Hair colorist Rhett O’Donnell has tended to the needs of glitterati at his West Hollywood salon making him the go-to guy for a long list of celebrity clients. From humble beginnings, Rhett rose through the ranks to become one of the most respected colorists in the business.
Tell us about what interested you in hairdressing?
I went to the salon a lot with my mom. I loved the smell of hairspray and perm solution. I’m sure it was toxic but I always loved it. By the time I finished high school I wanted to train at Vidal Sassoon. My mom wanted me to attend university so we came to an arrangement. If I finished four years at university and still wanted to do hair she would foot the bill. Four years later I got in my car and drove to Los Angeles to begin training at Vidal Sassoon.
Why did you choose Vidal Sasson?
My mom who said if I was going to do it I had to go to the best.
When did you decide to become a colorist?
One of my teachers, Patty Song, was not only incredible at what she did, but she was a perfectionist. I realized that being a colorist was a respectable choice. We weren’t gum-chewing high school dropouts; there was serious money to be made.
When did you open your salon, Helmet?
I opened the salon a little over eight years ago. I typically travel to my client’s homes. The salon is a base to work out of for clients that prefer the salon setting.
You are discreet about your celebrity clientele. Was this a personal choice?
Unless that celebrity chooses disclosure, it’s not my job to do it for them. I prefer to keep their information confidential. I believe a satisfied client with gorgeous hair is the best promotion.
When clients say they want their hair to look like a certain celebrity or model how do you navigate that conversation when it’s a drastic change?
I listen to what they want. I like to educate clients on their hair potential. I don’t want to see my clients walking out with weakened hair. You can appreciate anybody’s hair but you also have to be realistic with your choices.
What about when you’re working with brands and have to make drastic color changes to a model’s hair?
I know the model has to work after today. I feel terrible but you know they made the decision to be on set that day so it must be worth it to them. I don’t negotiate with the brands that hire me for that type of work, I follow their direction.
When doing color for film, who is involved in the decision process?
The client, studio, director and the producer are all involved. It places me in a delicate negotiating situation because they all have creative input but the decision lies outside of the actor most of the time.
How does that usually end?
The client will always get the color they want. Only one of three things will happen. They either use the actor’s real hair or they are persuaded to change what they want or they use a wig.
You work a lot with wigs for celebrities and musicians including Tina Turner and Cher. Can you talk about that process?
That’s a relatively new thing. It began within the last eight years. I honestly can’t pinpoint when it started occurring.
There are a few reasons wigs are brought to me. The first is color correction. The art of color and the art of wig making are two different practices. The wig will usually match the color requested but is not exactly what the client needs. So, I do a lot of color correction. The other reason is color changing. A performer has a wig and they’ve changed their natural color so they need the wig to reflect that.
What are the challenges of working with wigs versus natural hair?
I work with wigs that are handmade and measured to fit the performer’s head. They cost thousands of dollars, but sometimes the wigs are tinted with an upholstery color or who knows really. It’s not a legit color. You never know how a wig will react to certain color treatments.
What advice would you offer to a woman?
If you are not satisfied with your colorist it’s best to go elsewhere. A lot of people feel bad as if they’ve betrayed their colorist. It they’re screwing your hair up you can go somewhere else.
I would also say research the person who’s doing your hair like you would a doctor. If the first pitch they offer when doing your research is a list of celebrity clients, it may be wise to consider alternatives.
What do you want women to know about you?
I want my clients to have the best hair they can.
What are you doing now?
I’m building a commercial division to place colorists and stylists with the clientele they’ll perform best for.
For more information check out Helmet