Beauty Chronicles: Oscar James


It was in his hometown of Florence, South Carolina, where Oscar began to develop an affinity for hairstyling. At an early age he considered the possibility of making it his life’s work. Eager to enter the commercial industry, Oscar attended high school and beauty school simultaneously, graduating with a diploma and a cosmetology license to pursue his dreams.

Having briefly lived in New York as a child, his memories of style and glamour never faded. In 1987, he returned to New York City. Almost immediately, he started working at some of the finest salons and began placing himself in settings that would showcase his styling ability. In no time he met other industry professionals and was soon recommended to work with his longtime favorite, Vanessa Williams.

With his tranquil and unpretentious demeanor, Oscar James has proven himself as an industry standard. He is a master hair stylist with classic skills who never gives less than his best. Since entering the industry, he has amassed an impressive client list, which consists of top supermodels and celebrities like: Tyra Banks, Iman, and Jennifer Hudson. His work has graced the covers of Vogue, Elle, Essence, Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair and InStyle Magazine. He is the artist behind popular ad campaigns for: Revlon, L’oreal, Pantene and DeBeers. When asked about the highlight of his career thus far, he adoringly refers to the styling Halle Berry’s signature coiffure for her win at the 74th Annual Academy Awards. In 2010 Oscar was the 37th Annual Daytime Entertainment Emmy Award Winner for Outstanding Achievement in Hairstyling, for the The TYRA Show.

Instagram: @oscarjameshair
Twitter: @oscarjameshair

Byron Barnes actually introduced us back in 1994. He used to come into the salon that I worked in and I would cut and color his hair for him. He was working with you at the time and thought that I would be good with your hair. He’s a very giving individual and he thought we should meet. I remember the day like it was yesterday. The initial meeting was in an office in Manhattan and it was short but sweet. I couldn’t believe that I was actually in the room with IMAN! I’ll never forget that day.

Who was your first big celebrity client?
My first big celebrity client was Vanessa Williams! I had always been a big fan. We’re about the same age so she won The Miss America Pageant the world was shook!….and so was I! Beauty, talent and brains all wrapped up in this incredible package! Then she went on to have this amazing singing career. I had ALWAYS admired her hair, she was EVERYTHING!!! SO GLAMOROUS! Shortly before I met you, I was working in the salon and the owner was asked to do hair for a fashion show, she couldn’t do it so I did hair for the show instead. Make up artist, Sam Fine was doing makeup for the show. He saw me doing hair and he was working with Vanessa at the time and he thought I would be good for V and the rest is history! I was a nervous wreck but I pushed thru and she kept calling back. Funny thing is that I met you, Vanessa and Tyra that same year and I still work with all 3 of you today! Completely changed my life!

What do you think gave you such longevity?
I think i’ve lasted this long in the business because Im very serious about my work and I REALLY put in time. A big part of my career has been work with a lot of wigs which I can prep at home! I can take my time with the cut, I can be sure that the color is spot on and that everything is to my liking and that’s all before I even see the client. It’s both to put me at ease and to be be able to service my client in in a timely matter. Time is EVERYTHING in this business. I usually get an hour to style clients for photoshoots and appearances so I’m VERY mindful to always be prepared! I think another reason is that I’m very versatile and I bring an arsenal of tools, ideas and tricks to the party! I can switch it up on a dime. It comes from all my years of working in salons. I’m a fast worker. I also study what the youth are doing to stay relevant. It’s essential for growth.

You’ve worked with so many amazing and diverse in style celebrities over the years…what is your secret or philosophy?
I’ve ALWAYS loved hair! Since I was a child. I didn’t choose hair, it chose me! I just loved everything about it. I love great textures! Color and cut are very important to me because thats really your foundation so I spend most of my time there. Classic cuts never go out of style! Basically i’m still doing the same haircuts and colors, the techniques change but, whats new is old. They just put new twists on it every now and then. I’m very visual so most often when I see something, I can recreate it so I practice until I get it! Like now, hair is a lot more “undone” than it was back in the day so i’m mindful to just do LESS! I think another key to me having longevity is that early on I knew what kinda hair I was best at so my focus has always been there. I’m best at classic cuts with great texture and mindful color placement! I like editorial styling but i’m not as strong there as I am for Red Carpet moments so I was mindful of that when choosing which direction to go with my career. Just so happens that the first 3 celebrities I met are STILL Red carpet queens to this day!!

What is your philosophy when it comes to hair?
The difference between styling hair for a Red Carpet appearance and styling hair for a photoshoot is that most often on photoshoots you can play a bit more and create messier looks. You can create more fantasy looks whereas with Red Carpets most women wanna play it a little safer because you never know what angle they’re gonna shoot you from or if the shape is gonna hold up or the “look” is gonna translate well in a photo. With photoshoots you have more control so you can be more creative and take more risks.

What inspires you?
I’m inspired by my peers and pop culture and magazines! Fashion is EVERYTHING though. The garment ALWAYS set the tone. I get inspiration from TV and Film and ART! Biggest inspiration comes from seeing my clients happy though. I work very hard to bring their best self forward..Everytime!

What is your advice when it comes to hair?
My advice when it comes to hair is to have a little fun! I think hair is another accessory and we should experiment and find what works best for us. I think every woman should have a few wigs and hair pieces so she can switch it up every now and then! They’re great for vacation’s and parties and when you don’t have time and wanna make time for styling your hair. They can transform you in minutes! I’ve always been about options! The more looks, the merrier! I choose an outfit and then i’d choose my hair!!!!

What are your fave hair products?
I love Mousses for building body into hair. Limp hair is never cute! I like pomades to add texture, separation and to control fly aways. I like Serums to smooth the surface of the hair and add shine and I LOVE a great holding spray to help hair hold its shape.

Let’s get back to me… why do you think we’ve had such a working/collaborative relationship?
I think that you and I work really well together is because you’re usually have a vision for what you want. Very seldom do you not know what you want when it comes to your hair. You usually will have a tear sheet or a reference which is VERY helpful!! You also have a great eye and you know what looks good on you so even when I wanna get a lil wacky you’ll reel me back in! Luckily for me, I don’t have to do much when it comes to your hair. I’m pretty good with cutting and I can color enough to get any wig where I want it to be so that’s more than half the battle. You have such an amazing taste in clothes so I like the hair to always complement your choices, never compete! Thats why classic cuts, color and styles, which I do best, usually work so well for us.

What are the perks of working with me?
One of the highlights of my job with you though is when I get to take away one of your home cooked meals!!!! That’s how you make up for working me to the bone while I’m there! We don’t get to see each other often so when I’m there, you put me to good use!…And If I’m a REALLY good boy, I get to go home with Jerk chicken, Edamame and Orzo pasta!!!!! My favorite meal that you make! She’s no slouch with a Lasagna either though! Wait! I just made myself hungry!

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