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Meet Olivia VanDerMillen

Today we’d like to introduce you to Olivia VanDerMillen.

Olivia, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My love of the beauty industry blossomed at a young age, from playing barbershop with my dad to sneaking red lipstick from the babysitter’s bathroom, I had a fascination from day one. I was lucky to have a supportive family who allowed me to practice cutting their hair at age 13.

Girls at school would recruit me to do their hair and makeup for school dances and I even started charging to thread people’s eyebrows in the cafeteria before classes in high school. But despite this, there is a social attitude in the Midwest where I grew up was that hairdressing and makeup artistry are jobs reserved for people who can’t receive a college education. It certainly wasn’t a profession suggested by school counselors and teachers and was framed as a ‘job’ rather than a ‘career’.

Because of this, I decided to pursue college. I attended the University of Iowa, where I was paying my tuition by cutting student’s hair in the dorms for $8, two dollars cheaper than the beauty college across the street after one student found me cutting my boyfriend’s hair in the utility closet. I couldn’t fathom staying in college, studying things that I had no interest in while doing what I loved to pay for it. After staying up all night writing other people’s English papers for fifty bucks a pop, I began researching cosmetology programs. It was in that moment, in an insomniac daze that I decided my fate, to drop out and pursue my true passion. I was terrified to tell my parents, not because I feared they wouldn’t be proud of my decision, but because the shame instilled in me by teachers and counselors that I’d be ‘wasting my academic abilities’ if I did. I was a bright student, but I was ‘unique’. I detested being a pretty girl, chopping off my hair and piercing my face. I dressed loud and stuck out, and I was ridiculed for it. I couldn’t imagine looking like everyone else and having to carry out the act of being ‘normal’ the rest of my life.

I attend a small town, old fashioned beauty school. It was the fastest, most cost-efficient option available, and I wanted to start as soon as possible. Despite the school not carrying a big fancy name, I feel I receive a fantastic education, due to the passion of a few great instructors. I ate up every second, reading the textbooks front to back, watching countless instructional technique videos online and practicing on anyone who’d allow it. This was the first time my flamboyancy worked for me and was encouraged. I could be pierced and tattooed with a green mohawk and for once it didn’t matter. I finally felt at home after years of feeling miserably out of place in the Midwest.

After receiving my cosmetology license, I made the decision to further expand upon my education by attending the professional makeup artistry course at Make Up Designory in Burbank. It was both an opportunity to expand my professional net and move to the city. After receiving my certification, I worked in various salons across LA looking to find the neighborhood I fit in best. I finally settled in Silverlake, I loved the laid back, creative stylist of East LA, a far cry from my previous working in Beverly Hills, which didn’t take kindly to me shaving my head after two days of working there. Once I decided to call Silverlake home, I worked in salon as a Color and Extension Specialist and out of the salon doing freelance makeup projects. I enjoy the steady nature of the salon, and the variety offered by freelance work.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The road has not been smooth. Besides struggling with the suggestion that I’d be better suited to a more ‘academically challenging’ career, finding my place in LA the first few years was a terrible struggle. There are unspoken rules of the trade that you must learn along the way, like how most special effect makeup labs are mainly men, or that to get a job in an upscale salon you must be first be an assistant where you will be treated like utter dog shit for two years by an established stylist, and then you MIGHT get a job there. Or that unspoken truth of LA that you HAVE to make good money (or come from good money) to pursue a career here, but if you say that everyone will deny it. There is also a pressure I never felt back home, this overwhelming pressure to change my appearance to be more beautiful. I felt it in different ways back home, like to tone down the fire engine red hair or take out a lip piercing or two, but in LA we are CONSTANTLY bombarded with advertisements for liposuction, lip injections, breast augmentation, Brazilian butt lifts, botox, laser facials… I had no idea how the standard of beauty would effect my self-esteem, yet simultaneously fuel my career.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am an independent Hair Stylist and Makeup Artist. I specialize in creative hair coloring and editorial makeup. I’ve have the opportunity to work as the key Hair and Makeup Artist on three different music videos for rapper Future, style hair for Michael Costello’s runway fashion show, do makeup for punk singer Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, as well as work with the hair color brand Splat to launch hair color campaigns. I focus on creating unique looks that go against standard beauty trends, but rather focus on complimenting the unique look of each individual. I’m most passionate about super funky hair colors and cuts, or high fashion makeup, things that take us away from the ordinary of day to day life.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
My favorite childhood memory is playing barbershop with my dad. I’d wrap his neck with toilet paper like I’d see the barber do, cover him with a blanket as my cape, and spray his hair down with the water bottle from my mother’s bathroom. I’d comb his hair while pretending to snip away and the spare hair he had left. It was such an innocent game I’d play, I had no idea it offered a glimpse into my future life.

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Image Credit:
Photo by @netovelasco

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