By Emily Thurlow
After finishing up her time at her high school in Lindenhurst, Ill., Diana Schmidtke knew that halls of academia wouldn’t be able to adequately nourish her professional ambitions like that of the creative world that she craved. But it was before she let those doors close behind her, that she discovered a glimpse of the destiny that transport her beside actors at the biggest movie premieres, red carpets and award ceremonies all over the world.
While participating in a work program that the school offered at a portrait studio, her boss suggested that she consider being in front of the camera as a way to make some extra money. And although she did have a few jobs, it wasn’t in the spotlight that she found her future fate, but actually along the sidelines.
“I found myself very attracted to the [jobs of the] hair and make-up artists at a particular shoot for Nexxus,” she said. “The make-up artists specifically were just having a blast. I could see at that point, not only how they made me feel, but the way they made the models feel –they had more sass in their step. It was after that show that I decided to go to beauty school.”
And even though the promise of a new career bubbled up inside her, Schmidtke’s parents weren’t as pleased with her decision.
“My parents weren’t happy about it, because for whatever the reason, being a hairdresser in the United States isn’t prestigious, but is prestigious in other places of the world,” she said, noting that she ended up attending Pivot Point International against their initial wishes for her. From there, Schmidtke said she just kept dreaming bigger, and bigger.
Upon her graduation she worked at Chicago’s Trio Hair Salon where she trained under Phillip Palmeri, a former head colorist at Vidal Sassoon, where she was offered her own chair after training for 11 months. And after bounding out on her first “real” vacation to Mexico, she realized she never wanted to see a winter again, so she quit her job, packed up her things and headed for the west coast with only $800 in her pocket. But despite her spontaneity, the road to success wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be.
“I failed, I couldn’t get that lucky break into the industry for the life of me,” she said.
Driven to achieve her dreams, Schmidtke returned home taking every possible class “under the sun,” – from wigs to weaves to long hair, bridal hair, anything and everything –saved up $1,100 and moved back to Los Angeles, where she has been for the past 13 years. As she started to craft her career in a more financially and flourishing direction, her agent at the time suggested working exclusively with men’s grooming expert.
“It just wasn’t clicking with the actresses, for whatever reason, it just wasn’t a match,” she said. “It was at that point that we refocused my portfolio on men, starting with bands, which then transitioned into the actors…And now here I am, a men’s grooming expert.”
At 37, Schmidtke never imagined she’d be where she is today – jet-setting around the globe to meet the needs of celebrity clientele like Robert Pattinson, Ryan Gosling, Viggo Mortensen and many more.
“Friends used to tell me that I was so ambitious and determined, and I knew that I always had that tenacity and maybe that’s partially because I knew that I didn’t have ‘mommy and daddy’ to fall back on financially,” she said. “But I never had any idea that any of this would happen.”
One of the biggest challenges she’s faced in trying to get where she is today is juggling the multitude of the many personalities in Hollywood.
“It’s not necessarily good or bad, however everything you hear about L.A. is true, but there’s some pretty wonderful things about this place too,” she said. “The problem is not everyone is lucky enough to have all of their dreams come true.”
Despite the range of personalities, Schmidtke keeps her sense of humor at the forefront in her approach and doesn’t ever let the green jealousy monster overwhelm her.
“At the end of the day you’re controlling your own emotions, so if you end of being jealous or want to be something you’re not, that’s going to come through and it will not work in your favor,” she said.
And even though it’s hard work at times –running to nine different countries in a week –she enjoys every minute of it. Since she’s a seasoned professional at this point with regular clients like Ashton Kutcher, working with celebrities on a daily basis doesn’t often faze her, that is, until recently.
“Someone I’m excited to work with that I have never worked with before who is on my schedule for this month is Kevin Bacon,” she said. “I have loved Kevin Bacon since Footloose, I am so excited.”
One of the more noteworthy moments that she noted was working with actor/icon John Travolta, who she beamed was “incredibly nice.”
While working with these individuals, her work has been featured in magazines like Details, Esquire, Men’s Journal, GQ, People, The New York Times, and InStyle; has appeared on Oprah and the Today Show as the go-to expert for “man-scaping” and “man makeovers.” In addition to that, she has worked with traveled the globe teaching to fellow hairdressers after having collaborated with top hair care lines like Paul Mitchell after aiding in the debut of his men’s line, “MITCH” in 2011.
And in an effort to help others looking to carve out their path in the center of the U.S. movie industry as well as a way to give back to the beauty industry, Schmidtke has also authored a book that offers tips and advice called, “Shortcuts to a Successful Career as a Hairstylist of Make-Up Artist for the Fashion and Entertainment Industry,” and is working on her second book about men’s grooming.
“When I go into schools to talk to the kids, I encourage them to literally reach for the stars,” she said. “Anything is possible, don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s not.”
Article originally appeared in August 2012 Lioness