Pulling together some of Australia’s top talent in hair, makeup, photography, and fashion (read: Renya Xydis, Travis Balcke, Rae Morris, Georges Antoni, Jayne Wild – the list goes on), Eugene took to the stage to give Australian hair professionals a once-in-a-lifetime insight into what makes him tick, his creative influences, and how he works with other creatives.
Continuing on from part one of our interview, Eugene speaks here about his partnership with Mizutani, his extensive feather collection and his love for Tokyo.
How did your partnership with Mizutani come about and what scissors, in particular, do you choose to work with?
Eugene Souleiman: It came through Frank… obviously, I use Mizutani and I have bought Mizutani for years. I think I own about 37 pairs of scissors and I think out of those 37, at least 30 are Mizutani.
Do you use all of them?
ES: Yeah. Because I travel, I kind of have them in different parts of the world. So I’ve got maybe 10 pairs of scissors but I’ve got a pair in Paris, a pair in New York, a pair in Italy… I have 40 pairs! I have 40 pairs of scissors.
Do you have a favourite?
ES: Mine. Have you felt mine? They’re amazing.
What is it about Mizutani that aligns with you?
ES: The pursuit of perfection, the understanding of how the hand works, how it feels when it sits in your hand, the blades, the quality of the materials. They are the best scissors in the world. Period.
For me, it’s kind of like when you’re working with that quality, there are only so many pairs of scissors they can make a year because Mr. Mizutani is a perfectionist. He wants quality control. It’s totally the artisanal approach, which is me. I have a very artisanal, bespoke, personal way of working. You saw the seminar that I did, you’d understand that. So they’re purists from that point of view.
I’m quite retentive – if I’m doing something, I want to do it really well, to the best of my abilities and push myself, and they’re like that, it’s the same mindset. And it’s a family of craftsmen; they’re a family that produce amazing work. It’s a bit like those families in Italy that produce those marble sculptures… There’s a love of the craft, which I think is really important. You can’t do anything to an exceptional level if you don’t love what you’re doing. You just can’t. And that’s really apparent with Frank, with Renya, with Travis; and it’s apparent at Mizutani. We’re a kind of family even though we do very different things. But we all respect one another’s place in the environment that we’re in and we all appreciate one another. I think respect plays a very big part in it for me.
I was saying to them, I travel with so many scissors, right, and my excess baggage like last season in Paris was like $16,000… but you need that equipment to travel with because you never know what someone’s going to ask of you. Like there are three wig bags, there are four weft bags, there’s product bags, equipment bags, accessories bags, pin bags, grips bags, hard drives for research… everything you could possibly need. Like, it was a fortune last season.
Oh well, I’m sure it was worth it!
ES: Mmm, sometimes it’s not, actually! But everyone’s kind of different. When you see people that are like you, you know that you’re going to get on.
And I was just saying, I don’t want to carry that much. I want a razor, I want a pair of thinning scissors, I want one pair of scissors to excel in every cutting technique; I want to be able to point with them, I want to be able to cut freehand, I want to be able to cut near skin, I want to be able to graduate with them, I want to be able to layer with them, I want them to be able to cut a blunt line, I don’t want hair to slide, I want to be ergonomic. I don’t want to have a sore hand after I’ve been cutting, I want my carpal muscles to be intact.
We took all of that criteria into consideration and I looked at every pair of scissors they made, and I sat down for like six months. Then we just kind of literally morphed everything together to create what we did. We worked on the type of steel that would fit with the shape; if the weight was going to feel right. I don’t want a heavy scissor, and I don’t want a wide blade, I want a thin blade because I want to be able to cut on the skin. I don’t want to cut with a point. I want to be able to cut with the whole scissor.
Sounds like an incredibly intricate kind of process?
ES: It was engineering, actually. I learnt so much and I really enjoyed the experience – and I’m happy with what’s come out of it. To me, it’s like not something I’ve made to make a lot of money. It’s something I’ve made because, one, I was really flattered that they asked me to do this; and two, I saw it as an educational exercise, and from that educational exercise, that kind of fed me with a lot of other ideas.
Like we were talking, weren’t we [Emal] and I was like wherever I go in the world, I pick feathers up, I collect them. Yeah, it’s my thing, I’m nuts like that; Emal was like ‘oh, you’ve picked up another feather’! And I was like but this has the cutting techniques of the scissor we made. You can cut with it, you can make blunt lines, you can scoop out, and he was like ‘oh dude, you’re right!’. He listens to me – he thinks I’m actually interesting, which is great as well, you know. So, that’s just kind of like the way I work, I’m instinctive. I just pick feathers up because I think they’re beautiful.
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Do you have a collection of feathers?
ES: Oh yeah.
How many peacocks have you got?
ES: I’ve got better than peacocks. I’ve got yellowtail, black cockatoo, I’ve got birds from the Andes, I’ve got a collection. I spent $3,500 on feathers for the show that we did [at Hair Expo]. I went nuts, I completely lost it.
Emal [from Mizutani]: Eugene sent them across to us first. He actually bought them online in Australia.
Eugene Souleiman: But they’re all sourced ethically, they’ve fallen out. It’s funny, I was looking at the website and someone asked a question: ‘are these feathers used?’ And it’s like, of course they’re used. They come from an animal!
Then we did these native Australian kinds of designs on the feathers with paint. Really, really beautiful. It was an Aussie dreamcatcher. We had a lot of fun and I think we went to areas that had never been touched before, which I think a lot of people really loved.
I was talking to people afterwards and they were like ‘you taught me what I didn’t realise I already knew, and you’ve put it together in such a way that it rationalised everything. You’ve cleared my brain, you’ve given me a cleared state that now I can go back and I can feel confident in the fact that I’m not a weirdo.’ These ideas, they’re actually tangible.
At the start of the [Hair Expo] seminar, I was like you can’t do this on a client, like not at all. It doesn’t relate to a salon – it’s a hair holiday. It’s like, what can I do with hair as a medium. And I think from a visual point of view it was something completely different… Because it really is about the mindset. It’s an attitude, it’s a feeling, it’s not just a visual.
That can be the epitome of inspiration, really, what you were saying about feeling like you already knew something but it’s really just come to the forefront.
ES: It was in there but you didn’t even know that you knew it, right, and that’s kind of like my thing. I like to bring things out of people, I like to let them know that they’re not as bad as maybe what they think they are or that they could be better, and I think it’s a very positive thing.
You’ve spoken before about understanding the rules of your craft and then setting out to break them. Why do you think that rules are such an important aspect of hair?
ES: I don’t think they are – they are and they’re not, right. I think that they are there to initiate someone into a trade and they’re tools. But every tool has to evolve.
It takes a brave person to come along and say we’ve done that, we’ve come this far but we can’t go any further with our mentality, we can’t move forward. I think now the gates are open and now I’m hoping we can formulate a new form of education, change the dynamics of education. I really think it’s important.
And it’s great to know everyone on my team knows the basics of hairdressing, right, from braiding to tonging, to putting hair up, to finger drying, creating texture. Everyone knows how to do a clean do, a messy do, build-in internal structure, how to cornrow, how to do a waterfall, how to fishtail, how to weave hair, how to pin curl, how to do the perfect set, how to do a great haircut, how to do a victory roll, everyone knows. And that’s criteria that I need – because I do need people to have a skillset. But the foundation is quite a complex thing.
What I like to do, is to get people to a stage, right. For me, it’s little things when I look at people doing hair, where they’re struggling and I’m like ‘bend your knees, look at it from a different vantage point and it’ll make it easier for you to be able to do that’. And they’re like ‘oh shit, you’re right’. It’s those little things that are actually massive.
When you’re teaching, you get really excited and you’re like this idea’s better than what I’m doing and I want to change it – but you can only do that when you’re really confident that you’ve got the skills to be able to do that. You’ve got to be a little comfortable with being uncomfortable.
And the reason that you’re not feeling comfortable is the fact that it’s not been done before, which is a bit scary. But it’s only hair, you know. And that’s the fun of it, that’s where your adrenaline kicks in and it becomes fun.
I do notice that you’ve said ‘it’s only hair’ a few times!
ES: But it is! It’s there to play with – it’s fun. It’s serious, of course, but it’s something that is a malleable material that you can mould in any way – or choose not to mould. The only limitations are your mind and you can enhance your mind by understanding and by having a really great skillset.
Someone was talking to me yesterday, it’s really weird, they said ‘you’re like a Chinese menu. There are 400 varieties of dishes that you can do and you can mix stuff, you know’ and I kind of look at it like that, it’s like hair cooking. You’ve got your ingredients, your material, you’ve got your tools, you’ve got your presentation. It’s enjoyable, you know, people just need to really enjoy it!
It’s not an office job. That’s painful, I can’t imagine doing something that I hated for like nine or 10 hours a day. Like that ‘oh, it’s the weekend’. It’s just something I can’t imagine.
You obviously travel a lot – do you have a favourite place to travel to for leisure or for work?
ES: For pleasure, Tokyo. Amazing. I just love it.
How many times have you been to Tokyo?
ES: About 30. Yeah, I’ve been quite a few times.
And where would you recommend to go?
ES: I would stay in Harajuku, for sure. I just love Tokyo because it’s like a real city. It’s diverse, I love all the incredible pieces of architecture, the little shacks, the wide electric poles. It’s amazing.
If you believe in reincarnation, I’m sure I was Japanese in another life. I could eat Japanese food that even Japanese people don’t eat.
Do you use music as part of your creative process? Do you listen to it when you’re working?
ES: I do. I see pictures when I listen to music, I’m terrible. And I like to listen to music that’s got a lot of texture to it or goes off on a journey. I love all forms of music, pretty much – not a great lover of pop music. I can understand the craft of making it, but I’m not going to go out and buy a Rihanna record. She’s beautiful and her music’s really good, it’s just not my thing. But I do appreciate it. And I think it’s important to appreciate everything – you don’t necessarily have to love it but you can appreciate it and the work that’s gone into it.
What music are you into?
ES: I like all kinds of music, but I like music that is kind of… real. And I like to feel that the person who is making that music is not making it just because they’re making music, I like to feel that they’re loving what they’re doing. For me, I guess my favourite musician is a guitarist called Ty Segall, who is a Californian kid. He’s a phenomenal guitarist. He’s also a great drummer and it’s quite analogue, his music. Do you know what I mean? It’s not digital it’s like, live. When you hear his music, you feel like you’re at a concert, you feel like it’s live.
I appreciate everything pretty much – even Gangnam Style. The video was brilliant – so bad, it’s incredible. But I can listen to something like that, that’s really kind of cheap but I love it because it has a spirit, you know.