Eugene Souleiman featured at Hair Expo Australia 2017 with a masterclass in collaboration with Mizutani Scissors that was unlike anything we’ve seen before. 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.
Eugene’s résumé reads like a who’s who of the fashion industry. He regularly works on high fashion editorial shoots, international fashion weeks, and couture shows for brands like Dolce&Gabbana, Moschino, Dries van Noten, Céline, Chanel, Chloé, Louis Vuitton, Yohji Yamamoto, and Stella McCartney.
There’s no denying that Eugene is a visionary in the hair world. Two weeks following our interview, international fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle were reporting on Eugene’s ‘shampoo’ and gold hair glitter, seen on models like Bella Hadid as she strolled the runway for Maison Margiela at Haute Couture Week in Paris.
We sat down with Eugene in Sydney, in the days following Hair Expo 2017. In part one of our interview, Eugene speaks about his favourite projects, what he loves about the Aussie hair industry, and Jayne Wild’s fabulous Poppets.
You’ve become an international icon in the hair industry, and it’s clear that fashion styling is your true calling. What is it that you love about fashion and how does it drive your work?
Eugene Souleiman: I’ll tell you what I love about fashion, is that it’s constantly changing. It’s evolving, it contradicts itself and I’m very much one of these people that are always on the move. I’m excited by images and I love it when my landscape changes. I love people, and I work with some very, very crazy people – they’re amazing, right. So I kind of, I think I’m really lucky because I get to meet all these interesting people and work with them, talk with them, and kind of melt my medium into their medium. It’s a playground really – I don’t look at what I do in a compartmentalised way.
You were talking a bit in your session at Hair Expo about how different designers have very different aesthetics – how do you bounce between those, creatively?
Eugene Souleiman: What I do, when I go from fitting to fitting, is I get on a bike. I get on a motorbike and open the visor and let the air wash everything away so I can walk in with a completely clear head. It’s a way of cleansing all that other stuff away and going into somewhere like a newborn. It works really well for me.
Can you tell me about the most memorable show or project that you’ve worked on?
Eugene Souleiman: I have lots but I think probably one of the most interesting was the [Alexander] McQueen show for Givenchy. It was one of his very last shows for Givenchy. It was a couture show and I think for me, it was probably one of the best shows I’ve ever done in terms of hair. It really just all kind of came together because it’s really everything I love. It’s old Parisian couture, kind of punk-rock, African-inspired hair – it was a melting of those three kinds of very strong elements; braiding, rolls, towering hair, binding, it was mud in the hair, it was lemon powder and violet powder and it was just exquisite. It was amazing. There were hairstyles that were kind of like, lots of cuttings of Afro hair that were built up in shapes… literally a piece of hair that you’d bind and bind and bind until you didn’t see the hair. So you’d have a spike.
How long does something like that take?
Eugene Souleiman: A long time. A couture show, you’re lucky because the girls have one outfit and they’re there for at least six hours. There was one hairstyle where I think there were like 600 braids – really, really thin braids that were kind of wrapped over the head, so she looked like this kind of nomadic couture goddess that had been in the desert in North Africa.
It really was an incredible show – and no one saw it! Every journalist was banned from coming to the show. There were no journalists, there were no cameras, there were just the ladies that bought couture at the show.
I wonder if in a way though, that would have made it more special, that it was so intimate?
Eugene Souleiman: Oh, for sure! It did make it really special – but it was like, the proudest hair moment that you’ve had, and no one saw it. But you know what, maybe that happened for a reason. Maybe one day what I’ll do is, I’ll do that for a hair show.
It would be really great to come back to [Hair] Expo and you know, it was an amazing experience. People here are just so warm and real, and interested.
We’ve had some incredible feedback from the show. I know of a hairdresser saying it was the best day of their career.
Eugene Souleiman: Really? Do you know, from the bottom of my heart, I loved it. I really did – it felt like I was up there for five minutes and I just wanted it to go on. It felt great, very natural and it didn’t feel like it was staged at all. The producer, Gary, I felt a bit sorry for him because he worked out this structure and I said you know, ‘Gary – this isn’t my world, this isn’t the world I work in and the world I work in works very differently. I’m really used to working in a really spontaneous way. You can set up some of it like a rough format, but I need to be left alone to be able to do stuff’, and he was so cool with it.
What I loved about the format was his idea of me being on stage with models and then there being that interaction with what was going on backstage. I thought that was a bloody genius idea. And that’s kind of how it works for me in a funny kind of way – that extension of backstage. It was all going on behind me and I could see what was going on behind me, which is how I work and how I train people, to do the looks, and then I let them just kind of do them. And then I go in every now and then and just tweak them – that’s how it works backstage and I thought that was pretty legit. It was just totally real, that’s how it happens.
So you obviously have quite a close relationship with Frank Apostolopoulos –
Eugene Souleiman: Yeah, totally, he’s a brother from another mother.
And Renya [Xydis] – how did you meet and how did that friendship develop?
Eugene Souleiman: I met Renya because she used to come to Paris to do shows. She just found a way of sneaking on to my team without me realising it, as she does, and she just became a really good friend. I said to her ‘what’s your name’ and she said ‘oh my name’s Renya’ and I was like, ‘you’re called Skippy from now on’. So I call her Skips. I’ve known Renya for probably like 17 years – 20 maybe, before her boys were born. 20 years at least. So, we’ve been friends ever since.
And Frank – I married an Australian girl and we lived in New York. She’d had enough of New York and wanted to go back to Australia, so we moved to Melbourne and I travelled [for work].
One day, I was walking down the street and I hear ‘oi, mate! Eugene!’ and I thought it was one of my in-laws. I turned around but couldn’t see them, and Frank was like ‘you! You’re Eugene, right?’ and I went, ‘yeah…’ and he went ‘Hi, I’m Frank’ and I went ‘alright Frank, how you doing mate?’ He was like ‘what are you here for’ and I was like ‘oh just kind of moved here’. Frank said ‘Oh, I’ve got a salon around the corner, you’ve gotta come in and get your hair cut. You need a haircut mate’. I was like ‘alright, yeah okay – when?’ and he was like ‘come in now!’ and I was like ‘kind of got to pick my kids up from school’ [laughs] and he was like ‘you will be back, right?’ and I was like ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll totally be back’.
I just went into the salon, I went ‘hi, I just want to make an appointment with Frank’, and he’s like ‘you don’t need an appointment, sit down’ and he’s been a mate ever since really. A really close mate, he’s a proper mate.
It’s a very forward approach, I like it!
Eugene Souleiman: I was like, woah! You guys are really friendly here! [laughs] But he’s just a top man and an amazing hairdresser.
I do love that about the hairdressing community in Australia.
Eugene Souleiman: It’s very strong here, it’s very nice. And you know what; to me, it feels like a collective of people. It really is – it’s really kind of tight. It’s really uncool to not be cool.
I spoke with the FAME UK Team about those differences between the Australian and the UK hair industries – what’s your take?
Eugene Souleiman: You’re so far ahead; it’s like day and night. I was really shocked. I mean, like Jayne Wild, right. Frank, Travis, Renya, her whole salon… just like, the warmth, it’s amazing. Like fucking hell, excuse my French, but it’s incredible. And the tightness, it’s really amazing.
And then Frank’s like [at Hair Expo], ‘you want to assist me on stage’ and I was like, ‘of course! No worries. What are we doing?’ and he went ‘I don’t know’ and I went ‘alright then!’ [laughs].
Then I saw what Jayne did and I thought, ‘wow, that’s big hair’. Then the girl [poppet] turned around and I realised it was a Blythe doll, like woooah. They’re amazing, I want one.
You should get one. Get a Eugene one.
Eugene Souleiman: No! Jesus Christ. That would scare me, this [points to himself], but bigger? [shakes head]
Read part two of our Eugene Souleiman interview here.