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Real Talk – Lauren Bell on timing it right

Lauren Bell spent five years honing her craft and working to a point where she could step out of the salon. She took that bold freelance step in January 2020 – only for the world to freeze around her a couple of months later. We spoke to her in lockdown, about why she doesn’t regret a thing and why she believes timing is everything…

“I’ve honestly never taken this much time off work since I started. I’m genuinely trying to enjoy it as much as I possibly can. Because you’re always chasing your tail, there’s always a schedule to get to.

“I always liked doing hair-up looks and the visual aspects of hairdressing. I wasn’t technically that good – I honestly don’t know how I got my qualifications, so it was definitely more of a creative thing! I was flying before I could even walk. I knew I wanted to do session work quite early on – I was at a L’Oréal Professionnel Colour Trophy show, and the ID artist came out and did their session with some amazing hair-up, transformative stuff. That was the first time I thought, “Oh my God, that’s me, I can do that.” So I auditioned, only my second audition ever, but I got onto the ID Artist team. Even then, everything was a revelation; I didn’t know that dedicated Fashion Week teams existed, didn’t know that could even be an option. The London hairdressers already had half a clue and I was just like “Who are they talking about? What?” From there it just opened the doors, and my eyes, to the whole industry.

“Salon life became an issue, I won’t sugar coat it. I lost clients because it was hard to maintain such a busy schedule – even with a boss as supportive and flexible as mine. Amazing jobs would come through, but if I had a day full of clients I couldn’t cancel them and so I missed some amazing opportunities. I also lost some clients from not being around on other occasions. I started to resent the restrictions of being employed. After five intense years, trying to find ‘balance’ between having barely any days off, working for free, juggling salon columns and responsibilities, session, educating, my family and friends and any resemblance of a personal life… Ultimately something had to change. I try to limit my time in the salon to no more than two days a week now. It’s hard, when you’ve spent all those years, all that time.

“So many times on that path to being a session artist you think… can I even call myself that? I used to have ‘Wannabe Session Stylist’ on my Instagram, in little quotation marks, because I didn’t feel like I’d done enough to call myself one. Because it’s not it’s not just fashion week, it’s not just the photoshoots. There’s so much prep, so much work off your own back, making the connections and chasing people and doing admin and organising and scheduling…

“The professional side of the job was a huge personal journey. When you first turn up and you’re so gassed by the whole thing… it’s really hard to leave the ego at home. I remember leaving a few shows feeling really upset because I felt like I didn’t do enough, or that someone was rude to me. It took quite a few seasons to realise it’s got f*** all to do with me. It’s about getting the hair out, as a team, on time, looking good – and I think a lot of people don’t get that. It all comes when you let all of that go. I never expected to be someone’s first assistant, especially not someone like Richard Phillipart. It’s not this cocky thing where I’m like “Oh my God, I’m first assistant” – instead it’s “Oh my God, we need to get this done!” There’s almost an extra layer of awareness. After last season I woke myself up from sleep, shouting “Don’t worry Richard, I’ll get it sorted!” and my poor boyfriend was so freaked out. I’d never felt such a strong sense of responsibility before.

“A big goal of mine would be to work on Paris, Milan, New York shows, the full month. I’ve been offered Milan before, and I’ve done Paris Couture – that was amazing. Now that I’m freelance I can do it, I was restricted before because I couldn’t take that entire month off. Hopefully I can work towards doing the full season, whenever that’s possible. I just need to email the life out of everyone!

“Five years of working up to becoming a self-employed session stylist did not happen overnight. It did not happen without working for free, it did not happen without sacrificing holidays and days off… but wouldn’t change a single part of that. I wouldn’t because I believe it is all part of the growth and process that leads to becoming a good stylist, discovering who you are in the industry, what you want to say and do. Getting the best hands-on experience that will help you the most, and I can thank assisting for that; all of the knowledge I have gained from it helped me personally and professionally. You can’t put a price on learning new techniques or backstage etiquette.

“Timing for me was everything; it enabled me to build up to this point. I began freelancing in mid-January this year officially, although I can laugh now, because how was I meant to know about Covid-19? Even before everything froze with lockdown, I had work coming out of my ears, some amazing opportunities and prospects for being self-employment to be one of the greatest things I’ve done yet.

“For anyone beginning on this journey, don’t give up. Don’t stop learning, even if you think you’ve got it, because talent alone will not get you as far as your determination will. Above all just enjoy it. Take in as much knowledge as you can, everything else will come after. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing on Instagram… they are not you.”