On Bravo's new reality show "Sheer Genius," hair stylists take center stage.


There are reality shows about singing and dancing; about interior design and fashion design; about cooking and losing weight.

With Bravo's new reality show "Sheer Genius," hair stylists take center stage.

The show, which wrapped up its first season at the end of May, pitted 12 eclectic hair stylists against one another in a variety of challenges -- from standard cuts to outlandish hair creations. In one challenge, they had to turn black-haired mannequins into blondes. In another, they had to create a work of art using professional models with long hair and an arsenal of arts and crafts material. And for another, they set up shop at a local mall and solicited shoppers to get a haircut on the spot. In one of the final challenges, "Get it straight," contestants are challenged to style African-American hair using various treatments and straightening appliances.

The contestants ranged from Aussie Tabatha, a savvy businesswoman with 25 years of experience to 22-year-old Theodore, who already has opened his own L.A. salon. The winner was Anthony, a Brit who owns his own California salon - a fan of working with curly hair.

"Shear Genius" stylist Danna is a curlyhead.  
   
 
Anthony is a "Shear Genius" stylist.  
   

The stylists were judged by hostess and former "Charlies Angel" Jaclyn Smith, renowned hairstylist Sally Hershberger (creator of the famous "Meg" Shag, named after actress Meg Ryan), Allure magazine fashion director Michael Carl and stylist Rene Fris, a Danish hairstylist, as well as weekly guest judges. such as legendary celebrity stylists Jose Eber. Christophe, Frederick Fekkai and Ken Paves.

Many believe it's about time that hair stylists -- who we all depend on to make us look good -- get a chance to shine.

"Nobody has an idea how difficult it is to be a hairdresser," says Fris, who works in both television and film and has written books on grooming. "We're under a lot of pressure. We have nine or 10 clients who we have to please every day -- face to face, right here and now. You have to be creative and social. And the client is always right."

NaturallyCurly.com talked with Fris about about the show, as well as his philosophy about hairdressers and curls.

"I think people will have more respect for what hair stylists do," Fris says of the potential impact of "Sheer Genius." "They get a chance to see it from the inside."

For Fris, the show has been interesting from another perspective. While European stylists are educated for four years -- learning every aspect of the business -- he said U.S. hairdressers tend to specialize in one area. They may be an expert colorist, but aren't so good with cuts. They may be great at cutting, but have little experience in special occasion styles. That has been apparent with each episode of "Sheer Genius," he says.

'It's hard to find one hairdresser capable of doing it all," Fris says. "We haven't seen one person staying on top all the way through."

Fris' favorite show was the one where the hair stylists had to create hairstyles from different eras.

"You saw some great hair and great costumes," Fris says. "You saw the hairdressers go as crazy as they could."

Although a good education is a must in the hair industry, Fris believes truly talented hair stylists are born with a gift.

"It's like painting a picture," he says. "You have to have it in you. You have to be able to see what you can create to fit their personality. Some stylists might do one haircut on 50 clients. But that haircut might not be right for everybody's hair and personality. You can't work that way."

  Curly tips from Rene Fris

  • Only comb the hair when the it's wet, and when it has conditioner in it. Comb from the ends to the roots.
  • Take a towel and scrunch the water out of it. This helps create ringlets.
  • Scrunch in some leave-in conditioner for "luscious, chunky curls."
  • Make sure your haircut works with your curls rather than making your curls work with the haircut.

That is especially true for curly hair, Fris says. He doesn't believe it's difficult to cut curly hair, as long as you work with the hair's natural texture rather than against it.

"It looks best when you allow the hair to do its own thing," he says. "Don't try to make it do the opposite of what the curls want to do. The curls will be the winner in the end."

And he likes to see his curly clients a week after a haircut for a check up. Forty-five minutes, he says, isn't enough time to determine what the hair will do when it's cut.

"It changes every day," he says.