The connection between hair and emotions is complex but direct. Just think about break-up haircuts, or Britney’s shaved head. And no one understands the relationship between hair and emotional well-being better than hairstylist Adir Abergel, the creative director of Virtue Labs.
If you’ve ever brought a photo of Kristen Stewart, Sandra Bullock, or Jennifer Garner to your hairstylist, you can thank Abergel. His job is to prepare some of the most famous women in the world to be watched, assessed, and judged by millions of strangers, and he doesn’t take it lightly — he knows that a red carpet moment can change the trajectory of someone’s life. The Cut talked to him about the power of hair, the difference between inclusivity and individuality, and how growing up with a human-rights-activist father has made him a better hairstylist.
What appeals to you about hair?
Humans are complicated beings. We all have a story. That’s what I love about humans. Being able to help them on their journey through beauty is a gift — especially when you can separate your ego from the true essence of your mission. I grew up in Israel. By the age of eight, I was given to my aunt here in the States. My dad was the founder of the Black Panther movement in Israel, so he was an intense human-rights activist. Protesting was my entire childhood, with me on his back. We were integrated into an environment of people who didn’t have the same privileges and rights, so being highly empathetic has always been in me.
I love to see the truth of people, and I don’t judge them based on what other people might. At a young age, I was given so much love from the women who sat in my chair, starting when I worked with my mentor, Arthur Johns, with people like Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, Julie Christie, and Nancy Reagan. I saw the power that hair could give them — the way it’s related to confidence and individuality.
For many of us, in our daily lives, we just wash and go. But we do have these amazing moments in life where our hair is not boring. We bleach it out, we do short bangs. I used to get on a bus and get my hair braided down to my hips, for eight hours. Hairdressing is a craft that has been around for thousands of years. I don’t care who you are, you have a connection with getting a haircut.
Where do you hope the beauty industry goes from here?
I want it to get to a place where inclusivity equals individuality. It’s about celebrating every single individual. I could honestly cry just thinking about it, because it’s what my father, and so many human-rights people, really ultimately fight for. I hope that the beauty industry can celebrate individualism. I don’t care if you want to look like a thousand other people — that’s not what I’m saying — but taking that individual essence and giving them the light and the permission to be exactly who they are.
What is the most affordable beauty product?
Mental health. Working on yourself. That is the hardest part, straight up. I don’t need any of the beauty products if I feel good.
Do you think about beauty as self-care?
Self-love is an integral part of self-care. Taking time for yourself, in a world where we’re all so incredibly busy, right, is an act of self-love. We all take care of others but try to do the bare minimum for ourselves. Go wash your face and brush your teeth and get into bed, but really, it’s about the act of slowing down and being in your body and making your hair feel beautiful, so you feel a little bit better when you run your fingers through your hair. It’s all completely correlated.
What do you wish people understood more about what you do?
I have probably done over a hundred red-carpet moments, starting in 2005. I wish people could feel my love for the women sitting in my chair, and how much I care about the people in the crowd. I just want everyone to feel powerful, as individuals. I wish that I could touch every single woman here and show them parts of themselves that maybe they don’t see. I see their beauty.
Do you like the idea of trends, or do you feel like they don’t really exist?
Trends are amazing because they inspire you to get out of your comfort zone. I love them. I think there should be more, and they should be a lot crazier.
What is the biggest “no” you’ve ever heard in your career, and what did you learn from it?
Oh my God, I hear “no” like every 14 minutes. Just like any reasonable person who comes up in an industry they are trying to build. I have probably heard 7,000 nos. But it’s not about the “no,” it’s about what you do with it. Let me shift my state of mind to take care of myself and get better at this, so maybe it can turn into a yes at some point. As a freelancer, you are betting on yourself, and it takes many, many, many, many, many years to get to a place where you are celebrated for your work. But it comes with a lot of nos.
What is the craziest luxury beauty experience you’ve ever had?
I went and got an Ulthera laser treatment. It is so painful, I can’t even believe to tell you. I decided not to do it with the numbing treatment, which maybe wasn’t the best idea. But my skin for the next like six months was tight and happy.
I also got the FUE hair transplant at the front of my hairline, because I was just thinning out a little bit around there. I also wanted to do it so I could actually recommend it to other people. We often only think about transplants for men, but there are lots of women who have a fine hairline. Technology is so incredible. If something is going to give you more power and make you feel more beautiful and you do enough research and find the people who are great at it, then I am all for doing it.
I think hair loss is the next big hair topic.
It is. As the Creative Director of Virtue, I know that hair is very responsive in telling you where you’re at in your body. Hair is indicative of the internal changes in your body. It’s important to take the taboo away from it. Most women will start losing their hair by the age of 40. We are coming out with an entire line called Flourish that will help with this.
Do you think eye cream is “worth it”?
I think a hair mask is more worth it. (I’m biased, of course). Hair care is the new skin care. So skip your eye cream, and use the hair cream. I’m not taking one more step to put on my eye cream. I’d rather spend that money on something for my hair that I can do while putting cream on my face. Ultimately, is an eye cream really that different?
Fill in the blank: Unfortunately, _______ is worth it.
Drinking water is really worth it, but you have to pee all the time. My husband is a Harvard scientist but also comes from a dental background, so he makes me floss. He makes me do it morning and night. It’s annoying, but yes, it’s worth it. Exercise is definitely worth it. And I think sleep is definitely worth it.
You have a very exuberant, positive energy. What do you do on days where you don’t feel that way?
I’ve had the same voicemail since I was 15 years old. It says, “Let’s be happy to be alive,” and it’s something I have felt my entire life, especially coming from such adversity. But the minute that I think too much about myself, it only gets worse. The minute that I shift, and start thinking about helping someone else, or pick up the phone and talk to a friend, or think about a job and how I can be helpful in that, it immediately goes away because it’s not egocentric anymore.
But it’s not easy. It’s a practice that you have to do. I also put on Aretha Franklin. Think about being happy to be alive and how you can be of service to someone else. Call your mom, buy someone a coffee. Whatever it is, an act outside of yourself will always help you.