4 Things Tracey Cunningham Says You MUST Do
The Best Advice We Got From Tracey Cunningham
Who DOESN’T know Tracey Cunningham? One of the world’s most in-demand colorists, Tracey works with the biggest celebs, co-owns MèCHE Salon in Beverly Hills, works as a Redken ambassador and still finds time to share her genius formulation tips on Instagram at @traceycunningham1. You know her influence on the hair industry and the names of all her clients (Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Gwyneth Paltrow, Drew Barrymore and Emma Stone are just a few), but did you know she got her start in Los Angeles as Bette Midler’s assistant and nanny? We got the deets in her new book, “Tracey Cunningham’s True Color: The Essential Hair Color Handbook.”
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The book is a must-read for stylists who want to level up their colorist game—or even just their in-salon skills and mindset. She takes you into the mind of an expert colorist while sharing her own entrepreneurial journey in this practical manual for achieving haircolor goals. There are even personal baby photos from her celeb clientele (because the most natural-looking color is the one you had when you were a child!). We talked to Tracey about the launch of her book and her top pieces of advice for stylists who want their own epic career.
1. Always pay yourself.
Stylists, listen to Tracey: You need to save money for your future. “I’ve seen so many stylists screw it all up so badly,” she said in her book. That’s why she urges hairdressers to get health insurance, consult a financial advisor on how to save for retirement, and pay their quarterly taxes.
“They want to be fabulous and they want shiny new things, and I get it, you work hard, you want to play hard,” Tracey told BTC. “Something Bette says is, ‘People come to LA and they’re 20, and they go and lay by the pool and they wake up and they’re 60.’ It happens that fast. You have to think about your future.”
Tracey learned this from her sister, who would say, “If you have to pay your electric bill or phone bill, remember to pay the Tracey bill, because if you don’t put into your future, you won’t have anything for your future.” So don’t screw it up—be responsible and smart about your income and future.
Check out this behind-the-scenes look at how Tracey’s book was created!
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2. Be the BEST assistant.
In the beginning of her career, Tracey cold-called the uber-famous Art Luna Salon in Hollywood and landed an assistant job with Art. “[He] was an incredibly strict teacher and mentor…and he expected greatness from everyone who worked for him—me, his assistant, very much included,” she wrote in the book. Assisting isn’t glam—you work a lot, you’re expected to do whatever the stylists need you to do, and you have to do it all with a smile. To set yourself apart, you have to become indispensable.
“When I was an assistant, I noticed that the hairdressers I worked with didn’t remember too much about their clients. So I would write down their notes—what drinks they like, how they liked their coffee,” she shared. “I’d write ‘going to Hawaii’ so then my boss could ask, ‘How was your trip to Hawaii?’ Kids’ bat mitzvahs, stuff like that, just to make it more personal for my boss, and I was able to be a better assistant for doing that.”
3. Use challenges as opportunities.
Even Hollywood’s hottest salons weren’t immune to the effects of the pandemic. California salons were shut down three times, and many stylists quit.
“That was tough for salon owners, but it actually gave a lot of opportunity for assistants who were ready to go on the floor, and there might not have been enough room before,” she said. “It’s really cool—there’s never anything bad about that, it’s just change. And change is scary, but really good.”
4. Learn your products and tools inside and out.
Tracey could literally work with any haircolor company out there, but she chose Redken for one reason: She loves Shades EQ. Tracey was working at Sally Hershberger at John Frieda (another powerhouse LA salon) when an assistant named Tyle Mahoney (now a colorist at MèCHE) told her to try Shades EQ. “At the time, I was struggling to get strawberry blonde and was using traditional permanent color with 5-volume, shampoo capping it, and it wasn’t looking natural,” she said. She mixed 9G with 9AA and tried it and thought, “Oh my God, this gold is perfect.”
Her obsession with Shades EQ is the reason she agreed to sign on as a Redken ambassador in the first place, and she has immersed herself in the color line. Now, she has formulations in her back pocket she can use on any celebrity client, all because she started using the Redken product “that changed her life” as a colorist.