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Kirstine Engsell

In 2016 the Danish hairstylist Kirstine Engell moved to London to work as first assistant to the famous hairstylist and groomer Gary Gill. Shortly after she signed with the Danish agency Scoop Artists, now at 30, she lives in London where she’s working as a freelance hairstylist.

Edited by Robin Douglas Westling
Photography Lars Brønseth

London, UK

Tell me about your background.

— I grew up in southern Denmark. It was very green and clean. Perhaps that’s why a bunch of us girls felt the need to break free from suburbia’s ’proper’ way and go all in with orange hair and purple eyeliner to create our own girl band! You’ve got to rock that girl power all the way! I’ve always been passionate about make-up and hair. I started out in the industry 11 years ago in Australia and it was super exciting.

Why did you choose to become a hairstylist?

— I think my generation has been struggling with pressure from parents who thought the best and most secure thing would be to go to university and get a ’real’ education. Of course they only have the best intentions, but unfortunately, it can put your own dreams on hold. After considering a career in marine biology, I found myself lost in Australia and ended up realising that I had to follow my own real dreams because it was hair I really pursued.

How did you become a hair stylist?

— I was educated as a makeup artist, in Australia, then I moved to Copenhagen where I completed the 4-year hairdressing school. I assisted different Danish hair and makeup artists along the way and gained a foothold in the industry. I have worked as an independent hairdresser, hairstylist and makeup artist for magazines, film productions, shows, music videos, and commercials. I ended up joining the Danish agency Scoop Models’ artist team, as a hairstylist in 2016. I’ve always had a passion for writing, so I’ve also been working for different danish magazines on the side, writing about beauty and doing interviews for ELLE Denmark. Then I moved to London to assist Gary Gill, it has been the perfect way to see different sides of the fashion industry.

How important were the years of assisting Gary Gill?

— Very important. You never stop learning, so if you ever get the chance to assist someone, you just have to go for it and do your best. Now I feel a lot more confident within myself and my skills. I was definitely intimidated in the beginning for sure, but I feel I learned a lot. Gary taught me so much about the industry and I feel very grateful for the time I had with him.

Is there something particular that represents your work, aesthetically?

— I think you’re influenced by what’s around you and that’s what makes your aesthetic roots begin to bloom from an early age. I was really drawn to music and movies that reflected my style and taste. A mix between rock’n’roll and strong girl power with a dash of fantasy horror. Living in London and assisting Gary Gill has definitely opened my eyes to all of the different British styles which I try to mix with my own Scandinavian roots. I like things raw, real, immediate and a bit rough.

What’s the most interesting thing about your work?

— Not a single day looks the same. Especially when you work as a first assistant. One day you work with celebs, another day with timid 18 year olds. One day you are standing in trash on a cool recycled Stella McCartney shoot, literally standing on shit, next week in Paris on a rock’n’roll Vetements show. All the impassioned, inspiring, power-people you work with. All the weird, cool locations you never thought existed.

How do you become a successful hairstylist?

— It is hard work. You’re required to be creative, friendly, organised and diplomatic. Gary Gill taught me a very important thing — you’re only as good as your last job. There’s no shortcut, I’m always putting 110% into my work, and I think that is how I got to where I am now.

Is there anything you want to change about the fashion industry?

— I would very much appreciate if the unpaid internships disappeared. It’s sadly very common, and it can be a struggle to get into this industry without money in the pocket.

Which role models do you look up to? Have you had any mentors that you worked with?

— I’ve been lucky to have different people supporting me on my journey throughout my career. I think it’s very important to have some kind of mentor or a person you respect and trust, so you can ask for advice without feeling stupid or when you feel a bit lost at times. But honestly my best advice is to surround yourself with positive power-people with drive and who can support and encourage you.

Do you have any individuals you dream of styling?

— Robert Smith from the Cure or Debbie Harry, because I think they would have some pretty wild stories. But I was born in the wrong generation, hah!

What happens next, and what is your main goal as a hairstylist?

— Be happy, go with the flow, work hard, be kind!

Kirstine Engsell photographed in London by Lars Brønseth.