Many dream of the chance to travel the globe and work alongside celebrities. Wendy Iles is living it. The freelance stylist grew up in the Tasmania, Australia countryside, where her father was a producer of opium poppies for medicinal purposes. “I have strong childhood memories of running through those beautiful poppy fields when in bloom,” she said. Now residing in Europe, she travels across the world for work, working on shoots for publications and advertisements (she recently did a shoot for Pantene). She also has offered styling to clients like Heidi Klum, who took her to the Cannes Film Festival.
But Iles maintains that things aren’t necessarily as glamorous as they seem. Read on to learn more about how she got started and that one time she happened to work with Martin Scorsese.
When did you know hair was your calling? What attracted you to it?
Since I can remember hair was always my passion, I had a small “play house” (“Wendy house”) in the garden as a child. That was my first salon. My dolls were my clients. Needless to say they all sport chopped haircuts!
What was your training like? Where did you attend a cosmetology program?
I started training in a local salon and then progressed to a more worldly level by moving to London and working at Vidal Sassoon.
Today as a session stylist I draw a lot from the knowledge I took from working in that salon of coiffure when I first started. There I learned to place hair rollers correctly, back comb, do a good chignon. I also learned lots technically concerning perms and color. Once at Sassoon I mastered hair cutting and although that knowledge is priceless it’s rare. I’m cutting as a session stylist I’m always coiffing. However there is a certain discipline attached to Sassoon. Those years have certainly helped form my need of good a visual and to always strive toward perfection .
What did your career look like when you just started out? What challenges did you face?
I started out thinking I’d one day be a salon owner (which I was). I had no idea that a whole new dimension of freelancing with hair existed. I fell into it by accident after having been invited by Australian Vogue to do a photo session. I was very lucky to have that booking and it changed my entire career path and my life. Challenges were learning to be very versatile in styling, feeling confident enough to create for every client their hair wish.
How did you start working with celebrities?
Celebrities started naturally. I think it’s about reaching a certain level with work. For example, much of the high end advertising work is endorsed these days by celebrities. So most of my jobs have their presence. From these introductions the celebrities themselves engage me for their own needs red carpet events, other advert and editorial sessions, etc.
A lot of people get starstruck when they encounter a star in person. Was it a little intimidating the first couple of times you worked with a celebrity, or did it feel like just another client?
I guess I was a little nervous when I first began, but not anymore. The celebrities are usually really nice. It’s often the whole entourage around them like agents, body guards, etc., that make it less comfortable for others.
It’s a dream for some stylists to be able to land major editorial jobs, which you’ve had the opportunity to do several times. What advice would you have for a young stylist who aspires to do the same?
It was much easier when I started out. Today everyone wants a piece of the fashion scene. The competition is strong for artists starting out. It’s not as glamorous as it looks. It takes stamina and is hard work both physically and mentally. My advice: believe in yourself, give all your energy to each project, strive to make a difference on each job. Hair is one of the most important keys to a fashion or beauty visual. Everyone will come to rely on you if you do a good job.
You also keep a lovely blog to chronicle your experiences. How long have you been blogging? What was the inspiration to start it?
I’m very new to blogging, I started last September. The blog happened after a conversation with someone asking why don’t I document my travels and experiences. It’s rather nice also for my family in Australia who are very far away from my work world. It takes a lot of time to get an article together but I try and do one a week. So many lovely jobs pass in a week it’s often difficult to decide which one to write about.
Several stylists we’ve interviewed have a more traditional career in a salon or as a salon owner. You, however, work as a freelance stylist. What are the perks to this type of styling career? The challenges?
The perks are defiantly the traveling, nice hotels, working alongside the best in their fields on the best locations around the world. The challenges are to stay a step ahead in inspiration and creation, performing at a top level even after a 19 hour day on set, feeling confident enough in yourself to execute whatever drawing a creative director might ask you to recreate on a head of hair.
Are there any experiences you count among your favorite?
Every day is an experience of some kind but working alongside film director Martin Scorsese on a Chanel campaign was memorable as it’s rare he will do a TV campaign, so it was an opportunity that passed my way. It’s interesting to watch a great film director like him work. I was pleased, as well, as the hair was important to him so although it was a perfume campaign I really needed to perform in the hair department. I had to turn a casted blonde model to a brunette, create some cool looking chignon and give the leading model a free flowing modern sexy hairdo .
Every stylist has a go-to product or product line they love. What’s yours?
Striving to find perfection for the care of hair I started making up certain products at home, like shine creams and conditioners, etc. Over the years on jobs I’ve used these recipes to achieve the “luxury” hair that most people book me for. I’ve since progressed and am at present working with a lab trying to bottle up my recipes for everyone’s use ..
When I work I start with these products (shampoo/conditioner/shine treatment) and don’t use much else other than if the hair is really dry. [Then] I will do a masque treatment. I believe if the “care” is taken care of, the hair will be supple and keep its movement and shape all day on set. I have favorite tool, being a GHD 1 inch iron. Also I use a small wig brush to dress hair. The bristles are metal and stop electricity in the hair.
A big thank you to Wendy for talking with us about her hair journey!