Rival cast members made it clear that Van Osten was (sniff!) barely worthy enough to be their shampoo girl, but the determined stylist -- who took out loans to cover the cost of running her Simi Valley, Calif., salon while she was competing -- never waivered in her belief that she could win.
In fact, Van Osten wowed fashion designer Henry Duarte with the laminated chartreuse and magenta hair she produced for a runway show.
Her inspiration, comic books, just happened to hit home with Duarte, who had begun collecting them on a recent trip to China. Van Osten's instinct to please the edgy designer earned her the title "Shear Genius."
Still, she admits her win was controversial. Judge Jonathan Antin absolutely hated her finale hair. He was overruled by a panel that included host/judge Camila Alves, Allure Editor-in-Chief Linda Wells, and master colorist Kim Vo.
StyleList caught up with the 34-year-old Van Osten -- who quietly watched and celebrated her $100,000 victory with a few cast mates in New York City -- right before she flew home to her salon, the Play Hair Lounge, for a "full book of weekend appointments."
We're certain she'll soon have a waiting list of even more daring customers.
StyleList: So, the owner of a humble Simi Valley salon goes and wins "Shear Genius." Were you as surprised as some of your competitors were?
Brig Van Osten: They positioned me as the girl from the sticks, who couldn't possibly win. I had been doing great hair for years, but they chose to see me as someone who had no background or talent. Simi Valley isn't the sticks.
There are more than 150,000 people. We have cows, but we got a mall three years ago too! And I have a very sophisticated clientele and staff who have always appreciated and supported what I do.
SL: Your competitors seemed to be all about their celebrity clienteles and big-city backgrounds.
BVO: I have that kind of background too, but I just didn't go on and on about it like they did. [Van Osten's work had been featured in magazines as well as on TLC's "What Not to Wear."]
I do hair because I'm a creative person and it pays the bills. The clients I value most are the real ladies who come into my salon, who aren't famous, who just want to look fabulous. They built my business. The only thing a celebrity client is to me is someone who is more difficult and demanding.
SL: Please explain your affection for those giant hair bows.
BVO: The story with the bow is that I got it at Forever 21 for $4.80; I put on the bow and people just reacted differently to me. They looked at me like, "She's just here because she's crazy and wants attention. She's not going to win." I felt like I kind of had everyone "under my bow." They didn't realize how serious I was, so the bow became part of my strategy.
SL: You did some outrageous hair on the show. Would you ever do that for your real clients?
BVO: If it was what my client wanted, absolutely! But remember, "Shear Genius" was TV. What a boring show if 12 stylists had spent weeks working on the perfect blowout! The hair I did for the finale was crazy, but it's a big world with a lot of people in it much sicker than I am. I think I did some really cool hair.
SL: Jonathan Antin was not shy about expressing his distaste for what you did at the finale.
BVO: He didn't know what to make of me. What surprised me is I did this model [earlier in the competition] who was kind of a disaster, so right before the photo shoot I dumped a bottle of water over her head.
He loved that, but it was probably the whole look of the dripping-wet girl in a bathing suit. People ask me if I hate him, but I don't. I respect that he didn't like it. The editor of Allure told me she'd never seen anything like it and loved it. I'll take that praise any day.
SL: Give us your best hair-care advice?
BVO: Make peace with what is growing out of your head. Don't spend six hours with a flatiron trying to straighten it. Take me. I was born with like three hairs on my head. I don't have that thick, glorious hair like Camila Alves. So if I want that Camila hair, I clip a few extensions in. Also don't listen to your friends or trends! If you want a bow, do it!
SL: What's next for you?
BVO: I'm not going to go crazy. I am going to be giving a lot of advice about hair and fashion on my Web site, BrigKnowsBest.com, but I had a very intense experience, and I just want to go back to my salon for a while and get grounded.
Hooked on hair? Check out the new reality show that's giving Snooki's pouf some stiff competition.