How To Become a Great Editorial Hairstylist - Sam Villa

How To Become a Great Editorial Hairstylist

The editorial community in our industry is actually really small, so we make it a point to reach out and get to know the players. At Sam Villa, the tribe is constantly cruising for content and talent we can align with to grow both professionally and personally. We all have different skill sets, why not utilize each other to move forward?

Geneva Cowen, Artistic Director for Sam Villa: As the Artistic Director for Sam Villa it is critical to keep my finger on the pulse to create and upgrade the brand vision. On one of my late night cruises, I happened upon Steven Robertson.

Steven is one cool kid, he's in the mix and has created a movement - he shoots 20 times a year and even teaches a class on photo shoots. Not to mention, his work gets noticed, he's been a NAHA winner twice before and was a Finalist for the 2014 NAHA Hairstylist of the Year (scroll down to view Steven's 2014 NAHA collection)...and he's only been doing hair for 7 years!! It all started when his MySpace page caught my eye, then I stalked him.

We really think Steven is someone you should know about, so enjoy the interview, as I did!

Geneva: You were a Finalist for NAHA Hairdresser of the Year, congratulations! How does it feel?

Steven: As artists, I think we critique our work harshly and the flaws I saw in my collection made me feel like the collection wasn't going receive a nomination, so I was really surprised!

Geneva: How long have you been in the hair industry and how did you decide you wanted to be a hair stylist?

Steven: This is my seventh year in the industry. Hair school was essentially pulled out of a hat of "trade" jobs that I could learn that would help me pay my way through college. That thought process quickly went away when I did my first photo shoot and it was published in a JPMS trade magazine. I thought I was so fancy!

Geneva: How do you feel the editorial hairdressing community is evolving over the last 3 years? What changes do you see esthetically happening in photography that is impacting the industry?

Steven: Photoshop is taking over the world and it's really a double edge sword. Digital photography has allowed our industry to create feeling, imagination and fantasy in our collections, without having the cost of building an entire set to do so, which is great. Yet with Photoshop, I sometimes find that this generation of hairdressers works less on their technical abilities in editorial work because Photoshop can add that extra tweak, refinement, polish, fullness, line or essentially whatever you want. So now there is a HUGE gap in discipline between our more mature industry icons who had to make hair look EXACTLY how they wanted it to look to photograph it and the current rising stars who are entering the editorial world with Photoshop at their fingertips. My hat's off to those who are disciplined!

Geneva: What has been your favorite image or collection you have ever done to date and why?

Vintage Suppression Collection | Hair: Steven Robertson and Janae Mechling | Wardrobe: McKell Maddox | Make Up: Paula J Dahlberg | Photography: Mitch Meyer

Steven: Up until my current nominated collection that is now my reigning favorite, the last collection I produced that I felt was beautiful and was utterly in love with was my Vintage Suppression Collection I produced WAY back in 2008 (see the collection below). I find it both difficult and satisfying when I'm able to create a collection that I feel will remain beautiful for a long period of time (timeless you may say) and so far, only two of countless collections have that presence in my mind. That being said, I've enjoyed other collections of mine that were 'cool' for the time we did them :)

Geneva: What is your advice for someone wanting to get involved in editorial?

Steven: It takes A LOT of time and energy to enter editorial. It takes time to hone in on your strengths in hairdressing. It takes time to network until you find talented enough photographers, makeup artists, models and wardrobe stylists to start creating world-class art. It takes time away from your friends. It takes time away from your family. And, it takes a toll on your confidence as a stylist at times. But, I can most certainly guarantee that if you stick with it, it will be extremely satisfying to both your soul and your success.

Geneva: On a shoot when your look is not working what do you do?

2014 NAHA Collection | Hair: Steven Robertson | Extensions: Brittany Johnston for Raccoon USA Extensions | Wardrobe: Matthew Sandoval |Dresses: Maggie Sottero | Make Up: Jillyn Neslen | Photography: Zuzanna Audette

Steven: Let's take my NAHA collection for example: One of the looks (final image, dark brown to coppery melt, wavy) was a total train wreck (and was the image that I felt was weakest in my collection). I had originally had this kind of wavy updo with some wispy/blowy pieces coming off in mind, I had put way too much hair powder in trying to rough up the texture, which in turn made the hair unworkable and dusty looking (which you can kind of tell if you look closely). So, the last option I had was to just backcomb the hell out of it, brush it out and put a little blow dryer wind through it. Believe me...there were only two photo options out of hundreds that the hair looked clean enough to submit. And, I hated that her eyes were closed, but I had no other option! BUT, I've done enough photo shoots, enough hair, taken enough classes and worked on my dress work abilities enough that I was able to "fall back" in a sense on a basic style that solved my problem. Was it my favorite, no. Was it my original vision, no. But you do what you have to do, that's what I feel editorial work is all about - problem solving.

Geneva: When you are thinking of new and interesting concepts what is your creative process?

Steven: My partner Matthew Sandoval (who was the fashion stylist for my NAHA collection and numerous other shoots) and I have Pinterest folders on our phones and computers of all different types of images from landscapes, to nature, to fashion, to couture. They inspire from many different reasons - location, mood, color scheme, hair, makeup, shoes. When I started creating my NAHA collection, it began with a simple photo representing a ghostly, haunted feel (see the photo below). I knew I wanted a softened focus (not too soft on the hair, as it is NAHA), and I wanted all the hair to have a blowy windy effect. With that, an all white wardrobe felt obvious for a more ethereal feel and some smoky makeup on the eyes for a ghostly feel. Then we found models that fit the collection and went from there!

Geneva: What do you do to keep yourself grounded in a shoot?

Steven: The days are long. I try not to eat too much on shoot days until I'm done, because it makes me feel tired. And being tired just ruins the creative thought process. I just got off a 15 hour shoot (4:00am-7:00pm) the other day, let's just say Instagram keeps me very entertained during down time!

Geneva: What are your top 10 things that are a must have on a shoot?

Steven: I'm a minimalist, so this should be easy...

  1. Bobby pins: not in multiple colors, I like the dingy green looking ones that basically don't match ANY hair color, but just so happen to blend in to anything!
  2. Rubber bands: the black non-breaky ones.
  3. Metal duckbill clips: so great for setting curls and dry finger waves
  4. 3/4" marcel iron.
  5. Professional 1" marcel iron.
  6. 1 1/4" marcel iron.
  7. Professional shears.
  8. Metal tail comb.
  9. One can of soft hold hair spray.
  10. Hair powder.

Geneva: How many shoots do you book a year?

Steven: I used to book maybe 20 major collections a year...and then I got burned out (obviously!). I now work on maybe one or two major collection projects that I do for myself, and then book multiple ad campaigns and commercials throughout the year. I probably still do 20 or so shoots a year for campaigns I get hired for. It's just MUCH easier to be hired and "show up" for work, as opposed to being in charge of creating, hiring and developing entire concepts myself.

Geneva: How important do you feel social media is today when featuring your collections.

Steven: Social media (MySpace and Model Mayhem) at the time was the key to me networking with photographers and getting me introduced to the industry and other artists in the industry. So for networking, I find it very important! In the long run, I find myself posting less and less of my personal work because it dilutes the chances of a publication picking it up for print because it's already been exposed to the world. It's a fine line I think.

Geneva: What do you do when you feel you are artistically lonely? Does this happen to you?

Steven: When I get uninspired, it's usually because I'm trying to do too much. In the beginning of my portfolio development, most of my claim-to-fame was avant garde work. I got burned out. So I moved on to beauty styling (bridal and such). Got bored again. So I decided I wanted to be a killer colorist behind the chair, which I'm currently benefiting from. I don't know what I'm going to be doing next! I hope to revisit the avant garde world again one day, as I felt it very satisfying when I was in my prime. We'll see!

Geneva: Is it hard to work in a team environment with different artistic tastes?

Steven: Yes, absolutely and it's something I continue to struggle with. I think working with someone with a different skill set than you can be a wonderful experience, but I find it difficult to work with someone or a team that has a different idea of what they find beautiful than I do. It's a hard situation when something you find beautiful happens to not be beautiful to the people you're working with or for. Who's to say who's correct?

Geneva: Best advice you ever received on a shoot?

Steven: Not to take anything personally. When you're hired by a company to style hair, you're at the mercy of their designers and marketing team’s direction. And if they happen to not like what you did, it needs to be changed. It's hard at times to hear that something you spent time on is ugly (yes, I've been told "that's ugly", "I hate the hair", you name it!). What you must realize is that it's not your hair or art at that point, it's the brand your representing, and that's fine.

Geneva: What advice do you have stylist considering entering NAHA?

Steven: You never know what the judges like at the time they judge. Stay clean in your dressing, have a killer makeup artist (bad makeup is the worst!) and it's better to have a pretty model that will let you do less to their hair than it is to have a less pretty model that will give you free reign. Be flexible in your vision when working with a team.

Geneva: What's next for you?

2014 NAHA Hairstylist of the Year Collection | Hair: Steven Robertson | Extensions: Brittany Johnston for Raccoon USA Extensions | Wardrobe: Matthew Sandoval | Dresses: Maggie Sottero | Make Up: Jillyn Neslen | Photography: Zuzanna Audette

Steven: I think I want to start working for a manufacturing company and see where that takes me. What manufacturer? I'm not sure yet! There are a few that fit my natural esthetic, and a few that I think would challenge me. I'm also currently working on becoming an agent-represented hairdresser for more major editorial campaigns. Are you looking for more NAHA inspiration? Check out this 2014 award winning NAHA collection!