Walking the Talk

With the really creative designers, you have to have a dialogue. You can’t go into a fitting blind, it doesn’t work, unless you are incredibly lucky, which I’m not.

It’s a question of like meeting like, how your relationship works from a creative perspective. My favourite shows are Maison Margiela with John Galliano, and Thom Browne because I’m of a creative mindset and I appreciate people who are trying to push things forward and propose things that are new. They’re nuts like me, aren’t they? I’m not normal, John’s not
normal, Thom’s definitely not normal.

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The process changes from season to season depending on the collection. Thom Browne was a month-and-a-half before his show. We were talking and sending emails, sending sketches, he was sending me pictures, a show. John’s the same. He’ll write a story about a woman he has met or looked at, and imagined what her life would be like. It really varies. That’s a good thing, because inspiration can come from everywhere, and you shouldn’t limit yourself in how you are inspired.

With John’s last couture collection, he wanted it to feel like they [the models] had just got out of the shower and walked out the door. I interpreted that as: your body is somewhere and your brain is somewhere else, and the two not connecting. She’s washed her hair and she’s in such a rush she hasn’t rinsed it. And he said, ‘Major!’ It was bubbles in the hair, whisking shampoo and putting it in the hair. John said, ‘I never thought it could go there, never in my wildest dreams could I
imagine that.’ We were talking after the show, and he said, ‘For the next one, we could do this.’ As a creative person, I feel like I need to move on and propose something else and he
really respects that.

You’ve got to be who you are and true to yourself. You’ve
got to be really technically proficient and really engaged,
really inquisitive. You’ve got to put a lot of hours in.
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Sometimes the role changes. One season I was buying party balloons for my daughter’s birthday online. I’d been thinking about colouring hair to make it look like the colour of flesh, like
skin with lots of colours, taupe. I was on the net looking for these party balloons and I found flesh
coloured balloons. It was a bit of a lightbulb moment: I could put
that in with flesh coloured hair. I thought, I have to show this to
John.

‘I’ve got something for you, mate! I don’t know if I should show it to you. It’s a bit weird.’ ‘I like weird,’ he said. ‘It’s kind of sick, I said. ‘I like sick,’ he said. ‘Balloons. Flesh coloured balloons, flesh hair.’ ‘You’re weird,’ he said. ‘Show it to me.’

And I did. ‘We’ll find an outfit for that because I want that in my show.’ He used balloons in his haute couture collection as a boa, a black balloon boa. There’s no right way or wrong way, there’s no formula and the minute you start thinking about formulas is the day it doesn’t happen. You’ve got to be who you are and true to yourself. You’ve got to be really technically proficient and really engaged, really inquisitive. You’ve got to put a lot of hours in. Practise and get your skillset to a place where it is really good.

A lot of people think you can get there with Instagram and social media and you can, but it’s like
Andy Warhol said, everyone can have 15 minutes of fame, but it won’t last. And you’ll know as a hairdresser or an artist that you never really got there because you were that great at doing hair.

Is there a lack of training? Absolutely. I believe that the cream will rise to the top – it always does – and it will stay there. I have realised that everyone wants to get to a place and they are forgetting that the journey and the process is really important. If you are aware that you constantly have to keep evolving and trying out new ideas, you are always going to be on top of your game because you are trying that much harder to be better.

I’m never really satisfied with anything that I have ever done and never will be. I’m not hard on myself, but I know in the back of my mind, I can always do better and I’ll keep trying to do better. The minute I stop trying then I’m not going to be as good.

The most challenging part of fashion week is not the hair, it’s
people management, the tiredness factor... we work with a
lot of egos and we have to nurture a lot of people.
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We have to develop a skillset as a team and hold it together. It’s a bit like having a salon and taking it around the world. Most of the team have been with me for a really long time, we’re a bit like a family. When someone leaves they usually bring someone in. There are four or five kids that I have found or have found me, on Instagram that are part of my team.

I think mentors find you. Trevor Sorbie sponsored me, he put up with a lot with me – I wasn’t
particularly easy when I was younger. When I started at Trevor’s, I had no idea who he was. I was a really green little boy from a council estate. I worked in a barber shop in the Park Lane hotel and a manageress asked, ‘What are you doing here, look at you, you’ve got a hair on one side, it’s shaved on the other, it’s black underneath and it’s burgundy on the top ...and it’s crimped! You stick out like a sore thumb, go to Trevor Sorbie’s.’

I interviewed with Trevor. He asked me, ‘Can you do this, this and this’. I said, yes, yes, and, of course, I can. I didn’t realise who he was. ‘You’re a cheeky little monkey’, he said. He was fantastic, I learned so much. The one thing he really did teach me is that you have to put the hours in, it’s not going to happen overnight, no matter how naturally talented you are. The more you work at it, the better you get.

I think we have become very politically correct and that has stopped us telling a lot of home truths. With things becoming faster, it’s easier to get places quicker, through other routes. The advent of social media is a good and a bad thing. We’ve reached a point where people will look at your followers when you’re going for a job.

Hairdressing used to have a pool of really creative people, and with the advent of social media, I think the creatives have gone into other areas like music – a musician doesn’t even have to
play an instrument, they just choreograph sounds. I don’t think we’ll ever get back to that time. ✂

@eugenesouleiman