The new image makers

Jenna Perry, left, and Jessica Gillin, the head stylist at Jenna Perry Hair in New York, August 7, 2021. The New York Times
Curtain bangs (a long 1970s-style swooping style) and wolf hair (a shaggy mullet). Glinting coppery red hues and ear-grazing chops inspired by the ’90s Delia’s catalogue. If you’ve spotted these hair looks, chances are they were influenced by one New York City hot spot: the 2-year-old Jenna Perry Hair salon, founded by the flame-haired Jenna Perry and featuring the precise head hairstylist, Jessica Gillin.

On a steamy August day at the narrow space on East Ninth Street, Chloë Sevigny was in a middle chair getting her blond locks dyed “mousy brown” for a role. “My expensive blond is gone,” she said in joking lament.

Sevigny began visiting the salon during the pandemic when, she said, she “emailed in desperation.” Perry “got it right away what I was looking for. She has a very confident hand and a way of speaking that I feel very taken care of.”

A drastic colour change on a high-profile client could rattle some stylists, but Perry, in a stylish denim apron, wasn’t fazed. “The thing is, I don’t get nervous, ever,” she said, pulling down her mask for a second to show a cheeky grin.

At the salon that day there was bustle but also a casual undercurrent — like your hip friend who is effortlessly so. The schedule was booked several weeks into fall. (Recently members of the Facebook group Fat Mascara, also a popular beauty podcast, fussed about how it was impossible to get in.)

That may be because Perry and Gillin are responsible for tending the tresses of some of the year’s most influential celebrities: Jennifer Lawrence’s upscale blond, Bella Hadid’s range of transformations, Emily Ratajkowski’s sultry brunette, Dua Lipa’s color changes and Millie Bobby Brown’s flipped bob, to name a few.

Actress Maude Apatow chose her red hue based on Perry’s own hair color. “My No. 1 hair inspiration is Jenna’s hair,” Apatow said. “She has the perfect red hair! I went in one day and asked her to make us hair twins.”

But many in-the-know customers seek out the stylists for their signature look — what could be called American laissez-faire. They can do precise Park Avenue coifs, and they can do Brooklyn-style directional mullets, all with an eye to ease and comfort. That’s because they abide by a kind of thoughtfulness — reminiscent of Miuccia Prada and Phoebe Philo — about how women, no matter how chic, actually live.

CALL IT FASHION HAIR

Jenna Perry Hair opened two years ago, but a few months in, Perry realized that she needed a master hairstylist to round out her clients’ options.

“I like to take credit for Jessica being there at the salon,” Jennifer Fisher, a jewellery designer and longtime client of Gillin, said with a laugh. “Jessica has always been the cool-girl hairstylist.”

When the opportunity at the salon came up, Gillin was on the fence. Fisher offered herself as guinea pig to sample Perry’s work. “My hair colour was very generic-looking” she said. “I wanted to warm it up. Jenna has exponentially transformed it 360. I get more DMs about my hair than ever before. She’s like a hair magician.”

Once Gillin moved to the salon in June 2020, the two started combining their skills in what Fisher describes as “fashion hair.” (With fashion prices: Perry charges $250 for a single process; a haircut from Gillin costs $275.)

Working in a largely male-dominated world of haute hair wasn’t always easy for either of them. Perry, who grew up in Newport, Rhode Island, went straight from high school to the local Paul Mitchell beauty school. Her first memory of noticing hair? When she was 8 years old and saw Spanish telenovelas for the first time.

“I thought they were so glam and beautiful,” she said. “It was the first time I was mesmerised by glamour.”

After beauty school, she moved to New York in 2005.

There was a string of salon jobs: Space on Spring Street, then Soon Beauty Lab, where she started assisting on photo shoots. By the time she moved to Ion Studio in 2015, Perry was focused on colour as her specialty.

She also learned she preferred the salon dynamic to editorial work. “I realized I enjoyed making someone look and feel better about themselves,” she said. “I also love talking to people.”

It took a while to settle into her own. “I was an assistant forever,” said Perry, 35. “I dealt with a lot of head-tripping. I had to think, ‘Screw that, I know my vision and aesthetic.’ ”

Then, in a fortuitous show of female solidarity, Los Angeles hairstylist Jen Atkin referred Hadid to her. Together, Perry and Hadid created hit after hit: a mocha chocolate hue that was covered in all the fashion publications and the copper streaks that have become the bold color to emulate.

“Bella, she’s adventurous and wants to explore and have fun,” Perry said. “We look at many pictures together of different ’90s references or old supermodel photos.”

She opened her salon in 2019 with savings. Following a Vogue article that fall, the place was buzzing. Then came COVID-19.

“I was a business owner for six months,” Perry said. “We were in quarantine for three months, and I really realized then that hair is so important in people’s lives. It really is self-care.”

And she played hair confidant. “I was pacifying my clients,” she said. “‘Hey, I’m going to be there with open arms for you. Whatever you do, don’t touch your color.’”

‘WE WORK SO INSTINCTIVELY’

Gillin grew up as a middle daughter of three girls in Worcester, Massachusetts, and became fascinated with hair in junior high. This was the ’90s, a time of big hair, of twisties and asymmetrical cuts. Her parents expected her to go to college, so she enrolled at the University of Florida, only to drop out.

“I felt like I was going through the motions,” Gillin said. “I told my parents that I wanted to leave college and go to hair school.”

In 2005, she moved to the Bushwick neighbourhood of Brooklyn, enrolled at Aveda and worked as a bartender at night. She got a colouring job at well-known salon John Frieda, assisting Sharon Dorram. She moved to styling when she joined the Sally Hershberger salon, where she was Hershberger’s assistant.

“Sally was a huge deal,” Gillin said. “She was the only woman doing it — having this big influential salon at the time. Sally is tough to work for, but she taught me a lot.”

Gillin moved to the Marie Robinson salon in 2010, and then to Serge Normant in 2017, having built a loyal client base, including designer Tory Burch. Gillin travelled with Burch for the designer’s store openings and events. She has been behind notable styles like Michelle Williams’ crop for her Broadway run in “Chicago,” and she’s known for her work with extensions. (Remember Taylor Momsen’s ultralong strands?)

“I wasn’t really looking to make a move, to be honest,” said Gillin, 37. “But as we talked more and more, Jenna and I, we have the same values and work ethic.” The salon also gave her a stability she needed as a single mother.

“We work so intuitively together,” she said.

Perry is now hunting for a bigger space — double the size. Two of her former assistants are “fully booked and thriving,” she said, beaming.

“Everyone asks me about whether I’ll do products, and I think definitely for the near future,” she said. “But right now, I want to make sure the brand is completely solid.”

Gillin has been nicely surprised at how she and her boss were able to weather the challenges of a new venture in an unparalleled time.

“We handled this pandemic,” she said. “If we have this much success now, what’s going to happen when it’s not a pandemic?”

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