• Stylist Kristen Shaw
  • Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, styled by Kristen Shaw
  • Lykke Li, styled by Kristen Shaw
  • The Black Lips, styled by Kristen Shaw
  • The Raveonettes, styled by Kristen Shaw
  • Nick Waterhouse, styled by Kristen Shaw
  • Tori Kelly, styled by Kristen Shaw

Kristen Shaw

From head bangers to soulful songstresses and even boy-banders, Kristen Shaw’s list of musician clients runs the gamut on genre and style, much like the hairstylist’s own musical taste. For the last five years, Kristen has been transforming the locks of an eclectic mix of entertainers, including Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and British indie pop trio London Grammar. We talked to Kristen about breaking into the industry, what she enjoys about working with musicians and some of the exciting bands she’s working with today.

How did you get your start as a stylist?

I started cutting my own hair when I was 13-14 years old because I was curious and couldn't get the cuts I wanted. I went to college for theater and painting, but left shortly after starting because I wanted to get to work and create things. I moved to Chicago and spent a lot of time at a barbershop near Aveda, where I got my license. The barber and his wife encouraged me to get out of town and go further, and suggested NYC. I did just that, and the rest is history.

I took my scissors in my purse everywhere I went to dinner, parties and bars...anywhere there could be someone who I could ask if I could make his or her haircut better. I refined my skills at Suite 303—a salon in the Chelsea Hotel—learning from April Barton, and was offered a platform to take a lot of risks in the hair game. Given the nature of the hotel, we had interesting clients and friends, a couple of whom gave me my first chance at being on set. The first shoot I did was with The Virgins in 2008 for Interview Magazine. I liked it so much that I left New York to cut hair on a road trip through the states. When I landed in LA, I told myself that I was going to freelance. Now I'm between NYC and LA and have a salon and bookshop called Cabin 207 that I opened in Downtown LA this past June.

A lot of trial and error taught me what I know, along with an art background of shape and texture. I see things in shapes and how they apply to styling/cuts for people—your hairstyle defines bits and pieces of who you are.

How did you get started working with musicians?

After my initial start with The Virgins, I worked with Martha Wainwright and Jena Malone's music project. I had also worked with lots of little local punk bands from where I grew up. Music has been a form of expression for me from when I was a young kid growing up in a farm town in Illinois, so I feel so grateful to experience it in this way and create styles for musicians I admire and love.

What's fun or different about working with musicians?

Acting or making music is such a personal experience and art form because you have to tap into a side of yourself and bring it alive. You create characters and personas that inspire, terrify and relate to people who may only be observers. Working with either of these types of people—musicians more as of late for me—keeps things exciting and ever-changing and keeps me on my toes. I have to help the artists develop themselves from a physical standpoint to represent who they are and who they want to be.

You often work with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who has been making music for a while now. What's it like to collaborate with such an established artist?

Trent Reznor has created an image and sound for himself that will stand the test of time and is shaping music to come. As an established artist, he is so good at valuing talent, drive and pursuit, which I think spans from live shows to the band he keeps. These are the details that keep them on top over and over again. I'm honored to be working with him in this time of NIN; every time is that much more inspiring.

London Grammar is a newer group you're working with. What is their style like? What are your favorite Oribe products to use on them?

London Grammar are such sweet kids. I absolutely love their style, and when you hear their music, you know exactly why they walk, talk and look the way they do. They have a special power within their music, and I'm excited to see where they go. When we worked together, I liked using the Dry Texturizing Spray on them—it's one of my favorite things to build up texture and weight in hair. Rough Luxury is also a good one for the more tailored of the boys’ cuts.

Who are a few new artists that you are excited to be working with?

I love my two artists Tori Kelly and the band Rixton, who are not household names at the moment but very shortly will be. Both Tori and the boys have such a unique style, from the way they look (I mean, have you seen Tori's amazing hair?) to the music they make, not to mention their trust in the artistry of the people on their team. They keep things exciting for me…it's like playtime everyday.

How does a musician's hair play a role in shaping his or her persona?

A musician’s hair, like anyone else's, starts with an incredible cut to give you a good base. This enables you to have the option to do nothing or to do something and look equally as amazing. Being on the road, my clients need to have something that holds up if I can't see them often. They need to feel as much like themselves in my chair as they do out of it.

What’s your favorite type of look on a musician?

I like anything stylish that is effortlessly done, and I pull my favorite inspirations from musicians across all time periods that embody this.

Do you like to listen to music when you're on set? What's on your current playlist?

Music is essential to get things moving. Currently I am listening to Bill Callahan, James Blake, Disclosure, YPPAH, Terry Callier, Laura Marling, Scorpions, Washed Out and Broken Social Scene. A mix, I know, but different moments call for different measures.
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