Lady Gaga has never been afraid to experiment with her look — especially when it comes to hair. Throughout her career, the pop superstar has embraced a multitude of vibrant hues both on stage and on the red carpet. Remember when she fully committed to her David Bowie tribute performance at the 2016 Grammys with fiery orange-red hair? Or when she dyed her locks ice-blue to match her Valentino gown at the 2019 Golden Globes? There are few 21st-century artists who have bucked the beauty norms as fearlessly as Lady Gaga.
And as with many stars, there is a secret weapon helping them put this all together. The man who has crafted Gaga’s statement-making hairstyles over the past decade is Frederic Aspiras. He has become an integral part of the Haus of Gaga, supporting his friend and collaborator across different music and acting eras.
The San Francisco-born Aspiras first cut his teeth in the ’90s working at his mother’s salon, where he realized that “you can change a person’s attitude, mood, and day just by the way the way they feel through their hair.” Although he admits being fascinated with the beauty and fashion industry, he didn’t realize his potential to work as a celebrity glam squad member until he met the late makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin — who counted Cher, Madonna, and Naomi Campbell as clients — at a book signing in his hometown.
“I was really nervous because I hadn’t done a lot of makeup at the time. The kind of generosity he had as an artist was something I really identified with,” Aspiras recalls with Billboard. “I didn’t really show off my work and style but I really wanted to merge the two. I’m my own role model because we all strive to do better. In no way have I become a master of hair and I’m learning all the time, but I also have a lot to give back and have a lot of responsibility. This journey had really taught me to become a better person and artist.”
I heard my body is a topic of conversation so I wanted to say, I’m proud of my body and you should be proud of yours too. No matter who you are or what you do. I could give you a million reasons why you don’t need to cater to anyone or anything to succeed. Be you, and be relentlessly you. That’s the stuff of champions. thank you so much everyone for supporting me. I love you guys. Xoxo, gaga
Upon making the successful transition from San Francisco to Los Angeles as a celebrity hairstylist, Aspiras spent nearly four years working with Paris Hilton. He planned on taking a vacation after touring with Hilton — until he received a call from agent Kent Belden of The Only Agency, who asked if he would like to work with Lady Gaga in 2009. “I had just seen her on stage during an award show, and she needed somebody for her tour,” Aspiras continues. “I said, ‘Sure, why not, I would love to play with new hair.’ I remember working for her the first night and she was so respectful of my ideas. I created one look for the Monster Ball tour, and before you know it, we were bouncing ideas off each other, creating every single look from there.”
The duo has seen many wins during their career trajectories over the past decade. “With Gaga and I, we respect each other’s creative voices,” he says. “And with that kind of respect coming from somebody you live for, you create that special bond, you never want to let that go. It brings out something really good in you. That’s what friends do for each other.”
Below, Aspiras reveals to Billboard his creative partnership with Lady Gaga, reflects on her boundary-pushing artistry and the scoop on their massive museum-worthy wig collection.
Tell us about the collaboration process between you and Lady Gaga.
I look to her as an artist. So how we approach that is usually during meetings for a project. It’s so important to listen to an artist, as she brings the inspiration out of you for her vision. I would need to create styles throughout [her shows] that contributed to her story. Sometimes I would recreate hairstyles on wigs so she can try out different hairstyles with different outfits. So I’m constantly [thinking of] new ideas I want to do with her in my studio.
What would you choose as the most memorable hairstyles you’ve created for Gaga over the years?
The most memorable moment was for the Venice Film Festival for A Star Is Born [last August]. I saw her step out of the hotel in her feathered dress and cried because it was so beautiful. There was a thunderstorm, I don’t know what happened, but it was like a [Federico] Fellini movie scene! The next would have to be the [2017 Super Bowl halftime show] because it was monumental. It was such an important moment in her career so it had to be perfect! And her hair changed halfway. To watch it on playback was beautiful.
Another one was the  Born This Way world tour. We became family on that tour, spending day and night together. I created so many styles for it. I never got bored while we toured around the world three times. When we did American Horror Story: Hotel [in 2015], [makeup artist] Kim Ayers and I had to come up with something like 70-90 different hairstyles [for the singer’s Countess character]. We were on set sometimes from five in the morning to three in the morning. It was really, really hard but rewarding.
Everyone knows of Lady Gaga, the musician. But what was your award season strategy this year presenting her to Hollywood as Lady Gaga, the actress?
If you look back at it, you still see Lady Gaga under all of it. Our strategy was to incorporate the type of art she was in and plan ahead. It’s about knowing your client and how she wants to be seen.
What beauty trends do you predict we’ll see during the upcoming award season?
Right now it’s definitely all about individuality. I see it in the movies and in the streets, but I can see it trending back to glam — that kind of really luxurious and opulent hair and makeup.
How would you describe her current hair aesthetic?
She is such a beautiful human being. Her aesthetic so far this year is something that reflects who we are now as artists. I can’t speak for her, but I can say I’m a more comfortable stylist now because of her.
How do you decide when to use a wig versus her natural hair?
We don’t decide. It depends based on the looks, style and color. And with things like hair extensions, people have realized they don’t need to bleach their hair. If there is a time where I feel like it might damage her hair, I would suggest a wig, which looks just like her hair.
How do you keep her hair healthy with all of the heat and manipulation that comes with creating these vibrant and sculptural moments? Her Bowie tribute at the 2016 Grammys immediately comes to mind.
During that time, she was growing out her hair. She was going through so many changes from the platinum blonde. And if anyone knows, that many changes really damage one’s hair. So I’m continuously trying to find products for healthy hair. During the years, I found a [haircare brand] called Joico that was designed specifically for blondes and a product for hair protection, which was also perfect. I also found [hot tools line] GHD that keeps the hair from not burning or have a fallout. Those two together have been in my arsenal for so long and are my secret weapons. [Editor’s note: Aspiras is the celebrity guest artist for Joico and an ambassador for GHD.]
So how many wigs do you think you two have amassed together?
She has some, but I have all the wigs. I had archived them through the years. I would say there are about 5,000. There’s also a collection you can see in Las Vegas, and a lot of them are in New York.
What does Lady Gaga like to listen to while getting ready?
When she first walks in, I would probably play some Don Henley because you’re sitting for so long. I would also bring in some Ace of Base. I would love to play ARTPOP — it’s my favorite album. I would also play jazz like Tony Bennett, of course. She actually played for me when I went to receive my [Hairstylist of the Year honor at the Daily Front Row Awards in March], and I cried. We have a great time in the trailer talking to each other. It really is like a family.