Today I’m bringing you an interview with one of the superstars of British barbering, and a man who needs no introduction: Adee Phelan. From starring on TV Show The Salon, to cutting David Beckham’s most infamous haircut, Adee has certainly left his mark on the industry.
I visited his SKNHEAD shoot in March to hear his story. So, Adee, what are we doing today?
“It’s my new luxury men’s range, called SKNHEAD. The concept came about 17 years ago, and I’ve waited and waited – I know it seems a long time – but if you’re bringing out a new range it needs to have products with unique selling points. Products that haven’t been done before.
“One of the products is actually called the game changer, and it’s a product that can be used as a moisturiser on your face and body, or as a hair styling product. The concept came about many, many years ago – when I had hair, believe it or not. I went to the Men’s British Hairdresser of the year awards, and I used to use this stuff called Coconut Butter: I’d put it all over my body and then run it through my hair. So, I wondered if it was possible to create a product that was light enough as a moisturiser but heavy enough to be a hair product.”
Achieving this has taken years of preparation and perfection: I’m sure that it’s something a lot of you will be keen to try out. The full range will include sea salt sprays, serums, clays, pomades… everything that you might expect from a unique luxury range.
On the day that I catch up with Adee he’s excited to be shooting the content that will surround the launch of his new brand. This includes behind the scenes footage and a huge range of different hairdressing looks on a diverse group of models.
“The thing about the modern barbering world is that you need to be able to do more than a fade. To make yourself an accomplished hairdresser or barber, you really need to know the fundamentals of hair cutting. Some of these young cats I see now dropping in these fades are amazing – but there’s always still a lot of foundation that needs to be done.
“I’ve tried to bring out a range of fundamentally barbering products that can also drop into the hairdressing world”.
So, for younger barbers who don’t know your story, you started back in 1999 – what stirred you, what motivated you to get into hairdressing?
“Long story short, I moved from Manchester to Southend-on-Sea and ended up not doing so well: I was basically sleeping rough for about 4 months. Then I got introduced to a really cool hairdresser called Lee Stafford, and I ended up designing his salon, The House That Hair Built.
“I went with Lee to the Men’s British Hairdresser’s of the Year awards in 1999 where he won British Hairdresser of the Year. On the way back in the car he said I’m going to get you a pair of scissors, teach you to cut hair and in a couple of years’ time you’ll be on the stage. Two years to the day, I was picking up that same award.”
Adee describes it as a sort of “rough boot camp”, where there was no room for mistakes – if he messed up a haircut then his mentors made sure he knew about it. But this – alongside the professional courses he took any time he had the cash – gave him the solid skills he needed to start experimenting further.
“There are a thousand ways of designing a house, but there’s only one way of building it: good foundations. I learnt the art of good foundations. And then I won Men’s British Hairdresser of the Year and my life changed. 9-months later I had the opportunity to work with David Beckham.”
While Adee’s career has clearly been built on his own hard work and talent, I think it’s fair to say that creating that haircut for David Beckham – the World Cup mohawk which everybody reading this should be familiar with – helped him push his career to the next level.
“It was everywhere. That haircut just became the most iconic haircut of the past 20 years. And then I had the opportunity to win all these awards and from there on it was just like I had the wind in my sails.”
And that wind took Adee to the heights of a hairdressing/barbering career: he’s had the opportunity to work on TV shows, to cut hair for many different celebrity clients, and to really build a personal brand within the industry. But aside from all this hairdressing glory, I’m also interested in his role as an educator.
Prior to you doing the TV shows and the celebrity style consulting, you were actually a prolific educator. It was said that, at one show, you mad 36 appearances: tell us about that.
“I got right into the helm of education. I think I did about 1500 seminars in six years. I was at Salon International working for five different brands: I hold the record, I did 39 shows in 3 days, haircuts to music. And I took that concept to America and it was brilliant: I wanted to bring something fresh to it; when you get to that level of talent you can’t be telling people how to suck eggs.
“BaByliss supported me the whole way, and then other brands took on this new approach of haircutting. Lots of technique, lots of foundation but doing it in this very freehand, visual, quick way.”
The big brands were happy to get behind Adee’s new way of doing things – BaByliss even went ahead and gave him a range of electrical goods. Barbers reading this are sure to be envious, and in many ways he has achieved the barbering dream. But there have also been some drawbacks:
“Business started to take over. I was watching these cool cats half my age on stage and thinking I need to get back to the drawing board: these guys are making me look silly here. So for the past few years I’ve just been working on new cuts, new techniques and I’m about to get back on the road and go back to where it all started.”
So, Larry the Barberman goes out to all of the barbering community. Will SKNHEAD products be a range that those barbers can actually retail?
“Yes. It will go online and go into shops like Selfridges, but then the quality needs to be at a very high level, so it can go into barbershops. That’s the idea.”
This product has already launched and is available for you to buy: head to this link https://www.sknhead.com/.
Because you started nearly 20 years ago, I also want to hear about how you think barbering has changed from where it was then to where it is now.
“If we’d had the technology that we have now: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. I used to have to do interviews and then wait 6 weeks for it to come out. Some of the models I’m using today are Instagram models, cool cats – they PR themselves, they manage themselves. It’s kind of insane: you do a haircut, it’s global within minutes. So that’s the difference.
“The downside to this technology is that everyone wants to be famous without putting the work in. They want instant success. I just think that they have all the weapons now to be very successful. You can pay a famous person to do a post for you and you’re kind of out there. But at the same time, it can destroy your career: you have to police your brand.”
You spoke about an artistic team. Maybe you can tell me about some of the artistic team that you have here today?
“Barber wise I’ve got Tariq Howes and Aaron Dorn. I’ve cot Jez Wilcox who is creative director. We’ve got three video photographers, two photographers, two make-up artists… so it’s a big shoot, trying to get a lot of stuff in.
“Besides that, I’ve been working on two or three new clipper techniques. New section patterns, new haircuts that are going to be taken out on the road. I want to go back to the days of being able to execute a beautiful, beautiful haircut in six or seven minutes.”
And what could be improved in modern barbering?
“I think what a lot of barbers need to learn is the scissor work. You need to be able to work from the baseline to the top of the head. I think barbering will always be in fashion, but the longer thing is going to come back. Barbers these days have mastered the art of fading, now they need to master the art of haircutting. What happens in 12 months when the fade goes slightly out of fashion and longer hair starts coming back in?
“There’s great dudes out there though. Josh Lamonica: lovely guy, technically gifted, wonderful speaker -can do a great fade but can also do a great haircut. And you’ve got Danny Robinson, a new kid on the block, I mentioned Tariq Howes earlier. Kye Wilson, Dale Watkins, my teacher from back in the day. There are so many talented guys out there. It’s all about inspiring the younger generation though isn’t it.
Finally, then, what are your words of advice for that next generation?
“Technique, technique, technique. Education, education, education. Watch, watch, learn, learn. Mouth shut, eyes open. Be obsessed, be obsessed, be obsessed. Training videos, salon international. Be obsessed. Because to be at the top you have to be obsessed with technique and being at the top of your game. And then it’s a little bit of luck.”
I’m quite excited to hear that Adee is going to be spending some more time getting stuck into cutting hair, and it will be interesting to see what he comes up with. Don’t forget to check out https://www.sknhead.com/ to hear more about the products that are available; while you’re there, head to Instagram and YouTube to follow Larry the Barberman and see more great interviews.