Beauty school goes inside Tinseltown

October 16, 2008 6:12:00 PM PDT
For people in the beauty business, Hollywood is Mecca: Regular doses of red-carpet glamour, plus headline-making haircuts and camera-ready stars on practically every corner. But most outside the entertainment industry don't know their AD from their PA. Stylists might be slick with the shears, but aren't quite clear on the difference between an art director and a creative director - possibly hindering their success in this insular business.

That's why celebrity stylist Michael Shaun Corby and Alterna Professional Haircare launched the Hollywood Production Course - a three-day class that pulls back the curtain and teaches hairdressers the looks and lingo of the entertainment industry.

"There's always this mystery about the Hollywood elite and the people who work with them," said Corby, who counts Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Rosario Dawson among his past clients. "I thought it would be nice to let everyone have that experience and see what it's like."

Stylists from around the country pay $1,850 to spend a few days with Corby and his crew at the swank Alterna offices in Century City. They're treated to a taste of the L.A. experience - eating at trendy restaurants and taking inspiration from Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive - while learning how to gain entree into the celebrity beauty business.

Besides studying pin curls and the latest layering techniques, they learn how to cast models, create wardrobes, collaborate with other stylists and complete a Hollywood-style editorial photo shoot. They also begin crafting their professional biographies and compiling their portfolios.

"It's almost like getting behind a magician and seeing how he does the tricks," said Sharron Rubin, a recent graduate of the Hollywood Production Course.

Six women from around the country comprised a recent class. They met in the same glossy high-rise tower where so many Hollywood lawyers and agents work. On the first day, they were strangers to each other and to the entertainment business. By day three, they were partners and pals with on-set experience and the photos to prove it.

Corby serves as both head instructor and group cheerleader. He leads icebreaking, team-building exercises, demonstrates cutting-edge styling techniques and gives students a glossary of on-set production terms. (Turns out the AD is the assistant director, who is far more powerful than the PA - a production assistant responsible for on-set odd jobs.) Corby assigns each student a fictional product and ad-campaign concept. Guest lecturers, including publicists and celebrity wardrobe experts, offer practical tips.

Over the next two days, each student collects inspiring images to guide their photo shoot, participates in a model-casting call, dreams up various looks for her, assembles a photo-worthy wardrobe on a budget of just $150, styles their hair and instructs makeup artists how to achieve the desired result.

"It's taking a look and creating theatrics around it," Corby said. "And that's what the entertainment industry does."

Students spend the final day of the course surrounded by professionals at a photo studio, where they capture hundreds of frames of their work. The most recent class got a special bonus: "Project Runway" third-season winner Jeffrey Sebelia brought couture pieces from his Cosa Nostra label to the photo shoot for students to use.

"My girlfriend was one of the models... I wanted her to look good and we didn't know what was going to be there in terms of styling," he said. "I put together a bunch of clothes and brought them over. Then everyone started using the clothes."

Sebelia, who has witnessed his share of photo shoots, called the Hollywood Production Course "a boot camp for a real-life situation."

Graduates of the course said they were inspired to be more creative in their everyday work and consider possibilities beyond the salon.

"My salons are on farms and I see cows," said recent grad Rubin, a stylist for more than 25 years in Camp Hill, Penn. "This class made it so I could move and start working. Definitely."

Sarah George, a 32-year-old stylist from Virginia Beach who had already worked on photo shoots and fashion shows, called the Hollywood Production class "hands down the best educational experience I've ever had."

"You're working with the best in the industry - viable artists who work all the time with celebrities," she said. "They know what's hot now and how to get it... I felt like I was getting the inside ticket."


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