When he was growing up in California, Etienne Taenaka wanted to be an architect. As he watched his mother, a hairdresser, at work, he made an imaginative leap between architecture and "hair-chitecture." "Creating styles, form following function, building shapes and achieving balance," he said. "My mother wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer, and I was on my way to college when I decided I would become a hair stylist." He has never regretted that decision.

Etienne's parents were Osakans who moved to Los Angeles in order to join Etienne's grandfather there. Etienne's father enlisted in American military service and was transferred to Germany, where Etienne was born. He has spent some short periods of time in Japan, but by nationality and upbringing is American.

He joined Vidal Sassoon in San Francisco in 1985. He said: "The training was fascinating in the sense that I never knew so much could be done with hair. The training is similar to that of formative artists, using the same basic principles of the art world: form, space, contrast, line, color and light. I learned to look at hair as a material, as a textile to work with in creating something. I use scissors as if cutting cloth. There are no limits to what one can do."