The last time Lady Gaga attended the Met Gala, it was 2019 and the theme was camp — a notion that explored the intersection of artifice, style, and exaggeration, first coined by writer Susan Sontag in 1964. Gaga and her glam squad had spent years building up her reputation for outlandish looks, so it was expected that they exemplify the sensibility in the most earnest way. At this point, it’s well-documented that Gaga made a splash when she walked the steps of the museum with five dancers for a live performance and swapped outfits four times before even entering the venue. All of her looks, from every photographed angle, were on-point, with each element — from her glossy bob from hairstylist Frederic Aspiras to her gilded eyelashes by makeup artist Sarah Tanno — strategically executed so as not to distract from the others.
While her appearance was widely covered by the press, there was a backstory to it that wasn’t noted anywhere online. That is, the masterful look had at least one alternative (but equally riveting) iteration that didn’t make the cut. Aspiras, a founding member of the proverbial Haus of Gaga, conceptualized and engineered a wig that could grow in real time with the press of a button.
“The dress was being made and I said, ‘What am I going to do? Maybe I can make the hair grow on her,’” Aspiras tells TZR. He spent a month devising a mechanical way to make her wig’s hair grow out to a length that would cover her body and stop at the floor. While the steps of the Met never saw his invention — it was ultimately decided that the star’s outfit should remain front-and-center — and even though years have passed, he still beams over the creative triumph.
“I'm weird that way,” he laughs. “[Gaga] calls me a crazy, mad scientist in my corner of the room as I'm just quietly making something. And all of a sudden I turn around and she's like, ‘Did you just do that in an hour?’” His sense of innovation has helped him carve a career in celebrity hairstyling and is the driving force behind Gaga’s sleek pixies, sky-high bouffants, and intricate braids. And, most recently, it garnered him an Oscar’s nomination for the 54 hairstyles he created to conjure the nefarious character of Patrizia Reggiani (played by Lady Gaga) in House of Gucci. Still, like many great success stories, Aspiras’ evolution has involved endless work, some serendipitous moments, and one major heartbreak.
How Aspiras Got Started
Despite his knack for switching things up, Aspiras didn’t stray far from his roots. His mother, Suzie, was a hair stylist in San Francisco, California after emigrating from Vietnam. From his early adolescence, Aspiras spent much of his time in her salon, doing chores to assist her and absorbing various styling techniques. “She saw me work on my sister's hair one day and said, ‘How did you learn how to do that?’ And I was just like, ‘I just watched do you do it,’” he recalls.
As the years went on, Aspiras says he fell more and more in love with the craft. He worked in any way that he could with hair and makeup from the time he was in high school until he was 27 — that’s when he left a position at NARS Cosmetics and moved to Los Angeles to do some soul-searching. “I knew that there was more for me in life than just what [my parents thought I’d become]. That's what Asian parents do. They're like, ‘this is what you're going to do. You're going to take over the business,’” he explains. “I was like, ‘I don't want to do that. I want to see what else life has to offer.’” Little did he know, it’d be a few years yet until celebrity hairstyling became his full-time career.
Getting his name out there was difficult. The age was pre-social media, so he felt it necessary to do free testing and photo shoots to network while maintaining a job in retail to make ends meet. Though, one day, his agent called with big news: Aspiras landed a job with Paris Hilton, one that would last three years. And after that, he was invited to work with Lady Gaga in 2008.
On Becoming Lady Gaga’s Exclusive Hairstylist
In Aspiras’ mind, the beginning of his chapter with Gaga felt like just a few years ago, not a whole 15. While no longstanding collaboration is void of obstacles, he and Gaga have seemingly established a foundational creative process that is symbiotic and harmonious. “We like to think about the concept and the meaning behind everything. And it flows throughout what she's trying to portray on stage and in her music,” he says.
For this reason, both the process and the fruits of their labor have been oh so sweet. Their synergetic creativity, along with Aspiras’ wig-making talents, have allowed the duo to create looks that would have otherwise been impossible. An early example of this is Gaga’s black and yellow wig — an idea that the singer and actor referenced at the Daily Front Row’s annual Fashion Los Angeles Awards in 2019, where Aspiras won an award for hairstylist of the year.
“As I was sitting in the glam chair, slowly his hand ripped out a page from Italian Vogue across the table with a model who had piss-yellow hair. I said, ‘Freddie, what is that?’ He said, ‘I know, I was just thinking.’ And then he stopped talking. I said, ‘Freddie, with this hair and with this makeup, I would look like a live Lichtenstein.’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘This is live pop art.’ Then he said, ‘What if we added a root to give you an edge?’ I remember asking him to make the wig right away and I began wearing it in my show immediately. That was the beginning of me and Freddie, and I pray to God that there will never be an end,” she said before presenting him with the accolade, according to Vanity Fair.
“The transformative nature of wigs and extensions just made sense when working with Gaga because she was evolving so much, and it was a great way of expressing myself when I wanted to show her something without having to do her own hair and damaging [it in the process,]” he says. A stickler for synchrony, he factors in all of the elements, such as Gaga’s costuming, music, and dance routine, to create the best result. “You have to know [how she moves]. You have to know how the lighting works,” says Aspiras. “So, little things like that I study.”
His unquenchable thirst for originality also ensures that he won’t linger on an aesthetic for long. For instance, Aspiras took a different approach to styling Gaga on each leg of her Vegas residency. When the singer tweaked her spring jazz show, which ran in April and May, to be more ’40s-influenced, Aspiras pivoted her look as well. He ditched her big wigs to focus on coordinated pin curls, small buns, and tight updos — with her 2022 awards looks having served as a precursor. For the upcoming Chromatica tour, the Haus of Gaga is still developing a catalog of looks.
Aspiras’ Full-Circle Moment
His time with Gaga has made way for some impressive experiences and milestones, from working with the star on wildly popular shows like American Horror Story to traveling the world for every tour and event on Gaga’s dizzyingly busy calendar. Though, the most prestigious of them yet is undoubtedly his work on acclaimed films A Star Is Born and House Of Gucci — the latter of which garnered him Oscar nomination. But as life goes, those experiences came with some challenges.
For House Of Gucci, Aspiras had to figure out the logistics of accurately narrating a real person’s life through hair. With only a handful of visuals to aid him, “I had to dig deep into the mind of a 25-year-old Italian woman that lived in Napoli,” he says. His process involved researching music and movies that were popular and taking a deep dive into hair trends from the ’70s. He found inspiration in an Italian actor named Gina Lollobrigida to be particularly helpful and channeled it into a 450-page lookbook, which he made to serve as a beauty directory for each scene and a tool to collaborate with the rest of the team on final looks. “One thing [Gaga] did tell me is, ‘I don't want to look on screen and see Lady Gaga at all,’” Aspiras says. “So that was [what I did.]”
From a personal perspective, working on the film was difficult for him because he was still coping with the loss of his mother, who died less than a year prior, in June 2020. The grief cut so deep that he contemplated quitting hair all together, though he ultimately decided to use the movie as a way to work through it. Knowing her, he muses, she would have been proud of his work on the film, for which he was required to make use of the methods she taught him growing up, like wet sets and backcombing. “When I look at the movie now, I feel like almost every hairstyle reminds me of her, because it looks like her,” he says. And given her impact, the stylist describes his Oscar nomination as a bittersweet gift. “It was my love letter to her, my way to give back. And to be able to get nominated for that too, it's like, wow.”
Aspiras’ Advice To The Next Generation
Aspiras’ accomplishments grow in number and scale with each passing year, but his advice to others who hope to pursue a similar path is rooted in humility: “Don't be too hard on yourself. We are, especially people who are in creative field. There's so much now to compare yourself with online than before. And people's journeys are completely different from yours,” he says. “[I] failed until I was 35. I'm 45 now, and look at me.”
After having reflected deeply upon his successes, he has identified the key to his professional fulfillment is the happiness he feels from doing hair and working with other thoughtful creative figures. “As stressful as it is sometimes at least I go to bed saying at least I love this,” Aspiras says. “I am very fortunate to be able to work with one of the most amazing humans today, Lady Gaga, who inspires the generation of youth to be themselves and to accept who you are and love yourself and be kind to yourself, which is so important — I always wanted to tell a younger version of myself that.”