INTERVIEW | Bianca Hillier : "The Intricacies of Beauty"
Bianca Hillier is by far one of the most sought-out hair colorists in Los Angeles due to her eye for innovation and perfection. Her perfectionist tendencies has landed her the position of being the exclusive colorist for Osbrink Agency and newMARK models. Bianca is also an International Educator for Olaplex, traveling around the globe to teach why it is so important to color hair with caution and with the proper products to prevent further damage to the hair. Her dedication to knowledge and practice is what's exactly at the heart of each of her unique formulas that bring out the natural beauty in each of her clients. Bianca graciously took the time to discuss with SAPERE Magazine editor, Angela Butkus, about the journey hair coloring has taken her on and what she has learned along the way.
The one thing very apparent in your work is that you are able create a color that perfectly compliments your client’s image and features. Where did your passion for hair color originate?
Originally, I didn’t want to do color. I wanted to be a stylist, but the school I went to is more focused on the state board. It wasn’t focused on Balayage or new techniques. It was more focused on sanitation so I didn’t know much. I have, and I know it’s a terrible outlook, but if I’m not the best at something, then I don’t like it and I don’t want to do it and when I first started here at Sally Hershberger, I didn’t know much about color so I didn’t like it. However, I assisted to Sulekha Hilton for two years and I think it was six months in when I was like, “Okay, I’m kind of getting it!” So now, I don’t even want to cut hair. I just want to color hair, and I think color is cool because there are so many things you can do and it all depends on each person. It’s not just “This color is this color.” It’s different on you than it is on me.
You went to cosmetology school right after high school, right?
Right. I graduated high school when I was seventeen in ’08 and then I went to beauty school for ten hours a day and so I graduated within ten months and got hired at Sally Hershberger two days after I graduated, starting there when I was eighteen.
How did you know growing up that hair would be your outlet?
We have home videos and my parents would ask us ‘What do you want to do when you’re older?’ My sister is 5'1" andwas all “I want to be a professional basketball player!” My brother wanted to be a bus driver. I can’t remember what my little sister wanted to be, but when they asked me, I said “Oh, just like, hair,” and they asked me, “What do you mean? Whose hair do you want to do?” I said, “Mmmm… just all the movie stars and all the models,” and of course they were like, “What!?” So, I’m not sure. I was a tomboy growing up, but I always really liked hair and makeup even though I really was like a little boy.
Who has been your biggest mentor or inspiration?
A really big inspiration to me is Quenten Barnette. I think he’s amazing and I think he’s magic. I really like Slim. She really inspires me a lot. She’s a really hard worker. I mentioned earlier, Sulekha Hilton— she’s really talented and I learned a lot from her. Tracey Cunningham—she’s brilliant. Guy Tang—I think he’s a fucking genius, too! Desirae with Mane Addicts, too!
I’ve been really fortunate and have met a lot of cool people this year who have been very inspiring to me and have motivated me. I feel like I learned a lot this year; different things from different people in terms of what I admire about them.
Could you tell me a bit about Olaplex and how you utilize it in your formulas?
Olaplex is a three-part system and it basically repairs the internal shaft of the hair so it’s rebuilding the broken bonds inside your hair. The inside structure of your hair is built of these bonds that are connected in pairs across from each other, so think of it as a ladder. When you do anything like brushing poorly, being at the beach with too much sun or chemicals applied to your hair, it ruins these bonds and will no longer be connected across in pairs. Your hair becomes weak and so it breaks. Olaplex basically builds more bonds, so it’s building more ladder steps and strengthening them so that the inside [components which are] holding your hair together are stronger and healthier.
I use it in every single formula that I make. How I use it is different according to whatever it is that I’m doing-- whether I’m using it as a treatment only or if I’m putting it in your highlight as well as in your treatment afterwards. That is what’s so great about it, too-- it’s really customized so it works and can be used on everyone. I definitely use it on every single client.
You mentioned the hair structure. Is there a particular type of hair that you have difficulty in coloring?
I have a lot of ethnic clients. I have a lot of Asian, Indian, Armenian and Latina clients, so their hair is usually a bit harder to lift out and tends to be darker than a Swedish girl’s hair. So, it’s harder to get from black to blonde than it is from dark-blonde to platinum. However, I wouldn’t say that one particular hair type or ethnicity is difficult.
Generally, going from lighter hair to darker hair has the tendency to be a bit more hollow and struggles to hold pigment if you don’t fill or tone it properly. There are little tricks that you can do to avoid that but every situation is different. Every person is different. Everyone’s hair is different.
It’s also difficult when clients don’t tell you the proper chemical history. That’s definitely when you run into problems because if you’re telling me that you haven’t colored your hair, but really you haven’t colored your hair in four months so you think you haven’t colored it in a long time, it doesn’t mean that you haven’t ever colored your hair. It means that you’re lying to me so I’m going to go into it thinking that you never colored your hair and that’s when you’re going to run into a problem.
How about turning a blonde in to a brunette?
They’re both difficult in their own ways. They’re opposites, but anytime you’re going lighter to darker, you have to fill it. It’s always difficult but if you proceed carefully, it should be doable.
Is there any advice you can give to clients who want their desired hair color to be accomplished after one sitting and are there any golden rules to follow when getting your hair colored?
You have to be patient, because like I said, it is a process and just because you want to go from dark to light today—it doesn’t mean that you are going to get there today. You can get there, but it might take six months. It might take three months, but it depends on what you are doing and how cooperative your hair is. Kind of like what you were asking, “what type of hair is the most difficult?”—there’s not a type of hair that is the most difficult. It depends on what your client wants, given their hair. If you in particular wanted to go blonde, well, you’re already lighter so it would probably be easier than me going blonde because I have darker hair. It all depends on what kind of procedure you require that determines what the most difficult thing is.
So, the advice I have for them is: Wait! You don’t want to damage your hair—one. Two, I know I have a lot of people who come to me and say ‘Well, you’re using Olaplex so why can’t I get blonde in one time?’ Well, how I described the ladder and when you are bleaching it, you’re actually eating away at these ladder steps and there are only so many ladder steps that you can eat away and then the hair is done. It’s diminished. It’s melted. So when these clients are all ‘Just leave the bleach on for five more minutes,’ it’s like no, it doesn’t work like that. Just because you leave it on for five more minutes—I mean yes, it’ll continue to lighten so long as it’s wet and saturated—but, there is only so much that your hair can give and the bleach will keep eating even if your hair isn’t there. It eats it way and that’s why people get broken bonds in their hair.
In terms of using Olaplex, it is very helpful and it’s amazing but my advice to a colorist is if you wouldn’t go lighter and wouldn’t bleach this person’s hair right now without Olaplex, then you probably still shouldn’t do it even though you have Olaplex because if you wouldn’t do it without it, that means the hair is already entirely compromised. So be smart about it. As far as the clients go— be patient. If you want something, consult with someone properly and if they’re telling you can get there, they should be correct if they know what they’re doing and all you have to do is wait it out. You can’t always have it right now if you still want to have hair in the end.
Even for the clients who hop around from color to color, you’re never really giving an artist the chance to really understand your hair because you’re giving them one chance based on somebody else’s problem that they weren’t able to fix, but you’re not giving me the proper chance to fix it either. It might take me a time or two to entirely understand how your hair reacts or what exact color was in the hair because it’s lifting really green or red or whatever. Just because you’re going to a great colorist, you have to remember that they’re still learning. Everyone should be learning everyday. So, it’s a team effort and if you’re willing to try me out, you gotta date me for a minute, right? If you want things to work…
As an artist, how important is learning everyday?
Oh my god, I think that’s super important. I think if you’re not learning then you’re not really doing it right. I don’t think anyone really knows everything and there’s definitely people who have been doing it a lot longer and I’m sure there’s tons of people who know more than me. I’m still learning everyday and they should be, too. In order to better yourself in any type of given situation, you have to progress and if you’re stuck here because you think you already know, you have to remember that there’s going to be someone else who figured something out that you didn’t know.
You’ve been traveling for work recently, correct?
Yes, since the beginning of the year, I was in Washington D.C. for work, then the Philippines for holiday and then I went to Chicago and Canada with Olaplex. Then, I went back to Washington D.C. to work at a salon called Immortal Beloved. After D.C., I went to Dubai with Olaplex and then Puerto Rico for holiday.
What were your professional areas of focus when you were in Dubai and Canada?
I’m an International Educator with Olaplex and Slim, who I mentioned earlier, is the VP of Education with Olaplex. We would go to Dubai and Canada to educate people how to properly use Olaplex for different services and do demos. A lot of the time we would go on stage and talk for an hour or so, introducing the product and talking about it. So basically what we’ve been doing is launching the product in new countries and it’s been a lot of fun. I love Slim and I have met some really cool people.
In Canada, I met the Framar Brothers who are the cutest little Italian brothers. I love them and they sell my favorite Balayage brushes that I’m obsessed with. Guy Tang uses them and Slim uses them. They run a family-owned company called Framar International and their foils are just the best foils. I know, it’s the weirdest things we think about, but I’m obsessed with their foils, too. Another company we were with in Canada, Summit, they were super cool. In Dubai, I got to meet Ed and Denise from Olaplex for the first time. They’re just awesome and I love them. They’re a big part of the international team and so that’s what I’ve been doing with Olaplex. I learn a lot when I’m with them, too! Every time, I learn something!
What has been one of the highlights of your career so far?
I think being able to work internationally is a blessing. I like to travel and I feel like people should travel because you grow a lot and you learn a lot about yourself. Not only about yourself, but I think it’s good to know what’s going on in the world. It makes you see things differently here. Above and beyond that-- economically and socially—but as an artist, you should see the world! If you’re going to create something, you should know what there is to offer.
If you could define beauty, what would your definition be?
I think beauty is knowledge and understanding.