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THE INTERVIEW: Hair Colorist to the Stars: Tracey Cunningham

If I recall correctly, it was the summer just before eighth grade when my friends were all innocently experimenting poolside with bottles of “Sun-In,” and we all first learned the critical lesson of seeking professional assistance to achieve a desirable, naturally sun-kissed look. Those fortunate enough to not learn the hard way may imagine the Zabars-orange streaks that tend to result when the powerful “liquid sun” formula intermingles with chlorine). Clearly the artistry and skill involved in hair coloring are immensely complex, so who better to inquire about her experience working in this field than celebrity colorist and Redken Creative Consultant for Color, Tracey Cunningham? I caught up with her in between her Golden Globes and Oscar gigs to hear her thoughts on her work, upcoming hair color trends, celebrity clientele, and taking showers at Courtney Love’s house.

What do you enjoy the most about your job? The least?

I truly enjoy spending time with my clients; you can make many friends in this business! The thing that I like the least is not being able to spend enough time with my clients! I don’t like when we are rushed and don’t get to catch up.

How do you handle a situation where a client requests a certain look that you know is not going to be complimentary to their appearance?

The key to being a good colorist is being honest with your clients. Talk with your client to see what their needs are and what they are looking for. If they have jet-black hair and want to go platinum blonde you have to be honest and give them your expert advice. If you don’t feel comfortable doing the color change, don’t be scared to say no to doing it!

Do you think that a person’s hair color says something about their personality?

Yes indeed! I don’t think “blondes have more fun” but your haircolor does express your personality!

What hair color trends do you anticipate will be popular this spring?

This spring is going to be full of bold shades. Redheads are going to be rich, strong, shiny, bold reds. Blondes will have butterscotch highlights and lighten up their shade to play with the season. Brunettes will be lighting their dark winter shades and add caramel highlights and lighten the base.

Any products you consider “must-haves” for dyed hair?

A must have that I always recommend for my clients is Redken Color Extend haircare; it truly helps color treated hair and makes the color last longer.

Who was your first celebrity client and how did that session go?
My first celebrity client was Renee Zellweger. It must have went well because she is still my client to this day!

Whose do’s did you work on at the 2008 Golden Globes and what is the typical preparation involved in working with a celebrity before an awards show like this?

I worked with Amy Adams and Jennifer Lopez for the Golden Globes. To achieve Jennifer Lopez’s signature color, I highlighted and toned her hair with Redken Shades EQ 9N Café Au Lait and 9B Sterling. For Amy Adams, I customized a combination of Redken Shades EQ 8C Cayenne, 9NB Irish Crème, 9AA Papaya, and 7G Saffron. Typically we recommend 1 week before any award show to come and get your hair colored. That way it has 2-3 washes and looks full of shine with a rich shade!

How does your work with celebrity clients differ from working with non-celebrity clients?

It doesn’t differ at all to me! Whether my client is an award winner or a schoolteacher, I want to give them both a beautiful shade, which they will love. I enjoy all my clients and treat everyone with respect!

Have you ever found yourself in a bizarre setting or having to fulfill any odd requests for a celebrity client?

One time back in the day, my assistant and I did a house call at Courtney Love’s house. When it came time to wash her out, my assistant went in the shower with her to wash her hair. Of course they were both fully dressed but it was really funny!

I recently had my hair highlighted and, as the process is quite lengthy, found myself opening up quite a bit with my newfound hair colorist-slash-best friend. Do your celebrity clients open up and dish their personal lives to you the way the rest of us do when “under the foils?” How do you handle the more intimate moments involved with being a colorist to the stars?

All my clients talk with me about their life whether they are in a new movie or joined a new gym! We love to chat!

Jessica Stein

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