David Babaii takes on the role of hairstylist, friend and guardian to Uma Thurman the day of Hollywood’s most high-profile event, the Academy Awards. In the process, he becomes a celebrity in his own right.
Hairdresser to the stars David Babaii wants to deconstruct the appellation “celebrity hairstylist.”
Today happens to be the day he prepares Uma Thurman’s blonde tresses for the ultimate red-carpet presentation at the 2006 Academy Awards to 38.8 million viewers, and should be the epitome. Still, he’s not buying it.
“What does that mean?” he asks. Either he is the celebrity or just a guy who works with them.
Babaii, 30, finds both definitions confining.
“You’ve got to realize, my whole goal is to make my client look beautiful. That’s it,” he says emphatically.
Fueled by an early morning yoga lesson, a massage, a bowl of Cocoa Puffs with chocolate milk and a session of play with his three dogs, Babaii faces the day. The yoga and body work help to loosen up shoulder muscles made tense by standing for hours daily, working a blow dryer. “I don’t do this every day,” he says. “It’s just about getting me centered and ready for what I need to do.”
Despite sporadic calls from the Kill Bill star and various colleagues about what lies ahead, Babaii is casual and relaxed as he peruses the bookshelves and magazine racks at Book Soup on the Sunset Strip. It’s an inspirational ritual in which he often partakes before a big event. “I look at pictures of clothes, architecture and the work of my favorite photographers: Peter Lindbergh, Steven Meisel, Steven Klein,” he explains, flipping through pages.
Then a light bulb seems to go off inside his head.
“I completely got the idea of what I want to do for Uma,” he says. “I’m good.”
While Babaii runs essential errands, he guesses that his celebrity client is having breakfast, watching the news or on the phone with her children, Maya and Levon. “She organizes her life to fit the kids,” he says.
The two have been working together consistently since the release of Kill Bill Vol. I in 2003, after which he styled her for all press events. He also did Thurman’s hair on-set for last year’s Be Cool. He is sure that she is not stressing about anything Oscar-related, claiming that “she’s very easy breezy.”
In Hollywood, success stories are as often determined by luck as they are by hard work. Babaii’s journey has been humble and inspired by his mother, Hilda Zackarian, who was Vidal Sassoon’s assistant. “I have the Elnet hair spray in my mind from when I was a kid,” he says. “That is my first memory of childhood.” After a stint as food and beverage director for a big hotel chain, the then 22-year-old Babaii reluctantly took his mother’s advice to get into the hair business. “I wanted to do something more creative,” he says.
He applied to Vidal Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica, Calif., without revealing his connections to the company or the Sassoon family, despite a daunting attendance policy and $17,000 tuition. “If you miss more than six hours of class, you don’t get a license,” says Babaii. So he studied and tested, even paying for shoots to get a portfolio together. Just six months after he graduated in 1999, a publicist friend hired him to style Kate Hudson’s hair for an Interview magazine cover shoot with photographer Albert Watson. He soon added Gwyneth Paltrow and Sandra Bullock to his client roster.
“In the beginning, I paid for everything—travel, lodging, supplies—just to be able to meet the person,” he says.
Although someone else foots the bill these days, discipline remains integral to his work ethic.
“Now when I go to work, I am always a half an hour early and always on a time schedule.”
This article appeared in WWD Salon, a special publication of WWD.