Frederic Aspiras: From Houseless to Oscar-Nominated Hairstylist

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Welcome to Big Break, where some of the most influential figures in the beauty industry reflect on the moments that made them — from the good to the bad and everything in between. Here, Frederic Aspiras shares his journey to hairstyling superstardom, from clients like Paris Hilton and Lady Gaga to an Academy Award nomination.

Frederic Aspiras is behind some of Lady Gaga's most iconic beauty moments. All of the wigs in "House of Gucci"? Aspiras. The singer's epic 2019 Met Gala entrance? Aspiras (he was even on the red carpet with her). The list goes on. But despite the glamorous life he lives now, Aspiras came from very humble beginnings.

He was born in San Francisco, CA. His mom was a refugee from Vietnam, and his dad was a member of the military. They met during the war but divorced when he was very young, leaving his mom to raise him and his six older siblings on her own. Though he didn't realize it at the time, she's responsible for instilling such a great work ethic in him.

"She took on a lot of different types of jobs just to support our family and watching her as I was growing up, I used to see her be really tired and stressed, but she wanted us to have a different life," Aspiras tells POPSUGAR.

Though she was always simultaneously working no less than three jobs, her primary one was as a hairstylist. Eventually, she saved up enough to open her own salon. "At that time, being a refugee woman and in the '80s, early '90s, it was unheard of to have your own business," he says. "She really stepped forward to make a different path for me and my family."

Getty | Courtesy of Frederic Aspiras and Photo Illustration: Keila Gonzalez

Even still, hairstyling wasn't a clear path for Aspiras at first. He was still figuring out who he was and what he wanted to do with his life. "I knew at a very young age that I was pretty different from a lot of people," he says. Part of that feeling stemmed from questioning his sexuality at a young age while desperately wanting to escape his home life.

Aspiras initially thought he wanted to be an actor, which was a career his father encouraged; his mother, on the other hand, wanted him to become a businessman or doctor. But at 13, he began helping out around his mom's salon after school. "With Asian families, you work with the family business," he says. "Every weekend, for years, I would go over and help her. Just me and her."

He observed his mom interacting with her clients and was in awe of how she had the ability to make them happy by transforming their hair. "I wanted to do that, so I started to look through magazines and play around with my sister's hair." Being a fast visual learner, Aspiras honed his skills at not only styling but also makeup artistry, which piqued his mom's interest. He had a natural talent, and it didn't take long for him to start working beside her with his own clients.

"I would talk to my mom's hair clients and learn about their lives," he says. "To me, that was the most intriguing thing about the craft itself — the connection."

Still, he wasn't sure that's where he wanted to be in the long-term: "I knew I didn't want to work in a hair salon — I [did that] my entire teen and early adulthood," he says. "It was very heartbreaking for her to hear that, but I told her I wanted to find myself. I didn't want to just carry on what she was doing."

Getty | Courtesy of Frederic Aspiras Photo Illustration: Keila Gonzalez

At that point in time, the title "celebrity hairstylist" wasn't on his radar — there was no social media to look to or blueprint for how to get there — so he set his sights on the film industry. At 27, Aspiras packed his bags and left San Francisco for Los Angeles.

"I left all my friends and moved there with $1,000, which was a lot of money for me back then," he says. At first, things didn't go as planned: he couldn't find work, no one would book him, and he ended up houseless for six months, living out of hotels.

"When I came to LA, I thought I was just going to be a breakout star because everybody kept telling me how great and talented I was," he says. Ultimately, he got a job in retail at Barneys to make some money and went back to doing test shoots for free, just as he had in San Francisco. "It was a pretty rough time," he says. "But I kept pursuing my dream."

Then he got a phone call from his now-agent, Kent Belden, who had seen his work from random odd jobs — and his life completely changed. He asked Aspiras if he wanted to work with Paris Hilton, who was "rebranding herself and starting a new franchise." The gig was for her new TV show, which meant devoting his entire Monday through Friday to it. He decided to quit his retail job and take a chance.

This jump-started his career in the entertainment industry, but he didn't feel the slightest bit overwhelmed or in over his head. "The reason I had so many different jobs and types of experiences was to prepare me for that moment when I was given the opportunity of a lifetime — working with Paris Hilton."

Aspiras continued to work with Hilton for years until the show took a break in 2007. Then came a new opportunity. "I got another phone call out of the blue saying, 'Since you have a break, would you like to work with this new artist that's coming out? Her name is Lady Gaga.'"

Intrigued by the idea of working with a musician for the first time, he said yes. "Little did I know it would become a relationship now that is going on almost 15 years."

Getty | Raymond Hall

From the beginning, things with her were different. "My relationship with Lady Gaga goes beyond just professional. She's part of my family — my chosen family."

"My relationship with Lady Gaga goes beyond just professional. She's part of my family — my chosen family."

With Lady Gaga, Aspiras has been able to check off every item on his career bucket list. He's done the hair and makeup for celebrities, editorial, TV, film, music videos, and red carpets, to name a few. "I finally feel like I've met my creative match," he says. "She's completely challenged me, every single time."

Now whether it's for the Met Gala, the Oscars red carpet, a critically acclaimed movie like "House of Gucci" (of which he was Oscar nominated in the best makeup and hairstyling category), or a new music video, Aspiras gets to do what he loves. "When I create something for Gaga, it's something that I create that is personal. That is for her."

It's not lost on Aspiras how fortunate he is, but his success has nothing to do with luck. He faced countless no's and "failures" but says, "I never stopped opening doors."