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Life & Work with Gabi Lopez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gabi Lopez.

Hi Gabi, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I came to existence with a bang.. literally. I was born in West Palm Beach as the eye of Hurricane Andrew was hitting our little beach city. My mom gave birth to me under generator lights in a hospital. I grew up between Guayaquil, Ecuador and WPB, Florida. Eventually, I moved to Texas and that’s where the story really begins. My mother has always been a self-taught makeup artist. I have vivid memories of visiting her at makeup counters as a kid. She worked for Chanel, YSL and Laura Mercier for many years.

Eventually, she became a completely self-employed single mother and my idol. Like her, I also shared a love for makeup but I wanted a more behind the scenes approach to my artistry. From middle school on, I always felt a bit different. I was shy and introverted and my interest really lied in art and books. I used to do so many different types of art. Whether it was pencil sketching or oil portraits, I was always fascinated with faces.

For the longest time, I knew I wanted to create with my hands but I was unsure what I wanted to do. I think I went from artist to pastry chef to eventually… hair. I saw my mother make a career out of it, so I figured I could go to school and then cut hair in order to afford college tuition.

I was the awkward artsy kid and I did really well in school, but that didn’t afford me many friends. I decided to take extra classes and graduate early. At 16 years old I somehow managed to graduate the top of my class! Who would’ve thought? Not me.

I knew I wanted to enroll in hair school, but I had to wait to turn 17 to enroll. I worked as a hostess at a Mexican restaurant for a year and saved up to buy new clothes for school. I enrolled in the University of Cosmetology Arts and Science on my 17th birthday. It was one of the only cosmetology programs in my hometown at the time. For visual context, the school was directly next to a strip club and a McDonald’s.

My teacher there was Mrs. Franklin and she was a trip! She was so positive and happy all the time. I was in class with a man who had been imprisoned for 38 years at 18 years old for a minor marijuana charge. He had picked up barbering while in prison and he was the best I’d ever seen. He enrolled in the program after his release. I learned a lot from both of them.

At some point, the school got exhausting and I took a leave of absence. By the time I decided I was ready to go back to school, Paul Mitchell The School in San Antonio had opened and I decided to transfer my hours and start new. This was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I was going to school with other people my age and it felt good. It felt less like a school teaching you a profession and more like an institution where you could explore and hone in on your craft and creativity.

I had some of the best teachers there and I learned so much. I had a teacher, Mrs. Tameka Patterson who told me when I graduated, “You’re going to be a platform artist one day.” I never forgot those words. She instilled in me the vision that I could be exactly who I wanted to be. I am still so unbelievably grateful for all of my teachers there.

Eventually, I’d tried the salon life and moved to a few different cities and nothing was really fulfilling. Then I got the opportunity to move to LA with my best friend and I just did it. We lived together for a year in a 600 sq ft studio in Macarthur Park. I couldn’t find a job in LA (doing hair) for over six months and quickly depleted my savings. Finally, I was able to transfer my license to California and I started working for Dry Bar plus I was waiting tables at Sushi Stop and working a retail job at the famed Kitson on Robertson. For months I had three jobs and worked every single day to try and make ends meet.

After a while, I made Dry Bar my full-time position. That is one of the most physically exhausting jobs I’ve ever held to date. Seven, sometimes, eight blow-dries a day takes a toll on your body. After about a year or so there, I was fired because a client who happened to be an influencer had said I was making faces at her in the mirror… (which if you’re a hairstylist you know we all make faces that don’t necessarily pertain to the subject or person in the chair). So there I was again, jobless in LA. I quickly began searching for any position and found Glamsquad. I worked with them for about two years.

I liked being able to go somewhere different for work every day and to somewhat manage my own schedule. That’s when I got my first on set job. It was pretty cool. The lights, the cameras, the glitz and glam. It was exciting that my work was being photographed!

Then in the summer of 2016, I was given the opportunity to assist celebrity hairstylists and all around HAIR HERO Cesar Deleon Ramirez. Our first shoot was on the Paramount Pictures lot and I got to park in front of the set where they shot FRIENDS! I’ll never forget that day, My first real set.

The rest kind of took off after that. I began learning the unimaginable from Cesar. He’s the most artistic individual I’ve ever met. The way he looks at hair goes past just styling, he creates true works of art. I truly am blessed to have been able to work under him.

Eventually, he began trusting me with his clients and his manager, EJ Jamele and his team at crowdMGMT signed me as an artist and now here we are! I hope to one day train someone the way that he trained me. I love my job and I’m so grateful for all of the experiences I’ve had with my clients.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I don’t think anyone in this industry will tell you that this is a smooth road. If it is, you’re not working hard enough. This life, especially assisting, isn’t for the weak (I honestly don’t know how I did it). It’s long hours standing, holding your pee so that you don’t miss a shot and a lot of time spent away from home (pre-covid). It’s shlepping 150 lb suitcases up your apartment stairs to clean and reorganize. It’s getting your kit stolen from out of your car because you were too exhausted to take it out that ONE time. It’s driving from the Westside to Downtown in rush hour to pick up wigs, tools, etc. I think what keeps us creatives going though, is our absolute love and passion for what we are able to create.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I really love to completely transform a person. Give me 3 hours and you won’t recognize the person in my chair. I specialize in extensions, wigs, “un done” haircuts and color, on set styling and men’s cuts. I’m known for my undone waves and using way more hair than most would to achieve a perfect blend. There is nothing that hurts my soul more than unblended extensions.

I’m most proud of the first time I worked with Becky G. It was the LAMAS and I was filling in for Cesar. He trusted me to do a lace front wig on a client that was co-hosting the event. Little did everyone know, it was my first ever lace-front wig application. I practiced on myself for HOURS the night before and just tried to keep the stress at bay. It ended up going extremely well and I’m so proud of myself for just ignoring the little voice inside that told me I couldn’t and JUST DID THE DAMN THING.

I’m also very grateful to have developed this level of trust with my clients where they really let me play and expand upon some of the styles they’re used to. They trust me to switch it up without pushing them too far out of their comfort zone.

Any big plans?
I just want to keep doing what I love. I hope to one day travel with a crew and go on a world tour, but we’ll see what happens! I really want to start mentoring/training an assistant as well. I made a big change about a month ago and moved to Big Bear about 2 hours away from LA.

With Covid-19 and work being scarce, I decided to make a huge change for my mental health. For me, living in big cities isn’t conducive to long life. I need fresh air, birds chirping, quiet nights. I have faith that my clients will continue to book me and I can have the best of both worlds. If I’m not in the best headspace, I cannot be of the best service to anyone. I think moving will only make me more grateful when I do get to be on set, creating and doing what I love the most.

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Image Credits

Vivian Phan Emilio Sanchez

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