My name is Wesley O’Meara, I’m 35 and I’m a Hair Stylist. I was born in West Palm Beach, Florida, but I’ve been in New York for around 16 years. Five years ago I was at a different (talent representation) agency and everything I did there was really consistent. I was just doing the work that was sent to me, and don’t get me wrong I was really happy, but I think on a personal level, maybe I got complacent. So fast-forward to now and I’m still with the same agent I’ve had for 8 years, but we’re just with a different agency.
Lately I’ve gotten to do some interesting things and I’ve been able to pursue outside opportunities. I still do the same thing. I do hair! I do a lot of Editorial also some red carpet stuff, and now I tend to do a lot more advertising, which I’m not mad about. But in my job you don’t really hop to another level, you’re just consistent and then you get something really good and you ride on that high for a little while.
That’s the life of any freelancer. You do something really high caliber or that you’d actually pay money out of your own pocket to do, and then you ride off of that high of getting those images. And then something comes along and just shits on that, or there’s no work for a while, and you panic like “Fuck this, I’m going to College. I’m going to go be a Para-legal someplace or something” (laughing). But it’s almost like a drug, you keep coming back and I feel like that’ s just what freelance life is like. It’ s a rollercoaster. It’ s insane.
FF: Do you have formal training or education in your field?
Um... it’s kind of unconventional. When I went to Hair School, it really didn’t work for me. This school was very... well like girls would get stabbed! I’m not even kidding, a girl got stabbed. Not that that stuff would go on all the time, but it wasn’t a good environment for learning. And it was expensive so I knew I was being shot in the foot. I got to a point where I was like, ‘I’m going to have to pay for this whether I stay or not. I don’t want to get my license because I don’t want to work in a salon’. So I left school. I had finished maybe half of it.
I had lived in New York for 7 years at that point, so I knew a lot of people that worked in the industry. I got in touch with a friend of mine, Gray Scott, a Hair and Make-up Artist who had started taking pictures and we just started working together. He had been doing hair and make-up for so long before photography that he showed me how to do a lot of stuff on-set. We worked together for like a year before I signed to an agency. So I definitely didn’t go the conventional route, but I kind of like that. I approach things a little differently because I’ve had less structured training and I’ve been allowed to be more creative, which sometimes ends up being better and I can save time on set.
FF: Do you consider yourself a freshman, sophomore or senior in your field?
Sophomore! I wouldn’t consider myself a senior because I’m only 35 and you’re supposed to retire at 65. I make this joke all the time... a lot of my job is working on set for clients that can be like 25 years old, so I’m already 35 and I’m totally okay if they’re giving me direction and telling me what to do, but I can’t imagine being 60 and having some 25-year-old telling me what to do. I’ll be 50 in 15 years and I can’t imagine still doing some of the stuff that I do now. I mean my hair’s already falling out! If I have to hustle like this for the next 15 years, I’ll be fucking bald (laughs). When I’m a senior I’m going to have like a product line or other business opportunities that would enable me to be more selective with the on- set work. So now I’m working on trying to set that up so I’m not still doing ponytails when I’m 65.
FF: What was the project or opportunity that broke you out of entry level?
There were two! There was the photographer I talked about (Gray Scott) who took me under his wing. So he was the first. He taught me so much about how to behave on set and from that I was able to get some images really quickly. And from those images I was able to work with other Photographers and reach out to Stylists and get word-of-mouth going.
The other one I would say is my agent, Bianca Balconis. I originally met with her about assisting other people. It was just a speculative meeting, but we just really hit it off! So she would try to send me on jobs here and there, but I was starting to get busy on my own at the same time.
She called me about 2 months after we had started talking and was like “I want to sign you” and I was stunned! I mean this agency was one of the top ones in the country, if not one of the best in the world. So when she said I want to sign you without a portfolio. I mean that’s unheard of! It was huge.
I just skipped years of struggle. So it’s very important to keep in contact with people, without harassing them... just in an organic way. But we just hit it off and we still work very well together going on 8 years now. She’s so great. I hear people complain about their agents a lot, but you have to remember that your agent isn’t there to do things for you; they’re there to manage. And when you start saying ‘why aren’t you doing anything for me?’ you’ve lost the whole purpose of what we’re doing. You need to be putting yourself out there - it’s 80/20. An agent is there to look out for your best interests, to keep my schedule and do my billing. They still get you work, but after 8 years of doing this, I should already be getting my own.
You have to hustle yourself. It’s New York-fucking-City, if you’re not going to do it yourself, then your agent will have 10 other people on their books and someone that’s hustling harder is going to come in and eat your dinner!
FF: What is your dream creative project?
I don’t know if it’s so much a creative project. I guess I would like to work in a parallel field. I would like to work in product development. It doesn’t even have to be my product line because I don’t think I have that status where I could have a namesake product line. Let’s be real, those people have been doing this a long time. But just to work on like a small boutique product line and see if it grows. That’s ultimately where I want to end up.
FF: What's stopping you from it?
I’m very self-aware so I know exactly what’s stopping me. I wouldn’t have to jump right to product development. I could start small with a website or something and then hopefully it grows exponentially. To get that started would be very cheap, it’s only going to require help from a couple of other people, but then it’s going to have to be on-going. That’s the hard part! Once I get started on that path I have to be willing to dedicate myself. Like, there goes lying on the couch watching Netflix all day! Part of me is a little scared to give up that part of my life - or maybe not scared, but just procrastinating. I think I’m at that weird age where I’m done going out and partying, but I’m not ready to get fat and pregnant or settle down. I’m getting close to wanting that, but it’s New York City so we’re all kind of perma-25.
FF: Who are three people whose thought process you'd like to learn more about?
I don’t even know how to answer that! In terms of artistry, I would say Pat McGrath. I don’t know where she gets these concepts from, not so much her editorial stuff, but her runway work. It always makes total sense and it’s always so on-point for the collection and I can see exactly what she means. I know she carries around suitcases full of books for reference, but I just don’t understand what exactly made her think of that. I mean, I know the creative process and have to come up with things myself, but it’s also difficult to garner the level of trust from the people you work with the way she does. Like, this is a bad example, but if I were to say ‘I want to do blue eyelashes’, then someone else on set would say ‘no I don’t think blue eyelashes work’. Even if I just know it’s going to work, nobody will say yes. But she’s gained that much respect that she could say ‘it’s blue eyelashes’ and people just trust her because she’s just on that level. To be in her brain, not the story of how she worked from the 90s to where she is today, that’s pretty self- explanatory, she clearly worked her as off, but just how she links that ideas process. Other than that I don’t know. I can’t name 3 because
I always think of that quote, “Good Artists copy, great Artists steal” but I never really want to be like that, so I try not to reference too much current stuff.
It’s really annoying when I look through a magazine and you can see the trends, so the trend in hair is still wet hair, it’s not even wet it’s like greasy. It’s like did I just drag all my stuff here to just squirt water in her hair and she's in a fur coat? I’m over it. It was great the first time someone did it, but I’m not going to do it for the millionth time. I try to argue for something new. There’s too much referencing what’s happening now and it slows everything down.
FF: Why do you think that is?
I think there was more freedom before the recession because advertisers didn’t dictate everything as much as they do now. So there’s the trickle down-effect. Editorial lives off advertising (financially) so it’s like, it worked, it’s safe, so they’re going to ask for it again and again. So now with the shows that have just been, the trend is very 70s, and that’s already referential and who knows how long we’ll get stuck there. Maybe I’m just being kind of cranky because I’m not as bright eyed and bushy tailed and new to the industry. But in some ways that cranky side, or the fact that I feel like I’ve already seen it all can be helpful, because then I can be like ‘I don’t want to do that anymore’. And usually when you voice that and say for example, I don’t want to do wet hair anymore, it clicks with people that it’s already done.
FF: If there were a retrospective of your work, what would be your favorites to include?
My favorite work is always my next job. But I think what would be interesting and hilarious would be to do a show of everybody’s first work, their test shots. So all the great hair and make-up artists working today, you could see where they started. Because in the beginning we all do the same thing where we’re just so excited to be working that you pull out all the stops and it’s just a shit-show. The images are terrible. It’s like so much hair, so much make-up and then the poor stylist could only get like American Apparel leggings or something. All the stuff that was unpublished because then you get to see the then versus now.
you can follow Wesley's work on instagram.
as told to: Kylie Johnston // photos by: Nick Blumenthal