- Edition 7, Chapter 12 -
by Wes Sharpton (as told to Alexander Brebner)
I think working with curls starts with a question: Do you like volume or not? That dictates where I can go with a haircut. If someone gets excited about volume, then I’m really free, because once you release the weight of curls, they get more expansive. But, for people who like a leaner look, length adds weight and pulls hair closer to the head. So that’s the first thing that you have to discover.
It’s a real tightrope seeing how curl responds, and it’s a game of engagement because of that factor. Sometimes you take off a little bit and it springs up in a massive way, and other times you take off the same amount with no change. Each individual reacts differently, and my approach is to make sure that things don’t get ‘shelf-y,’ and that hair lands seamlessly so you don’t see layers, but you see a consistent distribution of weight.
When cutting curlier, even frizzier textures that might fall into the ’fro category, traditionally you would start with hair dry, pick or stretch it all out, and then trim around the edges. That’s fine, but to make it feel a bit more modern, don’t look for something so spherical and perfect. Let it be in its natural state, and pick up little clumps of curls formed together, and work around the head. Maybe it will be a round shape, but not perfectly round, and somewhat erratic. I think of creating something like a cloud, little soft pieces, spaces in between, transparency.
Products have changed everything. I used to have conversations with curly people about two hours of combing, four different kinds of combs, super-extreme. Other people just blew it out straight because of the control factor; it’s not something they enjoyed doing, but at least it was consistent and predictable. But New Wash has changed the conversation to be about not stripping hair and having curl perform in a really great way.
It’s also about understanding when to use Hair Balm and when to use Dressed Up. It all depends: Some people love the effects of humidity, some don’t. Are you trying to draw more moisture into the hair and make it more expansive? Use Hair Balm. Or, is it better to have a protective coating? Use Dressed Up; even if you let it air dry, it’s going to help create a humidity barrier. So it’s a seasonal question as well.
I find the conversation about curl really refreshing because we’re breaking free of something. I used to work at a very busy salon with rows and rows of hairdressers. And I remember at the beginning, not one person walked out the door without flat ironed, dead-straight, hanging hair. Everybody. It was just that moment in time, what was happening on the runways, and it was perceived as the modern look. But, what we’re seeing now is this idea of the individual, that how you are naturally is amazing. What happens if straight becomes an option as opposed to an obligation? It’s a different character, a different mood, not a social requirement. It’s not the Stepford Wives of hair, right? So I like that people are saying, “Hmm... screw it, this is how I am.” And I think that means a return to the great haircut. People are trying to get a haircut that they can rely on, not a tool to turn it into something else, which for me is even more exciting.
As an apprentice, I was blowing out and styling all types of hair, curly and straight. I learned how to handle it all because I was working with a diverse group of hairdressers with diverse clientele. We’re really lucky in New York because it’s a really big melting pot and I got the opportunity to learn how to work with all sorts, and build experience over time – a really big advantage.
I think as hairdressers become more diverse in our work, we don’t feel the need to be so niche. It’s no longer a conversation of specialization, it’s a broad understanding, and a feeling of comfort and competence to execute. That’s why I think social media is so amazing. You can represent yourself and say “This is the kind of work I do.” You get to curate the kind of clientele that you want. I think that’s powerful, on both ends.
Hairdressers have more access to information as never before. The world has became an open source of education: Google, YouTube, Hairbrained. Then, it’s up to you to find someone to practice your craft on. Find that cute girl with a texture that intimidates you who will let you experiment. Just say, “Hey, I like your look, and I’m working on this. Do you wanna hang out for a few hours and I’ll give you a haircut?” And then you get to explore and perfect something. I think getting rid of the money equation can create a conversation of openness and discovery. If they’re the type of person who says, “If you don’t cut it, I’ll probably just do it myself,” they have no attachment, and you have nothing to lose.