Meet the Hairstylist Behind Ariana Grande's High Pony and Kim K's Luscious Locks

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Courtesy of Chris Appleton

For some, it can take decades to discover their true passion, but Chris Appleton has had his sights set on his career from day one. Since discovering his joy for hairstyling at the tender age of 9 with his mother acting as his model and muse, Chris has since risen in the ranks to a bona fide celebrity in his own right. He's been the premier stylist for Rita Ora, Kim Kardashian West, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Lopez, and oh so many more. Few names in the industry can boast creating as many iconic mane moments as the British-born artist. You'll recognize his work in Grande's trademark high pony, Kardashian West's pin-straight locks, J.Lo's bouncy waves, and a plethora of showstopping award show moments. This week, listen along as Hillary Kerr dives into Appleton's creative process for some of these looks and clues us in to what products we should be using to achieve red carpet–ready hair right from our own homes.

You are known for your incredible work with amazing, next-level clients like Kim Kardashian, Ariana Grande, the one and only Jennifer Lopez. But back before it all, you started doing hair when you were what, 9, for your mother. Is that true?

That's accurate, yeah. It's become quite a story. People are quite fascinated. And I think it's probably just because people very often say, "Why do you do what you do?" It honestly just started with doing my mom's hair. I did it because I wanted to try to make her feel good about herself. She was a busy working mom of five. She would look in the mirror, and that's when I saw, I guess, the physical reaction of like, your shoulders going back, and I saw how you can emotionally make someone feel better about their day. And I was like, I love this; this is a superpower. It just kind of grew from that. I remember mom saying, "Why don't you get a job in a salon on a Saturday?" and I was like, "You can do that? Yeah, I'd love to do that." I used to get on the bus every week and ride into town for an hour. I loved it. I remember the first day in the salon, I saw people walking in one way—shoulders down, hair back—and they'd walk out with blown-out hair and their shoulders would be bouncing. I remember thinking, well, this is what I want to do. I was so sure. I was like, this is what I want to do. I want to make people look and feel good.

I also want to talk about Kim Kardashian, specifically one of my favorites looks, which was the Met Gala, the wet hair. I just thought it was so stunning and so interesting and also, to be honest, seemed like it would be a little bit tricky to execute. I'm wondering if you could walk us through that.

The idea was that she kind of was coming out of water—like her hair was in finger waves, and she'd come out of water, so the ends were dripping and kind of straighter. It was a set style, but she had been in the water; she was wet. It was quite a nerve-racking Met Ball for me because I had never done a look like that on Kim.

What everyone has to understand is that when you do a certain look, you can look at it, and you can think it looks great. Take a picture, also great. We've all done that thing where we put a hat on and thought, Oh, I look cute. Then you take a picture and then think, Oh, maybe I don't. Sometimes lighting makes all the difference, so it's always a little nerve-racking, especially doing something as different as that. It’s always quite nerve-racking to do it the first time with the red carpet. I've never done anything like that.

I guess that's why I love what I do because it is about taking risks—I think as long as you've got the right intention behind it and the right execution. I tried it and tried it and tried [Kim's hair]. I knew it was going to be tricky, and so I just practiced all different versions of it. I didn't want it to be too flat to the head, I wanted to be able to see the waves in it, I wanted it to have some lift, but then I don't want it to lift up where it almost looks like a Christmas tree. I spent a lot of time trying to get it right, but I felt really good about it. I know Kim's face shape; I know her vibe and the outfit. I made sure I was aware of all those things. You definitely don't just wing it. There's definitely a process behind it. 


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I'm going to run through some of your clients over the years, and I want you to pick a favorite look and tell us how it came together.

J.Lo would be the Superbowl. People still stop me in the street about that, like, Oh my god. You're the guy that did the Superbowl hair.

That Instagram video of her practicing the hair flip really sent me. It was so good.

[The video] went everywhere. I remember just thinking I wanted to post a picture. I just said to this social guy, "Do you have any pictures?" and he just said, "I've just got this video before she goes on." And I was like, that'll do. It was obviously the best thing I ever posted. It wasn't planned, though. I was just like, oh, that's cute. It's a nice behind-the-scenes. But everyone seemed to love the action shot, and there were all these memes and TikToks.

Hair trends. What are you loving right now, and what are you not a fan of?

I am loving right now—I think a return to sexy volumized layers. Hair moves, is swishy, and curtain bangs are really big right now. Everyone's really loving the curtain, face-framing bangs. I'm really into the face framing right now. What I'm not a fan of right now—one of the things that I actually kind of got known for was the glass, straight hair. I always love it, but we've left that very slick, controlled, high maintenance, high shine. I do really, really love it, and it's always in fashion, but I feel like I've evolved that texture of the high shine and the quality of the finish. It's like bouncier hair now, and I'm really enjoying seeing that. Fashion comes from what's happening in society, and society has been through a sad time—COVID, people being trapped. So I think people kind of went back to their natural hair, having volume, having movement, having a bit of freedom in the hair.

Shop Appleton's Top Styling Products

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Next up, check out our previous episode featuring Leiomy Maldonado and Jameela Jamil from HBO's Legendary.

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