Josh Liu is a Hollywood hairstylist whose clients include Ariana Grande, Miranda Kerr, Olivia Munn, among others
We reached one of our most stylish, long-time customers and brand enthusiasts for a candid convo about all things hair, LA, and a future that’s more gender-neutral. Josh Liu is a native Angelino who decided to pursue hair styling after a career in celebrity PR.
Check out our in-quarantine virtual interview with Josh Liu, who gives us a few vital hair care tips and picks from his favorite brands…
Q: First things first: Ariana Grande!? That’s amazing! What’s it like doing a popstar’s hair?
A: HAH—thank you! You know what—it’s really a dream. I grew up watching her show on Nickelodeon, and being a fan of hers. I always knew she was going to be an IT girl. Her talent is undeniable, even back then. When I started doing hair, I set a target list of people I’d dream of working with—and she was literally at the top of that list. It’s a surreal experience to work with her and see my manifestation come to fruition.
Q: Did you ever imagine you’d be working with someone with her high profile?
A: I’m a pretty ambitious person, but I started working with her only a year and a half into my hairstyling career. I definitely thought it was going to be more of a 5-10 year trajectory to start working with someone high profile. I had first started out assisting MANY different hairstylists from editorial/fashion, ad/commercial to celebrity/popstar hairstylists.
I was originally veering towards the route of an editorial/fashion hairstylist, but as fate would have it (I know it’s cliche to say)…I was in the ‘‘right place at the right time” when approached to work with her. Although, I have to confess a lot of my previous jobs/education definitely helped fast-track me to where I am today.
A Star-Studded Track
Q: Back up. Tell us about your background, how you ended up where you are today.
A: I graduated from Pepperdine University with a BA in Public Relations in 2013. From there, I was hired on at ID Public Relations, where I’d interned during college. It was my dream to work for IDPR (this was prior to the Narrative PR split). I worked as a celebrity publicist’s assistant for a year a half, and it was there that I learned that it was possible to have a career in the beauty industry, as I was actively contacting hair/makeup agents to book their artists for our clients.
As far as I’m concerned, fabric has NO gender.
Growing up, I never really knew that haircuts/colors could be expensive, nor that there was a world of hair/makeup/styling behind every celebrity. I grew up just going to whatever neighborhood hair salon my mom went to and my parents were very stern with “the college path,” so I never really thought of doing anything in the beauty realm.
Beauty and fashion were always in my life. I started doing crazy things to my hair in my first year of college and actively coiffing my hair in elaborately voluminous pompadours and coloring my hair regularly. PR was my first love, but I fell out of love with it as I realized it was possible to pursue another passion of mine, hair. With the connections/contacts I made with the beauty world agents and the artists I met while on set as a publicist assistant, a lot of the agents trusted me to assist their top tier hairstylists, right out of beauty school.
I assisted all the major hairstylists, learned various approaches and techniques to working with hair/extensions—which has all led me to where I’m at now.
Q: When not under quarantine, what does a typical day look like for you?
A: I usually average 1-2 clients (or shoots) a day. My job is very physically draining and can be stressful at times, and the last thing I want to do is sit in traffic for an hour. I live in a suburb on the outskirts of LA proper (a.k.a. The Valley), so I usually sit out traffic by running errands, setting up a remote office at a coffee shop or having lunch/dinner with friends (or by myself). I love dining out for the social aspects, but…I am bad at cooking! LOL.
Q: What’s your favorite aspect of your work? What’s your least favorite?
A: I love the transformations I’m able to do on people—it’s really art. Everyone has hair, but how you wear your hair is what can totally transform one’s attitude and even the perception of them by others. If you think about it, hair is often the majority of a look that can dictate what era or vibe someone is trying to channel, so it’s really fun getting creative and transforming people using hair as my art medium.
My least favorite part is probably the look preparation which includes cutting/ coloring/washing/drying and running around town looking for specific hair/tools/accessories. Those are all things that have to happen before you even start executing the look with the client. But in the end—the preparation is what saves time and helps everything be streamlined for whatever you’re working on that day.
Q: What’s the best way to take care of one’s hair? Two or three pieces of advice (just curious).
A: It really depends on what the current state of your hair is like, but some advice that’s applicable to everyone:
- Use heat protectant whenever you’re using hot tools (blowdryer/flat/curling irons). Excessive heat will damage your hair.
- Don’t over-wash your hair. I typically recommend giving your hair 1-3 days before washing your hair depending on your hair type. The natural oils are good for your hair and scalp and are needed to help it grow/condition your hair. Over-washing can lead to over-drying of hair’s ends and scalp. For those with oily hair, every other day is fine. To prolong wear, as an ‘off’ day style, opt for an up-style (pony/bun/half-up).
- Listen to your hair. If you feel your hair goes flat easily, reduce the amount of product. If you have a lot of frizz, add more product. If you notice something isn’t working, try a different product! A quick tip for those who struggle with flat hair, dry shampoo (even on clean hair) will definitely help give you an extra boost.
Josh Liu: It’s All About The Fashion
Q: Pivoting…tell us how you got into fashion. Have you always been drawn to clothes and style, or is it a more recent development?
A: Fashion has always been a focal point of my life. Growing up, fashion was what I used to try to fit in when faced with adversity. I was NOT a cool kid in high school by any means and was overweight and rather nerdy. I was very impressionable and desperate to fit in, and I did so through the means of my clothing choices, which I had begged my parents to buy for me. True Religions? Seven For All Mankind? Rainbow Sandals? HAH—oh the times.
In an ideal world, I would LOVE for all lines to be unsegmented and placed into one unisex collection.
This trend of buying clothes based off of what others wore continued well into college except I didn’t look at my peers, I looked to celebrities. So I would actively look for what the Jonas Brothers would wear and would try to buy those exact items from Allsaints and John Varvatos, etc. I think it really escalated from there as I started to pay more attention to major runway looks that other celebrities would wear like Lady Gaga. Which took me to my fashion tumblr days where I would see runway pictures of Alexander McQueen, Balmain, Louis Vuitton, DSquared2 and etc. I was a poor college kid, so the “fashionisto” in me had to wait until post-college to really explore.
I was definitely a late bloomer in all aspects of life. I started to come into my own sense of style when I was about 25, when I had started to build up my confidence and feel more comfortable in my own skin as a POC (person of color) and a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Seeing others in the queer space use their voice has really inspired me to express myself however I want—in what I say, what I do and what I wear.
Q: What brands or designers do you like? What are your top 5 if you had to choose?
A: This is hard to answer as creative directors change all the time! But these are some of my favorite fashion houses with their respective creative directors that I love(d).
- Dior (CD Kim Jones)
- Alexander McQueen (CD Sarah Burton + CD McQueen obviously)
- Bottega Veneta (CD Daniel Lee)
- Burberry (CD Riccardo Tisci)
*Honorable mentions Rick Owens, Saint Laurent (CD Heidi Slimane), Ben Taverniti UNRAVEL (womenswear specifically), DSQUARED2, Givenchy (CD Riccardo Tisci), Balmain (CD Olivier Rousteing), Off-White (CD Virgil Abloh).
Q: You have a very gender non-conforming approach to your clothes and your style. How did that come about?
A: Being half Chinese and half Mexican, I have always had more feminine facial features. For so long, I really suppressed my femininity to appease the social norms of how men are supposed to dress, act and present themselves. I grew up as the black sheep in my family; I had two heterosexual brothers and a conservative Chinese father that saw me struggle with appearance/expression for a long time— but would always advise to just fit in and look like everyone else to avoid bullying/being ostracized.
I came to a realization that the only thing holding me back from dressing/expressing myself was my own fear of what others would say. I came to a level of maturity and self-confidence that didn’t need the approval of others. It’s been liberating and I’ve kind of ran with it.
As representation of the LGBTQ+ and queer fashion community started becoming more mainstream in media, I felt seen, accepted and empowered to also express myself however I wanted.
Q: Do you see gender when shopping, or do you just look for what you like and forget the labels? I ask because so much of fashion is still segmented and organized by male, female, etc., though many designers are moving to a singular, more unisex collection.
A: As far as I’m concerned, fabric has NO gender.
Menswear and womenswear is a social construct that we have all been raised into believing is appropriate. My motto is, always just focus on the material, the cut and the fit. It’s all just clothes after all.
It’s funny, I have a lot of straight girlfriends who say men’s clothing fits so much better and is more comfortable; whereas, I think the exact opposite hah! I feel like a lot of fabric used in men’s button up shirts/t-shirts are too thick/starchy, I prefer the thinner/softer/flowy-er materials used in womenswear, but none of that really matters to me. I think people should wear what makes them feel confident and authentic to themselves, not what society (or even social media) thinks you should look like. Why limit fashion choices to what someone tells me is a men’s or women’s top…? It’s a top. I’ll wear whatever I want to wear.
The Future of Style
Q: Do you think this is the ultimate place all lines will end up in (one unisex collection), or do you think it’s more like three: male, female, and unisex?
A: In an ideal world, I would LOVE for all lines to be unsegmented and placed into one unisex collection. Unfortunately, the world we live in craves organization, labels and division of the sexes (across the board, politically too LOL).
With that being said though, practically speaking, the sizing measurements would be the main problem for designers, as most styles are fit to male/female anatomy. Males tend to have broader shoulders, chests, and hips, so even when I shop in womenswear, I always have to be mindful and size UP whenever possible, but alas I’m not necessarily small framed either! Designers really should be accommodating past size 10/12 for womenswear clothing, to not only accommodate plus sized women, but men too.
I think designers will start doing more unisex collections for items they designed and intended for both sexes to use. Alternatively, I think labels could keep their mens and womenswear separated for categorical purposes, but encourage everything to be worn unisex by shooting all items of clothing on male and female models on their site or on their campaigns. They could encourage both sexes to delve into considering menswear and womenswear options.
Q: How has living in Los Angeles changed your sense of style or fashion?
A: I was born and raised in Los Angeles. Aforementioned, I grew up very impressionable to my surroundings and wanted to always fit in. LA is very image focused, so I’ve learned to change my mindset from ‘fitting in’ to standing out. The city has become very oversaturated with the same ‘type of people’ wearing the same hypebeast things, and it can be boring and monotonous. I’d rather my style be unique and authentic to my own identity, which I think lands on some happy medium between “femme” and “machisimo.” Perhaps “androgynous” is the word? Still working on it!
It’s cliche, but I’ve always loved the saying: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” Nothing is more powerful and sexy than being confident in your own skin, and clothes.
Q: How have the last few months affected your life and your work? What does a typical day look like during quarantine?
A: Since I work directly with people, my work has come to a complete stop. It’s been really tough on all creatives, freelancers and small business owners. I completely understand and agree with all the precautions everyone is taking to save lives — with shutting down non-essential businesses, quarantining, social distancing and face masks.
During COVID, a typical day starts with setting a simple to-do list. At the bare minimum, it’s a 30 minute workout and from there I just add things to my list of what I WANT to do and what I NEED to do. At first, I started off quarantine really unhealthy by setting myself up with unrealistic productivity goals in efforts to try and work towards alternative forms of income. It was everything from content creation for IG feed, IGTV videos, and YT videos. Now I have a more realistic mindset with a rolling to-do list. We have plenty of time to do things, no need to cram all tasks into one day and overwork/stress oneself out. I’ve accepted that it’s totally okay to have days where I do nothing, but sit, reflect and maybe watch Netflix. There’s no need to feel shame/guilt for not participating in some productivity race that social media has led us all to believe we need to be competing in.
I read an article in the New York Times that said it best…”We’re surviving a pandemic. It’s a traumatic time. It’s totally okay to have days where you do nothing. It doesn’t have to be a productivity race.”
Q: How do you think fashion and/or the retail industry will change as a result of everything that has happened?
A: I think shopping in-person will have to be implemented back in phases. I think local ordinance is determining that retail can function as curbside pickup and eventually operating at a TBD percent of capacity.
I think fashion/retail for FW20 and SS21 will definitely be hit hard in terms of overall sales. I know some FW20 pieces and pre-orders didn’t fully make it into production since much of asia/europe shut down for a few months due to COVID. I think some brands actively choose to redirect their production efforts towards next season’s shows. Although, I wonder if all designers will have a next season and if so, perhaps it will be less looks. Time will tell!
Q: How did you come to find italist? What has your experience been using our site?
A: I am always looking for hard to find items from designers and I think I stumbled upon italist through extensive Google searching! Interestingly enough, soon after I discovered italist, my best friend from college (@jordanrisa, freelance social media manager) also mentioned the site to me as she just had signed italist as a client (in the past).
I always considered italist one of my best kept secrets and ‘underground’ in the fashion world. It’s so competitive with pricing as it sources from boutiques all over Italy. I’m a shopaholic, but I’m also a smart shopper. So I always flip between sites to make sure I’m getting my items for the best price. italist almost always takes the cake. :)
Q: What do you like about italist and what do you think could be improved?
A: I love how extensive italist’s designer list is and the selection. It’s very simple and easy to navigate and filter through items. One thing that can be improved is probably the clothing images. I’d love to see each item on a model to see the fit and cut. It’s often hard to just see it on white space; however, I do know the items are housed at their respective boutiques so would be hard to do.
Q: What is your personal style philosophy? Any principles you live by and would like to share?
A: It’s cliche, but I’ve always loved the saying: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” Nothing is more powerful and sexy than being confident in your own skin, and clothes.
Q: Which items are on your italist ‘wishlist’?
- Compact Cotton Trench Coat
- High Neck Sweater
- Silk Long Sleeve Shirt, Black
- Silk Long Sleeve Shirt, Light Bone
- Buttoned, Belted Authentic Coat
- Side Cargo Pocket Long Trousers
PHILOSOPHY DI LORENZO SERAFINI:
- Triacetate Off-Shoulder Shirt
- Silk Shirt with Lace Detail
- 80mm Tabi Boots in Black Patent
- Round-Toe Ankle Boots
- Coup de Soleil Long Sleeve Stretch Cotton Shirt
- Simon Shirt
- Raffia Hat
- La Veste Tablier Jacket
- La Veste Bergamo Blazer
- Logo-Print Long Sleeve Top
- Lambskin Blazer
- Cropped Tie-Waist Blazer
- Check/Grid Print Long Coat
- Parachute Cargo Pants
- Camo Cargo Trousers
1017 ALYX 9SM:
Q: Are there any emerging brands or designers that you particularly like or plan to watch?
A: Peter Do, Dion Lee, 1017 ALYX 9SM, Ludovic de Saint Sernin, Heliot Emil, Hyein Seo, Nanushka.
Q: As an insider, what are your favorite spots in LA to eat, drink, and shop? Favorite bars, restaurants? Are there any places you would suggest our readers not miss if they visit? (assuming life returns to normal in the short term)
A: To eat…Le Petit Paris (French), Figaro Bistrot (Los Feliz – French), Gracias Madre (Vegan Mexican), Taste on Melrose (American), John & Vinnys (Italian), The Little Door (Meditteranean), Kassi Club (Meditteranean), Sushi Park (Sushi), Osawa (Pasadena Sushi).
For drinks: Harriet’s Rooftop, Chateau Marmont, Catch LA, Soho House WEHO, SUNSET at The Edition.
For great coffee: Verve Melrose, Alfred Coffee & Tea Room (Melrose Place), Carrera Cafe, Chateau Marmont.
Some shopping: Dover Street Market, H. Lorenzo, Maxfield, Church Boutique. But I prefer online shopping!
And things to see when you visit: Movie Screening @ Hollywood Forever Cemetery, picnic at the beach (do not go if above 90 degrees, it’s unpleasant), LACMA, The Broad Museum, Melrose Place to walk around and have coffee, Malibu or Zuma Beach + Escondido Falls hike, Runyon Canyon.
Many thanks to Josh Liu for speaking with us, and for his charming candor.
Discover more Style Icons and Stylish Customer Q&As: Samantha Birkenfeld-Malpass, Cameron LeSiege, and Xavier LeBron, a fellow Hollywood creative.
Shop italist for up to 40% off on over 200,000 up-to-the-minute luxury fashions for women, men, and kids from leading brands like Golden Goose, Fendi, Gucci, Miu Miu, and many more—direct from Italy’s finest boutiques to your door.