Not one but two fantastic barbering/hairdressing talents for you today: in this interview, the inimitable Kevin Luchmun stepped behind the camera to take on the role of interviewer. In the chair is Toni & Guy International Artistic Director Charlie Cullen, ready to give an insight into his career…
KL: How long have you been hairdressing for and where did the journey start?
CC: I’ve been a hairdresser for almost fifteen years, I started when I was 16. Initially you start your basic hairdressing career: learning women’s haircuts, blow-drying. For me though, it was when I started to learn men’s hairdressing that I realised this was the thing that I wanted to focus on.
KL: Where did the journey start with Toni & Guy and what is your role here?
CC: I started from the bottom like anyone, doing an apprenticeship in a small salon on the outskirts of London – it was a Toni & Guy. It was about a year into working there that I started to go to their academy one day a week to learn more skills. I started off as an assistant, then worked as a stylist in that salon gaining experience.
That was really until I felt that I wanted to work into London, somewhere that would test me and push my career to higher places. I started working in Toni & Guy in Sloane Square, and did some training to become an art director which takes a lot of time and a lot of evening work. Eventually, though, I became an educator: it had always been a dream of mine.
I really had a passion to specialise in men’s hairdressing, and to fly that flag – although I do now teach men’s and women’s hair.
KL: Now you head up the men’s course within the academy and globally, so can you tell us a little bit about these courses and what makes them different?
CC: I think it’s good for the industry that there are a lot of people out there who want to educate, but also that those same people are open to education themselves. It would be naïve to think that what we do is the only thing that’s out there.
I feel that what we do well is our three-day contemporary men’s cutting course – it’s not a barbering course, although we do deliver elements of barbering. It’s about bringing the student in with whatever level of experience and whatever they want to focus on. We’ll tailor the course to the individual and focus on all the principles of men’s hairdressing. When someone wants to learn something in particular, we try our best to deliver that for them.
KL: At the moment there is a fusion of barbering and men’s hairdressing happening. Could you tell us a little bit about the difference between the two, and where you’d say you specialise?
CC: I suppose it really comes down to where you start your career. My foundation is hairdressing: I think that gives me a good understanding of sectioning hair, the importance of it and the real technical aspect of hairdressing. I try to bring that into men’s hairdressing in a simple way: you don’t want to overcomplicate men’s hair.
What we see at the moment is a lot of barbers, especially from outside Europe, who are unbelievable at fading but want to learn classic graduation through fingers, scissor over comb, sectioning, hand position. They don’t necessarily have that in their initial training – not to say that this is the case for all barbers.
At the same time, a lot of British hairdressers want to learn how to skin fade or do tapering techniques. It works well for us to take the best elements from each one so that you deliver a haircut that has the feeling and technique of a barbering cut but also the hairdressing texture.
KL: Why do you enjoy educating? What is it about that side of things that makes you want to get up on stage?
CC: It’s not for everyone, and I don’t think that it’s a bad thing if you don’t decide to educate. Some people go into the management side of things or become a business owner. But I educate for the feeling of being able to take someone and show them a new skill. As hairdressers we work on appreciation, and when someone appreciates a wicked haircut that you’ve done, or you’ve taught a student and you can see their appreciation that’s great.
It’s also given me the chance to travel the world. British barbering is so big at the moment that it’s sort of dominating Europe and starting to travel the rest of the world. I never dreamt as a 16-year-old hairdresser in Uxbridge that I’d be going to do haircuts on stage in South Korea.
KL: Finally, while we’re here at Salon International and there’s a lot of inspiration happening across the show, do you have any top tips or advice to give to young people trying to move towards the stage?
CC: Take the opportunities. There are a lot of companies out there looking for educators, but you’ve also got to be true to yourself. Eventually, if you work hard, you’ll get noticed and you’ll get rewarded. So put that dedication in to be good at your job.
Salon International is a perfect place because you can see lots of platform artists and how they deliver things. That sets the bar. But you do you: I wouldn’t do something that wasn’t my taste or strength. As long as you’re true to yourself, you’re going to get noticed eventually.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to both Kevin Luchmun and Charlie Cullen for sitting down and recording this excellent interview – I’m sure that Charlie’s words will help to inspire many barbers reading this or watching the clip. Don’t forget to follow Larry the Barber Man on all of your favourite social media channels: regular interviews shared to Instagram, YouTube and Facebook to help you perfect your craft.