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Behind The Look: The Creatives Who Brought These Iconic Hair Styles to Life

Meet the stylists behind Ariana Grande’s snatched pony, Jennifer Aniston’s “The Rachel,” and Princess Leia’s space buns

Sometimes a hairstyle transcends time and trends to become permanently embedded in pop culture history. But how does one create such a memorable look? We’ve rounded up some of the most recognizable ‘dos of the last few decades to take a closer look at the stylists behind the chair. If you’ve ever wondered why a certain pop star rocks a gravity-defying ponytail or how a space princess got her cinnamon buns, read on. 

Josh Liu — Ariana Grande’s snatched pony

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Before Ariana Grande elevated the humble ponytail to red carpet status, it was the harbinger of bad hair days; a sign of a creative slump, if you will. In fact, in a 2014 Facebook post, Grande said that she started to wear a ponytail for the same reasons most mortals do: to hide a bit of damage and keep hair out of her face. But boring is not on the menu when your hairstylist is Josh Liu.

Liu first met Grande when he wrote for a teen gossip column in high school, and the two ran into each other again while he worked as an assistant for a celebrity hairstylist. Together they took on the challenge of transforming the ponytail into a fashion statement. Liu is known for bold, sultry looks inspired by architecture and haute couture, so it’s no surprise that Grande’s signature look ended up being a structural feat.

The “snatched” ponytail launched Liu’s career and led to the invention of  “The Hairtie,” a ponytail holder designed to keep long, thick hair in place through three-hour concerts, performances, and high-impact workouts.

Though he’s made a name for himself with his mastery of glamorous hairstyles, Liu admits that finding his creative expression was a long journey. Raised in a Mexican Chinese American family, Liu says he felt trapped by values and expectations of traditional masculinity and ended up redefining the meaning of gender for himself — “I identify as male, any implications that are made through my outward expression of makeup and fashion is what makes me feel comfortable in my male body,” he said an interview with Very Good Light.

Since its invention, the “snatched” pony has become Grande’s go-to look, though her hair has long since recovered from its earlier damage.

Chris McMillan — “The Rachel”

jennifer aniston insta

Whether you were rooting for Chandler and Monica or Ross and Rachel (or both), everyone’s favorite ’90s hairstyle was Jennifer Aniston’s layered bob, which came to be known as “The Rachel.”  The man behind the classic look is Aniston’s long-time (and current!) hair stylist, Chris McMillan

McMillan hails from Southern California and has perfected the eternally coveted beach wave look. Legend (and this Vogue article) has it that Aniston wanted a haircut that would blend well with her grown-out bangs and asked McMillan for help. He took inspiration from surf culture, Beri Smither’s chin-length bob, and Amber Valletta’s curvy blowout to create the highlighted, layered cut. 

Though McMillan himself called it “high-maintenance, not a wash-and-go style,” that did not stop it from becoming a poster child of the era, lasting long after the first season of Friends. And like everything else 90s, it appears to be coming back.

But Aniston is just one of McMillan’s celebrity clients — his Beverly Hills salon is a hot destination for the likes of Miley Cyrus (McMillan is behind her iconic chop), Courteney Cox, Cindy Crawford, Reese Witherspoon, and Nicole Kidman.

Pat McDermott — Princess Leia’s space buns

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Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Princess Leia’s space buns became a permanent part of pop culture when Carrie Fisher debuted the look on the big screen in 1977. There have been many iterations of the style since then, particularly in the 90s, making one thing clear: The buns are always with us. 

Pat McDermott, Carrie Fisher’s hairstylist on the Star Wars set, created the look after trying at least 30 other hairstyles. The twisty hairdo was an instant favorite of George Lucas, who claimed he wanted Princess Leia to have a hairstyle outside modern fashion trends.

The space buns were originally inspired by photographs of Mexican women revolutionaries in the Pancho Villa movement, specifically Clara de la Rocha, a guerilla fighter. 

In her book, The Princess Diarist, Fisher remembered McDermott fondly, saying, “She was the first person I saw in the morning and the last person I saw at night.” The two bonded over the two hours it took to twist, shape, and secure the buns into place. 

McDermott worked on film sets in the ’70s and ’80s, serving as a chief hairdresser for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Supergirl (1984), and as an assistant hair stylist for countless films and TV shows from the 1960s to 1980s. Had Instagram been around back then, you bet we would be following Pat McDermott for behind-the-scenes shots.

What do all three of these iconic styles have in common? None of their stylists were prepared for the pop culture impact all of them would have. Who knows — maybe your next creation will start a trend of its own!

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