Nicolas Jurnjack has been part of the industry for over 30 years and has shot with the most famous photographers and models in the world. He speaks about the industry with brutal honesty and with all the love someone can have for his profession.
› What does Hairstyling mean nowadays?
Well, if you ask me what I think about the perception of the profession of hairstyling today, I am afraid to say that hairstyling has become very normal. The work of a hairstylist these days is no longer for customers who want a really specific job done or for clients who want to have a style designed only for their brands.
Until maybe 15 years ago, you were going to a hair shop looking for a particular look. You were going to that hair brand for that specific look. You were being loyal to that hairstylist, because that one was the master of that type of hairstyle. Today all that is gone. Until the early 21st century, a hairstylist really had to go over a process, had to be a master on the field and had to have highly advanced technical skills.
Hairstyling, glam, personality, working around the face as a whole, considering eyebrows, the size of the eyes, the nose, the shoulders, the neck... All this approach today is no longer a devotion for the elite of our profession. The world of cosmetics, the hair industry, the world of hair salons has widened its image much more. It became fashionable to work in a hair shop. Getting an introduction into the fashion industry became an opportunity for hairdressers to explore much deeper, what is great in general.
However, what happened afterwards, due to the Internet and the social media, is that basically everyone nowadays can learn how to, and that has hugely raised the global level of hairstyling.
Hairstyling has more sense than haircutting, so now we are seeing a big shift from professional hairstylists and hairdressers from hair shops versus Internet VIP's.
So to me, unfortunately, hairstyling has become a little bit of a supermarket, where you can find on a shelf of 500 possibilities whatever you want at an accessible price. Whatever your profile is, you will find yourself in this huge salad of all colours imaginable, where you can't even see the difference.
Is hairstyling for fashion a lifestyle?
Oh yes, it totally is. Freelancing, not having a boss, being able to create whatever you want and whatever you like and building your knowledge up with patience, if you have any, is definitely a lifestyle. You get to travel to places you would never ever see otherwise. It's amazing when it's winter and you get a job somewhere with coconut trees, where you can bathe in the hot ocean after working in December. When you get to work with a great team and a great model, you create something beautiful together, you get delicious food in a beautiful hotel and get payed shedloads of money on top, it is a lifestyle, big time!
› Is there a dark side?
Addiction is. You think it's never going to stop. But it will at some point for everyone. It's impossible to stay at the top forever. Keeping up with it eternally is not possible. Besides, this lifestyle creates egos beyond imagination. When you are young and successful, everyone kisses your feet and you are elated by that, of course. When you fall, life sucks as if there was no tomorrow. Some people can get very depressed and fall into alcohol or drug abuse. But everybody goes through cycles where no one asks for you. Everybody. Today you are the star of the industry and tomorrow you are gone. This is the harsh reality behind this lifestyle.
The irony is that it's all a mirage, though. It's a fake. We create glam, we create a dream on a photo that is not real. We create a dream that doesn't exist. When you create that dream, sometimes you end up believing it. You believe that this is the only thing in your life that counts. But it's not. Not at all.
› Was there a point in your career where you felt like this?
Yes, but people would not stop requesting me to work. Instead of that, I had a massive burnout in 2001 from a 10 year nonstop. It happened after 11th September. That day we were shooting not far from the Towers. I used to be signed with the biggest agency in the world at that time and I was living in New York, but I couldn't keep up with relationships because I was never at home.
When the Twin Towers collapsed, I suddenly saw myself without a family, without a life outside of work. That moment I understood that everything can stop within seconds and I cracked. I disappeared more or less for a year and a half.
› What brought you back?
Creativity and love for the artistry did. Love for hair, love for touching hair, my devotion to create and express something with hair. It was my thing. I could express with it what I couldn't say with words. I was very surprised that I was welcomed again. I guess the industry only took me back because I was working from the love I had for my profession. A couple of years later, around 2006, I had another crack, though. At that time, I considered the industry had become a bit toxic. There were a lot of changes, it was the beginning of the Internet and suddenly there were not only a hundred people working, but a thousand. Pressure increased and there were new rules. It became a lot of bullshit.
If I had been a business person, I would have stopped right there, at the top of my career and started a brand or a chain of hair shops. But I didn't understand that I could have created a major business with what my hands were able to do. Doing hair was filling up my heart. It is in my DNA. After coming back from this second break, I knew I had to change something.
› What bullshit do you mean and what did you change?
In the early new century, I saw a big shift happening in the industry. Young people with a lot of attitude were skipping the hierarchy for the wrong reasons. All of a sudden, a 23-year-old stylist would dare telling a superstar photographer with a high profile and a lot of experience how to shoot. They would try and teach me how to do the hair. When I started, 10 or 15 years before, this would have never been possible. People would have to learn first and work their way up naturally by building their careers bit by bit without skipping steps.
Fashion will always be the same, the way to shoot will always be the same. No one is reinventing the wheel. It should be fun, we should make people enjoy it, make them dream. Instead, arrogant behaviour became trendy. It annoyed me so much that I put up a list. I was not interested at all in going back to the pressure I was coming from and to deal with all that nonsense. As one of the many stories I could tell…
Once I worked with a very young freelance stylist for Vogue. A super famous British photographer, someone who really knows how to do his job, shot it. There was a moment when he asked me about something concerning one image and something he wasn't quite keen about yet. He asked me if I had the same feeling, so we started discussing what the reason for that could be. We were talking about the image in front of his monitor, about the exposure and the background. Suddenly the 24-year-old stylist came up to us, putting herself physically between us, and stopping the conversation, she said: “Since when is a hairstylist supposed to have an opinion?” As you can imagine, we were a bit surprised. The photographer and I knew each other quite well and have worked many times together. He turned to her asking if she knew who she was talking to. She went on saying she didn't care as it wasn't the hairstylists' job to discuss imagery. The photographer said to her: “I am asking him, because Nico has 30 years of experience with photography and has worked with all the best photographers in the world. He knows probably as much about lights as I do. I am asking him if he has the same feeling as me, concerning the background and the type of light”. She wouldn't back off and told me to go and check the hair or whatever.
I put her name on my list and said to my agent: “This one - never ever again”. No matter how big or famous a stylist or a photographer would be, I didn't give a shit anymore. I would only work where I knew I could have fun and my patience remained untouched.
Have you seen anything significant for the industry lately that has been transmitted again?
I'm going to talk about a hairdresser who, to be honest, is not my all time favourite, even though I've never ever had an issue with him. I am going to talk about Guido.
Last season on the couture shows, he did a massive hair show for Valentino. He gave something big for the whole hair industry. I really hope it was his decision. Someone as powerful as him could set an example by saying: “Enough with mediocrity, enough with all that grey bullshit! Let us bring back eccentricity, something glorious and awesome!”.
It doesn't matter if the look is coming from the 60's and isn't something completely new. He has brought back something for hundreds of hairstylists - the dream of having fun with hair again, the feeling of being back and creating again. For that, I just can say “I take my hat off to you, man”. That was exactly the feeling of the standard during the 90's on the runways. At that time, designers wouldn't expect anything less than that. With this show, Guido cut the wires, surpassed the boundaries and gave back our world the licence to re-believe that fashion and the celebration of femininity doesn't always have to be based on a minimalist point of view.
I am convinced that he has given back inspiration to many hairdressers. The desire of doing hair, the desire to play and the desire of not being limited by the establishment. Even though the Big Hair has been done only on half of the girls, maybe as a precaution or whatever, no one was talking about the slick back look. Everyone talked and posted about the eccentricity, which shows, in my opinion, that people have been waiting for something glorious to happen again. He presented what fashion always used to be. I hope the industry understands that it doesn't have to be always nothing and reminds what it should be about - fun!
› Which show did you have the most fun with?
I guess my answer will be surprising. It was not a fashion show, but a show I did in 1999. It was something completely unimaginable. In the mid 90's there was a Brazilian designer in France who was super trendy, called Ocimar Versolato. I did his shows in Paris for a couple of seasons. One day a PR in Brazil called me and said Ocimar was doing a charity show in Sao Paulo with 25 of the most famous women in the country. There were actresses, singers, a TV presenter and a weather girl who was a mega Star in Brazil. The 400 richest people in South America were invited. You have to know Ocimar was Brazil's Yves Saint Laurent in the 90's, he was celebrated as a mega Star there and his clothes were worn by all the famous women in the country.
It was the craziest show I have ever done, an indescribably big event. It was shown all over the continent again and again for two weeks. There were old, young and super famous women. I was told they would decide what they wanted. Ocimar said he couldn't dictate them how to look. He wanted them to feel good, to be happy and to get whatever look they wanted. Honestly, I have never ever seen so much extravaganza and jet set - it was insane! They came with drivers, bodyguards, paparazzi and even snipers. Each one of them had their own section with their drinks freshly made and ready and everything around labeled with their names, even slippers for the pedicure.
So we are at the fitting and the first one came in saying she'd always dreamed of having an mega big afro hair like almost her own size, about 2 metres by one metre! She said: “you know, like a sun shining around me, not like a big afro 70's pop art. I want it ten times bigger”. Another one came and said she wanted to look like a bird. I asked what kind of bird: “Like a bird of paradise, crazy big colourful and lots of red!”. Another one wanted to look like Grace Kelly, the biggest chignon with diamonds on the top and on the edge of the fringe. Another wanted extensions in black and red all the way down to her back. And so each one came and demanded something extra big, glam and sexy with Ocimar's clothes as tight to the body as possible. Even though I have done shows for Gaultier, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Kenzo or Nina Ricci, this one was absolutely unique.
The Carnival in Brazil is a big cultural event, but celebrities would never attend due to security reasons, so they wanted to look bigger and more spectacular than anyone at the Carnival. Being a part of this show was magic for them. When they stepped out of the curtain one by one and walked the 20 steps down to the runway, the stage was theirs. They took their time to celebrate themselves touching their hair, moving slow, leaving the runway, hugging some of the guests they knew, having a sip of champagne, all that followed by the spotlights. It was out of this world.
They were walking these couture dresses boasting total naturalness, with the craziest big hair, extravagant and beautiful, but completely out of modernity or fashion. I will remember for the rest of my life the screaming, the crying, the clapping, the whole hysteria of these 400 richest people from the continent who donated millions of dollars. And for me, it was the most massive hair show, beyond anything I have ever done. And these ladies were wearing it. It was a once in a lifetime thing.
› What do you think about vegan and organic products?
Considering the condition of Earth nowadays and the things that have changed due to global warming, I would say that the future of our planet, our humanity and also of our arts should be heading towards vegan and organic.
We'd never had summers with heatwaves that could last for months. There had never been as many lung diseases and breathing difficulties, and so on. As to the reality we are at, I think not going organic would be nonsense. We would help ourselves in the long run big time. In our profession, there are cases in which you cannot exchange certain products (yet). Some of them just work fantastically for our purposes. As session hairstylists, we rather depend on these products, because they are far advanced in their field. Organic and vegan products unfortunately cannot provide that yet.
Laboratories are small compared to the big brands and to develop a much more advanced technology and quality for organics, you would need the best engineers, lots of research and a lot of money. For them, it is a constant struggle, as well as fighting against the billion dollar chemical distribution businesses.
Companies with highly developed products obviously have a massive interest in their firms not to collapse. So, it is very hard for organic companies to hold up against that. However, the big ones such as L'Oréal, P&G and all the others would have the capacity to provide the best organic and vegan products anyone has worked with, as they obviously have the best engineers and technicians and the best laboratories.
The only thing is that if they put all their money into research and development towards organic and vegan, they would kill their business foundation, which permits them to have an empire. As they have billions of people addicted to their products, the transition would still take ages. Even though there are some chemical products I hope won't disappear anytime soon, I am sure every hairstylist could exchange at least 5 or 6 products in their kit and keep the same quality. Without jeopardising our work, it would show the big companies we are ready for a change.
Words by Abra Kennedy.
All Hair Credits by Nicolas Jurnjack.
Complete Nicolas Jurnjack interview is featured in Fall Winter 2018 - Issue 1. Get your copy here.