Ward Stegerhoek: The Artist Behind Iconic Hairstyles

You’re probably more familiar with legendary hairstylist Ward Stegerhoek than you think. His work been gracing fashion week runways and the covers of VogueNumero and i-D since the ‘90s, while simultaneously playing a hand (literally!) in several of the most iconic fashion and beauty moments of the past 30 years. Think back to Milla Jovovich’s texturized neon orange bob with its contrasting blonde roots in The Fifth Element, model Leilani Bishop’s beauty pageant waves on the front of Hole’s Live Through This album cover, and Björk’s numerous alien buns in her “Big Time Sensuality” video, just to name a few examples of Ward’s magic.

Ward Stegerhoek by Ashton Do

Dutch-born Ward’s hairstyling journey began completely by accident at the age of 15. “I grew up in a small town in Holland, literally ten minutes from Amsterdam just to give you a location. At 15 years old I had a sleepover with a friend at my house and we were allowed to go to the disco. My friend had a bad cowlick in the back, his hair was not right, and we were sort of prepping our hair, making ourselves look good for the first time, facing the girls on the dance floor which was actually quite cute in hindsight. I ended up taking some clippers and buzzing the back of his hair off,” Ward reminisces with a laugh. “Not knowing how to connect it to the longer hair on top, he ended up with some sort of undercut…. He freaked out at first in front of the mirror but when we ended up going there everybody thought it was very cool and the girls liked it a lot. The following Wednesday, three boys came to get their hair cut and that’s how I got started.” 

After forgoing his childhood dream of becoming of an architect in favor of hairstyling, followed by nine months of training at Sassoon Academy in London, Ward returned to Holland where his path crossed with the renowned hairstylist Christiaan Houtenbos. After managing to get his number, Ward called him up and offered his assistance. Initially met with silence, Christiaan then told him to call back in six months. The months came and went and because the then 17-and-a-half-year-old Ward wasn’t one to give up easily, he called Christiaan back that October. The next week he flew to New York City, where he would assist Christiaan for one season. “I saw the birth of Christy [Turlington], Cindy [Crawford], Polina [Porizkova]…these girls were also 16, 17, 18, as old as I was. So it was sort of the biggest experience that I had ever had at that point because I had come from a farmland village, with some boating and fishing, and I had never seen anything like it,” Ward says. “Andy Warhol had come backstage and Keith Haring and Grace Jones…it was all the greats.” 

After that season, Christiaan sent young Ward off on his own, advising him to find a way to channel his ever-growing number of ideas on his own. Ward didn’t let this change in his career trajectory deter him. Instead, he used it as “a source of energy to become really good at what [he] was doing.” Ward went off to Paris, following the career path of other European hairstylists before him, determined to put in his hours, build a name for himself and wait for that call from America—eight years later, the call came. 

What has propelled Ward through his 40-year career, is not chasing after the flashiest or biggest hairstyle, but rather the best feeling. “I work more with feeling than pretentious ideas or old ideas or ideas copied from old books, you know, things like that,” he shares. “I prefer almost to work more with feeling, then you can look in the mirror or on the set, do little things, just make everything feel better. And then if you do things that don’t feel good then you should stop doing them. I just keep working on the things that feel good until it feels amazing. And then click, click the picture.” 

Ward refers to the hair transformation he gave model Cristina Jugo as an example of following that “good feeling.” “She came in with a really grown out, too long, completely grown out shape kind of bob cut…you couldn’t see how beautiful she really was anymore,” Ward recounts. “Everyone wanted to go very short, Ali [Kavoussi of The Lions Management]’s desire was to go dark and short, but then I had a thought. There are seven or eight girls in the top modeling agencies with short hair that are all dark. We decided to go very light blonde instead…not to be difficult or to make a big statement but it was just a feeling.”

Just as Ward suspected, Cristina’s new short, blonde locks were a hit with the team on set but most importantly with Cristina. “The girl came from being the shadow to being the light inside herself. Her posture straightened up, she became taller and bright and smiley and energized. When you can do something like that for anyone really with all these good feelings and well intentions so that it becomes a success, not just on a visible level or for your ego, then there’s a better chance of the whole idea of carrying on the vibes. And then when it’s off to pictures, spread around in magazines then there’s a likely chance there’s a bunch of girls who are going to rip out the little picture and take it to their own hairdresser. ‘Hey, I want to look like this!’ And that’s sort of my underlying goal.” 

Ward, however, readily expresses his gratitude towards the other artists involved in the foreground and background of these projects, allowing these ideas to come to life. “If the opportunities, people, models, photographers, and shoots weren’t there at the time that I was there, it would’ve been nothing, so I have a lot of gratitude for all the other artists. [The product] comes together more accidentally than planned for me.” Ward continues to elaborate on his work process, comparing it to a musical improvisation session. “I work more as a jazz musician who responds to the other musicians around him and jams it together.”

Currently, Ward is enjoying both his career and home life. “I just enjoy [hairstyling] so much, I always have energy for it. It’s not work.” As for when he isn’t working, he shares, “I have animals, I have two dogs, I have my partner, I have my children and family. I managed seven years ago to escape New York City. I sort of secluded myself in the forest, building my entire home in my sort of vision and world, being the architect I always wanted to be. I built a barn, milled my own wood, built a garden, chopped, planting, always building and creating and making…I am a very busy bee. I work much harder on my days off than when I’m at work.” And just like how we started our conversation, it ends with Ward’s laugh.

Hair Ward Stegerhoek

Talent Cristina Jugo

Video Ashton Do

Hair Colorist Mauricio Bermudez

Makeup Mariko Arai

Producer Lauren Moghavem

Text Isabella Japal