There is a popular scene in modern American movies that depicts a reformative moment in a character’s life after something has happened to them that demands they exam who they are exactly in the world. A break up. A divorce. A career lost. This usually happens in montage. You see a change in wardrobe and most of all, there will be a new haircut. The hair, it means something to us. When we want to feel differently about who we are, we change our hair.
A new color, a new cut. A new life.
I used to cut my own hair. $30 clippers. Two mirrors. When I wasn’t up for that I’d hit Super Cuts or some other random ‘cheap cuts’ place. I always wanted to try new looks, but I have thick, straight Mexican hair. Not so many options for hairstyles with that mess. I don’t see a lot of folks that look like me in magazines and on television, but every new style, every new color, was an effort to change who I am. To fit in. To blend in and disappear.
I eventually started going to a salon. As a man, trying to find a place to get a haircut can be an ordeal. When I’d call a salon to make an appointment there would only be a few hairstylists that were comfortable cutting men’s hair. Most don’t know how to use a razor, let alone clippers. And this would be after I consulted Yelp and read every review of a salon or barbershop within a 25 mile radius.
Luckily I know Lisa Harvie. She’s the owner and stylist at her salon, Shed, out in Emeryville, California. Shed is a unique salon. First of all, it is not a space designed of the usual glossed feminine chic that you see in San Francisco or any other city. The salon itself is a beautified warehouse complete with a roll up door and a color treated concrete floor. It has a subdued personality. Subtly ornate, taxidermied deer and textured wood. Rustic and honest in an area of Emeryville that is lined with warehouses and train tracks. The location is rather unique too. Shed is blocks away from Pixar headquarters and a bevy of hidden diners and bars.
Hair can portray many things. It gives you away when you’ve just woken up, it tells the world when you’ve just had sex, and it can also say, ‘I spent four hours perfecting this style, exactly.’ It says what we want to be seen as – the perfectionist, the rebellious, and the lazy. It becomes the external link of an internal change. Or, an internal want of change.
It’s strange for me as a man to think about my hair, or my appearance in general. It is accepted that I should want to be clean and presentable, but beyond that I’m to play dumb about clothes and my hair. Lisa combats this common male issue like this, ‘I think it’s my job to draw out the inner queen in every man, because I know it’s there, like it or not.’
I bugged Lisa to answer a few questions for me and she was kind enough to oblige. I owe her one for playing along, and also for giving me the greatest gift of all. She got me to stop using hair gel.
ET: When you lived in New York you worked as a hairstylist on photo shoots and ran in that modeling world. Is that a common step in the career of a hair stylist? In my brain I compare it to the film world where you work long hours for low pay but get great practical experience. What was your experience working in New York? What sort of work were you doing?
LISA: Well, I would say that it’s not the “norm” for a hair stylist. I moved to New York to experience a sort of scene if you will. I was very pushy as an apprentice, getting paid five dollars an hour living in the most expensive city in the world, I wasn’t going to waste any time waiting and kissing enough ass so I could be asked to work next to some of the most talented stylist of my time. I just asked them. I feel like in the hair industry if you want to make a name for yourself you have to be aggressive and ask for what you want. I found that working in New York was very cut throat and also kind of selfish, everyone’s out for themselves and there’s no time to waste. Don’t get me wrong I loved my experience, though it wasn’t a cheap one, it was worth it. I worked assisting on Italian Vogue and other art/fashion magazines. Finally realizing I was way to cynical to work in New York or maybe I was just afraid.
Popular hairstyles seem to change about every ten years. If I look back at some of the hair cuts I had in high school I can pretty much feel confident in saying that I won’t be sporting those looks again. Do you see clients who cling to a certain style that may be outdated or just not flattering on them? Do you try and persuade them to try something new? Is it possible to break someone away from a bad style?
Yes, there are quite a few people out there that sit in my chair and you just know that its going to be a hard sell if they’re still rocking the same ‘do that they had back in there heyday. I’ve been doing hair for 16 years now and I’ve learned all you can do is suggest a more current look or perhaps something a bit more flattering. Every once in a while you get them to change the cut but they also have to retrain their brain to style it different. You know, I feel like they remember themselves as that hot over bleached blonde with blue eye shadow and they want to hold on to that look, because it worked for them then. I would love to see everyone age gracefully and that’s what I try to convey to those clients that hang on to the old style.
I find that as a man if I go to a salon for a haircut most of the time a stylist won’t really have any idea what to do with my hair. I can’t just say, “Make my thick and straight Mexican hair look good.” I’ll have to tell them exactly what I want because they specialize in women’s hair. If I go to a traditional barber it’s not any better. I end up with the same exact haircut that they’ve given every other guy. This is just my experience, but it seems like most stylists don’t know what to do with men’s hair. Is there something difficult about men’s hair or am I just a picky bastard?
Well, in my opinion men’s hair is no different. If your client walks in the salon its very important to have consultation. You have to ask what they want and if they don’t know then I always ask, “Ok, what do you not want.” I want to know the hairstyles you’ve had in the past that you’ve hated. They always know that answer. I think that men might feel a little “less manly” if they act like they know what they want their hair to look like. I know it’s very rare for a dude to bring in his iPad and say “I found a few pics of the hair I want”, so they might act like they don’t care or know what they want but I found men to be just as particular as women. I think it’s my job to draw out the inner queen in every man, because I know it’s there, like it or not.
What inspired you to take the risk and open your own salon? What’s your goal for Shed?
Well, I could lie and say I had a business plan and big dreams for Shed but the truth is it was just a fun little project that I always thought about. I always wanted to have my own business so I could be in control of my environment. I wanted to surround myself with like-minded people and professionals in the industry. I was also dying to design the salon. That’s what inspired me. I feel like all salons look alike and I wanted to change that up a bit. You’ll probably notice my salon isn’t very feminine. I wanted my male clients to feel comfortable as well. The taxidermy on the walls helped, but I’m learning as I go and my goal for Shed at this point is to try to maintain a professional clean environment and that I enjoy my surroundings everyday I work.
Okay, here’s a long rambling question – We’ve known each other awhile, since the 4th grade actually. Back then I had a tail, and I didn’t cut it off until my freshman year of high school. I was glad to see it go, but it was also hard. My grandmother loved it and would play with it and laugh. It had become something people recognized me by, good or bad. You had a similar situation I think. First, you’re a twin, AND on top of that you were twins with long, straight, red hair. No one would mistake the Harvie twins for anyone else. Was it hard to let go and change the hairstyle that you had since you were a kid? That part of you that everyone recognized? In some ways that first major style change can be going from something that your parents chose for you, to a style that you chose for yourself.
Yeah it’s crazy, so much of your identity is your hair style when you’re young. I think it’s the first time you feel like a secure and confident adult when you make the decision to cut your hair off. I have seen young girls or even young adults cry when they cut off their hair. I remember doing that, it’s scary. You just feel so exposed and “seen” to all of the world. You think, Oh God. Am I going to look ugly now or will everyone say “why did you do that?” The answer is YES people do say stupid shit when you cut your hair and make a big change to your appearance. So you have to be secure and want a change, because it’s all in how your wear it. You have to embrace the change and not care what people say.
I know for me as soon as I got rid of that damn tail that made people go, “You know, Chris. The guy with the hair,” I felt free. A bit new. I hated being the guy with the hair. I still have nightmares that I still have a tail. This might be a strange question to ask, but your craft deals with an incredibly personal trait for your clients, but hair is also something that grows and can be changed every few months. Do you encourage people to take chances with their look? Do some people just have one look that do best with and should never change? I know you totally changed the way I did my hair, and bonus – you got me to stop using gel.
Yes, I love planting the seed for someone who might be a little scared to change. I think that is our job, to encourage change and let clients know they’re beautiful. You have to build trust in your client first and the way you do that is by having confidence in your abilities as a stylist. Making sure they know you have been studying their face, look and their own style. You have to know your client and their day to day before you just decide to change their life!
After working for yourself for so long, could you ever imagine working for someone else?
What other career options are there for hair stylists? Is it either to work for someone else’s salon or open your own?
It diffidently feels that way sometimes but I think there are a lot of things you can do with your license. I have been looking into starting my own product line. With your license you can also do skin care so there’s that. But I’ve seen some hairdressers go into education, you can work for a big line like Aveda, or you can teach for them and travel. Or you can be a rep for a big product line. You just have to get creative. It’s really easy to get stagnant behind the chair and just plug along making the same amount of “safe” money every month. That’s one thing that scares me is getting old and haggard still cutting with no end in sight! It’s important to have a plan for your career or else your stuck!
Do you see your career as a creative outlet? I would put you in with other working artists like tattoo artists, photographers, and graphic designers, people that clients go to specifically for their personal style. Do you see yourself has having a ‘style,’ like, if someone goes to you they’ll get something that only you could have done?
Like I said I think it’s easy to get bored and you have to make sure you find inspiration. I think that’s what makes a good hairdresser. One who is not afraid to try something new on someone. I feel I need to find inspiration a lot. I have to take off and travel and see what people are doing and how there dressing and what there into. You have to stay current. There’s a big show in London that I want to catch next year, those are good to see but I think you have to find your own inspiration and have your own signature style. It takes years to find that I think. I have clients tell me they have gone up to strangers and said “Does Lisa at Shed cut your hair?” and they are right. So I think I have a style of my own. I like to mix it up though.
We mostly discussed men’s haircuts here, because that’s what I know about, but Lisa does great things for the ladies. If you’re in the Bay Area, give Lisa a call. She’ll fix you up. Shed is located in Emeryville, CA and Lisa can be contacted at ShedEmeryville.com