There’s a home video that hair stylist Jacob Rozenberg unearthed recently, in which he is presenting a project from his freshman year of high school. His chosen topic might not have been typical, but it demonstrated a pretty clear understanding of where his life was headed.
“It’s me showing how to do highlights,” he says with a smile. “I’m like, ‘This is my 8th Grade showoff project? Amazing.’ I didn’t do a bad job!” That same year, he also started doing all the prom ‘dos for his Grade 12 schoolmates. But his passion for hair had actually started even earlier.
“I’ve been doing hair on my cousins and sisters since I was about seven,” he recalls via video from the home in New York that he shares with his boyfriend. “Braids and ponytails and roller sets with hot rollers—whatever things I could buy from the drugstore, like the Conair three-in-one crimper iron. And then by the time I was in 8th Grade I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
For Rozenberg, after all, hair isn’t just hair—it’s a blank canvas to be shaped and changed, a tool for self-confidence and swagger. “It’s transformative,” he says. “And every time it’s washed, it has a fresh start. So it’s like this great renewable resource that just keeps giving.”
His high school in his hometown of Vancouver actually offered a hairstyling course in the senior grades, which he took with aplomb. So by the time he graduated, he had already completed an apprenticeship at a local salon, and went on to work there for many years. Eventually, though, it came time to head to a bigger city—one with more of a fashion industry.
Fast-forward to today and Rozenberg is the first assistant to New York-based celebrity hairstylist Harry Josh, tasked with doing all the pre-appointment research and prep, and handling all the necessary gear that Josh may need for a given client. “It’s like The Devil Wears Prada—you’re the one getting everything,” Rozenberg says. “And then at the same time, I’m very fortunate; Harry allows me to be really hands-on. Not every assistant gets to actually do hair.” As such, Rozenberg has helped work on locks for the likes of Lily Aldridge, Karlie Kloss, Jodie Comer, Gisele Bündchen, and Priyanka Chopra—even iconic hair goddess Cindy Crawford.
Still, while working on celebrities, Milan fashion shows, and magazine covers offers glamorous pinch-me moments, Rozenberg is sincerely just as happy doing the hair of his private clients, no matter who they are.
“I remember after my first Met Gala, I went and took care of these two ladies; I had been doing their hair since I moved to New York,” he recalls. “And I still had so much fun doing their hair, even though I had just left Tom Brady and Gisele. It didn’t matter because they were sitting in my chair, and when I finished, they looked amazing. And that still gave me such a good feeling.”
For him, at the end of the day, doing hair is about connecting with whoever he’s cutting, colouring, and styling at the moment. “That’s what’s fun about being a hairstylist behind the chair: you really get this incredible insight into a bunch of these peoples’ lives,” he says. And even after a few minutes on video with him, it’s clear that he has the type of warm, charismatic energy that could make anyone—A-lister or not—feel like the most important person in the room.
Which has undoubtedly made the coronavirus shutdown particularly difficult (non-essential services including hair care have been temporarily paused), especially in hard-hit New York. “It’s been an emotional rollercoaster. I think for the first month I was totally fine,” Rozenberg reflects. “I did everything on my to-do list. My house got reorganized, my shelves, the pantry; I went through all my clothes. Everything you could imagine, I did. And what’s interesting is it was the same thing that happened when my mom passed away when I was 17: I cleaned out the entire basement of the house. I just went to this place of, ‘Okay, what could I control?’”
He’s looking forward to getting back to work when that is deemed safe again, and in the meantime he’s kept busy FaceTiming with clients (including Dexter alum Jennifer Carpenter) and coaching them through doing their own colouring. “I’ve drop-shipped a ton of product to the people I work with so they are actually using the same products that I use, and I get on FaceTime and I measure it out with them,” he says. “I guide them through how to do at least their hairline and their part so that they look presentable to themselves in the mirror every day and feel good, because that’s really what it’s about. Hair makes you feel good.”