- Edition 1, Chapter 5 -
Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” Recently, Hairstory colorist Roxie and Hairstory producer, illustrator, and muse Gina connected the dots as to what brought them together creatively, and ultimately to Hairstory Studio.
How did you two meet?
Roxie: We met through a mutual friend, haircutter Kelsey Osterman. Kelsey told me she had this gorgeous friend who does a million and one things, and was totally open to using her hair as a new form of expression. I was very pumped to meet her, so I told Kelsey she should invite her to my next color class. That was three-and-a-half years ago.
Gina: This was before I had done anything outrageous with my hair. It was always natural, some highlights, but pretty boring. At the time I met Roxie, I had become obsessed with the work Bleach London was doing with vibrant colors, and I wanted something completely different for a change.
R: Gina was so open to being a blank canvas. After I looked at her and her soft features, I decided we should do something in the pastel family: a light pink and a light blue. So I bleached her hair and deposited the pastel pink and pastel blue – let's just say it didn't end up pastel at all. In fact it ended up very saturated. The final look all happened by mistake – a life-changing mistake.
What made it life-changing?
R: Well, I was going through a lot at the time. Two months earlier I had lost my mother. I had just decided to leave Bumble and bumble – a safe job with a salary, health insurance, benefits, etc. – for what was pretty much unknown. I was now working at a different salon where nothing was guaranteed, and I was in constant fight-or-flight mode.
But in that moment with that color, I discovered my own powers. I lost control but I dealt with it, and the end result was unlike anything I'd done before, and unlike anything seen in New York before. I suddenly realized I was this artist who could express herself guerrilla-style with placement of color. It was my tipping point.
G: It opened up the floodgates for your creativity...
R: It really did. That day gave me such an incredible high, to realize I could do whatever the fuck I want with hair as long as I kept it on the head!
G: It’s interesting, you took this huge risk leaving Bumble, and then this other huge risk with color. Your work was imitating your life – that’s art.
R: It was like I released this work into the world and it allowed me to breathe again. It allowed me to move forward. After that, I just started to do really cool hair that I had never done before. How did it feel for you?
G: It completely changed my life. If it wasn't for that hair color I would have never been invited to the event where I was introduced to Michael [Gordon]. I wouldn’t be here if not for these serendipitous events. It's crazy how one hair color changed the trajectories of two lives.
You say the red and blue was actually a mistake; how important are mistakes in your work?
G: Making mistakes can be the worst feeling ever, but they are vital. They challenge your ability to work on your feet and recover. They also challenge your perspective. Sometimes things don't turn out like you envisioned them, but then preconceived notions of "your work" broaden. I can only imagine making mistakes on someone's head though.
R: Mistakes are very valuable for me, and I believe for artists in general. For classically trained artists in any field, it's hard at first to accept but it's how you learn. In no way does that mean you devalue technique; it's quite the opposite. You need to have all the tools possible when making mistakes or purposefully breaking the rules.
G: There are so many artists who never show their mistakes, and that's really a shame. Mistakes are often a lot more compelling than finished work.
R: It's exciting when something happens unexpectedly; in my case, you blow-dry and hope for the best! There are two ways to look at it: you make a mistake and you never do it again, or you make a mistake and you do it all the time because it turned out fucking awesome!
As illustrator and colorist, you often work for demanding clients. How do you provide what they ask for without compromising artistic integrity? Have you ever outright refused to do something?
G: As you go along in your career, you start to understand who you should be turning down. You pick up on the nitpicker who doesn’t know what they want, and therefore you will never provide it. You become able to differentiate between the types of people who communicate well and relate to your work, and those who will be incredibly difficult.
R: I agree with that, but I think it comes with confidence; that's where we are in our careers now. If you're new to the game, I would tell you to say ‘yes’ to everything.
At this point I’ve made the decision to no longer use foils, but I certainly did for many, many years. It goes back to what I said before: you need to have the the toolbox necessary to do great work. That comes from tedious repetition and practice. By saying ‘yes’ I learned how to deal with people, and eventually learned who my ideal client is and what my ideal work looks like. Now I know when to say ‘no’ because I have the experience I gained from saying ‘yes’.
You're both very tactile artists. Gina, you do things on the computer, but it always starts with ink; what happens when someone asks you to go ‘back to the drawing board’?
G: I'm literally going back to the drawing board, which is also true of color. If they don't like it, it becomes a whole redo process – neither craft is ‘click and done.’ That’s why it’s so important to get all the client’s ideas and expectations out there beforehand.
R: Communication is everything. The only time I hit a roadblock is when expectations are not clearly laid out. I'm not a mind reader; we need a very open exchange before we get to work.
So at what point in a career is the time to start saying ‘no’?
R: It’s time when someone asks you to do something that you know from your core isn't going to serve them. It’s time when you’re confident because you know you are the expert. If they want something that doesn't fit their lifestyle and they aren't open to the alternative, it's time to say ‘no’.
G: For me it's specifically when people come to me with visuals and references that look nothing like what I do. They'll see my work and say "I love it! I love it!" and then send me an acrylic painting, and I’ll say, "Well sir, I do watercolors, ink and simple line drawing. I don't do fancy oils and digital what-have-you. I'm not the artist you're looking for.” And that's okay. There's someone for everyone.
Roxie, what makes Gina an ideal collaborator?
R: She's incredibly open, curious and trusting. I also know her hair intimately, as strange as that sounds. I've reached an understanding of the exact level of saturation that works best for her. She can wear any tone, but I've figured out a specific saturation that perfectly complements the way she dresses and her personality. I'm also really lucky because we work in the same space…
G: ...So when inspiration strikes! I love all of it; it’s wearable art.
R: When I think of Gina, I think of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, who says that trends always start with the cool kids. She's doing things differently and doesn't want to be like anyone else. That's essentially what "cool" is.
Once people like Gina start doing something, the people who aren't so cool but have a bit more money start to do it. Then the rich people want to do it. And then, well, everything loses its original soul.
G: Sometimes I overhear your consultations and people have such specific ideas of what they'd like: "A light pink, like Sienna Miller four years ago." It's not that their references are wrong or bad, but at any given moment we’re on to something much more modern!
So in all of the experimenting you've done, how important has New Wash been? It's probably why Gina still has hair on her head.
R: Oh god, it's the most important thing to happen in my entire life! It's the savior I worship! It has allowed me to push the boundaries of my craft and what is possible with color. It allows the hair to live and it allows my color to live. The New Wash intention is to make hair optimal. It's such a pure and true motive, but it also works. There is no way I could have done what I've done with Gina's hair if she were using shampoo.
G: Absolutely not, no way.
R: It would have all fallen out. Here I am working with bleach, which is corrosive to the hair to begin with; to shampoo with corrosive detergents afterwards is simply insane. It doubles the damage.
You mention the pure intentions behind the product, and intention is critical at a startup. What are your thoughts?
R: I love working for this company because our intention is simple. Of course we'd like to make some money, but we also just want people to have good hair.
As a start-up it's hard sometimes, it can be very frustrating, doing all of these jobs, and sometimes you ask, “What is it all for?” But then you come back to your intention: you're giving people the option to have the best hair possible…
G: ...and it makes it feel worth it even at the moments when we're unsure.
R: Giving the world good hair...