By Georgia Hammerson
Alan White is one of the industry’s top hair stylists. He’s travelled the world, worked on numerous magazine covers and has styled basically every top model or celebrity who has shot to fame within the last 10-20 years.
In the midst of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia, we sat down with Alan to talk all about his life and love of hair. Which was particularly inspiring, I mean as we were talking he’s got his hands flying and arms waving all the way through as he discusses his future aspirations and life achievements.
First of all, in an ever evolving world of Fashion, what does being a Hair Stylist mean to you today?
Being a hair stylist to me, means I’m part of an ever-changing movement. It is fashion but it’s youth, it’s music, it’s street and it’s challenging; you’ve always got to have your finger on the pulse. And considering how old I am, it keeps me relevant. The companies I keep are part of what’s happening in fashion, they’re the Punk, the Avante Guarde and forward thinking individuals moving Australian and world fashion to that next level.
Everybody has a cinderella tale, how did your story start out?
Funny you ask that, it started out washing cars for a bunch of barbers actually, and then washing hair, sweeping floors, in the barbershop. Before I left school I was clipering the old age pensions hair, short back and sides, on Thursday nights and Saturday mornings for about 4 pounds 50 pence. When I left school I started a marine engineering apprenticeship in the East London Docklands, but when Margaret Thatcher came in, she closed down the Docks and turned them into residential warehouses’. I was being paid but had no place to work. But you see, I could use a pair of clippers, so I would cut the unemployed guys hair down at the work site. It was the late 70’s, Punk was massive in England, so I’d be clippering all these guys cuts in some random radical punk style.
My girlfriend at the time, Jane worked for Boy London, in the Kings Road, that was its punk fueled hay day. So she introduced me to bands like The Clash, The Pistols, Malcolm McLaren, Theatre of Hate, The Go, Go’s, Kim Wilde and I did fucked up hair for them and got known for that. I cut hair for the first British boy Band called Haircut 100 and they went massive No 1 singles and album in the UK charts and after that it went nuts. I was known as a hairdresser, but I didn’t know anything other than the basics so I had to learn pretty quickly!
You sound like a bit of an ambassador of teaching and in passing down your trade, are there any wise words you have for someone getting into the industry today?
Hmmmm. Visualize your end result and only do what you need to do to achieve it. Prep the way you need to, not some other random technique that’s not relevant or required. Don’t forget what your taught, listen and retain you’re learning.
That’s a big one – people forget what they’re taught it doesn’t seem to sink into the brain far enough and when they’re on a job they revert back to what is easy for them and it always reflects in the final look. And P.S Don’t fluff about just get too it and don’t deviate.
You’re incredibly successful in your field. What was your “made it” moment…Have you even had it?
Nope, still haven’t made it. I feel as a creative you never make it. Even if you do great work, you still want to change it and move it forward. Always evolving and always pushing ones self to do it better.
You’ve travelled a fair bit, London, New York, Sydney… so what would you suggest as travel essentials for the on-the-go damsel in distress?
Mason Pearson Junior Brush – always
The right shampoo and conditioner for your hair type
Curl shaping mouse by Oribe; it’s not a dry mouse, it’s got lots of moisture.
Supremo Magic Move – a light finishing curl-activating balm
Where do you see Alan White Anthology headed in five years time?
It’s actually a really exciting period – I’m personally starting to focus more on the mentoring and educational side of things, and that’s good for Anthology. Offering advice, support and tools to hairdressers that are looking for it or are just starting out. It’s what anthology was always about. I want to help those stuck on the salon level that are looking to expand what they are doing, guide them and encourage the modern hairdresser that it’s all about understanding the hair, understanding what hair needs so it works for you and the hair so you can achieve your final result.
Fair call, so my favourite – Everyone makes mistakes, what’s been your biggest one?
Ahhh, I’m not sure it was my biggest mistake but it was definitely, at the time a bit of a thing. I put my tools down at an Australian Vogue cover shoot one time. I said I was not doing hair if you they put the model in another white shirt, pearls and boating shoes – that’s not progressive in my opinion. I almost got fired. My agency got a letter of warning.
But you see I was trying to make a point – If you’re working for Vogue anywhere in the world, you’re the epitome of fashion and forward fashion, and it needs to be progressive. I was doing Vogue all the time I wanted to fuel it and challenge it.
The thing is, I push my work to what I think is relevant. I look back at things I have done say three years ago and it was so bang on but not everyone’s ready for it, a little too progressive, but that’s what I love.
Sometimes people spend too much time trying to emulate someone else’s work instead of creating their own.
You work alongside some exceptional talent, if you could pick three creatives (past or present) to join you on an up coming project, who would make up your dream team?
Mmm, Ideal team would have to be…
John Galliano from Maison Martin Margiela as the creative director,
Katie Grand from LOVE Magazine as stylist
Tyrone lebon as photographer
You shot the Vogue Australia cover which featured social media royalty, Kim Kardashian – how was it working with her?
For me, it was an interesting moment; I’d stepped away from that lime light 4 years earlier (working with celebrities, models in NYC). Since then I’d seen the industry accelerate from the point where super models were the stars to where the media focus is now, it’s the social media icons who are the stars now.
The shoot itself was very hush hush though, we didn’t know who the cover star was until 7pm the night before and we were shooting 3hrs outside of Sydney in Jervis Bay. Ironically, for how hush, hush it was, whoever was producing the shoot failed to let everyone who lived in the area know not to tell anyone! After about an hour of shooting the news spread on social media and before long the media were flying overhead, in the bushes on the beach and in their boats, even the kangaroo’s had camera’s. We were surrounded it was phenomenal.
But to Kim it didn’t seem to matter and considering who she is, or her status in the industry, she was really relaxed. Kim was down to earth; chit chatting away. I spent a lot of time with her in the ocean, (she doesn’t like the feel of sea weed) half a day in and out, just talking with her, it was just like catching up with someone I knew, or I hadn’t seen for a while, there wasn’t any hesitation or weirdness. It wasn’t like she was untouchable; she was incredible to be honest.
Unfortunately the thing was, Kim pulled the pin around 4pm just when the light really starts to ‘pop’ but the Paps were getting out of hand. We’d started at 7am and there’s only a small window of about half an hour in the morning when the light is amazing, but the afternoon is when the magic happens, we get a good four hours of Gold. Was such a shame we could have done so much more.
Lastly, if you could go back fifteen years in time, what words of insight would you offer yourself?
I was working overseas in NY and Paris but I chose to come back to Australia for maybe two months at a time twice a year, or even longer. So I’d be working and moving ahead with my career, but then I’d disappear and have the time of my life back home. This was during the grunge period, a massive change and movement forward in fashion, which accelerated really quickly. So all the people I’d been working with had gone ahead, focusing on their careers and progressing forward while I focused on my life, family, surfing etc.
I don’t regret it, nor would I change it. At one point in my career I realised that I was spending most of my time shooting on location, the South of France, Iceland, the Caribbean, South America, North America, South Africa, Spain Norway and India. But after a while I figured I never shoot in a studio. So when it occurred to me, I made a point of changing that and doing studio. But now 10 years later I’m only doing studio! Ha so you have to be careful what you wish for, it can be a bit of a catch 22.
You’ve done major campaigns and magazines, but what were you biggest personal highlights throughout your career?
Overall the highlights would have to be the people I have worked with and the hair I have done for them, the shows and editorial, I mean I’ve done Vogue Italia quite a few times I spent a lot of time with Claudia Schiffer, Nicole Kidman Kate Moss, Elle McPherson, shot with Avedon, Demarchelier, Bensimon and David Bailey.
My first highlight was definitely British Vogue with photographer Regan Cameron. It was one page in the back, I think it was the final fashion page and it was British Vogue, I was young it seemed important.
Feature Image: Tim Swallow | @tim_swallow_photo