How Harry Josh Became the Moniker of "Supermodel Hair" — Then Built His Own Empire

Illustrations by Michelle Alfonso | Courtesy of Harry Josh / Getty Images
Illustrations by Michelle Alfonso | Courtesy of Harry Josh / Getty Images
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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, celebrity hairstylist, beauty entrepreneur, and Goldwell brand ambassador Harry Josh shares the moments that brought him into the supermodel world and how he's not slowing down anytime soon.

You know how Gisele Bündchen, back in Victoria's Secret fame, was known for her most perfect head of hair? People flocked to the salon with her photo pulled up on their iPhones; headlines about "How to Get Supermodel Beach Waves" emblazoned nearly every beauty website. Well, Harry Josh was the driving force behind all that.

Except he almost wasn't.

Growing up in Vancouver, Canada, to immigrant parents from India, Josh never saw himself represented in the fashion or hairstyling space. "My father worked at 7-Eleven and drove taxis. My mother went to English school so that she could get a job as a receptionist or a secretary," he told POPSUGAR.

All of this is to say: "We grew up in that very migrant mentality, but you were only a tastemaker in the fashion or entertainment industry if you were European — not someone from the same part of the world as me or with the same type of family as me. My mindset could have been, 'I guess that's never going to happen,' but instead that lit a fire in me of like, 'Why not me?' I wanted to be known as someone who was cool and could do cool things and have good taste, so that was a big part of my desire to be in this industry."

His parents, on the other hand, were utterly against it — "they were like, 'You absolutely have to be a lawyer, doctor, engineer.' That's just what Indian kids do," he said — and enrolled Josh in college despite his objections. In a way, it's what led him to his first gig in hairstyling: on the first day of school, he skipped class with friends to head into downtown Vancouver. The bus dropped them off in front of a cool, new-wave salon.

"It was the most high-fashion spot in Vancouver; there were really good-looking people dressed very stylishly, with bleached-blond hair, black Mohawks, lots of eyeliner," Josh said. "I loved it, and I knew I didn't want to sit in a classroom, so I did this."

One day hanging outside smoking cigarettes turned to two, then three, then a week. Eventually, the salon owner came out and offered him an apprenticeship in exchange for work. "From that morning on, I would take my school books to the hair salon, put them in the dispensary, and worked during the day," he said. "My parents had no clue this was going on for months."

"I wanted to be known as someone who was cool and could do cool things and have good taste."

Finally, he worked his way up to assistant level (earning the unofficial title of "superstar assistant"), then to junior stylist. Before he turned 18, he was making decent money doing trims and selling products at the salon. This, he decided, was what he wanted to do with his life full-time — which meant it was time to tell his parents.

"It was horrible, and they were so upset," Josh said. "They told me I was wasting my future, and I can appreciate that because there wasn't anyone ahead of them to show them that I had a chance of succeeding. For them, it's about getting an education, clean bed, water, and food. I wanted more, so I moved out and carried on with my training."

Back then, Josh was what he calls "delusionally optimistic," and his newfound purpose inspired him to set his sights higher. After working at the salon for more than a year, he had a new goal: do the hair for magazine photo shoots. Being in fashion was, after all, his biggest dream. So he packed his bags, told his parents he was going on vacation, built his portfolio using test home pictures from his phone printed from the drugstore, and moved to South Beach, FL.

"I very much believed I had some serious skillset, which I did not," he said. "I was in for a rude awakening."

Courtesy of Harry Josh

After moving to South Beach, he made appointments at every single hair and makeup agency. "They all rejected me, one by one," Josh said. "By 2 o'clock, I was like, 'Oh my God, it's over. There goes my career.'"

Just when he was about to give up on "being a famous hairdresser," and after he took an assistant job at a salon in Manhattan, he peeked over a client's shoulder during her blow-dry session and noticed a handful of binders with subject headers that read Ralph Lauren, Anna Sui, Marc Jacobs, Yves Saint Laurent, and Versace. Turns out, it was the owner of KCD, a fashion services agency based in Manhattan.

Every time she came in, he persisted. "I started grilling her about her job because I was like, 'Forget hair; this will be my in into this world of fashion.' I would have taken a caterer job — anything to keep me around the models and the excitement."

Eventually, he landed a gig in the world of casting, where he stayed for years working for everyone from Marc Jacobs to Louis Vuitton. "That's how I wedged my corner into the industry," Josh said. Slowly, he began forming friendships with the supermodels outside of work and the shows. It's also how he met Bündchen.

While he wasn't working in a hair salon anymore, he did take impromptu appointments for his new friends in the bathroom of his six-floor walk-up apartment in SoHo. "They'd be over and I'd say, 'You should get bangs' or 'You should color your hair dark.' Then they would let me do it, and it kind of took off from there. Everyone talked to each other, and it quietly became where all the models would go to get their hair done."

Illustrations by Michelle Alfonso | Courtesy of Harry Josh / Getty Images

Then, after a decade of "bobbing around doing hair on the side," came his big break: the then beauty director of Vogue magazine was testing models at Yves Saint Laurent for a shoot and told one of them, "I love your hair color." She replied, "Thanks, Harry Josh does it." Another model lifted her head around the corner and said, "He does my color, too." Even the sales associate jumped in to add that Josh cut his hair.

"I got a call from her office saying she wanted to come check out my apartment," he said. "It was a crappy space, with a Bed Bath & Beyond mirror that was duct-taped because it was cracked in half and a paint stool that I had stolen from the Plaza's dumpster. She couldn't believe that's where these girls were coming — they could have gone to any top salon in the city for free, but this is where they went."

Months later, the story — about a young, up-and-coming hairstylist named Harry Josh — was featured in the magazine. After that, it was like "going from zero to 1,000," he said.

Within weeks, Josh booked his first photo shoot at a major fashion magazine. He was taking celebrity clients like Hilary Swank and Mary Louise Parker at his SoHo apartment. He even landed a TV segment on The Oprah Winfrey Show called The Greatest American Haircut, where he and three other major hairstylists made over the studio audience.

The latter was the lightbulb moment his parents were waiting for. "They just couldn't believe it — Oprah was a show they watched daily," he said. "I called them right before and said, 'Pay attention today. You're going to see something special.' It was very cool."

Illustrations by Michelle Alfonso | Courtesy of Harry Josh / Getty Images

From there, opportunities in the celebrity and fashion world abounded. Still, he saw a white space in the market, which is ultimately why he decided to launch Harry Josh Pro Tools in 2013. This, unlike today, was completely uncharted territory for a stylist.

"We have all been sold hair tools by marketing companies and engineers who make the technology, but not hairdressers, and I thought, 'Why is that?'" he said. "You always hear about celebrity hairdressers making celebrity products, but products are only one portion of a great look. If you don't have good tools or a good hair dryer, not even the most expensive gel in the world will save you."

He continued, "I also had a billion things I wanted to change about tools. The cords were too long. I needed multisettings for multiple purposes. I need versatility."

The line, Josh said, is one of the proudest accomplishments of his career — and it was his unbridled naivety and drive that helped him see it through.

"I never had any doubts. I've always had this innate feeling of: give it everything you've got and trust that whatever is meant to manifest from this energy will be there. It is never about the outcome — it's always about doing it your way. When you shift your energy to be about making a great product, not the money, it really allows miracles to come into your life. Because so many people were driven by money. To me, success is solving people's problems — not the million-dollar paycheck. That's why this brand will not be a drop in the hat, just like my career. I'm in it for the long haul."