
NIKKI: Oh my god!
RITA: So you know, it happens. Your life isn’t your life, you have to be able to pick up and go and be okay with it. That’s the thing.
NIKKI: Yeah, always. Make it happen. It’s hard. I don’t know if you struggle with this in your salon, but one of the biggest challenges for Riawna and I in the salon is teaching the younger girls a work ethic like that. Because we’re so used to the mentality that you make whatever happen at whatever time and these girls ask if they can take an hour lunch and we’re like, what? NO! They just do not get it and I don’t know if that’s a struggle for you too but with some of the girls, I’m like ‘literally, you don’t get it.’
RITA: It’s a struggle! The more I speak to other business owners, the more I see everybody has the same problem with the younger generation that they want the glory and all of the accolades but they don’t understand that it’s a lot of hard work. Like ‘my feet hurt, can I take a break?’ No! Working long hours builds stamina so that you can work those long hours when you’re ready. And you need to build that stamina and it happens when you’re an assistant. So you can’t really take a break when you have 30 clients, but they say, ‘oh my feet hurt, I have to sit down.’ And the client’s like, I don’t care, I need my haircut! Also, I think working hard as an assistant helps you build the stamina to achieve your high goals as a colorist or a stylist, and I don’t think that they understand that. I think that’s the problem because they don’t understand it takes time, but I think all young kids see social media and that it all just happens. They think you just open your salon…
NIKKI: And post pretty pictures…
RITA: Yeah! They think that it’s easy. Everything looks pretty in a picture, but all the background that goes into it is how many hours of work?
NIKKI: Totally! One question I have for you, just out of curiosity, I feel like I’m so fortunate to have Riawna, and we have each other everyday, so who do you have that’s your industry bestie that you can go to for everything?
RITA: I have a few people….first of all, makeup artist Sandy Linter. She’s amazing. She’s been around for so many years and she knows everybody in the industry, how it works, the etiquette, and what you should and shouldn’t do. She’s really good at a lot of different things so I’ll go to her for creative stuff. Or if I need anything, of course I’ll call Jen Atkin because she’s the best and she’s a girl’s girl, which I love. But I think for me being in this industry for such a long time, I’ve made so many friends, it depends on what I need because I’ve been lucky enough to stay connected to a lot of good people. Andy Lecompte, there’s so many good people that are so great and I think all of us are connected in a really nice way, not really competitive either which I like because I’m not really a competitive person. It’s more of a community and everyone sees each other in a respectful way and helps each other, which is really what this is all about at the end of the day. The industry did not used to be like this.
NIKKI: I know! I can only imagine.
RITA: It was not a lot of women, it was all men.
NIKKI: I get why too because they don’t really want to get married, I mean I guess they do now but they don’t want to have kids necessarily. So for a woman, it just feels like we’re trying to balance so many different things and it’s so incredible to see you and Jen and Tracey Cunningham and all these girls doing incredible things. And I love it! And I love that Jen has Mane Addicts and this platform for us all to support each other, I think it’s incredible. Love that!
RITA: It’s really cool. I think we’re the generation that feels like, let’s have fun! Beauty is supposed to be fun. There’s a lot of people and a lot of room for them to share clients…
NIKKI: One hundred percent!
RITA: We help each other, Tracey will send me someone and I’ll send someone to her, you and I do that too, I think it’s so much easier and nicer to know you have an ally somewhere and it’s also a level of confidence we all have that we know that we’re all good at what we do and our clients like us.
NIKKI: Yeah for sure! Like we’re not threatened by one another and we say, yay! go here, go there, we just want our clients to be happy, and then everyone’s happy!
RITA: Right, and the clients, I think they know that. If you’re confident, nobody’s going to do what you’re going to do. They’re your hands, even if someone does what you do, it’s never going to be the same. I just think that everyone feels comfortable and confident and it’s a good community of people that are out now. I just hope the new assistants…
NIKKI: I know. Do you guys have an assistant program at your salon? Do they take classes and then eventually get on the floor, or how does that work for you guys?
RITA: We do have a program. We do class every Tuesday night and the models don’t pay anything, it’s just for the assistants to learn. I teach class and each person will teach class for a month just to have some consistency in the whole month. We were doing a different person teaches each week and I didn’t see the best results so we went back to doing it monthly and I think they learn more because week to week it allows you to better help the person grow. So we do classes on a weekly basis and it helps, but I think the learning happens more when they’re working with you on the client.
NIKKI: Well I think that’s when they have their ‘Aha’ moment, is when they’re with you and they see you do it with a client, it’s like ooooh, I get it now. We do that too, we have classes but a lot of salons don’t have that. It’s nice to hear that you guys actually have a proper, structured program because a lot of salons out here don’t.
RITA: Oh really? But see, I like to promote from within.
NIKKI: Riawna and I too, one hundred percent.
RITA: I like to train and then at least if I’m not here, my clients can see the people that I train and know they can at least do the job that they like instead of going to a stranger that has their own way.
NIKKI: Mhm. You’ll teach a whole month?
RITA: Yep! Every Tuesday, unless something comes up but then I’ll change the date. I’ll always have someone cover for me and then we’ll switch. We all work together like that. How do you and Riawna work together? What’s the dynamic like between the two of you?
NIKKI: Riawna and I have the most unique partnership and that must be why it works because she’s the social butterfly. She will go network and I always say she’s the one that keeps the salon busy and I’m the one that keeps the salon open. So I make sure that we have power on and our bills are paid and we have color. But she’s amazing, if I said, ‘Riawna, we’re in the trenches, we need clients,’ she could go out on the street and find people and bring them in. So it works really well. We built our brand based off of extensions because we do them together, which is so nice. Because no one wants to sit in the chair for five, six, seven hours getting extensions done, and quite frankly, I don’t want to be on someone’s head for that long by myself either.
RITA: So you really do them together?
NIKKI: Yeah! We always do them together.
RITA: I love it, I know I’ve seen your work on Jessica Simpson and I’m like damn these girls are fast! Her hair looks awesome by the way. This is the best I’ve seen her hair look in a very long time, don’t you agree?
NIKKI: I LOVE it, the color, her cut, everything. It looks really good.
RITA: It’s all working for her right now. She was in New York last week.
NIKKI: I know, we were supposed to come for her party! How was it?
RITA: It was so good. So good
NIKKI: So proud of her, it’s such a huge accomplishment.
RITA: I know! We were trying to figure out how long I’ve known Jess and I think it was like the late nineties or something like that.
NIKKI: Stop it!
RITA: It’s a long time! It’s been a really long time.
NIKKI: That’s a really long time, is that when she came out with her first album?
RITA: Before that I think!
NIKKI: Well she’s so loyal to you and I love that.
RITA: Yeah, she is. She’s real to the people she loves and her extensions are really good right now. She took them out for awhile.
NIKKI: She did! The great thing about Jess, I personally love that shorter, fresh length, but it’s fun for her to have it long.
RITA: She’s Jessica, she needs long blonde hair, what the hell! She has to have it, it was fun for a little bit, we bleached her hair out and it was good and then I was like okay, go back to being Jessica. Skinny, pretty, two kids. Those kids are gorgeous too!
NIKKI: Oh my god, her kids are stunning, I can’t even handle it.
RITA: How is that possible, both of them!?
NIKKI: I honestly don’t know, I can’t believe how cute they are.
RITA: Maxwell is like mini Jessica. Every time I go there, I put my hair up in a bun and then she says, can I have a bun??
NIKKI: That’s so cute. So what are you doing the rest of the day, are you at work right now?
RITA: Yeah so Monday’s are my office days, because I have to be the boss at some point, so I’ll go in Monday and do a lot of paperwork and accounting or new products, we have a product meeting after this phone call where we go over new product, new ideas, stuff like that.
NIKKI: Ooh! Exciting!
RITA: Yeah, that’s the fun part. And I’ll do half a day Wednesday in the office because I really need two days, but I don’t want to get up, I like doing hair. That’s the thing, I like coloring hair! I’m more tortured in the office on Monday then when it’s crazy busy and everyone’s ripping my hands apart.
NIKKI: We almost have the same schedule! Riawna and I do office days Mondays and Tuesdays and if we have to on Friday because we do our Beauty Coach stuff, but getting up to focus on an office day is unreal, because it’s so hard.
RITA: That’s why it has to be Monday for me because our salon is closed. Are you guys open on Mondays?
NIKKI: We are, we’re open seven days a week.
RITA: Oh my god, Nikki that’s insanity!
NIKKI: I know, I mean Riawna and I don’t take clients on Sundays or Mondays; well- we try not to. It’s crazy town! In a good way though.
RITA: Seven days is hardcore man, you need a day off! In the beginning I used to be open seven days too. Never Sunday though, but I was working seven days.
NIKKI: You gotta do what you gotta do, right?
RITA: I mean, yeah. Sometimes there’s no choice and you have to work two weeks in a row without a day off, and then we’re travelling and doing everything else. A lot of people don’t understand it. I could go to LA in the morning, come home at night and then come into work in the morning.
NIKKI: Oh I know, people never get that. They’re like, wait, you’re gonna land and then go to work? And you’re like…yeah I have to!
RITA: Yeah, I’m gonna go home, wash my armpits so I don’t smell and then I’m gonna go to work all day. I feel like that is what I’d love for the young kids to be able to do, is have that stamina. No you don’t get time off, you have to go and do the next job. But that’s what makes this job fun is getting through those crazy periods. Those are the most fun times for me.
NIKKI: Those are the times you remember!
RITA: Yeah. Challenge yourself. You have to get energy from somewhere.
NIKKI: Because then you reach your point of delirium when you’re giggling and over the top, it’s the best. I love reaching that point.
RITA: Yeah, especially when you have good assistants that travel with you and good people that travel with you and that’s exactly it, it’s delirious and fun at the same time.
NIKKI: We really do have the best job.
RITA: Seriously, and not for anything, but I always say I have the best job because I don’t have to sit on-set all day long. I go in there an hour, two hours, do my job and then leave. And you’re the same way. It’s the best of everything. I tell Jen all the time. I can’t imagine having to be there all day long. Waiting!
NIKKI: I know, right?! I can’t do it. I can think of twenty-thousand other things I could be doing, it drives me crazy. But Riawna really enjoys it.
RITA: I can’t do it. I can’t blow dry hair. It’s torturous. It’s exhausting and it goes nowhere. For me, color is so fascinating, but blow drying hair for some people is the best thing ever…for me it’s torture. You want to torture me? Make me blow dry hair. I could do a good job, I just don’t like it!
NIKKI: Yeah, totally.