Interview by Dominic Cadogan
“I’ll think of a good idea and then think: ‘Oh God, is that even possible?’ and then have to work out how to do it – that’s even after doing hair for over
30 years,” explains hairstylist Gary Gill, musing over a career that has spanned decades and right- fully earned him the title of a legend. Though, he’d likely reject it if you told him to his face. “I don’t think I’m a really technically gifted hairdresser,” he admits. “One of my best skills is having ideas and then working out the technique afterwards – it’s not the other way around with me.”
The London-based hairstylist somehow remains as humble as when he started out doing hair, following in the footsteps of his hairdressing mother. “I still have to pinch myself, I feel a lot of gratitude for be- ing where I am. I never get complacent; I never take it for granted,” he shares. It’s somewhat surprising, given that Gill’s catalogue of clients reads more like a fashion encyclopedia, rather than a CV, boasting an impressive roster of brands including (but not limit- ed to) Alyx, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Cottweiler, Grace Wales Bonner, Martine Rose, Vetements, and Vivienne Westwood.
Yet, thoroughly uninterested in glory, the hairstylist looks back at his work with a metaphorical magnifying glass and picks it apart hair by hair. “I’m not always as happy as I want to be with how the hair- style looks,” he muses. “I always think, ‘Why didn’t I move that piece of hair?’. I’m very, very overly critical of everything I do, I pull things to pieces.”
Gill is wrong to nitpick though, illustrated by an in- credible portfolio of his work in this issue – often snapped by the hairstylist himself backstage in a qui- et corner amid the post-show chaos – that beautiful- ly capture some of his most memorable looks from the past few years. “The goal was to try and build up almost like a human study, a catalogue of all the best bits of hair that I’ve done over the years, in a way that I’d never put together like this,” he explains on why he wanted to portray his work in this way. Whether it’s punk side-swept afro fringes for Martine Rose, highlighter dye jobs for Vetements, or delicate- ly distressed ‘do’s for Marques’ Almeida, the images showcase his effortlessly eclectic style. “It’s a good collection of how the hair has been at shows that I did,” he says.
“Authentic”, “gritty”, “real”, and “honest” are all words he uses to describe that narrative, but the com- mon thread combining them is an endless source of inspiration from the plethora of subcultures he lived through: from punk, goth, rave, ska, and everything else in-between. “I’d like to think that the hair that I do embodies who I am as a person, my influences around youth culture have been huge. My work is reppresentative of what’s under my skin really.”
The beauty in Gill’s originality comes from his spontaneous approach, often turning up to jobs without concrete ideas, but quickly making notes, adapting, and working in different ways with different designers. With Bottega’s Daniel Lee – who the hairstylist has worked with since the designer took over the brand in 2018 – he explains that “the hair doesn’t necessarily need to be a statement, but a nice addition to beautiful designs”, and for Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga it’s more about the individual characters, choosing bespoke looks for each model. “We normally dedicate four or five days for the fitting, so we see every model and we cut and colour based on how the model looks,” he reveals. “We talk about the outfit, we talk about the character, and then design something specifically for them.”
Working with Martine Rose is where he really gets to play though. “Martine and Tamara (Rothstein, stylist) always want to go there with the hair and I feel like her show and her designs can support that,” Gill explains. “The hair has become such a big part of her show, but that’s because the designs are quite extreme, so it’s in line with that.” Previous collaborations between the hairstylist and London designer have seen everything from sleek side-swept 80s fringes for AW17 to bewildered and bewigged boys for SS20. One thing that remains though, is that they’re always a joy to behold and stick with you long after the last model has left the runway.
“It’s all about establishing a trust, an idea of what turns the designer on,” he explains on continually pushing not only himself, but his collaborators too. “Martine will go, ‘Oh fucking hell,” and you think: ‘Is that a good fucking hell, or is it a bad one?’ It’s the look on her face that tells me it’s a good one and that she’s enjoying what I’ve done. That’s what keeps me going, being able to realise other people’s visions.”
“I also feel that I have more to give than just that and I need to satisfy myself in terms of really pulling together a whole project as opposed to just turning up and doing the hair,” he continues and shares that he’s keen to explore skills he’s picked up working with the industry’s best photographers, stylists, and casting directors. “I want to have a say in the casting, I want to have a say in the concept, I want to make sure the picture is right, I want to make sure the set is right – all of those things. I’ve done a couple of projects where that’s working out really well, and I feel like I can really expand into that.”
That’s not to say that Gill has learned everything about hair and he still finds himself challenged by hair and its idiosyncrasies, even after three decades of taming it. “When you’re doing hair, you’re trying to make it do something that it doesn’t want to do and hair doesn’t like playing along, it always wants to do it’s own thing,” he explains. “During the physical process of hair, there tends to be this inner turmoil that I have, but one I start to get the reins of it and the control starts to come, then I really start enjoying it. You have to go through a battle to get it right, but that’s what I really enjoy, that fight and being a little bit uncomfortable.” It’s these challenges that still keep him excited and push him to try new techniques, styles, and ideas. “It’s very rare that it comes easily, there’s always a little technical challenge somewhere” he muses. “Even if I think I’ve done something 100 times, people’s hair is like a fingerprint – everyone’s hair is different and everyone’s hair will present a different challenge. Even though I’ve been doing hair for over 30 years.”
Much like the rest of the fashion industry, Gill has spent the past few months musing about how the big B-word and C-word (Brexit and coronavirus, that is) will impact his work and force change in 2021 and beyond. “This period has given me a lot of time to think about what I want to do and where I want to go. It’s made me realise that I want to be a lot more selective and everything I do creatively really has to count,” he concludes. “The time is going to sort out the people who are really going to stand out. We’ll come out of it eventually and maybe end up being even more creative than we were in the first place.”