There are three things on the checklist of every A-list starlet who’s getting camera ready: a show-stopping outfit, perfectly applied make-up, and, arguably most important, a flawless hairstyle as her crowning glory. For the past 15 years, Long Beach, CA, native Tippi Shorter has been a mainstay in the industry, delivering her signature “Big, sexy, healthy hair” to red carpet regulars and civilians alike. As the go-to girl for such celebrities as BeyoncÃ©, Alicia Keys, and Rihanna, as well as being the first African American spokesperson for Pantene and Clairol, Shorter was able to parlay success into even more opportunity by recently launching her HAIR by Tippi Shorter product line, promising to deliver “Your best hair ever!”
Taking a quick break from taming Jennifer Hudson’s tresses for an event, Shorter sat down with BlackEnterprise.com to talk about her rise to success, building celebrity clientele, and her new mystery potion that just may be the holy grail of all products.
Was being a hairstylist always your goal or did you start on a different path?
I grew up in California so I was all about fashion and beauty, but I didn’t necessarily want to be a hairstylist. I was really into performing and I would end up doing hair and make-up for a lot of the singing and dancing groups I was in–I was honing my future career skills and didn’t even know it. After being in a bunch of groups that never went anywhere my mom suggested that I start looking into something else so I started to explore being a hairstylist. I ended up at Bellflower Beauty School [in Lakewood, CA].
How difficult was it finding work after graduation?
Well, towards the end of school my hairstylist’s mom, Doris Mosely, who’s a very well-respected stylist in California, said I could come and assist for her. So I started working there part time and got a lot of training. It was great because I felt like I was getting ahead right from the start. Then another friend of mine, Jamika Wilson, who is still a really great friend of mine and another respected stylist, went on maternity leave and asked me if I wanted her spot. So I had a fulltime job right out of school. Pretty soon I realized I needed to start building my own clientele, so I took a chance and moved to New York–I think I was about 22 at the time.
At what point did your clientele start becoming more high profile individuals?
I worked at about five different salons before I started dealing with celebrities. And even then I couldn’t claim them as “my’ clients;” they were really clients of the salons. But the first notable person I can claim as “my” client, who was working exclusively with me, was [actress] Diahann Carol. My first celebrity client [who was then featured in a magazine] was Foxy Brown. She was doing a magazine cover for Essence and they wanted to give her a new look–she continued to work with me for about a year afterwards.
How did you go about continuing to build high-profile clientele?
Well, there was a lot of hard work and making sure I was doing my best work. Referrals will always be the highest form of flattery. A lot of my clients were working in the entertainment industry–editorials and music–and they’d say, “We have this new singing group; can you style their hair?” or “We need someone to do a make-up for this TV show.”
I definitely owe a lot to Essence magazine, too. I had only been in New York for about six months and The Ricki Lake Show was looking for an expert in African American hair. They called Essence, and Essence suggested they have me on the show.