Through the lens of social media, everyone’s life looks incredibly glamorous. That’s particularly true for Heather King, Redken artist and brand ambassador. Whether she’s jetting off to Paris Fashion Week or creating a particularly rich blonde shade in a professional education class, it’s easy to think that King is cruising in her career.
In reality, calling it glamorous doesn’t do justice to the long hours King juggles. Working in her home salon and traveling on behalf of Redken, the pro stylist balances an enormously complicated schedule with her personal life.
Still, every new contract is proof of what King wasn’t sure of when she first started out as a stylist: She has a passion for every texture, color, and technique.
Like many hair stylists, King took a winding path to the salon. As a child growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis, MO, she believed with every fiber of her being that she was destined to become a fashion designer.
“Right when I graduated from high school, my mom told me that I should not go to college and go to hair school. I was such a snot and I was like, ‘I’m going to go to a real college, mom,’” King shares, adding that she ended up with a full scholarship to art school.
That fashion degree wasn’t predestined, however—when classes began focusing on sewing techniques, King struggled and feared she didn’t have the technical chops to stay enrolled. She took a year off, eventually following her mother’s guidance to enroll in hair school. Unlike design, it stuck.
“I felt like I was always super creative and so for me, I think the translation was being able to create art every day and essentially get paid for it,” she says. “For me, it was being able to do the creative outlet of it.”
Newly certified behind the chair, King took a position at a local salon. Several years into her tenure there, she enrolled in an extended education class with legendary Redken pro Sam Villa. Although this was her second class with the icon, this time something happened that changed the arc of her entire career.
“Sam pulled me aside in the class and asked me if I’d ever considered becoming a Redken artist,” King says. “For somebody who is at his caliber to even tell you that you would be good at doing something is like—you don’t question it, you just do it.”
One year later, King was teaching color in a coveted spot as a Redken artist.
Although King let go of her fashion designer dreams in her early 20s, some part of her never forgot the lifestyle she’d given up. Before too long, however, she’d been offered the opportunity to style models backstage at New York Fashion Week with Redken.
“When I left college and fashion design to do hair, I left it to do creative but I also thought I had given up the dream of going to fashion week and I didn’t! It ended up coming full circle,” King says.
During her first season, King styled hair for two separate runway shows. In the handful of years that’ve followed, she’s worked every season and has even started her own company to better staff runway shows, Hi Definition Production.
Of course, King’s life isn’t all intercontinental flights and metropolitan runways. When she’s home in St. Louis, the stylist works behind the chair at Bliss Beauty Bar in both cuts and color. There, the slower pace has enabled her to form relationships with clients who are so proud of her career trajectory that they’re willing to pre-book three appointments at a time just to make sure they see her.
There, she’s able to reconnect to the interpersonal part of hair care, the one that happens when women get really fantastic new cuts and color.
“When it’s behind the chair and I’m at home with my guests, what I love that most is that feeling at the end when you take the cape off and my guest loves their hair,” King says. “They’re touching it and you just can see a visual transformation in their entire body language and the way that they look.”
As her career progresses, keeping touch with that creative force is newly a priority in King’s life.
“I’m kind of an all or nothing person, so when I first started I was on the road constantly. If I wasn’t doing something for Redken, I was doing something on my own with Redken,” she says. “My goal this year was to find a better balance and it started with only accepting one contract a month...It allows me to be home a lot more, actually regroup, and not live out of a suitcase. That has been a help.”
When it comes to the average customer in the salon, King has one piece of advice that’s seen her through: Be brave enough to form a relationship with your stylist. It’s a creative partnership, and if one person isn’t talking there will likely be a gap between the customer’s idea and the final product.
“A lot of times our guests are really afraid to ask for what they want or ask for what they need and they don’t necessarily know how to articulate it, either. They’re kind of embarrassed. Most of my clients are still embarrassed to say the word ‘balayage’ because they don’t know how to pronounce it,” King says.
When in doubt, use pictures as your greatest ally in the chair. A photo resource guarantees that both you and your stylist picture the same layers or particular shade of auburn.
“I would encourage every guest, whether they’re coming to me, my salon, or going to any other stylist, to really not be afraid to communicate with your stylist and use social media and images and Pinterest and Instagram—whatever they’re consuming on social media, use that to communicate and actually build a relationship with your stylist.”
Follow King’s advice and you’ll see the best side of the salon world.