Exclusive Interview with Hair and Makeup Artist Johnny Chien

Article by Keen Lee
Photo credit Niko

Johnny Chien is a professional hairstylist and makeup artist. He is known for some of his work with models for Vivienne Tam, and fashion for the Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 Fashion Week.

Johnny Chien, Roy Ren

Q: Tells us a bit about yourself, and your background. How did you decide you wanted to become a make-up and hair stylist?

Chien: I was born and raised in Taiwan. While growing up, I have always taken notice of the beautiful aspects of people and of nature. As I matured, my interest developed further, so at 20-years-old, I started working as a makeup artist at MAC Cosmetics in Taiwan. As a make-up artist, I wanted to bring the beauty out of individuals. Though I believe in natural beauty, I enjoy working with make-up and styling hair to create different images of people that they would never expect to see themselves in. It is a very fulfilling feeling when women see themselves confidently in looks they never thought they can wear. I started my life in California when I moved to America, but then I moved to New York in 2011 because I knew that this is the place where the beauty industry thrives, and there are many interesting individuals who live in the city. New York challenged me to open up to different kinds of strangers who would not only become my clients, but eventually my friends.

Q: Where and when did you start learning how to style hair?

Chien: Since I had started out as a make-up artist prior to being a hairstylist, I thought that styling hair would not be so hard since a perfect hairstyle is the addition to the make-up and face part. I had graduated from the Vidal Sassoon Academy, where I gained three years of experience in cutting hair. I pretend as if every haircut is my first time, because it is for most of my clients, and I give it my best.

Q: Do you think it is hard to be a male make-up and hair stylist?

Chien: No, I do not think it is hard to be a male hair and make-up artist, because working with women have taught me a lot about how women behave and what they want. It is a pleasure to work with women in the beauty industry. To witness and work with the many beautiful and unique faces out there is not simply a job for me, but an honor. From working in this industry, I have learned how women view themselves, and I took that to my advantage to help guide them to be content with the physical features they are born with.

Q: What has your work in the past involved, and what has it taught you along the way?

Chien: When I was in Taiwan, I worked with many popular models and actresses from China. I have been asked that if I were to focus more on make-up or cutting hair, which one would I choose? I would be surprised at this question, because one cannot have one without the other. To focus on one and not on the other is like cheating and it will not work out. Just like if a woman only does her make-up and not the hair, she will not look polished overall. To witness the transformation of what make-up and styling hair can do for an individual is astonishing to me. It’s like looking at a piece of art come alive from what used to be a blank piece of canvas. I get my inspiration from fashion magazines and the outdoors to create new, refreshing, and trendy images for my clients.

Q: How did you lead your career into New York? What does your daily work involve?

Chien: When I moved to New York, I discovered a small gig, and freelanced with New York Fashion Week for AsianInNY, where I’ve styled models that starred in music videos, AsianFusion, and Women’s Health magazine. I am interested in fashion too, but I believe that a perfect sense of fashion style is incomplete without the supporting roles of the make-up and hair style. I use creative techniques to style a nearly flawless piece of work for my clients. Before I start styling on any individual, I take into account their lifestyle; what is most suitable for their personality and physical features on a daily basis. This is important, because a hairstyle is not just for the day that it is done, but it will be carried around with the individual as it grows out. This is why I have to think about how my client will look and how they will take care of their hair once they leave the salon.

Q: How did Hair Philosophy start? What inspired you to give it it’s name?

While working on this gig earlier in 2013, I met and worked with one of my clients whom I’d never expect to give me an opportunity of a lifetime. This was Pei-Yin Shih, who is a part-time business owner and a full-time nurse. With only so much time on her hands to do everything she wants, she didn’t know where to begin until we met. She was my client, but we shared the same vision, a dream, in which we both were determined to make it happen together. When I cut Shih’s hair, she offered me a business opportunity that ultimately led to the beginning of Hair Philosophy. Business launched and things are going smoothly.

The name “Hair Philosophy” was created by Shih’s former employee, Keen Lee, who believed that styling hair is similar to the way of life; it is how people go about life, the way they present to others and how they feel about themselves, and at the end of the day that is most important. Styling hair is a form of art. Coincidentally, my Chinese name is the direct translation of “the philosophy of life.”

Q: What advice do you usually give to your clients?

Chien: I am honest to my clients when it comes to giving advice on what is best for their facial features.The hairstyle must match an individual’s facial features, and it must be simple to maintain. I treat all of my clients as if they were a supermodel.

Q: Your career is your passion and it seems like you love every moment of it. Aside from your career, have you ever faced challenges as an Asian American?

Chien: I moved to New York barely knowing a drop of English, but I moved because that was the only way for me to break out of my comfort zone and learn it. I worked many jobs that required the use of the English language. I wanted to express my ideas but when I couldn’t communicate in English, it was this reason that motivated me to be able to do what I’ve dreamed of doing. It was a tough journey for me until today. I’ve struggled to break down the language barrier. Since English is not my first language, I accepted the challenge of learning English by forcing myself to speak it with people I was not comfortable with speaking to at first.

Q: Overall, what is the most valuable experience throughout this journey for you? And what is the next step you’d plan to take in your career?

Chien: Through the ups and downs, I met my co-worker who eventually became my friend and business partner. This friend is Roy Ren, who is a successful and professional hairstylist himself. Ren had been a part of my journey, where we overcame obstacles together. This led us to become a small family at Hair Philosophy now. I can say that we’ve built a strong, trusting relationship that brought the birth of Hair Philosophy. I’d hope to pursue the next step in starting my own academy for make-up and fashion one day.

These are some makeup and fashion tips Chien recommends:

Chien recommends that the right make-up should be applied according to one’s skin type. For example, it is better to select a non-oily foundation for dry sensitive skin, because the oil may clog pores and irritate the skin. Since make-up is worn throughout most of the day, it is best to choose a foundation that moisturizes the skin.

Applying any kind of make-up before researching the best choice for your skin type, may cause damage to the skin rather than enhancing one’s look. Using make-up can bring out a person’s strong facial features, so if they do decide to use make-up, it is not something they should just dive into. Make-up is like the nutrition of a face, and most want to maintain a healthy appearance.

As for taking care of hair, it is also very important to apply the right hair products depending on the condition of the hair. When styling hair, blow drying and straightening can cause a lot of damage due to the heat. Therefore, Chien strongly recommends the use of heat protection products and oil to leave hair smooth and shiny-looking.

The use of the right products will be consolidated in an individual’s daily life. The way an individual styles their hair can change their image in many ways. Chien recommends that people should be more open to changing their hair style from time to time, so that a person feels refreshed and confident about themselves. The condition of an individual’s hair also determines how well a person takes care of their health, so it is always best to maintain the roots and ends of hair by using hair conditioner and getting trims every three months. This will maintain a healthy hair style.

For more about Johnny Chien, you can find him at Hair Philosophy located at 180 Mulberry Street, NY.

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