Crushing On: Kristin Ess

This whole blogger/social media thing has been around long enough, some of us have been following each other for the better part of a decade. For me, photo sharing apps were my drug of choice, and when I was deep in the rabbit hole of building my + Beauty + board on Pinterest I found manyyyyyy of my pins came from the same stylist. There was something about the ease and glossiness that I was so attracted to. Nothing was too over done, but all the models looked fantastic… fantastic in the kind of way that makes you quote Nora Ephron’s famous line, “I’ll have what she’s having.” That stylist was Kristin Ess. Kristen and I connected when I came to find out she liked W&D, and through the years we’ve been following each other’s careers online. 

When she asked if I would try out her new line of haircare products, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I had secretly hoped it would make my hair look half as good as the locks in her photos, and really and truly, I felt her products made that “natural glam” attainable for a girl who doesn’t want to put too much time or money into keeping up her hair. I immediately told the ladies at the office about the products, especially the thickening spray and beach waves spray. Turns out, all of us were searching for different solutions for our hair, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to let the W&D team share not only their thoughts about the products but interview the woman at the center of it all. W&D’s Editorial Director will take it away from here. – Kate


After discovering Kate’s affinity for Kristin’s new product line, I couldn’t wait to learn more. I reached out to her right away and we chatted all things life, work, and most importantly, hair! You may follow Kristin on Instagram @kristin_ess, (that’s basically how I came to love her work) she’s a celebrity hair stylist, always posting the most inspiring haircuts, colors, tutorials, and hair inspo pics on IG. Like Kate, I too have saved and swooned over more than a handful of her posts and even attempted to recreate a few. The only problem is, my hair is about half as thick as her clients, so it seems my braids or low ponytails end up looking more like a Joe Dirt rattail ensemble, and not so much like the bonafide mermaid goddess I was originally going for. With the launch of her new product line Kristin Ess at Target earlier this year, and Kate’s overwhelming enthusiasm for the line, the entire W&D team has been jonesin’ to try out her products and see for ourselves if they’re the real deal.

Before I reached out to interview Kristin, Kate and I sat down and got carried away with brainstorming all the different ways we could make a hair story come to life. We pictured all the girls we know getting together in the studio to chat honestly about hair over a glass of wine. We really wanted this piece to be reflective of a collective group of women while taking into consideration everyone’s differing hair styles and product needs.

We couldn’t wait to try out a few of our own hair tutorials with the aid of Kristin’s new products. For this initiative, (with the hopes of making our hair look like hers, of course) we styled 4 different women with 4 varying hair types, lengths, colors, and textures. Kristin was kind enough to send our team one of everything in her new product line, so we really enjoyed this experiment and just had fun with it.

Follow our Kristin Ess hair journey below and catch our interview with the celeb stylist! See which products we’re liking, which ones are best for specific hair types, and most importantly, how everyone’s hair turned out! Our step-by-step tutorials will help you recreate these fun and easy hairstyles. We hope you try them, and if you do, let us know how yours turned out too!

Colleen

Colleen has very fine hair that is slightly staticky. For her hair, we used Kristin Ess shampoo and conditioner, a volumizing mouse, beach waves spray, loose styling powder, and a finishing spray. For this first look, we styled her hair with a curling wand to achieve those soft waves and then brushed out the curls with a styling brush to create even softer waves.

For her second look, “the tousled pin-up bun,” we curled Colleen’s hair and wrapped her locks up in a half pony; then pinned each barrel curl up with bobby pins. This look is great for a night out, work event, wedding, or when wearing a sundress and you want to achieve that swept up, effortless up-do that is both beautiful and classic.

Stefani

I have a lot of texture in my hair but it lacks volume. For me, we used Kristin Ess shampoo and conditioner, a leave-in conditioning spray, working serum on my ends, thickening spray, working texture spray, (which is thicker but not as much as hairspray). For this first look, we were going for that old Hollywood look. We curled my hair with a curling wand and then lightly brushed out the curls a bit with a boars hair smoothing brush.

For my second look, we attempted a deconstructed braid. We began with a dutch braid on one side and slowly pulled it apart, making it super loose, then we started to pin up the pieces we needed to tuck in more. Then lastly, we pinned up the bottom tail to hide it within the braid. To complete this style, we used texture spray and loose styling powder, that we worked in as we went. We also used finishing spray at the end to set in the braid.

chloe

Chloe has thick but somewhat dry hair. For her, we used Kristin Ess shampoo and conditioner, beach waves spray, texture spray, and finishing spray to achieve her first look which is a Blake Lively-esque loose curls / beachy wave down do.

For Chloe’s second look, we went with a normal french braid and slowly pulled it apart on the sides. Near the hair tie is we took a small gathering of hair and wrapped it around the bottom of the braid and pinned it with a bobby pin behind the braid, to achieve the perfect hair knot.

Riah

Riah has super soft hair but tightly woven ringlets that need a lot of moisture and control to avoid looking frizzy. For her, we used Kristin Ess shampoo and cleansing conditioner, leave-in conditioner, curl defining cream and just let her hair air dry naturally.

For Riah’s second look it was pretty simple, we used bobby pins to pin her hair up the side to create a fun and free mohawk.


Our main takeaways from using Kristin Ess products

  • We loved that the shampoo and conditioner are both sulfate free. I find it’s difficult to find a sulfate free shampoo that really gives you a good lather and this one does.
  • The thickening spray is great for fine hair, it truly gives you much 3x’s thicker hair, just make sure you go light on the application, we found too many spritzes of this left our hair product heavy.
  • We liked how the scent of her products are a little musky, it reminds us of Chanel perfume mixed with a sexy guy’s cologne.
  • The finishing spray has a stronger hold than anticipated, so it might be best to go light on this! A little bit gives you that all day hold power.
  • All her products are meant to be applied with a light touch, so in each case, less is more!
  • Overall, as a team, our favorite products were the thickening spray, leave-in conditioner, and beach wave spray.

Now, let’s meet and talk shop with Kristin!

Thank you so much for sharing your story and letting us try your products. You were a dream to work with on this piece!

1. I read on your website you have been doing hair for 22 years, that is so impressive, tell us a little bit about your life story and how you got started in hair? It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I wrote papers about it in school, I cut everyone’s hair growing up and the minute I was able to break free from my hometown I was gone. My Toyota Paseo came flying into Los Angeles at top speed. I got the opportunity to assist in a busy salon in Beverly Hills and I took it. I never looked back because who would??

2. What is a typical day in the life of Kristin Ess like, do you go into the studio every day to do hair or how does each day differ? Typical day: I wake up in a panic thinking I’m supposed to be somewhere. No two days are the same around here so it’s really hard to say. Some days I leave early for a shoot, some days I’m in the studio shooting photos for my haircare line, sometimes for thebeautydepartment.com, some days I’m on house calls, and some days I do cut and color at my private studio. After that, I come back to my assistant who hassles me to do lots of things on the computer, like prep hair posts for TBD, answer interview questions, review product development for Kristin Ess Hair or respond to emails from my team in NYC. Are you bored yet? I can’t imagine this is fun for anyone but me.

3. Tell us about your new products! What are your favorites? What are the must-haves? And most of all, where are the best places to purchase – is Target the sole provider? I’m so proud of this line. I worked really hard for a really long time to make it the most well-rounded collection of products that would serve the needs of all of my clients with every hair type. And yes! It’s exclusively at Target.

4. I also saw on your website that you have hair tutorials! We would love to feature one. Which is your favorite, the one you’d recommend our readers to try out? I think the most versatile one would be the hair mask. Everyone needs a good hair mask once in a while. There’s a video on there showing you how to do an at-home treatment. Dry styling wise, I would say the best one would be the Working Texture Spray video. Anyone looking for more texture (which I feel like is pretty much everyone these days) can get down with that spray.

5. What is your favorite part about doing hair? I think my answer differs from year to year. Right now it’s putting out hair content. That wasn’t even a thing 10 years ago but it’s truly what I love at the moment. Photos, tutorials, videos, social media posts, all of it! I love photographing hair and sharing information. I think that’s what I love about my line– you don’t just get the product, you get the education and imagery to help you learn how to use it.

6. What do you do specialize in cut, color or style? And if all, which is your favorite? As a self-proclaimed control freak, I can’t pick one. I have to do them all! How could I possibly choose?

7. What are some of the tools all women should have in their hairstyling cabinet, from irons to products – what is top on your list? TOOLS: A great blowdryer makes all the difference (my favorite is the Elchim 2001), 2 curling iron sizes– one for tighter curls and one for looser waves, a great flat iron and a diffuser if you have curly hair. PRODUCTS: depends on the hair type, but have a great daily shampoo, a deep conditioner for those moments you need a haircut but can’t get in to get one, a leave-in conditioner is a MUST, a thickening spray if you have fine hair, a heat protectant if you have thick hair that needs a lot of heat styling, a texture spray if you want cool girl hair, a beach wave spray if you want low maintenance air-dry waves and a brushable hairspray for updos, chignons, and braids.

8. For women that don’t have super thick hair, but want to achieve that full and voluminous look – what do you recommend? My thickening spray. You put it on wet hair and it literally feels like it swells up your hair and gives you more density! I even use it on thick hair because it kind of acts like a setting lotion, giving the hair more support for curls and waves.

9. I know there is a lot of speculation around this and I’m sure it varies from person-to-person, but how many times should we be washing our hair each week? Are there any other tricks of the trade we should know about when it comes to washing or even how our diet can affect our hair? It does vary from person to person. I don’t want anyone to fully depend on dry shampoo and not wash their hair. When it’s dirty you wash it. Pretty simple. There’s no miracle answer here.

10. As a celebrity hairstylist, who are some of your favorite celebs you work with regularly? My clients are all my faves for various reasons. I keep my lineup fairly small because I’m stretched pretty thin on my schedule. I can only take on so much, but the women I do work with are incredible. Lauren is my tried and true loyal ride or die classic beauty. Lucy is my dare devil. She’ll try anything and she keeps me on my toes creatively. Halle, I mean do I even have to explain that? CAN you even explain that? She’s so perfect in every possible way. Jenna is like an angel and just being around her is inspiring. Ashley makes me laugh like no other and she’s a total chameleon. I feel incredibly lucky to work with these women.

11. I’m sure you’ve had a lot of interesting run-ins with clients and trying to nail down that perfect hair look for big events. What is your favorite funny story that has happened while doing hair for the stars? One time Lauren and I had to completely change her hair look on the way to an event in the car, weaving through the canyon. Her hair looked great. I threw up after we dropped her off.

12. It says on your website that you founded thebeautydepartment.com – tell us a little more about this initiative? We wanted a place where girls/women could go to learn how to do their hair in step-by-step tutorials. No one was doing that when we started so we just began with a simple concept. We have since turned it into a place to learn tricks, tips, see new products, learn about upcoming launches, and recently we started photographing our celebrity clients in various looks, which we plan to do more!

13. Who and what inspires you lately? People who are down to just try things. There’s a whole generation under me that is just experimenting with digital life and that really inspires me. They don’t really overthink things. They just do it! I think so many times we get in our own way– I’m guilty. But this year I’m trying to overthink less.

14. What are you favorite social channels to follow for hair inspiration? I don’t do that a lot. I usually turn to books and magazines in my library. But I do love Kate Arend’s Pinterest page!! She pins my favorite beauty stuff. I love it so much! She really gets that perfectly imperfect beauty thing. I love watching my artist peers too!  

15. Your entire IG feed has been referred to as “Hair Goals” give us some tips and tricks on how the every-girl (that is not so hair savvy) can achieve these star looks! HAHA! Go to thebeautydepartment.com and kristinesshair.com. We’re going to try and get a tutorial up for every look created on one channel or the other!

16. What are some of your favorite looks in the hair world right now? Tell us what you are loving for summer? I love early 2000s bobs (like the one I just cut on Lucy Hale this week!) and I’m currently obsessed with hair that’s way too long. I’ve been getting these 26” extensions and putting flat iron waves and beach spray in them and I can’t get enough. I like minimal and excess alike! 

17. Where do you see Kristin Ess hair going in the future? Do you have any big plans or new partnerships in the works? I do, I do! We have some very exciting things happening within the next year and I would be killed if I told you what they are so you’ll have to stay tuned! I’ll be back with more when it’s happening!

Images by 2ndTruth & Kristin Ess

Styling by Chelsey Werth


Stefani Ellenbecker is the Editorial Director at Wit & Delight. When she’s not feverishly editing or writing about style and interiors, she runs her bohemian shop  Arden Trading Co. where she sells all artisan-made home goods. She lives in Minneapolis with her fiancé Muhamed.