a beautiful life

The Celebrity Hairstylist Who Wants Beauty to Go Deeper Than Skin-Deep

Harry Josh. Photo-Illustration: The Cut. Photo: Courtesy of Harry Josh

If there were a beauty Hall of Fame, it would be filled with Harry Josh originals: The mint-green Bentley of blow-dryers, the mint-green Rolls-Royce of curling irons, and Instagram’s favorite hair clips would flank a framed picture of Gisele’s iconic balayage highlights and perfectly imperfect beachy waves — both looks Josh created for the supermodel before she was known to the world on a solely first-name basis.

In addition to continuing the creation of strategically tousled hair on supermodels and screen stars alike, the beloved hairstylist is embarking on a few new ventures in 2021. Josh recently stepped into a new role as an ambassador for salon brands Goldwell and KMS, and has his sights set on changing the perspective of the beauty industry from the inside out, one conversation at a time. In this convo with the Cut, Josh discusses trusting the process, ignoring beauty trends, and living off of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Do you think of beauty as self-care?
I think it’s definitely self-care, but I think we need to expand on what self-care is. For the most part, beauty does tend to make us feel better, but I think self-care should be inclusive of wellness, and wellness doesn’t come from beauty in the aesthetic form. Ultimately, wellness to me is waking up and being comfortable in your own skin. It’s about waking up in the morning, washing your face, and literally having that moment of looking at yourself in the mirror and just being like, Do you love yourself? Are you happy? Those check-ins are so important because that sets your tone for the day. It’s a moment to literally reflect and reconcile any moments you’re not proud of, and be like, Hey, I let that go, I forgive that, that’s cool, but today I’m going to be a super-duper person and I’m going to have intention. I have this dialogue with myself every morning when I meditate.

I think focusing on the wellness aspect is important because when you’re working through wellness, beauty becomes secondary, but it’s also easier. When you’re operating from a place of wanting to feel good, as opposed to wanting to look good, you’ll actually feel better and look better. So often we try to target the outside as a quick fix. When you feel crappy about yourself, you think, if I just get a haircut, or get my brows done, or get a facial, I’ll be happier, I’ll feel better. But that’s a fleeting, ephemeral feeling. You might feel better that night, but the minute you take a shower the next morning, those feelings come back. I just hope people don’t lock in on solely beauty as being enough for self-care. We need to open up that dialogue, go a little deeper, and expand our horizons. 2021 for me is all about fusing beauty and wellness into a symbiotic connection, as opposed to wellness is a hippie thing, and beauty is a Park Avenue thing.

Has the way you think about beauty changed during the pandemic?
2020 has brought up so much emotion for so many people and we’ve all had to look at the world in a different way. Tragedies can be great for perspective. What are you going to take away from something horrible? You can either say, Woe is me, that sucked that that went down or, What did I gain from this loss? That loss made everyone stop and reflect. It’s the only time we’ve ever been forced to all slam on the brakes at the same time. When you’re quarantined in your apartment, it truly gives you a chance to take stock of your life: What’s going on? Who’s in your life? Who matters? Who doesn’t matter? My job, what does it mean? What can I live without? When you think about life in those terms, beauty seems futile. It’s like, Oh my God, there are people dying, people’s rights are being taken away. But this is still what I love, so it changed the intention of my craft, my perspective of what beauty is to people, and how I can make that an empowering, more holistic thing.

When I have women in the salon, I really want to talk to them about what their lives are like. The conversation’s deeper than it used to be. Instead of, “This is the greatest haircut and that’s why you should get it,” it’s asking, Is she working from home now? How much more time does she have? Does she actually enjoy styling her hair? What’s going on in your life? Can you afford color? Should we not do color? Can you afford bangs? Is it going to be too high-maintenance? That’s where we can add some depth into the beauty arena. We can change the narrative so it becomes something more meaningful as opposed to just, “She looks hot with her self-tanner.” It’s got to be more than that. It’s time to talk about things differently and open the dialogue, and that shift has really happened in the last almost year and a half now, and I really like it.

Have you noticed a change in your clients’ attitudes?
We have two extremes, and I think it’s a reflection of our society, that polarity. There is a divide all the time, and that has trickled down into hair. Half the women are reaching out to me saying, “My life is in chaos. The last thing I need to do is change anything, please just do my roots and give me a trim because I’m so stressed.” Then you have the other extreme: “I’m so fed up wearing this mask, and not going out, and not having a look. I want to cut my hair short and bleach it blonde.” They just want to stand out and feel something. I’ve had almost 30 years under my belt and just seeing the changing conversations right now is really cool. We’re looking at beauty from a different lens.

Trends don’t even make sense anymore. Now it just seems arbitrary to be like, “What is in for spring or fall?” because the world doesn’t operate like that anymore. Things have evolved. Everything is visual, immediately. We don’t wait for September issues to tell us what we’re going to do for the fall; you’re not going to wait six months to do a topknot you saw at a fashion show in Milan. Before social media, we had to wait for trends, and now it doesn’t matter because everything is a hodgepodge of everything that’s happening all simultaneously.

What do you wish more people understood about what you do?
That it is not always the craft that will take you to the top, but the understanding of what the person sitting in your chair wants. You could theoretically be the best technical person, with a high-level senior stylist at Vidal Sassoon checking your haircut, saying, “My God, every angle is perfect, there’s not a hair out of place.” Does that make that person better than the person who missed a few pieces, but generally got the look that the client wanted? You may think it’s a perfect 10, but that’s not what your client asked for. I think that gets lost, and I think it’s time to really listen, be open to hearing somebody else, and communicate better. I care so deeply about everything that I’m doing that the client’s comfort and wellness is, above all, the most important thing.

What was the biggest “no” you heard in your career, and what did you learn from it?
I’ve only heard no’s in my career. I am the king of being told no. I’ve been told no more than I’ve been told yes in my life, and it means nothing because I really am someone who enjoyed the process. I enjoyed sleeping on the floor, I enjoyed living off of Kraft Mac and Cheese, scraping out my next dollar for pizza. It was never something that was going to deter me because I enjoyed the process, I knew what I wanted to be and have, and every stage of it was awesome. I never had that problem of being like, “When is it going to be my turn?” It literally took me 12 years before I made it, so patience and trusting that it can happen definitely does pay off when it comes to career stuff.

What’s one fan experience that stood out to you?
I remember getting, like, a DM from someone who illustrated a picture of me, which I thought was super cool. I haven’t had any weird fan-out problems where people, like, act bizarre. I don’t have the Chris Appleton problem. I’m sure he gets mauled on the street like a friggin’ rock star.

Fill in the blank: Unfortunately, _______ is worth it.
Unfortunately, Bounty paper towels are worth it. For all you Seventh Generation people who think they need to be ecofriendly? I’m sorry. Those suck. I get crap from all my friends: “You use bleached white paper towels?” They’re the only thing that work. The spills in a salon and all that stuff? We cannot have the Seventh Generation stuff. And the toilet paper, also: useless. Useless! It dissolves on your fingers. You need to make a whole glove out of the whole roll.

What, in your opinion, is the best affordable beauty product or products?
Chapstick. Straight-up chapstick from the drugstore’s really good. I typically just go plain, but I’d be fine with a flavor; cherry’s always nice. Also just getting a great line of affordable, good hair care. There are so many brands out there that are at that perfect price point, like KMS. It’s a good mid-range line that can do the job of a red-carpet look, but also can fit the wallet of like, my mom.

Is eye cream “worth it”? If so, which one is your favorite?
I have this argument all the time with my friends, because I don’t use it. I don’t have any issue with my eyes, and yet, people are like, “Oh my God, you absolutely need to be using it, it’s all going to collapse on you.” But I’m 50 and it looks pretty good. It’s not a do-or-die scenario for me. I’m probably going to offend a lot of people with that, but that’s one product I could definitely live without. All my facialists and dermatologist are mad at me now, aren’t they. They’re going to send me all this information about the bags under my eyes …

What’s the wildest luxury beauty experience you’ve ever had?
It was in Dubai, and honestly, I think it was just a scrub and a massage, but it was like $700. I mean, I spend a lot of money on things, but I was blown away when I went to check out. I was like, “Oh, wow, okay, um …” I’ve never spent $700 on a massage and a scrub at any five-star hotel in my life, so that was the wildest, in terms of most memorable, and shocking. It definitely was not worth it. It wasn’t this magical scrub, or a massage where every bit of tension was removed! It was more this incredibly luxury experience and I thought I was a baller … until I got to Dubai and I realized I am not a baller. It was a rude awakening at the register.

The Hairstylist Who Wants Beauty to Go Deeper Than Skin-Deep