Jenny Kim Hair CoutureTuesday, 14th April 2015 •
JENNY’S BUSY SCHEDULE CAN PUT HER BACKSTAGE AT DESIGNER RUNWAY SHOWS, ON LOCATION FOR ANY NUMBER OF PRESTIGIOUS MAGAZINE TITLES OR AT WORK IN NEW YORK, PARIS AND MILAN DOING THE INTERNATIONAL RUNWAY CIRCUIT. YET DESPITE HER GLOBAL JET SETTING WAYS, THIS NATIVE NEW YORKER IS NOW HAPPY TO CALL AUSTRALIA HOME. BY JENNY BURNS.
When I eventually catch up with Jenny Kim, she’s getting ready to head to the US to work alongside talented session stylist and old friend James Pecis for the start of the Spring 14/15 fashion circuit in New York. She completed the Fall tour earlier this year and now she’s back for round two – although this time she’ll be giving London a miss, opting to stay longer in New York to catch up with her family. “Last time it was such a whirlwind I didn’t get to see anyone, so I’m looking forward to spending a bit of time with my mum before I go onto Milan and Paris,” she tells “I’m pretty excited to be on James’ team, he’s a bit of a wizard and I’d say definitely one of my favourite editorial stylists in the world. We used to work together in a salon back in San Francisco and I’m so forever impressed and proud of him making it to where he is today. I can’t wait!”
Jenny is first generation Korean; she was born in Manhattan and grew up in a number of surrounding cities including Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. She also lived in San Francisco for seven years, Los Angeles for two and spent most of her summers in rural Korea with her grandmother until she was 13, enjoying somewhat of a gypsy-esque lifestyle.
“I grew up in a strange, crazy household,” Jenny tells, “we’re all a bit nuts and we’re kind of all over the world, doing weird things. My mother studied fine art and was painting and drawing while I was growing up. She’s now a missionary. My dad was an acupuncturist and holistic healer, he still is, and he’s also a devout Buddhist. So there was a lot of creative energy and spiritual weirdness in the house growing up. I always had strong interests in art and science, but I never really considered pursuing a career in a creative field.”
Animal obsessed Jenny graduated from high school and moved to San Francisco to apply to universities at the age of 18, dreaming of a career in veterinary science. “I wanted to go to vet school, but I had no money like every other 18 year, so one weekend while I was out walking dogs with friends, I met a guy who mentioned he was a hairdresser and that his salon was looking for assistants. I needed a job and thought it sounded like fun… needless to say, I never got around to applying for uni.”
Jenny worked in salons for around eight years and also did some network educating for Bumble and Bumble before realising that she wanted something more out of her hairdressing career. “I’ve always been drawn to fashion and editorial work,” she continues, “as a young person I was really inspired by the fantasy element and loved the aspect of capturing interesting moments and telling stories. So I started assisting some really amazing hairstylists, including my dear friend Alan White. I think assisting is really essential in order to develop your work ethic and also in understanding such a complex industry. Anyway, I met Alan through a mutual friend and we hit if off immediately, so I worked as his assistant for a few years and I can’t tell you how much I learnt from him. Alan introduced me to the industry in Australia and he’s also part of the reason why I decided to stay. It was and continues to be just a really great time in my life, exploring the editorial side of Sydney and Australia in general.”
When I ask Jenny how she would describe her ‘hairdressing handwriting’, she responds with, “I have no idea, I just do what feels good. You do have to give people what they want sometimes, but even then, I try and put a little bit of myself in that. I think most session stylists will agree that every aspect of this job is about finding balance. My aunt was a hairdresser, and I really admired her line of work when I was a kid. I thought wow, what a great job, you just get to play with people’s hair all day for a living! And that’s kind of what I tell people now when I get asked about what I do – I actually get paid to play with people’s hair for a living. It’s pretty neat, I feel really lucky. I have a silly job – I mean, I take it seriously – but in some ways I think it’s pretty silly. I get to be a kid and play.”
Whilst most of Jenny’s days are committed to editorial and session work, it’s also personally imperative that she keeps her fingers in the industry pie. “I love being around other hairdressers,” she admits, “which is an experience that most people working in session styling only get to do if they are working on fashion shows for example, or in a salon a day or two a week. Session styling is great, but generally speaking it’s just you and a few other creatives. It’s an encapsulated environment.” Jenny works alongside Francesco Ruggerino and his team at hip Sydney salon Prema on collaborative projects such as Mercedes Benz Australian Fashion Week – “we have a great symbiotic relationship, we collaborate and grow together” – and in 2014 came on board as a session styling guest artist for KMS California for media events and education. The team first officially worked together on the Alice McCall show at MBFWA in April. “I love working in high pressure, fast paced environments like fashion week,” Jenny quips. “Even when everything is sort of going right, there’s still a buzz backstage. It’s so much fun, all the prep and energy leading up to those seven minutes that you get to present a collection to people.” Unlike Jenny’s previous experience at fashion week last year, which saw her create some incredible 1940s style ‘dos for Phoenix Keating’s highly applauded spring/summer 2013 collection, the mood at Alice McCall this time around was completely different. “The brief for Phoenix’s show was quite bizarre,” she laughs. “There was this girl who was an alien and she fell to earth and watched a bunch of Clint Eastwood movies, she was kind of this Western-inspired alien, which I think is quite awesome. It was so much fun because it was like, let’s just get as weird as we can possibly get and then fine tune from that point on. I think what was different this time with the Alice McCall show was that it wasn’t so much about creating a fantasy, it was more about coming up with a very aspirational girl. It was a really important show for Alice because it was an anniversary for the brand. They have such a loyal, cult following with their label and Alice really wanted to give something back to her people. They wanted to showcase a girl that their clients could aspire to and make it a wearable look that had that really fun, flirty Alice McCall edge to it. Alice loved that northern beaches or Byron Bay surfy girl; that kind of cool and effortless, I’m-not-trying-hard-but-I-look-fabulous girl. So we cast models that had personalities and confidence in their own looks. All shows are different and that’s what makes it fun. Some designers really want that whole identical fembot look for their runway experience, which certainly has its moment. But then there are shows like Alice McCall’s where we had girls like Ollie Henderson in there, who has a really cool short haircut, or Fernando with her big hair, because we didn’t want them all to be matchy matchy. We worked with their own hair textures and lengths, just letting their individuality shine through.”
Following their successful fashion collaboration, Jenny continued her partnership with KMS with a daily beauty blog for Oyster magazine as well as heading up an education roadshow for the brand in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne in May. “We sort of switched up the formula for them this time compared to what they normally do with education for their salons,” Jenny divulges. “We wanted to keep their customary look’n’learn element, because that’s what people love to get out of these types of things, but I also wanted to give them some sort of insight into the fashion world and what my connection with the industry is. I got my start working in salons – I did about six years working in a salon in San Francisco – so I’m coming from the same sort of grass roots as people that KMS works with on a day-to-day basis. It was nice to correlate that with what they want to do and what clients want to see. It was really fun and I got to give them some inside dirt on what it’s like working backstage and collaborating with other creatives. That’s definitely one of the highlights for me with session styling, getting to work with other weirdos! I wanted to show them that it’s not all sparkles and lip gloss, it’s not the glamorous work that people think that it is – I mean, it certainly has it’s moments – but it’s still hard work and it requires a lot of discipline. So it was about taking the mystique out of session styling and turning it into a real experience for them. I love working with the KMS guys. They’re really supportive and understanding of the creative process and it’s a good relationship – I call it dating – it’s very symbiotic between us, the balance of my session styling world and theirs as a corporate client. We give each other what we need, so it’s nice.”
Despite being blessed with plenty of ‘pinch me’ moments on the job, Jenny is extremely grounded and matter-of-fact when it comes to her work. “As I said before, my job is ridiculous!” she laughs. “Don’t get me wrong, I take my job very seriously, but I only take it as seriously as I have to because like any industry that’s based around creativity, it gets pretty intense and there’s a lot of toxic kind of bullshit involved in it at times. You have to take it with, I don’t know if a grain of salt is the right term, but you have to approach it with a bit of reality, you know? I often have those moments where I’m like, what is my job – this is so weird! It’s those moments when you’re in Mauritius, on a boat, and the sun is setting and the sky is orange, you feel like you’re in some frickin’ postcard, you know, and you’re like, I’m at work now and I’m getting paid to be here? In this beautiful place? Then there are those moments that are so very different. I had a job a while back, it was down the south coast of NSW, near Jervis Bay, in some abandoned quarry. It was 11 o’clock at night and it was about 2 degrees, absolutely freezing. The photo assistant was setting a pile of rubble on fire and this model in $7,000 shoes was leaping over this burning rubbish heap again and again. It was so crazy! But I guess I can’t really complain.”
It’s that constant reality check that Jenny Kim grounds herself with that’s one of her most endearing and refreshing qualities. When she’s not working she spends her spare time cooking – “I love food” – and surprisingly (given her somewhat streetwise demeanour), crocheting. “I’m really crazy at the moment with crocheting, so I’m just like making everyone blankets,” she laughs. “I like doing things with my hands when they’re not attached to someone’s head!” But her biggest passion is working with four-legged friends who haven’t had such a great start to life. “I love dogs but I can’t have one in my apartment, so I do lots of volunteering with Monika’s Doggy Rescue and get my dog fix through working with them. It’s really awesome what they’re doing – they rescue dogs on death row from the pound and re-home them – I really admire and support them as much as I can.”
Jenny also tells me she’s just had the name of her own beloved pooch back home tattooed on her wrist. “Her name’s Patty; Patricia actually. We call her Trish when she’s being an asshole. She lives in New York – she’s a Chihuahua and I’m so not a Chihuahua person. I worked with pit bulls when I was living in San Francisco and I’ve always been a ‘big dog’ person. But a girl that I knew at the salon where I was working at the time said, ‘I’m having puppies, do you want one?’ And I was like yep, I want a puppy, but I didn’t even ask her what kind of dog she had. So I was like, okay, I guess I’m getting a Chihuahua! You know what? I hate nasty little dogs; I can’t stand them. But the trick is, you can’t treat them like a baby. You’ve got to take them for a walk, on the ground, on a leash like the other dogs. Don’t put them in your handbag, it’s not a clutch purse, it’s an animal. Treat them like a dog. Patty’s awesome, but she thinks she’s some kind of teacup Kelpie. I haven’t told her yet that she’s a Chihuahua…”
Tuesday, 14th April 2015 •