I recently caught up by cell with celebrity hair colorist Tracey Cunningham, who's achieved a stellar pedigree in the hair color arts. Originally from Seattle, Tracey moved to Los Angeles where she attended beauty school. Her next stop was "as an apprentice" at the esteemed "Art Luna salon in Beverly Hills".
From her Luna hair color beginnings she progressed up the career ladder landing at "John Frieda in Beverly Hills" where she rubbed shoulders with some of the most talked about celebrity stylists and hair colorists on the West Coast.
While at John Frieda she built a book of impressive celebrity clients including Molly Sims, Jennifer Lopez, Renee Zellweger, Cameron Diaz, Amanda Peet and Lindsay Lohan, to name just a few of the "tons of celebrities" she has worked with over the past "thirteen plus" years.
In 2005, Tracey joined the famous Neil George salon in Beverly Hills where Tracey worked with a prestigious staff including Lorri Goddard-Clark, co-author of The Hair Color Mix Book, famous for her color with other A List stars.
Note: As of the Fall of 2008 Tracey is now the co-owner at Byron & Tracey Salon located just down the street as 9294 Civic Center Drive. (Contact Tracey for a private appointment by calling 310- 276-4470)
Tracey referenced Lorri during our chat by saying "she is an amazing colorist and wrote an amazing book" which offers "great hair color tips for consumers".
I asked Tracey if there was a turning point in her beauty school training where she just knew she wanted to specialize in color. "Not really" she mused, "from the beginning I just got it". She explained it (hair color) "was easy for me to understand how it worked and to make it work for my clients".
Tracey noted "when it comes to color, you either get it or you don't" and luckily for all of her clients, she got it.
She disclosed "you can show me any photo of hair color and I can always re-create it". Tracey clarified "it's not so much a matter of being artistic, but understanding the principles of color".
When I asked her what her goals are with respect to hair color for her clients, Tracey is no-nonsense - "make them happy" was her reply.
Elaborating a bit she explained "I honestly don't think in those terms - of goals". She announced "other people were asking me what my goals were for 2008 and I didn't have any, from the viewpoint of traditional goals".
Tracey said "my goal is to get through the day and maybe find time for a cup of tea." And yes, satisfy her clients, which she is famous for doing.
The Reality Of A Super Busy Hair Colorist
For Tracey, her work day runs from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. with "no time for lunch" an average of "six days a week". She gets home from a never-ending string of "one client after another", makes dinner, spends time with her family and then crashes.
In fact, Tracey reminisced about hairdresser Jonathan Antin's reality show on Bravo. She shared how her sister had asked her "is that how it's really like in the salon world?". Tracey pointed out "on the show you would see Jonathan having lunch, driving around in his luxury car in the middle of the day, running errands." She laughed, that's "not reality".
For her "it's one client after another all day long with no time for lunch, no breaks to tool around and leisurely run errands - just lots of work." But all work and no play isn't the case. The self confessed workaholic "has lots of fun with my clients" and she absolutely "loves what I do".
Although Tracey has assistants to help her with her hordes of clients, she personally "does all the hair color application myself".
This is quite impressive in today's world where celebrity colorists and hairdressers may only spend split seconds overseeing their apprentices as they work on their clients. Not so with Tracey. She is very hands on.
Redken's Creative Consultant For Color
Tracey balances her busy salon workload with freelance hair color work for film, TV and print. Her hair color expertise snagged the attention of Redken, the hair color giant, who named Tracey their Creative Consultant For Color last year.
Her duties for Redken require her to travel to events on their behalf, such as representing the company in the upcoming Beauty Show in Orlando. Tracey also provides the company with hair color trend analysis and tips.
Recently Redken released a press announcement with Tracey's thoughts on upcoming Spring 2008 color trends. Her thoughts on that? “For Spring 2008 we’re making a transition from highlights and focusing on more rich, classic hair colors, such as deep reds, sophisticated browns and authentic warm blonde shades."
I was curious and asked Tracey if that meant the end to foils and highlights overall? "No", she explained, "you can still have gorgeous highlights with rich colors, they just look more natural rather than obvious." I mentioned Julia Stiles stripe-y highlights on the recently release Bourne movie and ask if she thought those types of highlights would become popular again. "No, let's hope not", she said.
The Redken release mentioned Tracey gathers her color trend inspirations from the runways and pays particular attention to Prada, Cynthia Rowley, and DKNY. Anyone else? "Yes, Chloe".
I was curious how she saw the runway work. Did she travel to the shows? I couldn't imagine how she would find time with her jam packed, super busy life. She laughed "I see the shows on the Web on Style.com and related sites." Ahhhh, makes a lot of sense. I'm right there with her on that option.
Of course as a big name colorist Tracey has to constantly keep her eyeballs on changing fashion trends so she can help her own celebrity clients remain bleeding edge on the Red Carpets.
I inquired what special tricks she uses to get her celebrity clients ready for the various award shows. According to Tracey "she freshens up their roots and applies a clear gloss for shine" and they are ready to go.
Hooking Up With Redken
I wondered how she hooked up with Redken in the first place. "I'm obsessed with Shades EQ" she replied. Shades EQ is Redken's #1 long lasting no-ammonia demi-permanent hair color. It's one of the top selling hair color products in the United States today.
In fact, not only is she obsessed with Shades EQ, when I asked her what would be the one color tool she would take with her to a desert island, she didn't hesitate with her answer "Shades EQ, I am totally addicted".
Her work with Redken began when she started at John Frieda many years ago. One of the assistants at John Frieda, Tyle Mahoney, recommended Tracey try Redken and she loved the results. It was at that point she discovered Shades EQ which she now uses on "just about every one of my color clients".
As an aside, Tracey mentioned "Tyle Mahoney now works alongside me as a colorist at Neil George."
Does it work for gray hair? "Not completely". So what does she do to handle the gray shades? "She does the roots and top sections with a different color product and then I do the ends with Shades EQ". Viola, gorgeous hues.
Her Signature Color Style
Tracey has been referred to as "the queen of foils" in the media. I asked if she had some other "signature" style besides always using her favorite Shades EQ. She mused "it would be the fact I always apply a clear gloss after every color treatment because I always want my clients to walk away from my chair with really shiny color". She loves clear gloss "because it makes the finished color pop and shine".
Tracey helped Cameron Diaz transition through her recent brunette back to blonde phase. I asked what she used with Cameron to make sure there was no damage after ongoing color changes. She reported "I did a deep conditioning treatment to restore Cameron's hair back to a healthy condition".
What did she use? She sprayed "Redken CAT on the hair and let it sit for about five minutes. It did a great job of building the hair back to its original strength".
I asked what Redken products she recommends for maintaining delicate colors. She said "Redken's Color Extend is a very good line for helping to maintain and protect color".
Since Jennifer Lopez is another celebrity client of Tracey's I inquired if her current pregnancy presented any challenges to coloring her hair. "No", she said, "they waited to color Jennifer's hair until after the first trimester."
Does Jennifer only work with Tracey in California? Actually Tracey has flown to New York on occasion to color Jennifer's hair for her. In fact, Tracey will travel for some of her high profile clients.
Tracey has been working with Molly Sims for "about 4 1/2 years" and "she's so sweet, a lovely person". She "met Molly through her make-up artist Monica."
Tracey noted "Molly is a very interesting client because she always wants so many different colors interwoven into her hair." People who see her hair "want to copy her color because it turns out so amazing" but "Molly has so much hair that the multiple colors work for her but it is unlikely it can work for most anyone else".
Besides "having so much hair" Molly also can make lots of colors work because she "has natural waves and movement". There's "so much you can do with her hair because it is naturally so amazing".
"Someone with straight hair or fine hair can't get the same results with color because they don't have the movement, the texture". Straight hair "can just hang there and the color differentiation is lost".
She noted Molly now has bangs and "they look really great, very cute".
I asked Tracey if she had a dream celebrity color client she would like to work with. After a little thought she said "if I have to pick someone, I would pick Arnold Schwarzenegger".
Why? "He obviously dyes his hair but it has way too much red in it." I agreed with Tracey noting that it always looked like red clay to me. She would love to terminate his old color and fix Arnold up!
The Magic Of Roots
Although it used to be true that letting roots show were a big no-no, things have changed and having roots is now desirable. Tracey agreed "the girls love roots" and are usually "fine with them". Some of her clients even request "intentionally darkening the roots on brand new color".
When requested Tracey "will darken their roots by applying a darker color to that section".
When The Color Can't Work
What does she do if one of her celebrity or non-celebrity clients asks her to color their hair in a hue that doesn't work for them? She reported "I tell them it won't work for them". Does she waffle? Yes, "sometimes they talk me into a color and it really doesn't look good and then we just change it up after three months."
The majority of the time celebrity hair colorist Tracey Cunningham can be found behind her chair at the Byron & Tracey Salon which she now co-owns in Beverly Hills weaving her color magic on a long line of devoted celebrity and non-celebrity clients. If she's not at the salon, she's doing freelance work for photo shoots or consulting with Redken or researching on future hair color trends for her position as Creative Consultant.
One thing you probably will never catch Tracey Cunningham doing is leisurely tooling around running errands in the middle of the day. If she is, it will be most likely as part of her new reality TV program showcasing the "real life of a celebrity hair colorist". But don't hold your breath on that one.
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- Revised: 01/13/10