It was in his hometown of Florence, South Carolina, where Oscar James began to develop an affinity for hair styling. At an early age he considered the possibility of making it his life’s work. Eager to enter the commercial industry, Oscar attended high school and beauty school simultaneously, graduating with a diploma and a cosmetology license to pursue his dreams.
Having briefly lived in New York as a child, his memories of style and glamour never faded. In 1987, he returned to New York City. Almost immediately, he started working at some of the finest salons and began placing himself in settings that would showcase his styling ability. In no time he met other industry professionals and was soon recommended to work with his longtime favorite, Vanessa Williams.With his tranquil and unpretentious demeanor, Oscar James has proven himself as an industry standard. He is a master hair stylist with classic skills who never gives less than his best. Since entering the industry, he has amassed an impressive client list, which consists of top supermodels and celebrities like: Tyra Banks, Iman, and Jennifer Hudson. His work has graced the covers of Vogue, Elle, Essence, Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair and InStyle Magazine. He is the artist behind popular ad campaigns for: Revlon, L’oreal, Pantene and DeBeers. When asked about the highlight of his career thus far, he adoringly refers to the styling Halle Berry’s signature coiffure for her win at the 74th Annual Academy Awards. In 2010 Oscar was the 37th Annual Daytime Entertainment Emmy Award Winner for Outstanding Achievement in Hair styling, for the The TYRA Show.
Oscar currently resides in New York, but is constantly on the move. He is a true jet setter who continues to travel the world, working with television/film stars, recording artists and more. A defining force in his field, Oscar has expanded his reach to international advertising markets as well. Oscar James is a true professional on a level of his own who meets and succeeds the highest level of expectations. (Source: http://www.kenbarboza.com/gallery/oscar-james/)
DT: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? And some highlights in your career? Please name drop (laughs).
OJ: I was born on December 29, 1964, in Florence, South Carolina.
I grew up doing hair, even as a child. Hair has always been apart of my life. Next to my high school, there was a vocational center where they offered cosmetology. I got my high school diploma and cosmetology license a month apart.
I’ve been doing hair for 35 years now and worked in salons in my hometown of Florence, SC for a few years after [graduating] high school. And, moved to NYC shortly after, where I met makeup artist Sam Fine at a Fashion Show in 1994; and, he knew Vanessa Williams. Vanessa needed a hairstylist, so Sam introduced me to her. Mr. Fine also introduced me to Tyra Banks; and, another friend introduced me to Iman. This all happened in the same year.
After that, I did an Essence cover and story with Vanessa Williams. During that time, beauty editor Mikki Taylor took a liking to me and introduced me to countless celebrities. Slowly, I transitioned from salon work to working full-time with celebrities.
The main highlights for me [were] working with Vanessa Williams and never seeing my work represented in such a glamorous way on that Essence cover. And, it completely changed my life. Another highlight was winning a Daytime Emmy Award for my work on the Tyra Banks Show; I couldn’t have imagined winning such a prestigious award. However, styling Halle Berry’s hair, the day she won the Academy Award, stands out to me, as well. It truly was a magical day (the cherry on top).
DT: Why is it important to have diversity in the beauty and fashion industries?
OJ: I think it’s important to have diversity in our industry because we live in a diverse world. There is so much beauty all around us; it’s important that our youth see themselves depicted in all media (and celebrated). The sky is the limit when a person feels included, loved, and supported.
DT: Have you seen shifts in the last decade?
OJ: I have certainly seen shifts in the past decade. There was a time when people of color were rarely seen on shoots; and, African American models had a difficult time finding people who could address their skin and hair needs. I literally use to style Tyra Bank’s hair before her shoots, because they wouldn’t hire who she wanted, and would hire people who couldn’t do her hair properly.
DT: In a perfect world, what would be an ideal evolution in the industries of beauty and fashion?
OJ: The perfect evolution in the industries of Fashion and Beauty would be to embrace all our differences; and, respecting that we are all different yet very similar and REALLY celebrating that.
DT: Do you realize that your presence in the industry inspires many people around the world?
OJ: It took me a long time to see what others saw in me. I’ve always loved to do hair, so its just natural for me. I think I realized I was truly loved when I was transitioning from a salon to working with celebrities. I could see that my clients genuinely missed me.
Also, with social media, working with celebrities like Nicki Minaj was a whole new game that came much later in my career. Her fanbase and reach [are] outta this world; and, I could see that people were really paying attention. And, Nicki on the ELLE cover sparked a whole new moment for me. Traditional media definitely opened doors; but, social media platforms gives you full access to people firsthand around the globe.
DT: What advice would you give your younger self?
OJ: I would tell my younger self, “to really think about what you want for yourself and not do things because others say you should. Think about what would be best for you.”
I would also tell myself, “to focus on more work in film and television, as well as other work.” Mainly, because its union work and there are perks like health insurance [and] pension that could make life more balanced.
DT: Are you living your purpose?
OJ: I do feel like I am living my purpose because I am truly happy. I could always improve to make it more purposeful.
DT: Finish this sentence, “I am grateful for…”
OJ: “…good health today, and for the love of my family, friends, and those that love me through it all.”
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