Whilst in California recently I took the opportunity to get together with Australia’s Men’s Hairdresser of the Year 2017, Tori Gill. Only 26 years old, Tori is clearly going places – but I think there’s a lot to learn from the journey that brought her to this position. Without further ado, here’s Tori’s story…
“When I was 15 years old I wanted some money, and the only job you can get at that age is to either be an assistant in a salon or to do a paper round. I wasn’t going to do a paper round. I wanted to go to art college, so this was just to get some extra money.
“So, I went up to the salons in Edinburgh, walked into this hairdresser’s and asked them if they needed a girl. And they did, so I started working there. They showed me there is actually a really creative side to hairdressing outside of what’s done in the salon, and I loved it. I thought this is pretty much art. So, I said to my Dad I don’t know what to do. Should I go to art college or do hairdressing? He said to me, you can go to art college whenever you want. It’s harder to do an apprenticeship if you’re older. So why don’t you get your trade and then if you do go to art college, then you can do your friends’ hair to make money.
“I went full time and, because when I was a Saturday girl I used to just watch constantly, I actually qualified really fast. Then men’s hairdressing was actually the last part of my apprenticeship, and because it was the last part like I didn’t enjoy it as much. I just wanted to be on the floor. I wanted to do colouring, I understood colouring a lot because it was similar to doing painting.
“I also loved the avant-garde side of things, and I thought that that was the way I was going to go. One of the girls that I worked with was doing an opening tour for Wella Trend Vision, and she invited me along to help do all the hair pieces and prep the models for the shows. That introduced me to a whole new world and I was like this is what I want to do, I want to do competitions.”
This is when Tori decided to take a break from hairdressing, instead heading to Ibiza to spend six months working in the sun with her friends. When she moved back, the cold Edinburgh climate didn’t seem so appealing – and the desire for another change of scenery led her all the way to Australia:
“So, I got my visa, I flew to Sydney and I got a job at a hairdresser’s in Sydney. I had no clue what I was going to do. And then I decided that I wanted to be traveling, so I took off from Sydney and I travelled up the East Coast. After I got to the top of Australia I flew down to Melbourne to meet my friend. The girl that she lived with was a hairdresser, and she’d just left her job. She said why don’t you come to work with me tomorrow and see if you can get my job. I ended up getting her job and then I instantly fell in love with Melbourne.”
Whilst there, Tori also saw a salon that she fell in love with – windows lined with Wella Vision trophies that seemed to be exactly sort of place she’d like to work. “I went in there and I said, Oh, I’m going to work here. I really want to do competitions. And the girl actually laughed at me. She said everyone wants to work here, and kind of rolled her eyes at me.”
One of the best signs that someone is going places is the ability to overcome these types of setback, which is just what Tori did. She decided to travel a little more, ending up back in Edinburgh but knowing that she’d eventually make her return to Australia.
“I said to everyone: ‘I’m here for a year and then I’m moving back to Melbourne. I knew that you could get sponsored being a hairdresser in Australia at the time. So my friends that I used to work with in the salon, they all worked in a barbershop and they said why don’t you come work in the barbers? I said no way, I’m not doing men’s hair. I couldn’t really fade hair… it was just not my thing.
“They said no, no it’s good money, it’s proper chilled. So I said fine, I’ll do it. I remember when I first started and I was trying to do fades. I said to one of the boys, do you think if a client asks for zero I can just give them a one? He said no, you’ll have to do the zero. And I was so scared because I knew what to do with scissors, but clippers were not my strong point.
“I got all my mates in that were boys, and I finally got the hang of it and after like two, three weeks are working there. I loved it and it is so much more chilled – guys are so much easier to like work with than girls. So, I do that for a year and then once a year is done, it’s time for me to move back to Melbourne.”
Back in Melbourne, Tori was able to get started in a barbershop straight away. After just a couple of weeks, though, she set her sites on a bigger prize:
“I picked up a magazine and it said Joey Scandizzo has opened a barbershop. I remembered that was the salon I went in to, that had all the Trend Vision awards. They were hiring, so I called them up and said ‘Oh, hey, I’m from Scotland and I need to be sponsored, do you guys sponsor? The guy said no, we don’t sponsor anyone, you need to be an Australian resident to work here.
“I wasn’t going to let it go. I emailed them, and I said ‘Hey, I’m interested in working for you guys.’ Didn’t mention anything about me being Scottish. So, I had the interview, got the job and said to the guy look I need to be sponsored to work here. He said give us a month and we’ll look into it and see what we can do. And they ended up sponsoring me.
“The reason I wanted to work there is because it was more of like a men’s hairdressing salon than a barber shop. As soon as I started I was like this is what I want to do. I want to compete, I like the creative side of hairdressing, I wanted to hair shows – and I knew that’s what Joey’s salon did. They’re really well known in Australia and they do the big hair shows and fashion awards.”
Tori knew exactly what she wanted from this opportunity, and she asked her new boss if she could shadow him ahead of Australia’s Men’s Hairdresser of the Year. Doing jobs for him and helping with the preparation gave her a chance to see what it would be like to do it for herself.
“Because I’d done all that, he then said the following year that I could do it. I wanted to which is when I decided to enter. That was last year, so that was my first year entering and lucky enough I won it, which was pretty good.”
It’s not just pretty good, it’s very impressive to see a British barber moving to Australia and having so much success in such a short space of time. I ask Tori how she would define her style of cutting:
“I don’t do many traditional barbering haircuts. My style is very textured and natural. I like to cut hair dry, so the natural fall of the hair will really help it grow out nicely. It works for a lot of my clients because, they always say that even when they don’t have products in their hair the haircut always still looks good.
“I always say let the hair decide where the part is, like don’t you decide where the part is. It’s the same as doing a fade, don’t you decide how high up you take the fade, let the head shape decide.”
Tori also explained where she gets her barbering inspiration from and, in particular, her inspiration for the Australian Hairdresser of the Year Awards.
“Fashion is a huge inspiration to me. I love fashion, I love styling. I decided I wanted to style them first and then from there and then decide how I wanted the haircuts. A lot of people would do that differently. They’d let a stylist decide what the model should wear. But I wanted to do everything as a whole.”
So where is all of this barbering success going to take Tori next?
“Obviously a lot of people in my situation right now go down the education side. Me, I prefer to do more styling and editorial things. getting more involved with fashion. If I was to do this as a career, then obviously there would be a stylist on the shoot and they would do that side of things, and then you’d work with the stylist.
“When I was younger, the girls I worked with wanted their own salons. And I wanted my hair cut to be on the front of Vogue. From a young age, that’s always what I wanted to do. I never really wanted my own place. It doesn’t really interest me. I think when you have your own shop it can sometimes take you away from the hair. It’s more about managing people, and that’s not what I want to do.
“I just think as long as you’re always moving forward and bettering yourself every day and doing something like even if it’s baby steps towards your ankle and that’s all that matters, and experiences and opportunities will come your way.”
Tori is certainly looking to the right inspiration, and she tells me that Kevin Luchmun and Jody Taylor are two of the stylists that she looks up to in particular. With such a vibrant global barbering scene, it’s great to see young talent like Tori looking to some of the more experienced industry names for motivation.
It was also great to speak to somebody with so much enthusiasm for cutting and styling hair: there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll be seeing Tori’s work on the cover of Vogue soon enough! I hope this interview helps youngsters interested in barbering think about how they could move forward. For more interviews with other great barbers, don’t forget that you can find me as @LarrytheBarberMan on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook.