Inside the mind of celebrity hairstylist Josh Liu

Not many people get to touch the precious locks of mega stars Miranda Kerr, Olivia Munn, and Ariana Grande, but when you’re a celebrity hairstylist like Josh Liu, it’s just another day at the office. From working in PR to assisting hair industry icons like Chris Appleton, to now styling some of the biggest names in fashion, Hollywood, and music, we caught up with Josh to let us in on his secrets to success and how he went from being a fan of Ariana Grande to styling her hair. 

How did you get started in the beauty industry? Did you always know you wanted to be a hairstylist?

It’s kind of a funny story—I actually went to Pepperdine University for public relations because I wanted to be a celebrity publicist or work in fashion publicity. So when I graduated from school, I started working as an assistant publicist at a celebrity PR firm. As an assistant publicist, you book hair, makeup, styling etc. for your clients, so I became exposed to the beauty industry through PR and started learning who the biggest artists in the industry were.

Growing up, I never knew the potential there was in being an artist in the beauty industry. It never crossed my mind to pursue a career in beauty. I had a lot of familial pressure to do the ‘college thing’ in order to be successful and have any sort of future [but] I’ve always been into doing my hair through all the various phases in my life! It was a whole process and I would even do hair for my PR coworkers, family and friends for events. 

Demi Lovato, styled by Josh Liu

When I quit my job, I was so terrified. It was my first ‘dream job’ but I realized I had built up an idea of what I thought it would be in my head, [and] realized the passion wasn’t there. When I was on sets in PR, I was always so drawn to the glam of it all, and knew my passion was in the creative arts—hair specifically. I had invested so much to pursue my PR career and had stayed so focused for so long, I got a lot of familial pushback, but coworkers and friends thought it was a no-brainer and made so much sense to quit and go after my passion—hairstyling.

What was your “big break” as a celebrity hairstylist?

I don’t think there was ever really a “big break” perhaps in my career…it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to move forward in the industry. If I had to choose one pivotal moment, it would probably be when I had built up a rapport with the hairstylists that I was assisting at the time, that I would get referred to other jobs by them. You know you’ve reached your break, once you start getting referred jobs and clients and/or sharing clients with your mentors. It’s such a wonderful feeling and beautiful thing to see. I can’t wait to see my assistants have their big break. It’s a beautiful cycle, to be honest.

[If I had to choose though], I would say working on the Dangerous Woman Tour with Ariana Grande. I was actually just filling in for another hairstylist and ended up sticking around — it’s crazy, timing is everything. Right place, right time. From there, everything really escalated.

Who was the one key figure who jump started your growth into the celebrity hair world?

This is a difficult question to answer because it wasn’t just one person. In the world of hairstyling, you start off assisting many hairstylists to learn all the techniques, styles and tricks of the trade. I can’t give you one, but I’ve been so lucky to assist some of the most amazing hairstylists whose work range from celebrity to editorial to fashion in the hair industry from Chris Appleton, Teddy Charles, John Ruggiero, Ericka Verrett, Anna Cofone, Christian Wood, among many others. 

Olivia Munn, styled by Josh Liu

If I had any advice for an aspiring hairstylist who wants to get into celebrity styling, you should try to assist as many different hairstylists with different hairstyling techniques as much as possible so you can learn everything you possibly can. You can never stop learning, there are 100,000 ways to do the same thing in hair to accomplish the same or similar looks. For instance, I probably know about 35 different ways to do a ponytail with extensions. Once you’ve built trust and rapport with the hairstylists you assist, they’ll eventually refer you to clients and jobs.

What is the most challenging thing about your career? 

It would have to be traveling for long periods of time being away from family and friends, and also being a workaholic. I love working, because I love what I do. So I always find it hard to say no to jobs, and always try to stack up jobs and double book myself, even after days where I was working the day before.

What is the most rewarding thing?

Seeing the end result of my craft in photos, videos, red carpet, on-stage. Nothing feels better than seeing it in action!

Miranda Kerr, styled by Josh Liu

We just have to ask…what was your career progression that eventually led you to being Ariana Grande’s main hairstylist?

I was actually a fan of Ariana’s long before I even worked with her…like back in the Nickelodeon days! It’s always such an awesome feat to be able work with someone you’ve been a fan of. I was a hair assistant for a few of her music videos while assisting one of her hairstylists. Shortly after, her team had asked if I was available to go on tour with her. Of course, I said yes HAH!

What’s your favourite hair trend at the moment and how can those at home achieve the look?

I love a relaxed flirty flip (inward or outward), whether it’s on a ponytail or just down and flipped out. It’s super easy to achieve at home. You can easily use your extensions to help make your hair have more body/fullness. Use a 1.25 inch barrel (if your hair is short/doesn’t hold curls well) or 1.5 inch barrel (if your hair is long/your hair holds hair well) curling iron and roll the ends about halfway upwards horizontally on the barrel. After cooling, let it cool for about 2 minutes and brush it out. (See this look styled below.)

Who is your favourite person to collaborate with in the influencer world?

My favorite influencer to collaborate with is my friend Amber Scholl! She is my best friend from college and we’ve known each other for so long, and we’ve been in each others’ lives to see the beginnings of our careers to now. Also special shoutout to Roxette Arisa who is equally supportive and love collaborating with her too!

What’s your favourite way to use hair extensions? 

I love changing a look dramatically using hair extensions—going short to long. It’s kind of an organized puzzle—getting a lot of hair in there to make it look real!

What’s your advice for someone who wants to start using hair extensions but doesn’t know where to start?

Don’t be afraid, just go for it! I always recommend easy to use pieces that involve little effort like a Halo for extra volume and little extra length. It’s the equivalent to training wheels for extensions! Once they get the hang of that, I recommend clip ins because they are a lot more customizable.

It’s also important to establish what you’re trying to accomplish: more volume? More length? Or both? If you want more volume AND more length, you’re going to need something with a lot of hair like the volume bundle clip ins. If you just want more volume, a classic bundle clip ins will suffice.

Can you give us a styling secret for those at home?

When in doubt, put it up or half up. 

It’s so much easier to look like you put more effort in your hair, if you put it up in a pony. Leave a bang piece out, give it some texture or sleek it back or flip the ends. 

When you put your hair up, it’s quick and easy to just curl the hair in your pony (I recommend using a 1 inch or 1.25 inch iron when curling a pony that’s already put up), instead of feeling like you have to curl your whole head.

When you put your hair half up (in a half-up bun or pony) it’s also easy to make it look done, because now you only have to curl the remaining half-down hair, which is way less daunting of a task than curling your whole head. [You] can curl the half-up part in one or two sections or just bun the half-up section.

As a hairstylist, you must receive so many hair products—what’s one product that you must have at all times in your kit?

This is a tough one! It’s hard to choose just one product. I’ll choose one product in each category:

Hot tools

T3 SINGLE PASS X—this is a wide 1.5 inch flat iron that I can do most styles with: straightening, waving and curling.

Hair spray

Got2B Glued Hairspray—extreme hold hair spray, but can be versatile if you lightly spritz it and brush it out.

Brushes

Sheila Stotts Application Brush—the best brush for detangling/brushing out styles.