Steve Kim, better known as @stevienaysayer to his nearly 18K and counting Instagram followers, presents a modern take on the world of behind-the-scenes beauty straight from the runways of designers Alexander Wang, Carmen Marc Valvo, and Victoria’s Secret to name a few. His featured photography in four of America’s best-read salon glossies encapsulates a thoroughly original vibe: think street-energy-meets-high-end fashion which underlies rare access to backstage goings-on and the often frenetic action that can best be interpreted by someone with insight and the ability to anticipate what might come. And he’s just 33 years-old.
As a first-generation young American growing up in Simi, California, his South Korean-born parents were rather traditional and conservative — not so surprising given that his grandfather was a retired General. Steve, a self-described “sarcastic, funny kid and party animal,” was often quite the challenge to reign-in during his high-school years. Boxing became his go-to sport for channeling his enormous energy and building self-confidence.
Following Steve’s senior year, his enlisted in the U.S. Army where his daredevil nature and boundless enthusiasm earned him a thrilling paratrooper assignment until injury curtailed his fly-from-the-sky career.
Post-military his parents told him “get a job or go to school”: he enrolled in community college but dropped out after a semester, becoming a “student of life in search of his tribe.” A friend nudged Steve into applying to Paul Mitchell – The School, where his excitement to “meet girls and to learn a well-paying trade” piqued his interest.
Unfortunately at the same time, one mate in his new “tribe” was arrested for armed robbery. Privy to what went down and summoned to court for testimony, Steve refused to cooperate, landing him in jail for three years. Relying on skills learned at Paul Mitchell, he judiciously “parlayed the jail’s built-in clientele for honing his barbering techniques,” determined to finish school upon his release.
Steve re-enrolled and ably finished Paul Mitchell’s program when teacher/mentor Brad Davidson encouraged him to apply for his first professional position at Blind Barber, the LA-outpost of New York City’s innovative hipster barber shop serving trims, hot shaves and cocktails. Once Steve began amassing his own regular clients, he loved what he was doing on a day-to-day basis. Yet he would be the first to concede his “cutting skills were sub-par.” Growing his patronage list primarily from his quirky personality, less than a year later he would amicably part ways with the shop, though he still counts then-boss Alex Chavez as a forever mentor.
Salon-hopping along the way to professional happiness, including a celebrity-laden stint (hello Kimye, Paris and Lindsay) with stylist-to-the-stars Frank Galasso, Steve grabbed an opportunity as a junior stylist with Melrose-based Aaron Ficchi whose own photography hobby encouraged Steve to take it up too, learning basic techniques by shooting his colleagues’ work; cuing repeat, he again appraised theirs as much better than his own.
Confronting this challenge led him back to school for improving his style-crafting skills: this time to Vidal Sassoon in Santa Monica where guidance from Stephen Moody, the legendary Wella educator and academy dean who at that time served as the school’s chief, laid the foundation for Steve’s next career phase combining photography and styling.
Steve’s already carved out a uniquely fascinating niche fusing the world of hair with lensmanship across Los Angeles, Atlanta (where he was tapped to shape Steve Aoki’s hair for the Born to Get Wild video) and currently New York City, putting what remains from his G.I. Bill scholarship to good use towards his Bachelor’s degree in photography at the prestigious School of Visual Arts. Photography now takes most of his time but as a licensed stylist, he still snips “on the side when requested.”
While his original purview on the beauty industry is a movie-worthy tale of resilience, redemption and raw-energy, Steve’s self-deprecating sense of humor and the occasional blunt opinion on matters — hence the moniker #StevieNaySayer — belie his true talent, laying the ground for astounding future endeavors that certainly lie ahead no matter where his next efforts may be channeled. If there is one thing that we know, whatever he does, it will be Modern and Original. To learn more about Steve, follow him on Instagram at @stevienaysayer