Beauty News NYC, May 2011 Full Unedited Interview

In May of 2011, I was interviewed by Patricia Wersinger, a freelance beauty writer and artist, for Beauty News NYC. She and I met when she came into the salon to try out our Valentine’s Day Shine treatment. She published a wonderful article based on our interview. Below is the unedited version of my answers.

1. Based on your 30-year experience as a stylist, what are the trends that you have observed and which do you think have stuck?

I love to spot trends as they arise in the general population. I’ve travelled to all the key cities in Europe and I’ve seen the trends coming from the teenage kids hanging out in the square, the young people in the club scene, the fashionistas out shopping or just out for a stroll. I also see trends arising as a response to world events: cultural, socio-economic and socio-political. Hair trends and fashion trends are inseparable.

The trend to wear black was not always a trend. I saw it arise after the AIDS epidemic reared its ugly head in the early 80’s. I feel it was a response to all the lives we lost as a result of that horrible crisis. Before that, black was usually just for funerals. But in the 80’s, people went to a lot of funerals of loved ones lost too soon.

Another socio-political hair trend was inspired by Ronald Reagan. Men never wore their hair short before the 80’s. In fact, it was considered kind of radical when men came to me and wanted that old-style barbershop look. And that happened after Reagan, a Republican, conservative president got elected in the early 80’s. And it seems to have stuck. Barbershop-looks for men are still considered hot. Although; long hair on guys is making a big comeback. Hopefully that signifies a change in the swing of the pendulum from conservative to a more liberal, freethinking society.

In my opinion, Europe, in general takes its fashion inspiration from the designers, established and up coming. America, on the other hand, takes its lead from Hollywood movies and movie stars, television and television stars. The early 90’s style, after all the 80’s “big hair”, was taken over by Jennifer Anniston. EVERYBODY wanted to have her hair. I mean everybody. No, really. I got to the point one day in the salon around the end of the decade, after doing the same haircut on every client, I just had to say NO! I simply could not do another “Rachel”.

There have been so many trends that I can’t count them all. I’ll tell you a few of my favorites and the ones I hate.

There was a period that lasted way too long in the first part of the new Millennium as a result, in my opinion, of the fitness revolution and the baby boom. Every woman seemed to want to have a carefree style that would look sexy and perfect with no effort, but they still wanted to be able to “pull it back”. Impossible. I hated that trend.

That trend came to a quick halt, though, when Katie Holmes and Victoria Beckham cut their hair into the sexy new version of the graduated bob. It was exciting and refreshing to see women actually wear a haircut again, rather than a long flowing style that dominated the new millennial decade. During that period we cut a lot of hair! Suddenly, everyone was cutting all their hair off! The graduated, layered bob took Manhattan by storm.

Through it all, the Victoria Secret model hair was a look that was coveted by many women. Long flowing locks, wavy, loose curls, subtle highlights, “beach-y waves”, even the newly omnipresent “ombre” highlights were all trends that were originated by the sexy Victoria Secret girls. These trends are here to stay for some time to come.

2. In what direction is hair care heading now? Do you feel any changes?

Hair care products are going through a lot of changes these days. Through the years, the type of protein that was used in professional hair care products has evolved. First it was animal protein. Then companies like Aveda started using botanical proteins. Then we saw synthetic polymers instead of protein. Human hair keratin is the protein of choice in modern products as well as micro proteins, Ceramides and nano-technology proteins. Science and technology are not just for computers. Professional hair care products really do work better now than they ever have as a result of all the research and development.

With the advent of the Brazilian Keratin Treatment and the Brazilian Blowout, lots of new hair care products are being introduced with no sodium, no sulphates, no phosphates and no paraben. All this is to help preserve the longevity of the keratin smoothing treatments and to help the environment.

There is a big push by the industry now towards all natural, organic products because of consumer demands for these types of products. There are some new lines like DermOrganics that seem to have mastered this demand.

Another direction I see hair care products heading is to jump on the anti-aging bandwagon. The scalp and hair does age, just like the skin ages. Redken, for example, has introduced a new lines of products called “Time Reset” to deal specifically with the problems relating to aging hair, such as limpness, dullness, poor growth, dryness and lifelessness. We’ve seen a difference in some of our clients’ hair after one use.

Another huge trend in hair care products has been created by one company: Moroccan Oil. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a product become so popular so fast! It is an amazing line of products that really delivers on its promises. The unique ingredient that this company was the first (and for a while the only company) to use in hair care products is Argan Oil from the nut of the Argan tree, which is found in Morocco. Now you can find lots of product companies adding it to their products or whole new copycat lines of products.

3. What are your favorite looks for the next season? (Fall 2011)

A deep side part, a center part, braids, top knots, low chignons, the retro pinup girl, copper-red hair color and the long layered bob are my current favorites for next season’s hair trends. 

4. What is your personal philosophy for beauty and how do you explain your 30-year success?

My personal philosophy is that beauty comes from within. It is a spiritual quality. It enhances the world we live in. It seems to be superficial, but the pursuit of beauty has preoccupied entire civilizations from the beginning of time.

When it comes to physical beauty, I believe each of us has to discover how to enhance our best features and learn how to minimize our beauty limitations. Studying classical art, painting and portraiture, we can see that through the years, beauty ideals constantly change. It seems that all different “types” have been venerated, admired and adored. We don’t need to limit ourselves or try to fit into a certain type to be considered beautiful. It’s all about doing the best we can with what we have to work with and letting our true inner beauty shine.

We all have good qualities and weaknesses. When I look at someone during a consultation, I always see the beauty in them first. I analyze their best features and advise the client how we can enhance their natural beauty with the right cut, color and makeup.

To really explain my 30 years of success in the beauty industry, I’d have to write a book. There are so many things that go into it. One of the most important things to staying successful in a ever-changing industry is to try to anticipate the changes and stay one step ahead. We have to always keep changing and growing. Continuing your education is also very important. It helps to keep your skills sharp and your perspective fresh.

I have an apprenticeship program in the salon where I teach my assistants all aspects of hair and makeup. And I conduct monthly workshops for my entire staff. Teaching keeps me at the top of my game. It forces me to explain everything I’m doing and why.

Specializing in color has been a great help in surviving through the years. Color clients are generally more loyal and more regular. Once we get your color right, you are much less likely to stray. And nobody likes their roots to show. So you usually book your next appointment when you are paying your bill.

In order to have stayed in business for more than 20 years, The Vince Smith Hair Experience has always followed our mission. Always give the best customer service and the best quality work. Always give a thorough consultation to determine the client’s needs, wishes and desires and to discuss their lifestyle, and real possibilities based on their natural hair texture, the amount of time they spend styling their hair and their budget. Lending an empathetic ear during the hair experience is part of going the extra mile to make sure our clients always leave not only looking better, but feeling better as well. A hip vibe, great music and a glass of wine doesn’t hurt either.

Staying current with the latest trends in fashion, cutting, styling, hair color, makeup and hair products is part of our mantra. We only use the best products in the salon.

Our philosophy for hair color is to use the most gentle products and techniques to always preserve the integrity of the hair. Healthy, shiny hair is always in fashion!

These are some of the principles that have contributed to my longevity in the hair and beauty industry.

5. Your salon is right next to the site of the former World Trade Center and you witnessed first hand the disaster on September 11th, 2001. How did you handle the crisis and how did you contribute to the humanitarian crisis?

Fortunately, neither my staff nor myself were at the salon when the disaster struck. And there was no physical damage to the salon, even though we are only 3 short blocks away. We were the first business to reopen in Battery Park City 2 weeks after. The entire neighborhood was a DOJ crime scene for 3 months. The first people we saw on our first day back, after the 3 security check points we had to pass through, were Red Cross counselors giving bottles of water and Teddy bears. I took one of the counselors aside to ask him what they do at the end of their day to make sure they don’t take everyone’s personal traumas home with them, knowing that all of our clients had been traumatized and most were forced out of their homes.

Being a hair salon, our clients tell us everything. I didn’t want my staff to unknowingly take all the pain home with them. The Red Cross arranged for the head of their psychology department to come to the salon that day. He gave us some training in handling post traumatic stress disorder and some really useful tips on how to get through our days without taking on the burden of all the horrible stories we heard. Then, through Project Liberty, I was able to arrange for a trauma specialist to visit the salon twice a week for 2 years to talk to my staff and my clients to help us handle the aftermath. Many of our clients were in a kind of denial regarding their own trauma. New Yorkers want to believe they can handle anything. And for the most part, they can. However, this was more than any human should be forced to witness.

I personally lost 36 clients and friends that day. Dealing with that much loss in an instant was really overwhelming for all of us. My staff and I really bonded as a team to help each other through it. We had regular group meetings/counseling sessions so we could share our experiences and compare the stories that we were hearing. We helped each other emotionally cope. We heard some horrific stories of what our clients who live and work in the area had to go through that day. The salon became a sort of crisis counseling center for a while. It was really gratifying, though, to know that just by being there, doing what we do, we were helping all our clients and the community heal and move forward. Hair was never so important.

To handle my own emotional reaction to the loss, I turned back to my musical past, singing and writing music. I wrote “The Brothers: A Tribute to the Twin Towers”. I performed it at a fundraising event that I produced to benefit the other small business owners in Lower Manhattan that were affected by the aftermath. I was able to raise enough money through ticket and CD sales and through corporate sponsorship to give two $5000 grants to small businesses in the area. I have copies of the CD available in the salon (free with any service) for anyone who is interested in owning a copy of the song. I am starting to plan an event to commemorate the 10th Anniversary. Stay tuned for more details.