- Edition 1, Chapter 1.4 -
Tenth Floor Stories
I feel like I arrived at Hairstory a long time ago in a sense. Growing up skateboarding, creating art, and listening to punk rock, I always valued living in a space of autonomy and really living by a do-it-yourself spirit. Frank Sinatra and Sid vicious both crooned, "I did it my way" in very different contexts but with the same meaning. My first encounter with Michael Gordon was when a friend handed me a copy of Hair Heroes while I was still attending cosmetology school. Learning the history of why something is the way it is means a lot to me, so I read, reread, and held onto the words as inspirational doctrine of everyone who made the world I was venturing into one worthy of exploration.
I worked as a stylist in Baltimore for 8 or 9 years when I met Beth. We clicked instantly. She made me a visual mix tape of sorts – an array of things that inspired her, and included was a familiar white hardcover book with green type that beckoned to me like an old friend. Also included were 7 DVDs and accompanying reading materials by the same author as the book. The content, art direction, spirit, and thoughtfulness was unlike anything I had ever seen before in the industry. I was enthralled by the discovery as I flipped through the pages. I had finally found a voice that felt familiar and spoke with the sincerity I craved. Wanting more but not quite knowing what, I moved to New York City away from the security of home, the financial comfort of my clientele, my family, my salon, my friends, and essentially my life up to that very point in search of something unknown. I knew it had to be out there as long as I kept looking.
I figured out wanting more is a tricky thing to navigate in this industry. With my eyes fixed upon living a truly creative life I looked all over for something that felt like a fit, to no avail. I worked at a handful of well-regarded salons throughout the city without finding what I was looking for. I felt like an outsider in search of a feeling. So I started freelancing and got to work with and learn from a crop of talented hairdressers I’d only read about. I’d listen intently to every word of advice they'd offer. We’d talk about the history of the industry, where it has been, where it is, and where we thought it was going. Michael’s story and the work crafted at Hairstory came up quite often in all instances – an inspirational compass throughout my travels, my eyes fixed upon Michael and his team of dreamers quietly collectively creating beautiful melodies. So when fashion week came around as it has a habit of doing each February and September, Hairstory posted that they were looking for stylists to assist on a show. I quickly replied thinking, "I am not good enough to do this. They’re Hairstory!" But what did I have to lose? I had worked fashion week for several seasons but this one in particular felt quite different. I nervously hit send and could barely sleep that night. A day or so later I received a reply that said "Brian, we would love to have you tomorrow! – Remy." Remy? I had a piece of the puzzle within the revelation of a warm signature line at the bottom of a cluttered inbox.
It was a notably frigid February morning walking to the Bowery Hotel with Beth when I saw Wes and Roxie standing outside a side entrance. They seemed surreal in their presence but as I approached them I quickly discovered they were real people! Having no airs about them put me at ease. We all made our way inside through twists and turns inherent in any backstage area during this peculiar week. The room opened up to rows of mirrors punctuated by tangerine trees. I started setting up my kit as I would for any other show as familiar faces started to reveal themselves through the crowd. I met Tony, Paul, and the mysterious Remy who answered my email. More pieces to the puzzle revealed themselves. They have an aura surrounding them that is both calming and so commanding.
Roughly halfway through model prep a remarkably well-dressed man walked towards the throng of hairdressers brushing, braiding, and pinning. "That's him!" The author of the seven DVDs, the white book given to me during hair school, and the inspirational force akin to a shooting star in the night sky. The show was a surrealist dream to be part of, and witnessing how the team works together and sincerely cares about the work they do is an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my career. After all was said and done I wanted to thank Michael, not just for letting me experience working with Hairstory during fashion week but also for everything else he's done to help hairdressers who may feel a little lost find their voice and rediscover what the industry doesn't really want you to know: that it's okay to be your true self. I tried to keep it brief out of anxiety as he remarked, "I feel like I've known you," to which I replied, "you haven't, but I would like you to."
We talked for a bit after that, he calm and eloquent and me stammering to put words in their proper order until he finally said, "I'd like to help you out in any way I can," and handed Beth and me an orange card with the familiar logo on one side and his email on the other. The card still hangs on my refrigerator as a daily reminder that nothing is impossible if you just make the attempt – something I learned from the hours and hours of reading the white book that drove me to make an effort even when it all seemed so confusing, hopeless, and tired.
Working with Michael and the team at Hairstory has proven that as a hairstylist in search of more, there is hope, and you will find your voice if you keep searching for it and just make an effort each day. Hairstory has proven to be an irreplaceably exciting adventure each time I step off the elevator onto the 10th floor. I am thankful to have found mentors and inspiration in each and every person that has worked behind those walls, and a friend in each person who experiences the efforts of a collective of artists, filmmakers, photographers, hairstylists, and hair colorists doing what they do best – engaging themselves and finding out what they have to say. To dance whenever they'd like. To speak from the heart. To laugh. To see the world through a fresh perspective. To be encouraged to dream in the most grandiose of ways. To be an individual.
Not all of those who wander are lost.
I had met Wes, and he told me that he was starting a project with Michael and that I should get in touch with him about photo assisting. I remember being super reluctant out of fear, but something inside my gut told me to just show up. We all met the first time on the Fourth of July 2013, and took some pictures of Marlene in Michael's living room.
It's hard to put into words the significance of these past two years. Michael and the team have encouraged me to not just be a photo assistant but to become a film maker. I know in my life, of the things that will happen, these people will have a dramatic significance.
I came to Hairstory as a wanderer following a lodestar. I was working as a hairstylist in Baltimore, and moved to New York because I wanted more for my career. I wasn't so sure yet what it looked like, and was working as a freelance stylist with the hope that the freedom could help answer that question. I had followed the work of Hairstory for some time, as proof that the industry doesn’t always have to feel so contrived.
When I saw that Hairstory was looking for freelancers to work a fashion show with them, I immediately sent over my resume. It was easily the most nervous I've ever been to work a show. Meeting these people from a team I had long admired felt very surreal. I was working on a model when Michael walked in – full suit, hat in hand, newspaper under his arm. I was shaking as I introduced myself, but he seemed to have taken some notice. He invited Brian (another stylist) and I to visit the studio and talk about our pasts and goals, to observe a production week, and shortly after to assist.
There's a palpable energy that emanates from Hairstory, whether observing from a distance or standing in the studio. It's one of grandness, but also a refreshing genuineness. One thing that strikes me most is that you're never asked to be different; you're asked to be your best self. Every person that passes through the doors becomes a drop in the Hairstory ocean, and I am eternally grateful to be standing in the water watching the waves change the coastline.