Standing at 6’3″ with white-blonde hair and strikingly defined features, Chris Appleton is impossible to miss in a room. If you’re lucky, he’s shirtless, and if you’re extra lucky, you’re the one who’s getting your hair done by the social media-famous hair artist.
Appleton’s the mastermind behind some of the most famous hairstyles of the decade: Ariana Grande’s signature snatched high ponytail, Kim Kardashian’s sleek “glass” hair, and Jennifer Lopez’s bouncy, bombshell curls from the 2020 Super Bowl halftime show.
But besides his work, the U.K. native has become a mega-influencer in his own right. With 1.4 million followers, a modeling contract with IMG Models, and an affinity for posing in tropical environments, Appleton redefines what it looks like to be a Hollywood hairstylist.
Ahead, GRAZIA shares the story of the copious amounts of hairspray, hard work, and tears that went into becoming Appleton—as relayed to us by the expert himself.
The Very Beginning
Even in primary school, Appleton was acutely aware of the transformative power of a good hairstyle. The celebrity hair artist hails from the small town of Leicester, England, where he discovered his passion for making people look and feel their best at the humble age of nine.
His career journey began in his childhood home, transforming his mom, Jane’s, hair with a “shitty old hairdryer” and “old-fashioned hot brushes” that got stuck in her hair a time or two. She’s his first muse, his subject for practicing everything from the basics to high-fashion editorial styles like sky-high beehives and eccentric, snake-print ‘dos.
She’s also the person who ignited his passion for the craft. “When she looked in the mirror, her expression would change in her face, and her shoulders would go back,” Appleton tells us over the phone, reflecting on the feeling he fell in love with oh-so-many years ago. “I realized that I had this ability to make people feel really good, like emotional medicine. For me, that is what started this journey for me: making people look good, but really making them feel good. When you can do both is when the magic happens.”
When Appleton turned 13, in 1996, he got his first job at a hair salon, eventually earning the “highest price level in the salon,” and then “his own price level.” But after years of perfecting his craft and building his client roster, Appleton thought, “What’s next?” Driven by his “constant hunger” to be the best at what he does, he never stopped learning. On his time off from the salon, he traveled to London to assist artists on set, take classes, and earn a hair color degree.
The driving motivation? “I never wanted to be in a position where I didn’t know how to do something that someone wanted to do, no matter their race, age, or sex,” Appleton explains. “Not just the type of hair I like working with; I wanted to be the best at all of it.”
The Next Chapter
From there, he started assisting backstage at international fashion shows and creating complex, eye-catching looks for editorial photoshoots. His hard work didn’t go unseen. He entered to be cast in the BBC television competition: Young Hairdresser of the Year, and in 2010, when he was 27, Appleton took home his first major award as the winner. He dove into magazine work, blessing celebrities’ tresses like Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne.
Appleton moved to London and started working with Rita Ora in 2016. “I worked with her one day, and then she never let go of me; she just kept me for two years, and we traveled all over. We had a lot of fun creating short hair, long hair, pink, blue… we’d always change.”
This is around the time when the expert’s social media presence started to explode. It’s also when Lopez’s team reached out for the first time with a job offer, but he was much too far away from L.A. to pull it off. Until he wasn’t…
Next Stop, Los Angeles
Appleton made the move to L.A. in 2016. “I remember finishing the last day of The X Factor on the 23rd of December with Rita, and I moved on the 24th of December.” Having up and left his apartment and his European life behind on a whim, the quick transition change came as a shock at first. “I didn’t want to do anything but cry,” he admits, revealing that at the time, he wasn’t convinced he’d be able to break into “the Hollywood scene.” He recalls panicking to his best friend, and former life partner, Katie, fearing that he “gave it all up” for nothing.
“Hollywood can seem really glamorous, but it can also feel really f**king lonely.”
But then came *the* big phone call to do Christina Aguilera’s hair on The Voice, and finally—he was in L.A. to accept the job. The artist continued documenting his work on social media, including the singer’s edgy lavender hair moment that nearly broke the internet. “I didn’t know the impact of social media, and I’m glad I didn’t,” says Appleton. “I just showcased my work.”
This spiraled into, as Appleton puts it, “a snowball effect.” Viewers tuned in and wondered who was doing her hair, and at the same time, stars and normal people alike flocked to his Instagram feed, including JLo. “She didn’t follow me at the time, but she saw it,” he said, referring to his Instagram feed. Appleton’s lineup of celebrity clients doubled, then tripled. Soon, he working with Katy Perry, Grande, Adele, Lopez, and Kardashian.
Looking to the Future With an Unwavering Philosophy
Amazingly, Appleton’s journey has come full circle. He tells us that he used to try to make his mom feel like a glamorous Hollywood star to give her a well-deserved moment of self-love amid her busy life as a working mom. Now, he’s going on birthday trips with Kim Kardashian and texting back and forth with JLo on the regular, but even so, he’s the same guy he once was.
Appleton says, he still “feels the same” as he did after doing his mom’s hair for the first time over 30 years ago. His work philosophy remains unchanged: to make his clients feel like the best version of themselves, and, sometimes, even to briefly escape the harsh confines of reality.
Even though his schedule is jam-packed approximately 24-hours a day, the hair pro frequently pauses to reflect on his journey, never forgetting where it all began. “Jenn [AKA, JLo) recently called me and said, ‘You always make me feel so great,’ and that means a lot to me because that’s what I used to do for my mom, just to make her feel good. That never goes out of fashion.”