Late last year, I headed to Salon International; whilst there I was happy to meet with the session stylist Jody Taylor. I think it’s fair to say that most of the magazines you see down the newsagents have probably featured Jody’s work at some point – either inside the pages or on the front cover. He found time in his very busy schedule to tell us a little bit about his job.
I know that a lot of people reading this probably have no real concept of a what a session stylist really does, so I asked Jody to give us a quick summary of his typical day:
“My day really consists of me working on a location or in a studio – so everyday can be a different day for me. It can be anywhere, and I normally get to the shoot for 8 or 9 o’clock, making sure I’ve got my full kit with me.
“I’ve got thousands of products I need to take with me: I’ve got two big suitcases full of tongs, straighteners, all types of accessories. So, I’m lugging them around London or in Ubers trying to get to the location. And then I’m creating hair that I don’t now I’m going to be doing until I get there. So, if it’s for a brand it’s to coincide for what the brand is, if it’s for a magazine then they’re trying to create a certain type of character.”
This means that Jody will be shown a mood board and talked through the concept for a shoot, and then he’ll need to come up with a concept that works. It sounds like hard work, and having thick skin comes with territory as sometimes the first idea will be rejected:
“My clients now are not just people who are in my chair having their hair cut. They’re brands and magazines, so I have to be on my toes.”
Getting down to business
If you’ve never worked on a shoot then you’re probably picturing simply turning up and providing the haircut. It’s actually a whole lot more complicated, and there are a lot of people that Jody has to gel with when he reaches the set. That includes the photographer, with multiple assistants, a stylist with assistants and someone from the brand. Jody points out that “it can be quite intimidating (…) but it can be a lot of fun as well.”
If you’re wondering whether to follow Jody’s advice, then this next bit might impress you. I asked him to run through a quick list of people he’s worked with and the list is just staggering:
- 3 or 4 GQ covers
- Vogue magazines around the world
- New York Times
- Actors during premieres, such as Jack O’Connell
Despite it all, he remains cool and composed. So, with all this under his belt, I was particularly interested to hear what his biggest achievement to date has been. I’m not surprised by the answer though: taking the title of Best Hairdresser of the Year back in 2010/11.
“It was the third time I entered that I won, I’d got into the final year before. And at that time that was the one shoot I did each year. Just so much work went into it – understanding what sort of lighting I wanted, what the mood was, what haircuts I wanted to do.
“It was everything for me back then. So, I encourage anyone that’s considering it to enter it, because it changed my life. It’s a really good way to show your creativity. Do what you think is your style: if people like it they like it and if they don’t so be it, but don’t try and conform to what you see other people are doing.”
Doing things differently
Some people would be tempted to call it a career after this much success, but for Jody there’s plenty more still to come. At the moment he’s loving the opportunity to do something a little bit different with his work:
“There’s a lot of rawness to what I do now. Really kind of anti-perfect hair. Everyone does perfect hair. Everyone does perfect hair amazingly. So my thing is, make it not perfect – but make it look good at the same time. So really, anti-hairdressing, anti-barbering.”
I’d say that he’s also something of a visionary, with an ability to tell where the trends are going to be in the next few months or even next year. Apparently, though, it’s more science than magic and Jody’s tip is to look to youth culture, pop culture, music and film to see where the disruptions are happening. Most importantly, he says that you can always try something different: “Some people might think they know everything, and it’s really sad. Because you can always get better”.
He’s also planning to do things differently in his own career, moving into the educational space. I asked what niche he’ll be carving out:
“I just really want to share the experience that I’m having now. Maybe I feel confident enough now with what I’m doing to actually share it with people. And I think there’s been a really nice interlink with barbering and hairdressing over the past 3 or 4 years.
“People used to be very close-minded about one or the other, and barbers want to know how to do hairdressing, hairdressers want to know how to barber and if you’re good at both of them and know how to create looks as well, I think that’s great. So I think I’ve got stuff to bring to the table in that sense. I’ve got stuff that I can share”.
Tips for the up and coming session stylists
So, if you want to become a session stylist, what should you do? Here’s a rundown of Jody’s tips:
- Contact lots of different hair agencies: you have to create a portfolio of work! Jody points out that he’s always been hired based on the portfolio of work that he has to offer, “so it has to be really varied, but obviously it has to be tasteful as well”.
- Push yourself out there. Jody started by knocking on doors, doing loads of different shoots just to make sure he had work to share.
- Be prepared to start from the beginning: success in hairdressing doesn’t necessarily translate to success as a session stylist. There’s plenty more to learn, and you need to work hard to build your reputation.
I’m sure plenty of people reading this will see that last point as a challenge – if so, it would be great to see you rise to meet it! For more tips and informative interviews like this one, don’t forget to find me as @LarrytheBarberMan on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook.