Gary Gill is the most humble, down to earth, and straight forward person. He has developed such a strong language within his work that makes it instantly unique and recognisable, which has meant that Gary has risen to one of the most wanted hairstylists in the industry.
Words by Abra Kennedy. Gary Gill's portrait by Hanna Moon.
* This is an interview extract. Find out the full version in the Spring Summer 2019 Issue 2 *
Tell me a bit about your past Gary. How did you discover that hairdressing is what you want to do?
Well, growing up with my mum being a hairdresser I used to wait for her in the salon when I was very little. We used to live above one of her salons and she was always cutting hair at home, so I was always surrounded by it.
I was always good at drawing and making things with my hands and building things outside with wood and stuff. But I was also very badly behaved teenager. I was so bad that in fact that my parents were constantly getting calls about my bad behavior.
I cannot imagine this Gary! What did you do?
I was in this gang, and when I left school things went from bad to worse.
Are you saying that you were a rascal?
-laughs- …that's putting it mildly but it is only now I’ve got to say I learned a lot from those years. It affected the way I work nowadays, and the way I think and the way I use references more then anything ever. The understanding of certain periods of youth culture has made me able to understand hair better.
When I was about 19 years old I thought I better do something and turn this around because it was going very wrong and I wasn’t having a good relationship with my parents. I wanted to do something that they could be proud of and that I could be proud of as well.
In my heart I always knew what I wanted. I wanted to do something creative and I knew I should talk to hairdressing people. One day I went for an interview in a salon, got the job and started the next day right away. This was exactly where I was meant to be. Working with a really lovely amazing group of people all ex-Sassoons. It felt right and it was a dream although it hasn’t come easy and I really had to work very hard. But I realised I could do it and my passion really started from there.
…and you became very successful! I would like to ask you something about your reputation as anyone who has worked with you would confirm that you are approachable despite your success. The attitude towards your team is always positive and kind. How do you do that?
How to work with people and how to be within large groups of people I learned the most from my mum. She worked with me in our salon for 18 years whichwas a really lovely relationship. People often asked how I could you work with your mum every day, It was the best thing ever! My mum is amazing, she’s always had my back, made lunch for me every day and really looked after my best interest, which is wonderful. She was a very good colorist and very good at putting hair up. When I started doing session work she taught me old school up dos and other skills I hadn’t mastered yet.
She was a really good teacher but only later in life I realised how good of a mentor she was. From being a young, arrogant, hairdresser who thought he knew it all, I became a mature person within the industry. She was amazing at having a good impact on me and on other people she worked with. She always used to say that 90 percent of success is having a good attitude. It was the most valuable lesson for me in how to get on in the industry. At hairdressing events people would always say "Hi Gary, how is your mum?". It's made me realise how good she was with people and how important that is.
You have been representing yourself, up until two years and a half ago.
Yes and I enjoyed it. I liked having that complete control of what I was doing. When I decided to do hair only I realised, that I needed to represent myself differently. I made a very conscious decision, stopped working with a lot of people and cut lots of ties.
Also I really, really focused on how I wanted my work to look. I channeled all my efforts to work with the sort of people that were interested in the output. For me and my character it was very important to have a direction and a point of view. Being a creative, you are only going to start creating an aesthetic if you work with people where their point of view aligns with yours. I mean it´s a very crowded market place and unless you have a point of difference you’re gonna blend in with everyone else. Considering my age I didn’t have time to mess about and end up in a middle-of-the-road kind of situation where I wasn't really saying anything creatively.
I became very specific about what I wanted so that the message was continuously the same with any picture that I did. At that point, I was very lucky that I started working with photographers like Jamie Hawkesworth, Johnny Dufort, Harley Weir etc etc, just as they were blowing up. That moment I totally understood that this was the world that I wanted to feel. This was the output and the aesthetic that I wanted to be associated with.
Good people like Gosha Rubchinskiy whose first show I did in Paris, with Gosha I met fellow Russian Lotta Volkova she got me involved in Vetements. Because of that Demna Gvasalia got me to do Balenciaga and we all know how that ends up -laughs-. Those guys validated me as a creative and what I had to offer. All of a sudden my aesthetic came together and things fell into place. It was by luck but I do believe that you create your own luck. I manufactured that process. I have been turning down a lot of work that didn’t find into the aesthetic I wanted to create. It proved to work very well which I am happy about.
Once you said to me that each person has a certain strength, that not everyone is good at everything. What would you say is yours?
I think one of my best skills is to have good ideas. I don't think I'm very technical hairdresser. For some people it's very important to be technical and I understand that. But I work on an idea really by the skin of my teeth sometimes. I don’t advocate not practicing things. When I am doing a hair story where I have a ridiculous idea and I have to find out if that idea is going to work I practice it. Although sometimes I’m trying something for the first time on set.
This way to work is a little bit dangerous but I just feel that if I approached my job just technically I don’t think I would have such good ideas. I think its about having that idea and having that confidence. In an ideal world it is good to have a balance of it both. Along the road I ended up teaching myself lots of things but I would say I am quite a strong hair cutter. With all that and Sassoon and Toni and Guy morphed together I have a quite strong technical background. But it has developed into something else. I cut more instinctively now and when you’re cutting hair in a session environment you have to cut a lot of corners. You have to cut quickly and not always precisely.
London has always been a good place for referencing…
Yes.. For example the show I did last season for APC where the boys were really youth culture inspired and I really felt at home in that environment in terms of creating. The Artistic Director Suzanne Koller, who is about the same age as me, (even though she looks much younger) wanted it to be inspired by the rockabilly of the eighties. She said to me "You know about that Gary, don’t you?"
I think a lot of fashion editors, as they know I am a bit older, know I will have the association by memory. When Susan said rockabilly, she knew I would associate that with the London version from the eighties with its roughness and not the fifties version.
But a lot of my ideas comes from photography art and art in general. I love West African photography for instance. Now that we’re sitting in my living room we can see this Malik Sidibe picture which was taken in the sixties or seventies. I see so many amazing things and so much beauty in that kind of photography. I think a lot of my referencing comes from there too.
Is that a reason why your work has some kind of rawness and realness ?
I'd love to say that if my work was to described as anything it would have authenticity, honesty and anything that could be real. I've said this in other interviews and I stand strongly by this that I’m not particularly interested in glamour, Its not a strong enough point of view for me. This is my own personal thing. I feel like kids and so many other people really have got the pressure to look a certain way. They have to look perfect, perfect skin and bodies, a perfect face shape, otherwise they are not valid. Without over intellectualizing fashion or hair but if I am going to be involved in fashion and beauty I need to know that I can hand on heart be able to say I am doing it in a responsible way.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I think if I was to have a legacy at all I had rather be known for having a good impact on the next generation rather then what my own work was like. Not necessarily skill wise but a certain mentality and attitude. That is so important to me.
You don't have to be an arsehole to be successful in this industry. You just have to be a hard worker. The new generation of photographers, art directors, stylists, agency bookers, they are different. They are, because it doesn’t work like in the old days anymore. They are very inclusive as there is no room for egos. The business is too competitive and I feel that it is breeding a better business that we work in. Those kind of eighties and nineties attitude do not fly anymore. We are entering a new time and there are so many things going on in the industry and other media industries that people don’t put up with all that behavior anymore.
I think the new generation of creative’s are proving that to be the case. The newgen are, I think, a nicer set of people. Its very encouraging and I believe it is good for our business. If l had a little part in having had a good influence on how people think about what they do and the way they approach things, rather then it was all about me or how my work was like, I like that thought very much. To me that would be a really good thing to go away with.
Read Gary's interview in the Spring Summer 2019 - Issue 2. Get your copy here.