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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.

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Interview: With Kevin Luchmum, One of The UK’S Best Men’s Barbers/Hairdressers

It’s impossible to pigeon hole Kevin Luchmun: rather than defining himself as a barber or a hairdresser, or pinning himself down to one particular style, he’s simply ‘someone who loves to cut hair’. His career has seen him working with some of the biggest names in the industry, but now he’s set off on his own. Of course, with the Kevin Luchmun name already synonymous with excellent technical ability, he’s set himself up for success. Still, I wanted to find out what drove him to leave Toni & Guy:

“Yeah, so as you know I left back in February last year. It more or less got to the stage where you start to think about what is it that you want in life. I’d been with the company for 11 years: I was with them for six years in London, where I reached the level to become an international art director. So, I had my dreams and my ambitions within the company, I achieved them and then I just said to myself, do I want to stay and do exactly the same thing? Of course, they could push me in a different direction, but my personal own goals were achieved.

“Then it was just a case to really take that leap of faith and go for it. Because I always think to myself, I don’t want to live thinking ‘what if?’ I’d rather just do it and just see what happens. And we’re here now at Salon International to tell the tale.”

 

Taking that step into the unknown can often be the thing that propels a great career forwards, so it’s exciting to see where Kevin’s new path will take him. At the same time, making a dramatic step in your career is always going to feel unusual for a while. I ask Kevin how life has changed:

“A lot of people ask me: ‘how’s life now, what’s it like, is it good?’ and I just say the best way to describe it is it’s just different. Because now especially, I don’t work for such a massive big corporate company and I’m independent. I have to go out find those opportunities.

“And I think it’s like anything, having been with the company for such a long time you know I gained my experience, I made the mistakes, I learned from the mistakes and got the education. Not just how to educate cutting hair, doing shows, but also the education on how to become a better educator as well. So, it’s good, it’s just different. A lot more challenging, I’d say, and there’s still pressure – probably a bit more pressure – but the pressure comes down to me, which is good because it’s like everything I do now is for myself.”

Going it alone, then, has made Kevin the master of his own destiny – and as much as that can mean extra work, it also seems t be something that he greatly enjoys:

“If I don’t give 110% then that’s on me. If I mess up on something, it’s on me. I don’t have anyone to blame. And I don’t have anyone to just think: ‘oh, don’t worry about that. Someone else is going to worry about that.’ Everything I do now, from bookings, from liaising with clients, from show-work preparation… that all comes down to me.”

 

While Kevin has certainly built up a huge reputation in his own right, it’s still different from the name recognition that comes alongside working with a company like Toni & Guy. With that in mind, I wonder whether people treat him any differently these days:

“I think now it’s probably got its ups and downs. Being an independent name now, all I am representing is myself. Where I’ve liaised, met people along my journey and had the experience of doing shows, seminars and of course competitions, people still respect me in the industry. You know, I’m probably getting more opportunities, and more different opportunities. Like to judge different competitions and work with different brands. There’s a lot of freedom.”

This is the positive side of being independent – but Kevin also acknowledges that there can be downsides:

“Like I said, everything now comes down to me. I’m a one-man band, more or less. So, if I don’t want to wake up in the morning, have a lay in, then I have potentially missed that opportunity to go meet with people or reply to emails, whatever else like that. Everything comes down to me and I have to have to motivate myself.

“If I did need something that I’m sure I could reach out to someone, but I don’t really have anyone to bounce ideas off. And my head’s always going crazy, like a hundred miles per hour and now I don’t have anyone to say hey, I’ve got this really cool idea. I tell myself, but I don’t have anyone to say: ‘yeah that’s a cool idea, or what about doing it this way?’”

 

 

When I caught up with Kevin last year, he’d just been named one of the Men’s Hairdresser of the Year finalists for the 2017 British Hairdressing Awards. This certainly wasn’t the first time that he’d been in that position, but I wondered whether achieving it now, as a lone wolf, gave it special meaning:

“It does actually mean a great deal, because it was the first year that I’ve entered being a solo individual artist working for myself. But I think you know what it means to me this year. It means a lot because it’s all my work: it’s Kevin Luchmun from Kevin Luchmun, it’s not Kevin Luchmun from another brand. I just cut my friends hair and I just want to take a beautiful image – and that’s what I’ve done. And to me it means a lot because this year especially because it’s like yeah, I’m still in the game.”

Based on Kevin’s hairdressing success, I had to ask him how he sees himself: is he a barber or a hairdresser? In reality, Kevin’s love for cutting hair goes beyond these industry divisions:

“I’m neither. I’m just someone that cuts hair. It’s not a case of are we barbers, are we hairdressers… we’re people that just cut hair, who want to make people look good. Hair is hair at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter if you’re working with clippers or scissors. They’re just the tools and the instruments that you use. So do I call myself a hairdresser or a barber? Neither. Do I call myself Kevin Luchmun? Yes I do.”

 

I also wanted to talk to Kevin about education. The drive for more, higher quality education seems to be one of the big things that’s pushing the hair industry at the moment. I asked Kevin to explain why he feels that education has become so important:

“People want to go to shows and seminars, like Salon International because they want to learn. And I think that’s the great thing about our industry is that it is such a creative industry. There’s so many creative minds out there, and so many people that really want to express their creativity within someone’s hair, you know.

“I think education is needed because there’s so much out there that you can learn, you know, why would you want to just carry on doing the same thing. And the thing is I’ve got the experience with barbers and I’ve got the experience of working for such a massive hairdressing company. For me, is about giving back because I remember when I couldn’t do it. I remember when I struggled. I remember when I struggled how to hold a pair of scissors and a comb. I want to give back to the people that actually genuinely do you want to learn. I will give them so much more than that someone who can’t be bothered. And that’s what I love to do, because it’s about inspiring the youth of our industry.”

Of course, simply being an excellent barber or hairdresser isn’t necessarily enough to cut it as an educator, and if you want to branch out into education then there will be more skills to master:

“I know the most talented hairdressers and barbers out there, and they can’t educate. I know the most amazing educators out there and they can’t cut hair. It’s a balance, knowing how to actually combine the two together. It’s not an easy thing. It takes a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of time and a lot of making mistakes.

“I feel experienced enough that anyone can ask me why I’m doing something and I will be able to tell them exactly why. There’s so many people that say what they’re doing when they educate. I don’t want to know what you’re doing. I want to understand what’s going on in your head, and that’s what makes me different.”

 

Very good advice for any barbers or other hair professionals who do want to make that jump from cutting hair to educating others. I also asked Kevin to share some broader inspiration for barbers who might want to follow in his footsteps on other ways:

“Really understand: what is it you want in life and what is it that you want in your career? Do you want to be on stage and doing these trade shows, in the limelight? If that’s what you want to do, cool. If you want to be better hairdresser and perfect your craft, cool – do that. If you want to make more money, do that. You need to understand what it is that you really want to achieve and then set yourself that goal. And then literally just go for it.

“If you don’t set yourself little goals how are you ever going to progress? That’s what I personally do. I said to myself I wanted to travel to over 10 countries this year when I left Toni & Guy, and I’ve done it. I wanted to become a finalist in the Men’s British Hairdressing Awards – I’ve done it.

“I always say in life, you’ve got take baby steps. If you’ve just started and you want to be on that massive stage, it’s not going to happen. You literally need to take those baby steps and then you’ll be able to get there. But if you have the vision that you want to be up on that big stage, then you’re going to be there. Along the way, stay humble and stay true to yourself. Keep doing what you love and just trying to just be a better person.”

 

Thanks once again to Kevin for sharing these thoughts with me. There’s some strong, practical advice in there that I think all of you barbers and hairdressers at home can really do a lot with, just remember to keep setting those little goals! And for today’s little goal, why not follow Larry the Barber Man on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook? You’ll be able to keep up with all of the latest inspiring videos… You know it makes sense!

 

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Master Barber: Matty Conrad, Of Victory Barbers, Shares The Philosophy Behind His Barbering and Brand Success

After listening in on, one of Matty Conrad’s seminars in California, there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to bring his unique take on barbering to all of you guys. He certainly didn’t disappoint, and I’m delighted to be sharing this fascinating interview.

Those of you already familiar with Matty’s work might be surprised to hear that he started out 22 years ago not as a barber, but as a hair stylist:

“Barbering didn’t feel exciting. It didn’t feel like there was a lot of artistry around barbering, and barbershops were in very steep decline. Into the 90s, it was not this place to aspire to. So, I got involved in hairdressing, everything from Toni & Guy to Bumble & Bumble.

“I eventually worked my way up to working on stage and platforms, technical educating and teaching – and I really enjoyed that, I always did. But it really started to lose that personal level and I started to fall out of love with the industry.”

 

Feeling that it was becoming more about the egos than the hair, Matty was feeling disillusioned and even considering changing job all together. But then something happened that made him reflect on his career – and find a new aspect of hair to get excited about:

“Around then my Grandfather passed away. He was an amazing old guy, he was just a terrific Gent, you know. Always well dressed, always had a part in his hair and a shine on his shoes. I remember thinking to myself where did this go? What happened to the old gentleman, the idea that having a sharp look meant showing respect for the people around you.

“That was a thing that was being lost, I felt. And my Grandfather passing away made me thing a lot about that, and a lot about legacy. About: What is it that you want the world to be like? At that point I started becoming obsessed with this idea of these old classic barbershops, the place where a man like that would have gone to be put together.”

From those initial ideas, Matty found a new purpose: he started investigating classic barbering as much as he could, seeking education from old, traditional barbers while also using his technical knowledge to consider how classic barbering could be developed for the modern world.

“Everybody was laughing at me at the time, because everyone had these Justin Bieber mop-top haircuts and I was doing cuts that looked like they belonged on my Grandad. But I just kept doing them: I thought they were cool, I thought there was something about them that really spoke to me on a deeper level. Something that felt like it had pride and dignity attached to it”.

 

Back to the roots of barbering

Matty may have been going against the grain at the time, but it certainly paid off. In fact, it led him to him going it alone and opening his own barbershop. This was Victory Barbers, opened in 2010 in a small town in Canada, Victoria BC.

He tells me that when he first opened up he thought he might have gone a little crazy, following this obsession with classic barbering so far. But it worked – because it had real integrity: it was authentic to who Matty really is. Now, he owns four shops as well as a thriving brand.

“The word original is just rampant in our industry. Truth be told, none of us invented this – it’s thousands of years old; it goes back long before we were here, and it will be here long after we’re gone. We were just fortunate to be at the right place at the right time, and to have any part in this is an honour.”

No surprise that Matty is also sceptical of the idea, spread by some industry professionals, that barbering is some sort of ‘hot new trend’. That said, he finds a lot to love about the modern barbering community:

“I love the brotherhood and the fellowship that it is right now, the way we’re supporting each other and growing, the fact that there’s pride in our industry again. I really hope that sticks around. I want to do everything I can to support that.”

 

A contemporary twist

One way in which Matty supports contemporary barbering is through the educational work that he’s doing. Aside from teaching his students about the technical and visual work, he also considers the psychology that’s involved in being a barber. I asked him to delve into this a little:

“I talk about establishing a mutual level of respect. Because I believe that any interaction comes out of a place of respect. One of the things that we’re trying to do is not just create a visual appeal for a person, but to make them feel something for a haircut. So my approach has never been purely technical because I don’t think that what we do is purely technical.

“You start to recognise that the technical aspect of what we do is maybe only 50% of why a person comes and sits in our chair. It’s also about how we make them feel, and that’s not just what we say to them, sometimes it’s about how we conduct our service. How we establish that level of respect by how we shake their hand, how we look them in the eye, how we make them feel cared for and confident in the fact that we are confident.”

 

In essence, Matty’s hairdressing philosophy is all about integrity, and he reiterates that it’s important for barbers to have more than technical skill: you also need to have the ability to make the client walk out that barbershop door feeling good and confident about his hair. This means that the design of the shop and the way in which you treat your customer are just as important as how well you cut hair.

He has also worked tirelessly to develop a range of barbering products that modern barbers can use to complement their craft:

“I had a lot of opportunities to do what you would call a white label. So all you need is a logo and a design and you walk in and pick the products that they have then package them up as your own. That is not me, it’s not at all what I wanted to do.

“I had some very strong ideas about what I wanted the products to be specifically. I worked with about different chemists before I found one that I thought understood the direction I wanted to go.”

 

This involves making the product as natural as possible whilst also ensuring that it is entirely cruelty free – no testing on animals – and highly functional. One of his favourite products is Superdry, a dry, matte paste which has been designed to feel light in the hair whilst also making the hair very malleable.

“It is the most perfect product that I’ve ever used. It’s my favourite one for myself and I use it a lot on a lot of different things, for creating texture whilst making it feel like there’s not a lot in the hair.”

Developing these products has allowed Matty to recognise the fact that, as much as he loves classic barbering and the traditional barbershop, it’s also important for barbers to keep developing and innovating: “I wanted my products to not speak about our history and where we were – I want them to support that – but I want them to talk about where we’re going.”

I’ve seen this in Matty’s own work: the cut that he completed when I watched him had natural shine and glow, yet with movement and sculpture. He tells me that it’s all about creating a haircut that a client can then easily style himself when he gets home.

 

Spreading the good word

If you’re curious about Matty’s work, or the products that he’s created, then you should check out some of his videos: he has been producing a lot of content to help barbers who are interested in doing things the Matty Conrad way. This has involved taking part in a project raising money to help send kids to barber school and keep pushing the industry forward, as well as creating what he calls “farm to table” videos, which focus on showing the full story of a haircut from preparation to then creating imagery once the cut is complete. He has also been creating step-by-step instructional videos to help barbers looking to learn new skills.

“I’m happy to share those things. I want to see our whole industry grow together. Being able to share all those little details with people forces you to be creative in the future as well and push your own limitations. It also allows other people to grow in areas where perhaps they need to. Like I said, you can’t just be good at cutting hair any more: you need something else if you really want to succeed.”

This counts for professional barbers as well as beginners. Matty receives a lot of messages from people who want to be where he is, educating others – and he points out that in order to be an educator you need something to teach. It’s not simply about getting up on stage and showing off; you have to be passing something on to others.

 

There’s a lot to digest, and I’m sure that you’ll agree that Matty offers a refreshing approach to what it means to be a barber. Ultimately, his message is that it’s all about making people feel good and creating confidence:

“Because confidence is what people find sexy, not appearance. The appearance of confidence is what we’re attracted to. So if we’re able to leverage both of those things together it will affect your outward appearance. If we’re truly giving that to people, then we’re doing our job as barbers.”

Don’t forget to take a look at the Victory Barbers website to find more about the work that’s they’re doing; you can also follow me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube as @LarrytheBarberMan. You’ll find more interviews with great barbers from across the world, as well as plenty of educational tips to help you hone your barbering skills.

 

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