Johnny’s Story

JOHNNY HAEGER

Celebrity & Freelance Stylist
Self-Employed | New York, NY

Our graduates come from all walks of life and their careers span a vast array of fields within the beauty industry. What they all have in common, is that their story started at the Aveda Institute. We sat down with some alumni to hear their story in their own words.

We’re excited to share their stories to inspire you to start your great story with us!

If you’re an alumni and want to tell your story, email greatstories@nurturaveda.com

Tell me your story, in your own words.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do something creative and I couldn’t figure out whether I wanted to go to college what direction I wanted to go in. I’ve always been interested in hair, but I didn’t know that was something that I could do.

I graduated from Lakota West High School (north of Cincinnati, OH) and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do something creative and I couldn’t figure out whether I wanted to go to college what direction I wanted to go in. I’ve always been interested in hair, but I didn’t know that was something that I could do. I found Aveda and went on a tour and really enjoyed the tour and I deceived this was something that I should give it a chance and see if it’s something I could do. While I was waiting to start, I worked at salon in Northside called Taylor Jameson Hair Design. I was just a receptionist but I kinda wanted to see, first-hand what to do in the industry, how it works, kind of what it takes to do this every day.

I decided on a whim to apply to Arrojo Studio in New York City, not thinking I would get an interview, because I didn’t have a license I hadn’t even graduated yet. About a month went by an email actually saying they wanted to do an interview, so I flew up here (New York City) a few times for interviews, each time being surprised that I was called back

I worked there are a year before I started at Aveda, and then went to school in 2007. I loved the education. It was definitely challenging at first, it was more involved than I thought, but it was amazing. Closer to the end of my schooling, I decided on a whim to apply to Arrojo Studio in New York City, not thinking I would get an interview, because I didn’t have a license I hadn’t even graduated yet. About a month went by an email actually saying they wanted to do an interview, so I flew up here (New York City) a few times for interviews, each time being surprised that I was called back for another interview and I end up getting the job in New York. I was 19 and kind of freaked out that I even got the job and had to move to NYC by myself at that age. {laughs} I flew up here a few more times, looked at apartments and realized that I was going to be making very little money as an assistant and moving to NY by myself. I kind of freaked out and decided I wasn’t gonna do it all, wasn’t going to make the move. Instead I got a job with Mitchell’s Salon and Day Spa and at Pump Salon and then became a stylist at Pump salon in Rockwood Commons. That education was great because it kind of built upon what I learned at Aveda. I felt like my foundation at Aveda was so great because it allowed me to understand the language and kind of the verbiage in the advanced training. It was really seamless.

Working at Mitchell’s Salon and Day spa introduced me to Bumble and Bumble, the product line and the education, and I loved the whole company and kind of the philosophy and the way they taught made a lot of sense to me. So, I worked there for two years and then decided that I was in a better position with more education, that I felt more comfortable trying to move to NY again. I applied at Bumble and Bumble in New York City and I ended up getting the job and so I moved to NY in January of 2010 to go to their assistant training program.

I moved to New York and went through their cutting and styling advanced training for two years at locations in the Meatpacking District, the Upper East Side, and Midtown and finally got a chair at the downtown salon in Manhattan. The series at Bumble was fantastic just because it was so intense, so detail orientated, extremely challenging you had to find 3 models a week somewhere randomly in Manhattan and then get them to come in for haircuts every week, {laughs} …which was interesting. But I got to do advancing cutting, I got to do advanced styling, I did backstage class, I did public speaking, product knowledge, it’s kind of like a 2-year master’s degree in hair, which was fantastic.

Then I started working at New York Fashion Week on their backstage team and I got to do editorial and started building my book with photographers I had met and collaborating with different people.

Then I started working at New York Fashion Week on their backstage team and I got to do editorial and started building my book with photographers I had met and collaborating with different people. So, I got to shoot a lot and be backstage while keeping clientele at Bumble. I was there for five and a half years and then I moved to a smaller studio in SoHo called Suite Caroline. They were a more boutique studio that catered to and was geared more towards fashion and celebrity haircuts and styling. I worked there for two years and got to teach cutting and styling classes. I had the opportunity to style a couple celebrities and cut a couple celebrities kind of get some of that experience under my belt.

I had the opportunity to style a couple celebrities and cut a couple celebrities kind of get some of that experience under my belt.

I worked there for two years and then started freelancing. I felt like it was time to open my schedule up and see if I could have some experiences that weren’t just behind the chair, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since – freelancing, doing a lot of weddings. I have a bridal agency that I work with and I do red carpet, and now I’m in the process of doing hair for TV and movies. Its great being my own boss but I don’t think I would have been able to do any of that without the ton of education and foundation I received from Aveda and from Bumble that made me feel comfortable and confident with my skill set and kind of developing my eye that’s kind of a short overview I could go into more details for each one if you like?

Its great being my own boss but I don’t think I would have been able to do any of that without the ton of education and foundation I received from Aveda

So, you mentioned you loved being your own boss, is that something you always wanted to you knew you wanted to do?

I really love being part of a team as well and I think having a support system within the salon as well, especially in my early years in the industry, was really helpful to be able to watch people and collaborate. Also, I just asked a ridiculous amount of questions of senior stylists for things that I didn’t understand. Especially in the backstage classes, being able to recreate looks from past seasons art fashion week from different designers. Just being able to do a horrible job and think, “okay, what went wrong” and keep building those experiences. It wasn’t until years later in my career that I felt like I could be my own boss. I didn’t even really think that was a possibility. After building a clientele in New York over the years, now I mostly do house call clients actually. I go to my clients and I work out of a small studio in Williamsburg as well. I pop all over the city which is nice.

You mentioned in the beginning that you were always into hair. Was that something that you always wanted to do as a career or was it just something that you were interested in and when you started having to decide what you wanted to do that’s what popped up?

No, I definitely wasn’t, you hear about stylists that were like cutting and styling hair as kids. That wasn’t necessarily my story. I was in theater and musical theater, so I always was creative and always enjoyed tons of creative aspects of different jobs. But theater for me, the idea of auditioning and not having a stable job for long periods of time was not something that I was willing to do. So, I was like, “how do I do something creative kind of in the same vein as theater? How can I turn that into a different job where I have some stability” and that’s where hair came in. With hair, I could work in theater, just on the career side if I wanted, or I could teach or be backstage or freelance. There were so many options and so many avenues that I could go down but always felt like I could stay busy and work. So that’s how that came about.

You hear about stylists that were like cutting and styling hair as kids. That wasn’t necessarily my story.

In any part of your education whether it was at Fredric’s or any other education you had along the way, what are some of the non-technical skills that you had to learn along the way? Like the soft skills.

I think I’ve always been a people person so that wasn’t super difficult, but I think really listening to people is a skill that might be underrated. Just really intensely listening and understanding what someone’s asking for, asking all the right questions or trying to ask as many questions as possible to understand what client truly wants. I think has really helped me. Just listening to people, I think that s a huge part of our jobs and I think it’s why I’ve been a to grow my clientele the way I have. That’s all people want is just to be truly heard and understood. Even though that has nothing to do with hair I think it’s a really important part of our jobs.

So much of it is about being there for the people for more than just their hair or makeup or whatever their there for. That’s a unique trait, that if you don’t have in this industry, it’s really hard to make it. It’s something you can develop too, it’s not something you have to be born with, but if you’re not somebody who can make somebody feel comfortable in the chair, people aren’t going to want to be in your chair.

Hair is so personal, and I think people feel really horrible at times when you’re sitting there in front of the mirror with wet hair maybe with sweaty makeup. Being able to make them feel like they are in a safe space and talk about whatever they want. Or look a certain way for a little bit it’s definitely takes their guard down. Hair in some ways is part of your façade or your armor. So, if you take that away or your changing something it makes people feel vulnerable. To be there for support and to listen makes a huge difference.

Hair in some ways is part of your façade or your armor. So, if you take that away or your changing something it makes people feel vulnerable.

What are some ways that mentors helped you throughout your career whether it being in school or at Bumble and Bumble or any other place that you worked in NYC.

Vivian Moore who’s a VP at Mitchell’s she was a huge part of kind of pushing me to go to NY. I was one of her assistants for a time and she was great. She just fostered creativity and always made me feel really comfortable didn’t make me feel ridiculous for asking certain questions. She one of the ones that helped me make the transition from Ohio to NY. Christy who was one of my educators at Aveda she was an amazing educator, unfortunately she passed last year but she was a fantastic educator and was a huge part of pushing me during my education. Things kind of clicked a little early for me in school and she was always there to push me a couple steps further and helped me build my craft. No matter what, she was fantastic. Some of the stylists that I got to work under at Bumble really challenged me. Everything I thought I knew – I thought I had to do it this way, they kind of broke things down even more they were great.

What were some of the challenge or hurdles you had to overcome in your career to get to where you are now?

A lot. When you’re learning a new skill it can be frustrating, especially when you’re in a creative field because everything is so subjective. If you’re looking at numbers – the numbers are the numbers. In this field everyone has their own unique point of view. Being vulnerable enough to show your point of view is a tricky thing to finally feel comfortable enough to show.

Being vulnerable enough to show your point of view is a tricky thing to finally feel comfortable enough to show.

How do you think a stylist develops that point of view?

I think it’s really gradual over time. Even while I was in school, I don’t’ know if I even necessarily had point of view or a taste level yet. You’re building your foundations and you’re trying to wrap your head around even how to do this. I don’t know if I necessarily even had that yet but I think throughout the years, it’s been like “yes, I like that, or this inspires me, I absolutely hate that.” It’s a gradual development from what you like and what gives you chills or inspires you to do those things. I think it just takes time.

With your particular point of view or your particular style how much of the work you do would you say is in that vein and how much of it is client directed? Do they come to you because they like your style and like what you can do?

Well most of what I do is very soft it’s very wearable. I’m not somebody who cuts a lot of geometric shapes or does something outlandish that doesn’t grow out well. A lot of my style or point of view is kind of “lived in.” It’s more soft, it’s more textured it’s not with a lot of hard edging. Not that I can’t do a precession bob, but I don’t normally do that unless someone asks. I think being able to use those techniques and apply them to whatever the client wants is what’s important. It’s not necessarily like I really do this shape or this exact style it’s being able to put a technique into what the client is looking for. So, I think my clients that see me regularly know that it’s going to look soft and lived-in, no matter the shape that they want, and that it’s going to grow out well. So, some of clients I only see every 6 months, not all of them thank god!

You work in a creative field where you get to be creative and you get to exciting things, but you also have to be almost art directed by the person in the chair. Every time is a collaboration with somebody else to come up with a new thing.

It can be challenging if someone wants something that you don’t necessarily think would work for them. It’s like trying to negotiate, talk through things. It can be challenging but also really rewarding and you can collaborate with someone and create something that could be life changing in some ways if you’re doing a makeover. You can see someone’s confidence grow. That is part of the reason why I do what I do.

It can be challenging but also really rewarding and you can collaborate with someone and create something that could be life changing in some ways if you’re doing a makeover. You can see someone’s confidence grow.

Going back to challenges. I think while you’re going through the institute program I think it’s interesting because once you leave school too you’re like “Okay, I know what I’m doing, I’ve got this” and then once you finish your education you realize that there’s a whole other mountain to climb for the next step, developing your shape and form and technique and all of these things. A challenge that I faced while going into my apprenticeships, especially at Bumble, is being able to take a step back and really soak up all of the information and realize that you really do have a great foundation but there’s this whole other world of technique and styling out there. I think just trying to be set your ego aside and set everything aside and be a sponge just soak everything up. It was absolutely rewarding but it was definitely a challenge to go from being in school and being challenged to learn a whole new skill set and then feeling like you finally got a handle on it to learn some of it then being knocked back and being like well “you know little bit.” Having to go through that process over and over and over of learning new skills, and new skills and new skills and of building on top of that. I think that’s challenging.

Now that I’m used to it, there’s a lot of stuff I probably still don’t know and that’s fine and I want to learn. I think it becomes part of the job, but in the beginning it’s daunting to learn so many new skills. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist so if I don’t do it well quickly, I can get a little frustrated with myself. Being able to have the patience and that comes with dedication, just being able to relax and know it will come. It’s a skill that you have to work on over and over and over in this industry and that’s sort of the fun now of being able see how far you can push things in learning and experimenting

One of Horst Rechelbacher’s core tenements – his whole philosophy on life, is being a lifelong learner. You’re never done learning, especially in the beauty industry. Trends change techniques change, products change everything ¬– is constantly changing if you’re not constantly learning then you end up stale.

Exactly!

When you started out this path what were your dreams? Did you always know that you wanted to be in New York doing celebrities hair?

New York was definitely the goal. I came to New York at like 15 or 16 and my eyes were wide open, I was blown away. Especially coming from Cincinnati which I thought was the big city and then coming to New York, was just… Wow! This is the big city. And I fell in love with it. I needed to find a way so I can end up here eventually. I knew I wanted to be behind the chair, but I didn’t’ necessarily know until I got to New York how many options you have, especially in a city like this. You can do so many different things with it. It opened my eyes. I don’t just have to be behind the chair. I love being behind the chair, but I can do so many different things. I knew I always wanted to do Fashion Week. Beginning in 2011, I was doing at least on season. That kind of tapered off, I did like 8 hard seasons back to back to back and now I’m a little more picky. Just because it’s a lot and it’s amazing, but it’s a lot.

I came to New York at like 15 or 16 and my eyes were wide open, I was blown away… This is the big city. And I fell in love with it. I needed to find a way so I can end up here eventually.

What is it like doing hair at fashion week?

Hectic! It’s amazing and just being able to be surrounded by so many creative people in the industry not just in hair but in makeup and styling and set design and art direction and designing. It’s a massive amount of energy that you can feed off of and getting to learn from those great hairstylists by being able to watch them work and learn from them and watch stylists on the team from around the world. Those are experiences that I’ll never forget for sure.

Were you on a team for Bumble or were doing freelance for Fashion Week?

When I was working for Bumble I was on the team and I actually still freelance for Bumble for Fashion Week. They have a backstage team. While you work there, you do backstage classes. You have test-outs, you almost do “hair drills”, it can get a militant. They time you and you have to be able to do the perfect ponytail in 45 minutes and they pick apart the hair and say like this hair is out of place, the position of the ponytail isn’t right on the head or there’s some frizz. Even those drills are so hard just because trying to be creative but also have precision in a short amount of time can be challenging. I think those drills really developed my eye in such a way that this has to be correct and this has to be correct. You do a curling iron set, a perfect ponytail a double French twist, those are the 3. Based on those test-outs they put you on A,B or C team. As an assistant you start out on the C team and as you move along you move up the ranks and that lets you know where you are in terms of when you go to Fashion Week That A team sets up first then B team sets up then the C is normally assisting those stylists backstage. You really learn every aspect of being a team member for fashion week.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

Being able to work in so many different avenues like whether it’s working Fashion Week or shooting a campaign for something or just even on a creative shoot or doing a red carpet event or just having a regular client behind the chair – they all bring such different creativity and happiness. I think having all of that has been the highlight for me

That’s a tough one. I feel like I’m really lucky enough to have had many highlights to be honest. I think going backstage for Fashion Week was definitely one of them. I think being able to work in so many different avenues like whether it’s working Fashion Week or shooting a campaign for something or just even on a creative shoot or doing a red carpet event or just having a regular client behind the chair – they all bring such different creativity and happiness. I think having all of that has been the highlight for me. Just being able to be creative in different ways and have given avenues to express whatever kind of just what I want to express.

What are your current dreams your career?

Right now, I think it just building on what I’m already doing but also, I’m looking to do barber school in London next year at the London School of Barbering, which I think will be really great. I’m gonna do a course there. I’m also gonna try to get into TV and film and being able to be creative with a team. I’m also chatting with a colleague of mine about opening a smaller studio to have somewhere to work out of to be able to collaborate with other artist there. Those are the 3 main things in my lap.

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