How Frederic Aspiras got his big break in Hollywood 2
Frederic Aspiras received the @dailyfrontrow Hairdresser of the Year Award in 2019 with his muse Lady Gaga, who delivered a heartfelt speech about him at the event. Photo from @ladygaga on Instagram
Culture

How Frederic Aspiras, Lady Gaga’s Oscar-nominated genius hairstylist, made it big in Hollywood

This recent success of the part-Filipino coiffeur, a son of refugees, has been called a milestone in Asian American representation.
ANCX Staff | Feb 11 2022

As Haus of Gaga’s hairstylist for over a decade, Asian-American Frederic Aspiras has been responsible for the jaw-dropping hair transformations of the center of its universe, pop superstar and actress Lady Gaga. But the part-Filipino coiffeur says the biographical film “The House of Gucci” is probably his most challenging “passion project” to date. For the movie, he had to create 52 different looks for Gaga’s role. Aspiras himself said that $10,000 was spent on Gaga’s wigs alone. 

A clear validation of the man’s artistry in the film is getting an Oscar nod. He is nominated in the 94th Academy Awards for a Best Makeup and Hairstyling honor, alongside his “House of Gucci” partners, prosthetics designer Göran Lundström and wigmaker and hairstylist AnnaCarin Lock. It is the only Oscar nom the film got—Gaga was expected to be a shoo-in for Best Actress but didn’t make the final cut. 

Another distinction that comes with the nomination is that Aspiras is now the second Asian American to be nominated in the hair and makeup category, something Variety calls a milestone in Asian American representation. 

The film essays the story of Patrizia Reggiani (played by Gaga) who was found guilty of hiring a hitman to kill her Italian businessman husband, Maurizio Gucci (played by Adam Driver), in 1995.

To help Gaga tell the story, the hairstylist had to identify the appropriate hair look for every scene. “I was sitting down for five months and going through every single page in the script and writing every hairstyle and why are you using that hairstyle,” Aspiras told Variety. “I ended up creating a 400-page directory with all the hairstyles.”

The 45-year-old hairstylist not only studied the actual real-life looks of Patrizia in those years. But he also went through the looks of Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Joan Collins (in the 1980s TV series “Dynasty”) and other wealthy and stylish women who may have influenced Patrizia’s style.

“Her character required 10 custom, full lace, hand-knotted, human hair wigs,” Aspiras said in an interview with Vogue. “Each wig was delicately coloured or highlighted with professional hair colour to depict where the character was in her life, the circumstance and time period. House of Gucci was a magical experience and taught me so much about the craft and the work and dedication that goes into making the film.”

Lady Gaga plays Patrizia Reggiani in The House of Gucci
In The House of Gucci, Lady Gaga plays the role of Patrizia Reggiani, who was convicted of hiring a hitman to kill her Italian businessman husband, Maurizio Gucci, played by Adam Driver. Photo from @thehouseofgucci on Instagram

In a touching Instagram post, Lady Gaga congratulated Aspiras (she calls him Freddie) who she says has been like a brother to her. “Frederic was magical, precise, and dedicated months leading up to shoot and during filming,” the actress wrote. “He prepared dozens of wigs for months and months, and did at least a year of preparation.”  The Grammy award-winning singer described her favorite hairstyle collaborator as “a living genius,” who’s filled with “talent, creativity and generosity of spirit.”

Aspiras said he dedicates his work to his Vietnamese mother, Suzie Nguyen, who was also a hairdresser and who taught him everything he knew about hairstyling since age 13. Mrs. Nguyen was a refugee who came to America in the mid-1970s. She died six months before “The House of Gucci” was shot in 2020. “And this movie, every time I look at a hairstyle, it reminds [me] of her,” Aspiras told People. “I’m very proud and very thankful to Gaga. She’s like, ‘You have the honor to honor her legacy,’ and I did. And I'm thankful for her.” Mrs. Nguyen was divorced from Frederic’s father, who died in 2007.

Like many celebrity hairstylists, Aspiras also started from humble work before he got to where he is now. He made a difficult decision of declining a huge job offer with a makeup company in his hometown of San Francisco to chase his dreams in Los Angeles. He did shoots for free to build his portfolio, and did freelance work at department store makeup counters. He did this for almost four years.

One day, he got a call from Kent Belden, who remains his agent to this day. He was told Paris Hilton was attending the Kids’ Choice Awards and needed someone to do her makeup and hair. Since he’d grown up learning everything about beauty—from hair, makeup, nails, skin—he knew he was well-prepared for the gig. “I showed up at her house and the rest is history,” Aspiras told Salon Magazine. “She took me on to do four TV shows, we filmed around the world and did numerous campaigns. It was one of the best times in my life.”

People may have all sorts of impressions about the popular hotel heiress slash media celebrity but Aspiras said Paris turned out to be a gift from heaven. “As much as she took care of me, I took care of her. We had a great friendship that changed my life dramatically. I went from living at my friend’s house to owning my own apartment and car. She believed in me and thought I had gifts. She has a big heart.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Lady Gaga (@ladygaga)

Aspiras got offered to work with Lady Gaga before the American singer-songwriter achieved superstardom. At that time, the pop singer needed someone to go with her on a short two-month theatre tour to promote her album, The Fame. But one thing led to another, and their great professional relationship has continued to this day.

In an interview with Vogue, he said their relationship has grown through the years. “[Lady Gaga is] a creative genius and it’s been so exciting to work and grow with her as we have developed iconic and influential looks that have helped shape the hair industry.”

Aspiras’s Oscar recognition comes in the heels of his BAFTA nomination and a Makeup and Hairstylist Guild nomination. When Variety spoke to the hairstylist, he expressed the kind of fulfillment his recent success has afforded him—and it has nothing to do with money or fame or any of the usual trappings of Hollywood life. “I started with Lady Gaga 13 years ago, and fans from around the world who have written to me telling me they have become hairdressers—that to me is probably one of the most rewarding things ever,” said Aspiras. “It’s also about being a role model in that I am Asian American with refugee parents.”