ELISABETH - BORN Taunton Massachusettes, October 1983
TOMMY - April Fool’s Day 1982
ELISABETH - YEARS BEHIND THE CHAIR 17 with a break or two in there
TOMMY - 14!
TOMMY - DAILY ESSENTIALS Coffee, dogs, wife and weights. If I’m near a beach, that too.
ELISABETH - MAGAZINE CRUSH Magazines have always been a huge source of inspiration for me. I was introduced to ID and THE FACE in the early 2000’s by my mentors. My mind was blown by the fashion and interesting people, the artists, and musicians that filled the pages. At the age of 19 those magazines really expanded my ideas about what creativity could mean. Now I don’t get that same feeling when I pick up magazines. I don’t feel that fresh surge of creativity. I never get the sense that I'm seeing something I've never seen before. I don’t know if it's because I'm old now and have seen a lot, or just a result of the internet constantly feeding us new ideas, and the constant change and movement of what's relevant. I love The Gentle Woman. The colors, styling, and layout are always perfect and I always like the people and topics they feature. Gather Journal is another good one. They tell amazing visual stories and use food as art in a really unique way. I'm resisting telling you what kind of Instagram people I follow. It's just too obvious. I want a better answer, but I don’t have one because it's all on there, and we define ourselves and our interests through it.
TOMMY - More and more, it's looking like Instagram is where I go for inspiration. Not actively, but it's always in my face, so following creative people makes sure I've got beautiful, horrible, amazing, thoughtful, new, old, creative things in front of me throughout the day.
We also get out to Cape Cod throughout the year. Just walking on the beach and watching our dogs run is inspiring. Sometimes inspiration isn’t about taking in information. Sometimes, it’s about letting it all go to give your own ideas some room.
ELISABETH - WHAT WERE YOU DOING BEFORE YOU DID HAIR? I started dying my own hair and my friends' hair in my bathroom at 13. I was into grunge, then punk, in my early teens and my friends would come over and we would bleach our hair and share our manic panic. I actually learned a lot about what to do and what to not do with a double process in those days. I also learned that if you put green over red you get brown. Basic color theory, very important.
I had a job the moment I was old enough to work. I wanted to be independent and have my own money. I also wanted to do something where I could be creative while making money. I come from a very blue collar background, and being an artist or a musician wasn’t going to offer the promise of money, so the obvious choice was hair. I went to a vocational high school where you learned a trade while getting your degree. I had my hairdressing license and was doing hair behind the chair by 17. I quit hair at 24 to move to California and go to school for jewelry design. I did that full time for four years, but when I moved to New York I got back into hair, because I needed stability and I missed the work. Designing in an office wasn’t satisfying and I missed the independence of my old career. When I got to New York I saw people painting hair and I was totally re- inspired. I didn’t know what it was or how to do it, but the challenge of learning made me feel like I was starting new.
TOMMY - I majored in History when I was at LSU. My plan was to be a History professor. After 2 years, I felt like I was being too formulaic, so I decided to take a year or two off and see what happened. Nothing happened! It was horrible. Without direction, I was making just enough money to pay bills and just paying the bills to be able to work. One afternoon I was talking to a friend of mine about all of it: how I was depressed, how I didn’t really know what I wanted and how I just needed to finish my degree so that I could have some stability. She made, what I now realize was, a joke and told me I should just go to beauty school. There have been 4 or 5 things in my life that I knew were the right thing, right away, in that moment. When I get that feeling I charge at it with everything I’ve got. I literally applied to beauty school the next day and haven’t stopped since. I never wanted to do hair. I never did hair. And I didn’t even realize it was an option. I can’t honestly remember why it felt so right, but I’m very happy it did.
ELISABETH - HOW DO YOU BUILD YOUR BRAND? One day at a time. I think aesthetically is where it began for me. The all-white had a certain feeling, and the name WHITEROOM... I don't know, I could just feel it in my bones. So we started with how the space would look, the name, how the letters look together, then how the word makes you feel. What do you assume about it? I always had a specific idea about how I wanted the space to feel. I wanted to stay away from the typical salon vibe. I want clients to feel like they are taking part in something, like an art gallery, where the vibe of the space communicates a feeling. The products we carry are also an important part of the equation. We stand behind the products we carry and believe the brands have the same goal we do: to provide the client with the best of what beauty has to offer.
A brand is a complete package, every detail matters, and it needs to tell a story, create a feeling, have a definite vibe, and offer people something they haven’t experienced. If you aren’t creating that, then you aren’t a brand. You're a room with filled people providing a service.
TOMMY - This is such a hard question for me to answer. Starting, and running, a business feels like walking backward in the dark with a flashlight. You can't see where you're going, only where you've been and you have to somehow use that information to make decisions. Metaphors aside, I think just staying authentic and true to yourself is the only way to build anything. It's scary though because things don't always turn out the way you thought, hoped or wanted them to. Authenticity is different for everyone, but you know it when you see it. You find out some things about yourself along the way, so you need to be willing to accept those things or work honestly to change them. We have a lot less control over things than we think. But we can control how hard we work. So, work really fucking hard, all the time. What else is life for, anyway?
ELISABETH - How do you conduct a successful consultation? First, I make sure the client is comfortable and feels taken care of (water, wine etc)
I look them in the eye while they tell me what they want and fully listen to their ideas before communicating my own. I like visual aids. People have different words they use to describe colors and tones and if you rely solely on words it can lead to confusion later. It's important to me that my clients know where we are going and how we are going to get there, and if it's going to take more than one sitting. No surprises. This also inspires confidence and lets the client know that you know how to achieve what they are asking for.
TOMMY - I’ve been at this so long that I can usually just see exactly what I’m going to do the moment someone sits down. Not in an egotistical way. But, you can tell if someone wants to keep their long hair, or if there’s a heavy area that needs some work. That’s not to say that there are surprises, so it’s really a process of talking to make sure we’re both on the same page. Ask people what they don’t want. That can actually be easier for some clients. The whole point is to make things easy for them, right? We are in SERVICE! Making someone feel comfortable is important. Letting them see your confidence. That gives you more wiggle room.
When I was starting out, I'd sometimes be clueless about a haircut, but I'd just fake it. Hesitation creates fear. Being open to doing something you don't want to do is important if you want to be any good. I like to give people information, but leave most of the decision making to them. You can't expect to have some grand vision for every person that sits in your chair. Sometimes the shit is boring. Be into boring. Get excited about chopping someone's hair off, if that's what they want. Be cool with a tiny trim even if their hair is way too fucking long. Guide people, but don't force them. It's more meaningful for them when they decide.
ELISABETH - Do you say no to your clients? All the time. People are always asking for unreasonable things they see online, that may be filtered or took 10 sittings to achieve. Some people have color buildup so icy white blond hair just isn’t in the cards for them this year. I try to frame my no’s as "managing expectations," and let them know what IS possible. I always have ideas for a compromise. Whether they take them or not is another story.
TOMMY - Rarely. Only if the idea isn’t grounded in reality or the client is missing information. So, if you want to chop your hair off but you have thick, fluffy, curly hair I won’t say no. But, I will let you know that it won’t necessarily look like the photo you showed me. But, I’ll also be super into it because who cares if it doesn’t look perfect!
There are probably 2 haircuts that will make you look your “best.” And probably one that will make you look awful. Who cares? Are you going to make every client get the haircut that gives them a perfectly oval face like you learned in fucking beauty school? Shit, I hope not. I love when a client comes in, really wanting bangs, but never having had them because “every stylist” has said they “wouldn’t work” or look good, or whatever. I’ll give you those bangs. I’ll give you those bangs right now. And you know what? Sometimes it’s amazing and sometimes it’s not. But, now, the client is in charge of that decision. They should be. You should work together. I’ve worked alongside stylists that refused client requests because the thing the client was asking for wasn’t cool enough for them. Fuck that. Get over yourself. You think you’re an artist? No one cares. Get into it and do the boring shit. You’ll learn something.
TOMMY - Do you have a signature approach? Haha, yeah, moving fast! I’m not a “this is the way this thing is done” kind of guy. I’ll use whatever tool or technique or idea I have to get the result I want and to get it done the fastest. Occam’s Razor all the way.
ELISABETH - Whats in your kit? Solaris bleach, Shades EQ, Framar color brushes, YS park everything else.
TOMMY - Straight razor and various shears. I don’t do set work so this is all salon stuff. Our apothecary has way too many products to keep at my station all the time, so they rotate. My always products are Sachajuan Leave In, REVERIE MILK, Leonor Greyl Baum de Bois, Christophe Robin Volume Spray with Rose Water, David Mallett Australian Salt Spray for sure. Oh, and I’ve started using REVERIE EVER more lately, but you’d be upset because I use WAY too much. Haha.
ELISABETH - Do you enjoy the work or the end product? I like the work. The end is great, but the problem solving and moving my hands is what's fun for me.
TOMMY - The work for sure. The result is just the physical manifestation of that. It's the data that guides the process. I very much like rule-based art, like some of Sol Lewitt's stuff. The input is a factor inserted into an equation/process. It generates a result. Change the equation with the same input, change the result. Change the input with the same equation, change the result. You get to see the process, in a way.
Look at any haircut, you're looking at the result. Try to guess the other two, the input and the process. Was it cut with a razor? How was the weight removed? What were the tools? Was anything over-directed? Was there a clear process, or was it more free form?
I only cut hair (I have a very hard time thinking in color) so maybe that’s all it is. The process and result are both important, since I use one to guide the other, and the other to guide the one, but my focus is totally on the work. If I could just shave heads all day, that’s what I would do.
ELISABETH - What are your thoughts on our craft industry? My thoughts on our industry have changed over the last few years. I quit hair for a while because I felt uninspired and stuck. I think the industry has evolved over the last 7 or 8 years in a great way because of things like Instagram. It's not just the same 5 names getting all the attention. There are lots of voices out there inspiring and innovating and new ideas are coming out all the time.
TOMMY - I’m afraid this will sound pretentious, but I don’t think of myself as a hairdresser. I just do hair. I have always hated, and still hate, being called an artist. At best, I’m an artisan. I take what I do seriously, but try to not take myself so seriously. We can take ourselves a little too seriously sometimes. I read an Instagram post from someone who talked about us(hairdressers) changing the world. Seriously. Making the world a better place. Really? I’m all for elevating our craft, but I think we should stay in reality. We make people look and feel better. We also provide a basic service. It doesn’t need to go beyond that. It’s already important, has been for a long time and will continue to be. So, we should just work hard and stop patting ourselves on the back. Silent pride.
ELISABETH - Who do you look to for inspiration on Instagram? @lazymom (its not what you think and if you haven’t you should check it out) @tracisak_hair (personal hair hero since right after beauty school) @sightunseen @totokaelo @milk
TOMMY - @kalen_holloman (Best collages of our generation) @somewheremagazine (Full of images that I wish I’d thought of) @strongmanmotivation (There’s no way this one won’t inspire you) @dltxii (Photography that’s so simple, but taken as a whole is mind blowing) @nilsericson (Photos with great use of contrast and shadow)
ELISABETH - Have you ever felt discouraged in your craft? Omg yes. You can get stuck in the day-in and day-out of seeing clients. It can start to feel less like a creative field and more like a service job. The reality is, it's both. The days can be long and I think the future can look tough. Once you are booked solid 5 days a week, what's next? That is still a question I want to help answer for my employees. How do you stay inspired and keep moving forward? You have to be a self-starter in that way. This job is what you make it and you need to keep ideas flowing to create the career you want. It's not always easy.
TOMMY - Absolutely. Like I said, I never thought of myself as a hairdresser and it was never even a goal of mine. It just kind of happened, I was good at it and the money was good. So, 5,6,7 years went by and I realized I hadn't finished college and had wasted some hypothetical potential. So, I guess my discouragement wasn't about the craft itself, but more just about myself. I think that's where a lot of discouragement can come from: focusing on what-ifs.
In the beginning, hair is super fun. It's all so new. But, if you're good, you get busy. And when that happens, things start to mechanize, in a way. There was a good 6-year stretch that I was doing over 2,000 cuts a year. I don't know. How much can be new in that scenario? You're grateful for the work, but things just repeat themselves. It's just a hump you have to get over, I think.
I basically just described everyone’s 20’s. Jesus.
ELISABETH - How do you stay golden? Excercise. Getting to a beach whenever I can. Loving my 2 dog friends. Trying to keep my mind moving forward instead of constantly looking back. Reminding myself it's only a moment in time.
TOMMY - Ha! I don’t! Shit sucks sometimes. Sometimes, it all fucking sucks at once. But, I’m just old enough(finally) to know that a good night’s sleep will clear most of it up. The future seems more real to me now too, so I’m a little more careful with the present than I used to be. Also, exercise.