Harry Josh, John Frieda International Creative Consultant, may be one of the most sought after celebrity hair stylists in the world, but his rise to the top was far from glamorous. Read on as Harry tells us how he, the son of Indian immigrants from Vancouver, Canada, set on the path of making his dreams come true, despite the odds.
“I guess if you’re in India my name sounds a lot more Indian because they don’t say Harry Josh phonetically but say HA-REE JOE-SH. My parents are from the north of Punjab and my Dad’s last name originally was Singh and while he was trying to migrate to Canada he was having a hard time because there was tons of immigration from India. And he couldn’t get a job because his last name automatically triggered that he was a foreigner. So he changed it to a nickname he had his whole life which was “Josh” which means to make fun of just like it does in English and that did finally open the doors for him to get interviews. I’ve always loved my name and thought it was cool to have two first names and it has served me very well that I ended up being a hair dresser.
My family was a traditional immigrant family. We struggled. My parents were the first out of their immediate family to immigrate to Canada and then slowly started to bring other family members over. When I was younger, we lived in a small two bedroom house that we all shared – I, my parents, my aunts, my uncles and my cousins. So I grew up in an incredibly close, tight knit family, quite literally because of space. But I was a really rebellious child by the time I was fifteen. I didn’t enjoy school, I was very much into the arts, and I wanted to be different than everyone else. So I would dress very strange, I wanted to wear punk clothes, dye my hair jet black and flat iron it and make it all punky, wear eyeliner and look like a Goth kid. I went through all these phases trying to figure out who I was. Coming from an Indian family they push you to become an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer, things that traditional, hard working Indian kids get into. So I felt terrible for my parents because I was everything they would be embarrassed about. I was the young, rebellious kid who wanted to be an artist. I wanted to be an actor, I wanted to be a model, anything in that world was very appealing to me.
I was obsessed with fashion magazines and I saw an outtake of a hair dresser brushing a model’s hair on a cliff and thought, wow, I could do that; that’s a job. I talked to a few people about it and they said the only way I was going to get there was to move to the States. So a friend suggested that we go to South Beach because everyone is shooting fashion in Miami and if we want hair and make up jobs that’s where we should go. So literally in two weeks, we packed up our stuff and all the money we could scrape together and got a little apartment in South Beach. And I was so excited cause I thought this was the beginning of my super stardom-ness and made appointments at all the hair and make up agencies. And I walked up and down Ocean Drive to each of my appointments and was rejected one after the other after the other. At the last appointment I had, they rejected me as well and I was waiting to leave. Then one of the agents saw me and tears were welling up in my eyes. I guess he felt pity on me because he called me back in and asked what I was here to do. I said, ‘I want to be a hair dresser and I think I’m really talented.’ And he was like… ‘Well, you’re not. You’re young, you’re inexperienced and your portfolio is a joke. You don’t know what you’re doing yet and you need to be an assistant.’ So he took me on the next day as an assistant. I learned SO much and after about nine months I started getting booked on my own, so I was the key hairdresser and no longer the assistant. After being on my own for a few more months, I decided it was time to hit New York.
I moved to New York, made appointments at all the agencies and went to every appointment and I got rejected by everyone again. They were like, ‘This is New York, you’re not qualified, you don’t have the experience, you need to start as an assistant.’ I took another bite of humble pie and became an assistant at a trendy hair salon on Madison Avenue, sweeping floors and washing hair. About two years in, I was starting to lose faith and nothing was really happening when I met this woman who was a regular customer and always had a huge binder full of very important names like Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui, Versace and I asked her what she does. She told me that she produced fashion shows around the world. At the time I was thinking maybe I needed to get out of hair but still wanted to be a part of that world, around fashion and models and shows. So I bugged her for months asking if I could work for her, that I’d work for free or be an intern. I finally broke her down and won my way into working with another intern alphabetizing model cards. So eight hours a day, three days a week I sat in a room the size of a closet with no windows alphabetizing thousands of model cards. It was tedious and painfully boring but to me it was my last chance. So I decided I would do this and I would do it with a smile. I was just hanging on to the hope that outside of those doors major things were happening.
After working there part time for a few months I got into model casting and eventually became a casting director. And I was in London one season casting a fashion show and in walked a fresh faced sixteen year old South American model named Gisele. We spent a few days together and ended up becoming really good friends. She eventually moved to New York and we were hanging out one day at my apartment and she was complaining that since moving to the city her hair had become really dark and no longer had the sun-kissed look it had when she was living by the beach. And I was like, I can fix that! So we started messing around with her hair in my bathroom and put bleach on the ends to look like she had spent the summer in Brazil and had just come back to New York. And right around that time she started working like crazy. And within two years she had shifted the whole business and revolutionized the standard of beauty and her hair being an iconic part of that look helped me tremendously. So when she started going to shoots and mentioning my name, it got a lot of play.
At this point I had been in New York for ten years casting for four months out of the year and cutting hair out of my apartment the rest of the time just to make ends meet. Then the big break happened. I got a phone call from the beauty editor at Vogue magazine who wanted to interview me for a feature, cause she had been hearing my name all over the place. She came to my apartment for the interview and just couldn’t believe that all these supermodels who had access to anyone in the world came into a crappy little sixth floor walk up to get their hair done. She heard my story and wrote the article and I got a full page feature in Vogue magazine. After that the phone kept ringing off the hook. It literally happened overnight and it’s just been a steady climb these last ten years. I’ve been so blessed, it’s been an incredible ride and it just doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon.”
Images courtesy of: JedRoot
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