- Edition 2, Chapter 1 -
Tony Kelley first trained as a haircutter in Minnesota – as a perfect way to make money throughout design school. In the late nineties, he decided to move from “far-too-cold” Minnesota to the “dangerously creative” Lower East Side of Manhattan. After studying industrial design, he decided he much preferred the life of a dedicated hairdresser. He has since refined his eye over two decades as a prolific editorial stylist, and more recently Hairstory’s lead styling talent.
There were lots of lakes and cornfields. I was a cub scout and I had 3 little brothers. We hung out in the woods quite a bit. We built forts and raced go-carts; we skied.
As a kid I channelled my mother and mirrored what she would do to her hair. We would go to her salon together. When I was 11 my mom booked me an appointment, and while I was getting highlights the stylist thought I was a girl. The whole time I was too embarrassed to tell them I was a boy. Now it's funny, but I’m pretty sure it was a lot of years of therapy.
I liked the idea of the lifestyle of an artist. I also liked writing. My mom says the first thing I ever told her was that I wanted to be a nice idiot, which I think I achieved.
I went to beauty school before I moved to New York as a plan B. I always planned to go to college, and was set to study at the Art institute of Chicago, but my financial aid fell through. So rather than wait around for a year I decided to go to hair school. I went to the Aveda Institute in Minneapolis and it was very different back then. Horst [Rechelbacher] was still there, and the idea of organic products was still new, and I was really interested in it.
I moved here when I was 18 to study Industrial Design at the New School. My focus was package design and furniture. I started working while in school doing book layouts and I hated it. I very quickly realized it wasn’t for me.
I worked in a tiny salon in the West Village, and like most people new to the city I also worked at a bar. I did coat check at a huge nightclub Friday to Monday, and worked in the salon the rest of the week for about 8 years. The salon later moved to the Lower East Side, which was really changing. That led me to the emerging side of fashion and young designers. I started doing fashion shows.
At a certain point I fell out of love with New York, so I took a break. In 2007 I moved to Portland and helped open an Aveda school, writing the curriculum and training the educators.
It was a short break. I moved back right after the economy fell apart and it was really difficult. I interviewed at a few salons and eventually ended up at Cutler Salon.
I was Shay’s second, then first assistant, and learned so much about wigs. I was doing fashion shows through Cutler and I ended up at a Vogue Magazine event where Guido was doing the hair with Redken. The concept was 10 different designers; Guido was creating a unique hairstyle for each and I ended up on the Prada Team. We styled exaggerated 3-foot-high bouffants. Guido noticed my work and asked me to come back and help on NY fashion week, and I ended up joining his team in Europe. I didn’t have a lot of hairstyling experience, so I learned so much from him. I joined the team full time for 4 years.
I’m kind of a workaholic and I was doing clients at Cutler between working with Shay and Guido. Michael noticed my shoes and we had a really nice conversation. One day Michael asked if I would help on a photo shoot. He was really interested in my opinion for the overall vision. It was the first time someone had given me a platform for my voice and creative vision.
I broke my ankle and I didn’t work for about 5 months. Michael and I stayed in touch and I was still on crutches the first time I went to Hairstory Studio. I was ready to move on from assisting and focus on my own career.
Michael asked me to be a part of what he was trying to do with the product line. From the beginning it was about defining which products editorial hairdressers depend upon. Most of us have very few in our kit – maybe 7 – that we rely on. Michael wasn’t interested in all the extras. There are plenty of products on the market that don’t work; the idea is to not add to that list.
Undressed is my favorite. It went through many versions. It had to be the right texture and finish – not gummy or sticky, and a powdery, dry, cool texture – without using aerosols or synthetic fragrance proved to be very tricky. After a lot of back-and-forth with the lab and about 20 submissions we got it right, or so we thought. We ended up mixing two products together in the studio and it was perfect.
I don’t have muses the way Wes has muses. I like creating characters. Editorially, models are like a canvas to create a vision on. I see it differently from working with clients to enhance their look; working on set is creating a visual story.
There are few things in life that are truly challenges. So many people don’t like their jobs or what they do. Hairstory is an opportunity to do so many things. The team is a collective that encompasses so many different areas, creative minds and analytical minds, and I like when those two things cross over.
I can’t tell you what my most favorite food is, but I can tell you my least: Bananas. The texture is like a thousand worms.