Getting ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ actress Jenn Murray red-carpet ready for the Oscar Wilde awards is all part of a day’s work for LA stylist to the stars and Corkman Aaron Barry, writes Carolyn Moore
It’s after midnight when Cork-born hair and makeup artist Aaron Barry calls me from LA. At 4.30pm, LA time, he’s just home from a busy day of shoot planning; as he explains, avoiding the infamous LA traffic is a priority when an average day could see him prepping a shoot, working on set, or readying a celeb for her moment on the red carpet.
For that strand of his work, January to March is peak season, and it’s all pretty far removed from his life as a hair stylist in Cork. He’s been living in LA for six years (and been caught in traffic just a handful of times, he says proudly), and as we speak, he’s gearing up for one of the biggest events for the Irish in LA — the annual Oscar Wilde Awards, which took place last Thursday.
On the night, Northern Irish actress Jenn Murray wowed on the red carpet, and Aaron is part of the actress’ glam squad. Though it’s weeks away when we speak, he’s already liaising with her stylist to devise the perfect look.
“I first met Jenn through her stylist, Devon Nuszer, and I’ve been working with her since she did Brooklyn,” he says. “She’s super sweet, and it’s so refreshing to work with someone from Ireland!”
It’s the kind of job he could only have dreamt of when he made the decision to uproot his life and start over in LA. Having worked in a salon from the age of 18, in his early 20s he spent a year studying makeup in the UK. When a friend invited him for a working holiday in LA, he recalls: “Touching down in the airport was like walking into movie. I knew instantly I wanted to be here.”
He quickly fell in with a group of creatives, becoming fast friends with the aforementioned Devon, and having a ready made network to slot into was central to his decision to move. “If I hadn’t felt I would acclimate quickly, I think I would have been more fearful of making the move full time,” he says. “I had a great clientele in Cork, and I wouldn’t have given that up for something that didn’t feel concrete.”
But acclimate he did. Adjusting to the balmy climate may have taken plenty of sunscreen, but life in LA is “amazing”, he says. “I went from a life lived predominately indoors to socialising outside, eating on the patio, and shooting out and about in LA” Additionally, he says, “It’s so interesting to go from a small creative circle at home to a situation where everyone I meet now is in a creative industry — actors, singers, models, photographers, stylists. I think that’s what made me fall in love with this town — no matter who you meet, you have that connection with them.”
Making those connections has been key to his success. “Moving here, you hear this buzzword all the time, people say it’s all about ‘networking’, and it really is. For the first two years I went to events almost every night, meeting agents, publicists, models. You might work on a test shoot with a model who has 250k followers, and that’s an opportunity for cross promotion. Someone sees that work and books me. It’s about networking, branding yourself on social media, and using it as a tool for self-promotion.”
Along with talent and hard graft, all that tireless socialising paid off, and Aaron is now in demand for editorial and video shoots, along with the red carpet gigs that have become an increasingly visible platform for his work. “Every time I do one, I rush home to get online and see the images,” he says. “As soon as the makeup or hair is done you want to get the client in the car and on the carpet so the look is as perfect as possible. There’s so much involved in getting someone ready for awards shows, and so many people behind the scenes. You might allow three hours for hair and makeup, and still it’s a rush to the bitter end! You have to factor in traffic, the stylist has to dress the client, and always there’s a last minute emergency like a split seam, or a red lip that has to be applied at the very last second so it’s perfect.”
Precision and timing are key, and — if he’s not accompanying them to the event — micromanaging the look as much as possible. “I go as far as giving clients a straw to sip water, I walk them through how to manage the hair, and I always tell the publicist or manager, this is how its meant to look; this is what you have to do.”
Between travelling in heavy gowns in high temperatures, being stuck in convoys of limos waiting to offload their charges, and contending with photographers who would just love to get an unflattering shot, Aaron acknowledges every red carpet appearance is a PR disaster waiting to happen. “It’s their big moment but you only have one shot, and with the red carpet, if anything goes wrong, that image is out there forever. That responsibility falls on all of the glam squad’s shoulders. “It’s a tough game,” he says, “and I wouldn’t want to be the person in front of the camera! The confidence it takes is amazing.”