Global Guru: Shay Dempsey

As Robert Lobetta returns to Sebastian Professional as Creative Visionary, we speak to the Irish man leading the brand’s hair direction and education: Global Artistic Director, Shay Dempsey.

Robert is an icon, a visionary. His role with Sebastian is exactly that: to bring his spin, his vision and to connect with the new talent in Sebastian. When you have a brand that’s been around for 40 years, it has a lot of credibility and we have to be proud of our history and still evolve, and Robert has been there in the past and he is always thinking of going forward so he’ll be a huge asset to the brand. I’ve been working with him for the last five to six weeks, he’s hit the ground running. We’ve already done a show in LA, we’re doing a shoot in two weeks, we have training – we have a lot on!

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I’m with Sebastian quite a long time now, I have been the Global Artistic Director for nearly eight years and there have been a lot of exciting moments, whether it’s a photo shoot that really comes together or it’s a show that has received a huge response. Right now I’m super excited that Sebastian are going to be involved in the Alternative Hair show and I’m creating pieces for that. Sebastian is very creative, we like to do avant garde as well as education and cutting collections, we push the boundaries when it comes to styling hair.

I cherish a lot of the stuff I do and I love to see people make their own of it. For Eclectic, it was repurposing buckle belts and using wood sticks, putting them through the hair. Then I saw people on social media making that collection their own, that was a very special point in my career for Sebastian – seeing people take simple sticks and making these amazing creations – that was a very proud moment. Eclectic was huge for me.

There are so many great things going on in Ireland when it comes to hairdressing, you’ve online education from Paul Davey who is really pushing it forward which is fantastic. The barber scene in Ireland has been huge. Paul Mac from Cork is putting barbering and avant garde together using different colours and makeup that are very strong and really work. Hairdressing has always been super strong in Ireland. I look at social media and everything that is coming out of Ireland right now is really strong, there are a lot of new people coming on board and that’s the key to hairdressing – fresh talent.

Shay Dempsey

I’m not saying that the others aren’t there, they are just a bit older like me and they’re still doing a great job, but there is some fantastic new talent. You take influence from so many people. In my time I would have looked at Trevor Sorbie as someone who is a visionary and not afraid to mix it up and be very artistic in his ways. Not only was he a great hairdresser with a great salon, he also had an amazing talent for creating and that’s a different thing, to be able to create and do fresh and interesting things with hair, changing the fabric of the hair. At the end of the day, a haircut is a haircut, but to be able to look at something and create almost an art piece, that really interested me.

Whether he was rik wracking hair so he could create a different shape or using a cocktail of products to create one smooth surface and the other explosive, Trevor and his art team are still creating some amazing work. He’s an absolute gentleman and if you look at his stable and you see what has come out of it, you see that he has given back.

A lot of the time in hairdressing, hairdressers are inclined to keep things for themselves and highlight themselves. Trevor is not that type of guy, he has helped people like Eugene and Angelo get to where he believes they need to be and that’s the beauty of Trevor, he gives it back. He stayed strong because he helped nourish people to become better, that shows the true colours of the man. Eugene Souleiman, Sam McKnight, Guido: all those people are still pushing the boundaries to this day. I look at everything, good, bad, sometimes work that I wouldn’t be crazy about, I still see the good in it because sometimes you can take that work and do something else with it. That’s why I look at a lot of fresh new talent because it’s in a raw state. Maybe at a young age they don’t have the finesse but yet their idea... I get more enjoyment from that, than looking at something that is perfect. Perfectly imperfect comes with years but raw talent I get a lot of inspiration from.

I don’t see trends being huge right now because if you look at social media, it’s so fast that everything goes, whether it’s a short cut or a crop or curly hair or beachy hair. It’s constantly changing and the great thing about hairdressing at the moment is that people are willing to be a bit more adventurous with their hair, they can style it better themselves, they can use hot tools better. They read up about hair more than I probably do. They are beauty junkies when it comes to hair now.

We have been working with curly hair over the last nine months, we just brought out a collection called Twisted so that’s been refreshing. People have been straightening and smoothing and not embracing their curls and I really feel that with the right products, treatments and masks and a good haircut, people are going to play with their curls a little more: curly one day, straight the next. I think the marketplace is more open to unruly hair, and I don’t mean wild crazy hair, just a little more organic in its feel, a little messy, an undone feel to it. That’s interesting me, I’ve been cutting a lot of hair dry using the wave that’s in the hair naturally, cutting to shape more so than being super technical.

For me to be the global artistic director for Sebastian... that’s a pretty big deal, I’m very proud of that. This company has been around for 40 years and to hold that mantle is a huge accolade and with that comes a lot of pressure, and I work really hard. To be here creating different collections every six months is a huge responsibility and something I take super seriously. It’s not easy when you’re creating hair that you know the world is going to look at. Sometimes it’s challenging, you get ‘writers block’ and you need to  look outside of the industry to create different looks or find inspiration, and you have to talk yourself through it. But I work well under pressure and I love that I have been given the chance to travel the world and meet other hairdressers, and for a kid from Dublin, I don’t think I’ve done too badly. 


Shay’s Heroes
Sebastian Professional’s Potion 9 has been out since the late 70s, it has nine botanicals in it and I need a product that I can prep the hair with but that I can reapply before I blowdry.

Texture Maker is another one – if I need a bit of grit in the hair, I can spray it into the hair to change the fabric, I can backcomb it and create a bit more volume.