Many people often dream of traveling the world and working with celebrities. For Aga Tompkins, it’s her actual reality. The beauty industry veteran is the tour hairstylist and makeup artist for Canadian pop star Carly Rae Jepsen, whose infectious hits like “I Really Like You”, “Cut to the Feeling”, and “Party for One”, you can’t help but sing and dance along to.
For nearly a decade, Tompkins has been the mastermind behind some of Jepsen’s most statement-making hairstyles: the Joan Jett-inspired shag, her fiery copper-red hair color, and even her once signature blunt bangs. At this point, it’s safe to say that the singer’s tour looks just aren’t complete without her magic touch.
But, Jepsen isn’t the only star that Tompkins has had the pleasure of working with throughout her career. During her time working with the singer, the master stylist and makeup artist has also had the opportunity to tour with The Backstreet Boys and a few Nickelodeon artists such as The Fresh Beat Band.
With Jepsen’s upcoming So Nice Tour set to kick off in the fall, The Tease spoke to Tompkins to get an inside look at the realities of styling killer hair and makeup looks on a big music tour. Ahead, she discusses her start in the industry, her journey with Jepsen, and her advice for aspiring hairstylists.
The Tease: How did you first get started working as a tour hairstylist and makeup artist?
Aga Tompkins: So, I actually opened a rock ‘n’ roll hair salon in 2008. I was 23 or 24 and during that time, it was actually the recession. And, so when I decided to open this business, I knew that it needed a niche or something of that nature. I did live in L.A. for a little bit before that and one of my friends out there owned a cool rock ‘n’ roll salon and had me join in on an event where we did hair and makeup for this super group. It was a reality TV show with Tommy Lee, Gilby Clarke, and Jason Newsted. So, it’s like Metallica, Guns and Roses, and Motley Crue—one guy from each band. And, they were looking for a singer. So, I worked on the album cover for that. That was the first moment that I was like, I want to do this for a living. So, yeah, I opened my own rock ‘n’ roll salon and that was the niche—doing hair for bands. And, you know, as bands tour, they end up in Chicago at some point. It’s usually in the middle of tours and they need haircuts. So, that’s kind of how it started before I even toured.
How did you begin working with Carly Rae Jepsen?
Tompkins: I would reach out to bands coming through town. It started very small where I would email 10 bands and get one email back. And, I kind of got to know the record labels in Chicago. We would reach out to them and say if they ever had a music video or needed a hairstylist or makeup artist that specializes in that field, that’s what we do. So, then we started working with some of the local record labels and we got to know some of their bands. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to go on tour. So, we did hair for Warped Tour in the Midwest and that was kind of the tour experience I had before I actually worked with Carly.
We would travel around with Warped Tour—just to like the three or four closest states like Indiana and Wisconsin. And, I actually met the director of Live Nation for the Midwest. His name is Chris Weathers and he’s an incredible man. He kind of roped me into the Chicago industry. That’s how I did hair for some of the biggest bands. He got me a lot of gigs like The Killers and Radiohead. Anytime bigger bands come through town, he contacts me and I do hair for those shows if I’m not on tour.
So, then with Carly, the way that worked out was actually, I decided that I wanted to go on tour myself. So, I reached out to all my friends and tour managers in the industry—the ones that were close to me—and just politely said, “Hey! Just so you know, I’m interested. So, if you know somebody that ever would need a hairstylist or makeup artist on tour. Please keep me in mind.” And, then finally Carly needed somebody. My friend was her assistant at that time and was like, “I have the perfect person for you!” And, now I’ve been working with her for almost a decade.
Tell us about the collaboration process between you and Carly when it comes to her tour looks.
Tompkins: It’s definitely a collaboration and it’s fun. I’ve changed her hair color many times in the middle of tour—all the red, the black. With all the stuff we’ve done, it’s definitely spontaneous. I gotta admit, Carly’s very fun. She likes to change up her look, which is very fun for me. I just kind of go with the flow with what she wants and she trusts my artistry. I mean, we’ve given her Joan Jett hair. I’ve done her first mullet. She was like, I kind of want a mullet. I’m like, I want to give you a mullet—and that was my favorite hair I’ve ever done on her.
Is there a hairstyle that you’ve been dying to try out on her that you haven’t yet done?
Tompkins: So, obviously it’s been the pandemic for a couple years now. Her hair is long right now and I just can’t wait to play around with the different long hair looks. So, that’s going to be really fun. Some braids and some fun things that we can do with long hair.
Where do you typically gather inspiration for tour looks? And, how far ahead do you typically start planning for a tour?
Tompkins: I would have to say that I’m spontaneous. I don’t sit there and pre-plan. I don’t like to. I know some people like to get inspo from different sources, but I’m more in the moment. With show days, a lot of the inspo is from Carly, actually. We’ve done, like, everything you can imagine, but certain days she’s just like, “I just want my whole head to be super curly,” —and that’s what we’ll do that day. So, it’s based on the city, the mood, and actually the outfits. I would say the reason why I don’t pre-plan much ahead of time is because it’s based on the stylist because she has a stylist that decides all her looks for the entire tour. Carly does do different looks spontaneously, daily—just whatever she decides from those looks. So, a lot of artists will have like two or three looks and then they go back and forth between those same looks. Carly just kind of rocks what she’s feeling that day. She probably has like 10 or 15 looks. All of it is kind of cohesive and styled in a certain way. And, I base the makeup and hair in the moment, on whatever outfit she’s gonna wear that day.
When it comes to Carly’s makeup, is there a favorite feature that she loves to play up or that you love to play up on her?
Tompkins: Man, that’s a tough one because she’s just naturally so pretty. She’s very natural. And, so I do love that during shows we go all out. Because it is show days, we glitter. I love using Lemonhead LA glitter on her. And, even amika made these sparkes for her hair. I would spray the sparkly spray in her hair and things like that. So, I do love to play up the sparkles. You know, the audience is very fun and everybody dresses up for the shows. It might as well be the Pride Parade. You know what I mean? Everybody just goes to Carly’s shows with full intention to go all out and wear something that maybe that would never typically wear in their life. And, I feel like she makes that okay with her looks, so we will do fun graphic liners, or glitter, or sparkles and a fun lip or something.
How do you keep Carly’s hair healthy on tour with all of the heat styling and manipulation that comes with creating her different looks?
Tompkins: So, we do take care of her. She actually even always says after a tour, oddly, her skin is so good because I take care of skin as well. Every day, I cleanse her and use all the moisturizers and everything. And, we do really take care of her hair and keep a conscious mind on that stuff. I give her masks, so there’s nights where it’s like a night off and we’ll pamper. The Kure Mask from amika is amazing, so I’ll send her home with a little package. But, she does enjoy taking care of her skin and her hair, too.
And, I also use a heat protector on her. I would say that the Shield Anti-Humidity Spray from amika is phenomenal. It has anti-humidity which is amazing for on-stage. You want something that’s anti-humidity because even your body gives off humidity. With the lights and everything, you need something that will lock in those hairstyles that we do and will last a whole show. So, I would definitely say loads of heat protectant when we are doing styling.
What are some of your kit essentials for hair and makeup when you’re touring?
Tompkins: So, I’ll start with my bag—my luggage. I think that’s really important and a lot of stylists don’t know that. I’m a traveling hairstylists so for me, I actually use a really big Burton bag. Burton is actually a snowboard company and their bags have really great zippers. They also use skateboard wheels on the bags, too. My bag has flown like over 100,000 miles in its lifetime and it’s still phenomenal. So, I would say to get a really good bag with all the zippers and compartment to keep you organized.
I also bought one of those sort travel bags that photographers use for their cameras. So, I’ll leave my luggage at the hotel, for instance, and then I bring my other bag with me on set. And, once I’m done, I throw in all the makeup and products I just used into my bag and I know I have everything I need. Plus, I like mini hairsprays and all the products that are minis already in there like dry shampoo. We need loads of dry shampoo on tour because dry shampoo is my favorite. It’s amika’s Perk Up Dry Shampoo. We can’t live without dry shampoo, especially if you have bangs. Forget it—you need dry shampoo!
So, I would say that those things are really important as far as hair goes. You always need a good hairspray as well. And, I actually live using this brand called Pink Pewter. They have combs that are really great, but also have a lot of accessories. So, I always have those for hair in my kit because you have different kinds of things you can throw in a look, to like, beef it up in just a second. You know what I mean? Sometimes we’re out and let’s say we’re in New York, we’re going from radio station to this and that and sometimes I want to switch up the look to be more fitting for the next thing. So, you’ve got to just have those in your kit, no matter what.
As far as makeup, obviously, I feel like you need the staples. You need a good liquid liner. I love Stila’s Stay All Day Liquid Liner—that’s my favorite! For good brows, Anastasia Beverly Hills’ brow selection is phenomenal. I also love Urban Decay. All of their shadows are amazing and their lipsticks are incredible. I have a ton of Urban Decay lipsticks that stay on really well. And, my biggest suggestion that I’ll give is that I’m always looking for lash glue, so I always suggest having at least two lash glues in your kit. You need one on hand at all times and then also in your bag. You just always want to have a backup because that is something when you need it in the moment, you really need it. It’s something that you can’t be looking around for.
What do you think people would be surprised to know about being a tour hairstylist and makeup artist?
Tompkins: You’ve got to be a road dog to do this job. My job is doing glam, but at the same time, I’m traveling a lot. You have to have stamina—like I’ve been to Japan 15 times. And, you have to learn the different cultures and etiquette of every country that you go to. You’re constantly learning and it’s beautiful. You know living in hotels, people think it’s fun. And, we do stay in really nice hotels —we get treated well. But, at the same time, we’re very lucky that we have a full tour family, so we travel with each other. We’ve all been family for about 10 years.
But, I think you sort of have to wear a lot of hats with this job. It is the music industry, so I’m the only person with, like, my job title. It’s a very small role in the music industry. Normally, our field in the beauty industry is mostly women. I actually work in an industry that’s practically all men. So, with Carly, I, and her assistant, it’s always been that we’re the only girls and so we hang on to each other tight. We are lucky that our boys are such good men, but it is a big world. You go to different venues constantly and there’s men everywhere because they’re setting up the stages and doing all this stuff like that.
What advice do you have for any stylists who are interested in working with celebrities?
Tompkins: You just have to start slowly putting yourself out there in fashion, or in the movie industry and other industries—or like I did just working with smaller bands and smaller artists—and slowly work your way up, proving that you are responsible. I think it is a big role to be around people that are very private. You’re doing their hair and working directly with them. So, you have to know the right etiquette and how to be respectful and understand your boundaries and stuff like that. We do know that we need this in everyday life as we’re hairstylists as well, but I think in this role to earn being able to be trusted and respected takes a little bit of time to climb up the ladder and get to know the right people. So, it’s technically networking.
For more of a behind-the-scenes peek at Tompkins’ life as a tour hairstylist and makeup artist, be sure to follow @agatompkinsbeauty on Instagram.