Behind Justine Marjan's Ascent From Salon Receptionist to Celebrity Hairstylist

Courtesy of Justine Marjan | Getty / Illustrations by Keila Gonzalez
Courtesy of Justine Marjan | Getty / Illustrations by Keila Gonzalez
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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 Justine Marjan shares how she earned her A-list clientele, including Ashley Graham, Olivia Culpo, and Khloé Kardashian.

Justine Marjan's interest in hair all started with a bowl cut. In the '80s, at 4 years old with hair all the way down her back, her mom took her to get what she thought was a trim — and she left the salon with it all chopped off.

It was traumatizing, in hindsight, but from that point on, Marjan was obsessed with beauty. At just 12 years old, she would flip through magazines with friends after school, pulling out trends they could re-create on each other. "I remember really vividly we were like, 'We have to do an icy, snowy makeup look for winter,'" Marjan told POPSUGAR.

When the flat iron came out when she was in middle school, she knew she had to have it. "That was a life changer for me because I have naturally poofy and frizzy hair," Marjan said. "If you look in my yearbooks before the flat iron came to market, everyone had poofy hair in all of their photos, and then all of a sudden, everyone had straight hair." She would get up every morning before school and flat iron her hair for hours trying to get it just right: "Of course, it was still a mess in the back, but I enjoyed doing it."

Courtesy of Justine Marjan | Getty / Illustrations by Keila Gonzalez

As a teenager, Marjan got a job as a receptionist at a hair salon in her hometown outside of Santa Barbara, CA. She worked there for eight years, completely mesmerized by the stylists — right up until she decided to go to cosmetology school. It wasn't an easy decision: "My dad is an immigrant, and that type of career path is just so unconventional," Marjan said. "Now he couldn't be happier for me or more proud."

Immediately upon graduation, Marjan moved to LA in pursuit of a career as a hairstylist for Fashion Week, red carpets, or editorial photo shoots. She would look through magazines for names of hairstylists and salons under the credits section, which is how she found Madonna's hairstylist Andy LeCompte. "I used to go to Andy LeCompte's salon every Monday and ask if they were hiring," Marjan said. "They never were."

Eventually, another opportunity presented itself. Two celebrity stylists Marjan had been following posted on Instagram that they were looking for assistants: Kristin Ess and Jen Atkin. Marjan was hired part-time for both jobs.

"That was really what catapulted me into the whole celeb styling world," she said.

Courtesy of Justine Marjan | Getty / Illustrations by Keila Gonzalez

As her days splitting time between both grew busier, Marjan realized she needed to assist Atkins full-time. She worked for her for years, building relationships with her clients along the way. That's when Atkins referred Marjan for her first solo celebrity client: Kim Kardashian.

"I did a couple of blowouts for her, just for personal things, and when she started wearing her hair in braids, she had me do it because I knew how," Marjan said. "That was definitely my big break."

Fast forward five years, and Marjan has added names like Khloé Kardashian, Olivia Culpo, Kristin Cavallari, Ashley Graham, and more to her list of clientele. Still, her pinnacle career moment didn't happen until 2019; it was her second Met Gala with Graham, and the theme was camp.

"The Met Gala is the Olympics for hairstylists and makeup artists and creatives, because it's that one opportunity to go all out and take a risk," Marjan said.

The "over-the-top," extralong bubble ponytail decked out with hair accessories that Marjan created is her favorite red carpet moment to date — even if it was so heavy that Graham swore she wasn't going to be able to make it through the night in it. "I was chasing her into the elevator pulling hair accessories off of her head until she got in the car. It was just such an iconic moment for me — I couldn't have been more excited."

From Met Galas to countless magazine covers and award show red carpets, it's not lost on Marjan just how expansive her career has been in such a short amount of time. "I feel so fortunate," she said, adding that she's not anywhere close to being done.