Harper's Bazaar Arabia: How did your haircare line Ouai come about?
Jen Atkin: I’m a confused, over-stimulated consumer myself. Throughout my career, I’ve used every hair product on the market. I’ve spent years working around the globe talking to clients about haircare, listening to my followers and ManeAddicts.com readers. With a major lack of cool and curated products in the marketplace, I’ve struggled finding a haircare brand that my friends or I could relate to.
Haircare has become so serious. With OUAI, I wanted to create a “breath of fresh [h]air” — a line for real life, for real women. Luxury products that are simple, affordable, and classic in a world full of loud noise. I didn’t want to work with a giant haircare company or make those elaborate, unrealistic advertising campaigns. I was lucky to partner with investors who understood my vision and collaborate with industry experts in design and formulation. I’m so proud of OUAI. It has been the result of so much hard work for the past 3 years and it feels great to finally share it with the world.
Women are busy! Backstage at fashion shows, we did the models hair in 15-20 minutes. I’m here to help every woman achieve the same at home. I know the OUAI girl. She works hard and wants to have fun. She is grounded, effortless, smart, and cool.
HBA: What is the meaning of the name Ouai?
JA: Paris is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s where my husband and I had our first date and where we got married. I love French culture, products, fragrances, and fashion. The name OUAI comes from the casual, Parisian way of saying YES. It’s about saying yes to being that effortlessly cool girl, the modern french woman on the go who looks like she did nothing, but still looks flawless.
L-R: Smooth Shampoo, Smooth Conditioner, Wave Spray, Hair Oil and Treatment Masques, all OUAI. Styling: Nina Ross. Photography: Richard Hall
HBA: What is your favourite product from the range?
JA: My favourites would definitely be the OUAI Treatment Masque because I love the individual packets that are perfect for throwing in my purse of gym bag and doing a treatment while I workout. I’m also obsessed with the OUAI Wave Spray. It’s like a sea salt spray, without the drying qualities that come from putting salt on your hair. The Texturizing Hair Spray is something I always like to keep on me as it gives an instant hair refresh and root boost (it’s like if dry shampoo and hairspray had a baby!).
HBA: What is the standout product from the range that your customers won’t find anywhere else?
JA: There's two: The Treatment Masque because of the individual packets and the Wave Spray because it contains zero salt!
HBA: How would you describe your approach to hairdressing?
JA: I love modern, effortless, beautiful hair. Models off-duty are some of my biggest inspirations and I love the effortless beauty of the French woman. My goal is to help women achieve these looks at home and feel good about themselves. I hate giving unrealistic goals or hair-shaming people. I always joke that I spend hours making the hair look like nothing was done to it.
HBA: What is the biggest mistake women make with their hair?
JA: I think that women underestimate the power of playing up your different personalities with your hair. I think Kylie Jenner and Khloe Kardashian have helped to break the idea that you should only have one length and one style. I’ve created a line of extensions for Beauty Works and love giving women the ability to play with their hair like they do clothing, makeup, and nails.
HBA: What products does every woman need in her hair styling kit? Why?
JA: A deep conditioning mask like OUAI Treatment Masque to protect and repair the hair, OUAI soft hairspray for flexible hold, and OUAI Dry Shampoo for the days where you just don’t have time to shampoo.
HBA: What’s the biggest hair concern your clients come to you with?
JA: Thinning hair. That is part of the reason I created my new line of OUAI Supplements. We released three different type of supplements formulated to address the three major hair issues woman and men face: thinning hair, dry scalp, and oily scalp. Just pop one a day to see results after one month.
HBA: What are your thoughts on the beauty aesthetic here in the Middle East?
JA: I love how glamorous the women are in the Middle East. Everyone does their research and knows about the best beauty regimes for gorgeous hair and skin. I’m always getting tips from all my clients here and listening to their feedback on my line. They are so inspiring.
HBA: What strikes you most about Arab women’s style?
JA: Woman are willing to take risks with their style. I’m so impressed by how many women have cut their hair short over the past couple years and at the couture they wear to the salon. The women here are empowered and inspiring with their approach to fashion and beauty, and they all want their friends to look and feel good as well!
HBA: We face two big challenges here in the Middle East with our hair: number one is the humidity and number two is the lack of shine/brittleness thanks to the water and air – do you have any tips on what we can do in order to protect our hair against frizz and restore some of that much sought-after shine?
JA: Protecting the hair against frizz first starts with the right shampoo and conditioner. I suggest using the OUAI Smooth Shampoo and Conditioner regularly to help the cuticle layer of the hair lie flat. Prior to styling, apply a heat protecting spray like the Davines Melu Mist then blow-dry with the nozzle of the blowdryer facing down. I’m obsessed with the new Dyson Blowdryer because it minimises the damage that heat styling does. Always pay close attention to the root when styling and keeping it smooth and focus on the most unruly areas first (usually around the hairline). Finish your blow-dry by running the cool shot on the blowdryer over each section and avoid running your hands through the hair too much as that can lead to frizz. Seal in the style with an anti-humidity hairspray.
To restore shine, use a weekly detoxifying shampoo followed by the OUAI Treatment Masque (even better if you can let the mask sit on the strands while sleeping or working out). Apply the OUAI Hair Oil immediately after and add more oil to dry hair for added shine.
HBA: Where do you love to visit when you’re in town?
JA: I always eat at Le Serre at least once during each visit and I’m obsessed with the rose croissants from the Hampton’s Cafe. I love going to Level too and shopping for bags and shoes.
HBA: I saw on your Instagram that you recently flew into town to do hair for a local wedding – is this something you do regularly for your Middle Eastern clients?
JA: Yes I am working with my friend Sam Safavi to bring more celebrity stylists to the Middle East for weddings and events, so stay tuned! @celebritystyleteam is a curated group of female celebrity hair and make-up artists that work with J.Lo, the Kardashians, Jessica Alba and more.
HBA: What’s the biggest myth when it comes to haircare products? Does a higher cost always equal a more superior product?
JA: Not always. There are some drugstore products that work great on the hair (I’m a big fan of Gorilla Snot Gel), but luxury products tends to be better quality. I think one of the biggest myths is that sulfate-free products are superior to others. Not everyone needs to use sulfate-free products and some people’s hair actually need the sulfates to get a thorough clean. It’s become such a buzz word that isn’t as scary as we think.
HBA: What is your regimen for your own hair?
JA: I’m very low maintenance, which is why I love OUAI. My whole goal was to create a line for the modern woman who doesn’t have time to spend hours on her hair every day (or a glam squad on call). I wash with the OUAI Clean Shampoo and the OUAI Treatment Masque the apply the Wave Spray to damp hair and let it air dry. When my hair is dry, I’ll run a Kardashian Beauty flat iron over the ends and may add a slight bend around the front. Then I spray OUAI Texturizing Hairspray and finish with OUAI Finishing Cream.
HBA: Who is it that you trust to do your hair?
JA: I love the way George Papanikolas and Cassandra Kaeding do my colour and I’ve had Renato Campora, Kevin Murphy, and Gregory Russell cut my hair for Mane Addicts stories. And then there are times that I cut the front and my assistants cut the back.
HBA: In amongst being a hairstylist to the stars and now launching this line, you also run Mane Addicts – how did that come about?
JA: I saw a huge lack of an online community for hair related content that was catered to both the professional and consumer. I created Mane Addicts to give reader’s behind the scenes access to some of the best hairstylists in the industry, the best products, inspiration for hairstyles, cuts, and color, and how-to videos.
I also see a huge lack in hair education. I am one of the lucky 1% that got to train under amazing editorial and celebrity stylists. I’m working on a whole program so stylists can learn from the masters and better their own careers.
HBA: You’re constantly traveling, and so are many of the women here – any tips on how to maintain great hair when dealing with short- and long-haul flights? What’s the one product that should be in our carry-on?
JA: Of course! The first would be to always bring your own shampoo and conditioner. Rarely do hotels carry something worthy of your gorgeous hair. I love small styling tools that are light and easy to travel with, like the Dyson Blowdryer and the T3 miniature flat iron. I always carry a small Sheila Stotts brush in my purse and the OUAI Hair Oil (partly because it just smells so good). In flight, wrapping the hair in a silk scarf will preserve your style and prevent frizz.
DUBAI: Now Boarding (thank you @jgalliano @lexyroche for my chic new @maisonmargiela bag!!) I'm on my way to @bellefemmedubai for my March 10-13th visit! Don't worry if you can't get in because I have big news!! My girl @jennifer_yepez will be coming there March 23 & 24th to take care of everyone who couldn't get in this time. Trust me you are in GOOD hands!And as always fan favs @justinemarjan @desiraecherie will be there too!See you soon ladies and AU REVOIR Paris!! #LandAt3WorkAt10
HBA: You work with so many amazing celebrities whose faces we see everywhere – do you ever feel pressure when doing their hair, knowing it’s likely that the second they step out of their apartment, they’ll be snapped and have their image online almost instantly?
JA: I think the streets are the coolest runway and I love seeing my clients everyday looks. I just always do my best to do a great job and make the person I’m working on (whether celebrity or not) feel beautiful. But whenever there's paparazzi around, I run because I don’t want to ruin the picture!
HBA: The Met Gala recently happened – what does a red carpet event like that look like for you?
JA: It is usually a crazy day but I’m very organised and have a great team behind me to help make sure all my clients are taken care of. I love planning out the entire look in collaboration with the stylist and make-up artist to create something that is beautiful and cohesive. I will be exhausted end of day but this year I sat with Monica Rose (who styles Gigi and Bella Hadid, Chrissy Teigen and the Kardashians) and Jennifer Yepez (Gigi's hairstylist) and we had drinks and talked about how blessed we are to work with such inspiring women!