The 2017 UK FAME Team, in collaboration with BaByliss PRO, jetted to Australia for Hair Expo, where they showcased a riveting GenNext performance and made strong connections with the Australian industry. We sat down with the team – Jordanna Cobella, James Earnshaw, Ria Kulik and Gavin McIntyre, their mentor Nick Irwin, and Vice President of the Fellowship for British Hairdressing, Andreas Stavrou, to find out how they fared Down Under.
How did you find Hair Expo Australia?
James: It’s just gone really quickly – but it’s been really good, I’ve enjoyed it.
Ria: I think we all felt that the second day [Sunday] was the best out of the three.
Gavin: It’s really overwhelming as well, everyone’s response. They said they really liked what we brought over here and we had a couple of occasions where we were sort of walking through the Harbourside markets and people were saying to us ‘great show FAME Team UK!’. They actually recognised us, so that was quite nice! We obviously inspired people and they were happy.
Was there anything that surprised you about coming here – were your expectations different to what you found when you arrived?
Jordanna: I had anticipated how high the level of hairdressing would be, but I guess until you see it… And how interconnected everyone is as well. Because back home, we are connected but you don’t necessarily work together. So to see Eugene [Souleiman] on stage working with Frank [Apostolopoulos], literally like, wearing Frank’s t-shirt, that was really nice. Everyone seems really, ridiculously friendly.
Gavin: Very supportive.
Ria: It’s not a surprise, but it’s nice to experience.
So is it quite different to the British industry?
Jordanna: You do get people collaborating, but it’s normally under a really big brief or a big occasion – you don’t necessarily get people collaborating that often. Which is why doing things like FAME Team is really nice because you get to learn and bounce off each other. When you’re at the salon, you’re surrounded by a lot of people who have a lot of the same creative ideas, you all think really similarly. To come out here and see other people doing that without having to be in the FAME Team is quite cool.
Gavin: Which is really what the industry is about, isn’t it? It’s about giving back and sharing, educating, and making people feel great.
You obviously work together as a team, can you tell me a little bit about how that works and perhaps what some of the challenges are or what you really like about working as a team?
James: I think for me, personally, I work for quite a big company in England, so we have a big creative team and we have a lot of the same ideas for everything. We work quite closely with Wella. To work with these guys, who work for other brands and have different ideas, changes and challenges how you normally work – so that’s really good.
Gavin: I think for me, knowing we’re a few months in and how highly skilled everyone is, gives you that confidence that we’re gonna go in and do a great thing as a team. We have a great rapport on stage and we seem to bounce off each other. Equally, backstage when we’re prepping we obviously concentrate on our own models, but we still support each other to give the final look.
Jordanna: I think it takes a few months to really gel because it’s about personality and creative ideas. So all of us now have a bit of a role, which is quite nice. If we need some organising, one person might bring that; one person will bring the humour, another will bring the models. But it took six months to get there!
Ria: But that’s because we don’t see each other every day. We all live in different cities, it’s not dead-easy to see each other once a week or twice a week, so I think we’ve done really well.
Gavin: It’s working out a balance of time as well because a couple of us run businesses and things like that. It’s establishing that balance of time as well.
Nick: I think it’s a really unique situation as well because even meeting the Australian FAME Team on Friday, it’s even more difficult for them because obviously the scale of the country is bigger and they don’t get to see each other on a number of occasions. So it’s slightly easier for us because London is the base and it’s a little bit easier to get around the UK.
In saying that, I think it’s an important point that James has made. I said to the guys yesterday – it takes years to become a team, it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of dedication, working each other’s different personalities out, and who’s working to each other’s strengths. What’s interesting is you evolve throughout the program. You start to see who is naturally better at one thing but the acceptance of it, that’s the most important bit. You can’t have four people and have the dynamic be the same for everybody, it kind of defeats the purpose of what we’re trying to do.
When you look at the criteria of bringing people into it [FAME Team], how do we get four very different hairdressers to gel?And you could quite easily get four people from big salons in London, for instance. I think the way things are now in the world, it’s a bit like what Jordanna was saying with Eugene and Frank, it’s much easier to see what we’re all doing because of the power of the internet and we can really communicate with each other, so that’s a huge part of it. We’ve kept a diary – well, Gavin’s kept a diary.
Ria: He’s got it here!
Nick: I’m more than happy with what we’ve seen happen over the last few days. You know, I’ve lived in Australia so it’s easy for me – I know Australia really well. And I knew it would be difficult for these guys to come down here and impress the industry. What I did – without trying to scare them – was to drum it home that we’ve got to be ready, we’ve got to be detailed, we’ve got to rehearse, we’ve got to commend ourselves as to why we’re here. They’ve done brilliantly.
Because you have spent time in Australia, what do you think that the Australian industry could learn from the British industry?
Nick: I think it’s like anything. I can only go on from when I first arrived in Australia, which was very different. I think I came with the expectation of being a bit of a big cheese from London and everyone was going to look up to me. You know, big-headed things that probably went with my age at the time.
Nowadays we look to Australia quite heavily for inspiration. Australia’s a melting pot and I think also in the UK, you can get very wrapped up in what we’re doing there and that’s it. Unless you’re travelling a lot, it’s easy to get stuck in that groove of what’s happening over there. Australia’s always had that thing of looking to the rest of the world, especially in Sydney. And you can see that as you walk around the exhibition and see what other companies are doing.
So I’d hope they still look to us and get inspired. It’s cultural thing, that’s really what you bring to the table. I always talk about this punk thing that we have in the UK that’s not safety pins and Mohicans, but more the attitude of doing something different and pushing it.
What’s really interesting is, I was talking to someone the other day in a focus group and everyone was saying that you guys are really leading the way in breaking boundaries. You’ve got to pat yourselves on the back for that, that’s huge. It’s massive. So I think that’s why the guys were looking forward to that coming down here.
Who do you look up to in terms of inspiration?
James: I always say the same person, but Renya [Xydis] who owns Valonz, is my favourite hairdresser, more than anyone.
Ria: She’s mentioned probably twice a day.
James: And I’ve always liked Joey Scandizzo, I think his images are really beautiful.
Ria: My inspirations change quite a lot, it depends on how I’m feeling. I like seeing new collections come out each year. Sometimes, it’ll be someone who I really may not have heard of before – I love the collection and start following their work. Not so much the big names, just everybody.
Jordanna: Yeah, it’s hard because you don’t follow a name, you follow the imagery. So a lot of the time when you follow someone’s work, you end up following their photographer. Particularly in Australia, and before we came out here as well, I’ve followed Frank [Apostolopoulos] and Damien [Rinaldo]. Back home, I think everyone takes inspiration from a lot of session stylists as well because that’s where you see lots of cool things. As opposed to other salons, it’s nice to follow session stylists who are always breaking boundaries and doing things that no hairdresser would normally think of. I love to follow photographers.
Gavin: Mine was Frank. I think I noticed a year or so ago some of his work that really sort of rattled me. But his story as well at the [Masters of Hair] Gala, the whole message that came across with Ego. I really liked all the elements of it, not just the hair but the story.
I really liked Jason’s [Fassbender] winning [Hair Expo Awards] collection as well, because of the fashion element of it that he brought in as much as the hair. And we’ve been talking about inspiration from fashion, which is something we’ve encouraged the team to follow back home as well, so I really liked Jason’s collection. It was quite good to see that winning.
I think from a young hairdresser’s perspective as well, some of the advice that you’re given is to go from your heart and do what your vision is. And that’s probably the epitome of that, because it was quite different in terms of the photography compared to everyone else’s, in the sense that it was an overall image. It was good to see that because it makes you think – or certainly me – well actually, you can do something a little bit different and stand out.
Ria: And it shows the industry’s changing a bit as well, in recognising different styles. Because if the same person wins every year, all the time, you’re just going to have the same images and the same visual. Whereas this is evolving it a bit, which is good.
In terms of where you get your creative inspiration from, is it social media that you tend to follow most? How did you prepare for Hair Expo?
Ria: We talk to each other and try and come up with a concept for what we want to do – we try to get a theme going so we have a base to start from and then we make a Pinterest.
Jordanna: It starts with five or six images.
Gavin: I’ll go on to Wikipedia and do a keyword search in there. For the 90s theme we had for Expo, it was putting keywords in and then referencing key figures from that decade and researching them. It kind of builds up into a tree-like effect, sourcing lots of different words and ideas and then putting them into a picture.
Ria: And sometimes what we start off with can completely change to what we come up with in the end.
James: Sometimes you’ll find an image from like a magazine back in the 90s which you’ll just love, and you’ll want to change it, modernise it.
Nick: You’ve got to be current, you can’t be too retro because then it looks old-fashioned. So you’ve got to twist it, put an edge on it that shows you’re influenced by the 90s. And you can see it – when people take a look and use it, it looks dated. You’ve got to modernise it and approach it in a new way, flip it a little bit.
Do you have any bucket list things you want to do, in terms of your career?
Jordanna: Come back to Australia! I’ve got a list of things I want to learn, because the more you learn, the more you realise how much you have to learn. If that makes sense.
Being in the FAME Team makes you realise how little you could learn if you didn’t get in; if you didn’t have this experience to teach you. And not to turn your nose down at anything – to keep an open mind. It’s quite hard to do when you’re only trained to do one thing. But it’s a real skill that the FAME Team has taught me, and I want to build on that and do everything that’s ungoverned by competition rules and stuff like that. I still haven’t actually felt like I’ve found my own niche so I want to keep exploring and looking for that.
Andreas: This is exactly what the FAME Team is designed to do. To give them the opportunity for a year to be exposed to people like Nick, and what that brings – the shoots, the people, and the opportunities like showing here they probably wouldn’t normally get. If you expose people to new things, it can be that lightbulb moment where they find a new direction. That’s the beauty of the FAME Team and that’s what it’s for. You know, we got Nick in this year by happy accident. I always believe things happen the way they’re meant to happen and for that reason, they’ve been particularly lucky this year. You cut your teeth in the FAME Team and go from there.
Nick: I think they’ve got a new family now as well, especially here. I have some good connections and going back to what they were saying before about how friendly people are, we’ve hung out with some people here who have really kind of taken them under their wing. They’ve got a new network of people here.
James: it proves what a small world it is as well though. We were at a party and I was talking to this guy, and he was like ‘oh I know you, I follow you on Instagram’. It’s crazy.
Nick: But it would work the same way when the Aussies come over for Salon International. These guys will show them around and take them places.
So what’s next for the FAME Team?
Jordanna: When we get back, we have to get ready for a shoot with Rankin that Nick’s organised. We’ve got a few other days with some artists back home. Then we’ve got Salon North and Salon International, which are two exhibitions in different parts of the country. So that will be fun!
I think the latter half of the year is more interesting in terms of reporting back to the Fellowship because we’re actually so much more gelled as a team. We know what we’re strong at, and we know what makes each other tick. So I think the latter half of the year is going to be really exciting.