Karie Bennett, stylist, writer and owner of Atelier SalonSpa and Atelier Studio in San Jose,...
Karie Bennett, stylist, writer and owner of Atelier SalonSpa and Atelier Studio in San Jose, California

Handling men is a tough job, but Diana Schmidtke is happy to do it.

Take a look at almost any hot male celebrity on a magazine cover, in a movie, or on television and you’ve seen her work—Taylor Lautner, Orlando Bloom, Christian Bale, Jon Hamm, Ashton Kutcher—even Will Ferrell and George Clooney. She spends the day raking her fingers through the hair of our favorite handsome hunks. Yes, you could say she’s had her hands on all of them.

And, as it turns out, she’s just as fascinating as her clients.

CLICK HERE to listen to Schmidtke's podcast interview with SALON TODAY Editor Stacey Soble!

Her Humble Beginnings

Schmidtke readily admits that she hated high school, so she found a work program that enabled her to go to school the first half of the day, and work the second half. She was able to graduate high school early, and get her life started. Not a conventional path, but, as we found out, Schmidtke didn’t travel the conventional roads to become the successful freelance men’s groomer she is today.

After high school, Schmidtke did some modeling, and wound up at a hair show as a hair model. She saw how much fun the hairstylists were having, asked a few questions, found out that beauty school was only nine months long, and she enrolled. It seemed like a shortcut to a successful career. Little did she know how long the road to success would be.

Schmidtke’s career started at Trio Salon in Chicago, first as an assistant, then as a stylist. During a vacation to the Caribbean, she fell in love with the ocean and warm weather. With less than a $1,000 in her pocket and a dream of working on runway shows and photo shoots, she headed to Los Angeles. Once there, she found a lack of fashion work, so she set out to make her mark. That was easier said than done. As she describes in her book, Shortcuts to a Successful Career as a Hairstylist or Make Up Artist in the Fashion and Entertainment Industry, she took any job she could to gain experience and be around the job she wanted.

Leading LadyHollywood male grooming expert Diana Schmidtke

SALON TODAY contributing editor and salon owner Karie Bennett recently caught up with Schmidtke and delved into her past and present in this candid and insightful one-on-one interview.

KB: How did you begin focusing on men?

DS: The men thing really chose me. My lucky break came when an actor’s groomer didn’t show up. I was working in a nearby studio on another job, and the photographer came into the studio and asked if I could help them out. I jumped in and helped without question. The actor and his publicist were very thankful for my assistance that day. Next thing I knew, that same publicist requested my services for a press junket for the American Pie movie, working with Chris Klein and Jason Biggs. They are still my clients today.

KB: Do you currently work in a salon?

DS: No, I’m strictly freelance. Sometimes I work on set, and sometimes it’s a hotel or house call. I go where I’m needed. Sometimes I’m traveling on a press junket with the talent. 

KB: What do you do on a press junket?

DS: It’s fun, but a lot of work! Press junkets usually take place at a hotel. The hair and make-up artists are always the first to show up to get the talent ready for a day of roomto- room interviews. I’ll be there all day, following the actor, touching up their hair or make-up every few minutes. They need to have the same look all day. For photo shoots and magazine covers, I’ll get to change the looks and collaborate with the actor, magazine photo editor and the photographer.

KB: What is the difference between working with actors and highprofile men vs. ‘regular guys?’

DS: The difference in working with an actor is they tend to be very up on their grooming skills already, but I’ll still do a consultation if it’s the first time I’ve worked with them. I focus on eyebrows, ear hair, nose hair, beard trimming, and skin care. Lucky for them they’re already good looking, and only need a bit of cosmetics—a little concealer and some powder. It’s important the skin looks moist, but not greasy. I pay attention to their nails, chest and armpit hair for photo shoots. Every man needs a little grooming.

KB: What’s in your professional kit?

DS: Everything you need in the salon, and also a flatiron, Velcro rollers, round brush and, of course, styling products. Many celebrity men have longer hair than salon guys do, so the round brushes and rollers come in handy.

KB: How do you feel about nose hair?

DS: What I do is a bit different from barbering from the neck up—often I need to work head to toe. It doesn’t bother me to trim nose hair, it’s part of the job.

KB: How much time do you usually spend getting one of your clients ready for an appearance?

DS: I’ll spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. It all depends on what kind of job is at hand that day. Sometimes I’ll be asked to work with hand-tied lace front wigs. For example, Will Ferrell liked to do his Anchorman press interviews in his Ron Burgundy character. So I worked with a wig, moustache, and sideburns consistently, for every appearance.

KB: How does your freelance grooming work differ from working in a salon?

DS: You can’t make a mistake with this kind of work—it’s going live, on television or oncamera. You have to be extremely skilled in what you’re doing. It’s not just the hair. These men need both hair and make-up. Yes, many of my clients are extremely handsome, but each one of my clients is equally important to me.

KB: Does the fame faze you?

DS: Not really. I’ve worked with the same clients for such a long time, ever since their careers started to take off, so I feel like we grew up together. That is not to say I don’t realize what a big deal and blessing it is to work with A-list celebrities, it’s just that after a while, you realize people are people and you’re there to provide a service.

KB: What was it like to go on the press tour with the cast of Twilight?

DS: Going on the road for work is not as glamorous as one might think. It’s still a business trip, and the schedule is pretty exhausting. I’ll be away from home for two weeks, home for four days, then away for another two weeks. The exciting part is everything is first class, from the car that picks us up, to security that takes us through the airport, although most of the time we y private. I grew up on a farm, so this is almost not even real. I also get to meet people from all over the world, which is wonderful. The typical schedule is: interviews during the day and then a red carpet movie premiere event in each country, only to have to leave the event once the movie starts so we can jump into waiting cars and head to the airport to travel to the next country. We typically have at least one day off in each place, which allows us some free time to go out to eat, hit some museums, and soak up the culture and people. As for the Twilight tours, it’s total madness. Fans chasing the cars, crying, screaming the actors’ names—that’s the Twilight phenomenon. One of my most favorite memories from the last Twilight tour was bowling with Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner. Sounds simple, but that is exactly why it was so fun and special.

KB: Why do you think your clients are so loyal?

DS: They call it show business, not show friends. I know my place. Keeping it professional is the key to success, and having the skills to back it up is critical. We all know it never works making friends with clients. But it’s important that your personalities click. As fun as it may be, in the end, I know I’m working for someone else. I never forget how lucky I am. Working in fashion and entertainment is exciting and can be very lucrative. It’s how we react to it that matters. I’m not much for rules, but there are a few I stick to. The biggest one: no gossiping.

KB: Have you ever wanted to pinch yourself, because you thought you were dreaming?

DS: When Oprah called, I did feel like pinching myself. That was unreal. (Schmidtke has been the lead stylist on two of the Oprah show’s "Makeover My Man!" segments, and was part of one of the nal Makeover Dream Teams for the nal season—check out more on her Oprah experience here). Also, when I work with icons like John Travolta, Kevin Costner or Harrison Ford, I’ll be high on life that day. The new generation guys like Johnny Knoxville, James Franco, Jon Hamm, I see them around their families, and we grew up together in the industry so they’re regular guys to me.

KB: How was it working on Oprah?

DS: Surreal. The first show I got called for was very last minute, and I was own out to Chicago right away. Carson Kressley and Tim Gunn walked by, and only then did it all start to click. After all these years of working on celebrities, to work on regular guys was awesome. These were huge transformations. One guy was still wearing his high school mullet! Watching their families cry tears of joy really choked me up. Oprah was everything you want her to be. She really changes people lives. She changed mine. Being asked to do this show was a huge compliment in itself. But it was the reactions of the wives and family members upon seeing their man’s new look that resonates with me to this day. 

KB: What should salons be doing to build a male following?

DS: Men love things that are exclusive and private. They are extremely loyal and expect you to be educated. Men like facts, and they like to keep things simple. Put yourself into the regular guy’s mind and take it from there. Get to know your neighborhood. If I had to go to the Jersey Shore, I’d have a heart attack with those hair cuts. It’s not my turf.

KB: What should we be offering the male client? What would they like?

DS: Technique, skin care advice, a holistic approach, you must also be able to be knowledgeable when it comes to hair replacement (surgical and non-surgical) options. You have to be the professional on all things that pertain to men. Be an educated artist, and learn how to treat the whole guy. Sure, the hair cut is the most obvious thing to focus on but address other items like how to shave, trimming eyebrows, nose hairs, ear hair, and how to use grooming tools.

KB: How do we get men to embrace hair color?

DS: Depends on the guy. You need to ask a series of questions. Instead of asking what they do want, ask about what they don’t want. No one knows what they want but I can assure you every man knows what he doesn’t want. You need some great consultation skills, and some men-friendly verbiage. “Do you like these gray hairs? Do you like your current style? Any celebrity hair style you like? When was the last time you had a hair cut? Did you like it? Do you have any head scars that I should be aware of?” It all happens in the consultation. Spend your time talking with your client about their needs. Focus on what looks best on the individual sitting in your chair. For a man, it’s all about the shape. Ask yourself: is everything in proportion? During the last 10 to 15 minutes of my work, I take off the cape. I have my clients bring an extra shirt—because I like to see the nal hair cut in relation to their overall body shape. The cape hides the shape of your client’s body and it is important to see the proportion, shoulders, body shape. My advice is to take off the cape while putting your nishing touches on your hair cuts.

KB: Would you ever open your own salon?

DS: Yes, with the right situation, at the right time. It wouldn’t be just any salon. I know how hard it is to own, manage and operate a salon, and I feel like I’m not ready, maybe in a few more years. Of course, it would cater only to men.

KB: What would you change about the beauty industry?

DS: The competition between artists. All hairdressers should be kind to each other, there is plenty of available work for all of us. Not to mention, we can all learn from each other so why be so competitive with each other? Jealousy has no place within our art.

KB: Your book is such a complete guide to freelancing. What do you hope readers will gain by reading it?

DS: I hope the reader will have a much easier time breaking into the industry than I did. And that the reader gains the con dence needed in order to also become a successful freelance hair or make-up artist. Working in entertainment and fashion is definitely not the right path for everyone. However if you have the burning desire within you to pursue a freelance career, my hope is that after reading Shortcuts is that you now know exactly how to make your dream of freelancing come true.

KB: What’s your relationship with JPMS, and how have you been involved in launching the Mitch line?

DS: We connected through my interest and passion for the Paul Mitchell schools and have partnered ever since. I have always admired their commitment to future professionals and their performance-driven products. Currently, we have partnered on the creation of their new Mitch brand men’s grooming product line. Their commitment to hairdressers and my passion and expertise on men’s grooming make it a perfect match.

KB: How was that work exciting?

DS: It’s both exciting and rewarding in so many ways. It’s exciting to be surrounded by such talented hairdressers as Robert Cromeans, Takashi Kitamura, and the artists on their global artistic team. At the end of the day, regardless of the type of work or clients I have, I am a proud and passionate hairdresser. Paul Mitchell also speaks to my inner need to educate aspiring artists. They have created several opportunities from the beauty school level to the experienced artist where I can teach them the art of men’s grooming and also how to break into the fashion and entertainment industry. Not only do I get to teach others but the artists at Paul Mitchell also teach me new techniques as well.

KB: How does the Mitch line represent you as an artist?

DS: I am all about simplicity. Men’s grooming should not be complicated. It shouldn’t be complicated for the hairstylists or the consumer. The entire line delivers a straightforward, simple and effective approach to men’s grooming. In a nutshell, that is exactly how I approach my own art.

Check out the podcast interview with Diana Schmidtke.

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