Fashion Week: Get Up-Close with Hairbrained

Hairbrained Fashion Week Roundtable with session stylists Michael Forrey and Paul Easton. 

New York City fashion week has come to a close, and in its wake it leaves behind a flurry of activity – and an endless amount of trend forecasting for the approaching year. From up-and-coming designers to time-tested artists, such as Marc Jacobs, next season’s runways showcased looks ranging from avant-garde to street-wear-ready.  

But you might be wondering – what is life like behind the perceived glamour? Here to demystify the experience are Hairbrained member’s Michael Forrey, seasoned session stylist and Art Director for Sassoon, New York City and Paul Easton of Paris Parker, New Orleans. Read on to get a first-hand account of their experiences – and get a taste of New York City’s most talked-about event: fashion week.


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Michael: You directed several shows this year. There’s a lot of ‘perceived glamour’ that goes along with being backstage, and having a hand in the looks walking down the runways. Can you describe the experience?

As a session stylist and show-lead – any time I’m backstage – I feel a mix of emotions. Of course there’s nervousness and anxiety (I want to get the look right and get it done on time). I try to show up a little early and get things moving – when it comes to fashion week, time is of the essence, so to speak. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and time is not always on my side. As soon as I see a free model, I’m moving: my hands are in her hair, and I don’t stop working until the show starts.

The most notable part of a show, I think, is the teamwork involved – the crazy multi-tasking. As team lead, I’m always assessing the talents of my team, and making sure that each stylist is appropriately utilized. After all, everyone has their strengths – and their weaknesses – and a stylist that’s playing to their strengths is confident and efficient. That makes them a great team member. The team is really what makes the experience so special. Together, you create the full story, the finished look: It’s stressful, exiting, and intense – but somehow it all comes together, perfectly, it all works out.

Paul: You worked with Guido Palau to create the faux dreadlocks worn at Fashion Week’s closing event: the Marc Jacob’s show. How were you chosen for this coveted spot?

It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time – and having a really specialized skillset: Dreadlocks. 

I was in New York City working at the threeASFour show, under artistic lead Joseph DiMaggio. He heard from a mutual friend that I had a knack for working with dreads, so he invited me to join him in auditioning for the Marc Jacobs show. I was actually scheduled to leave New York and head back home to New Orleans, but I knew I couldn’t pass the opportunity up, so I quickly rearranged my flight (with my wife’s help) and started working on extending the trip.    

The audition itself was intense. We had to demonstrate that we could recreate Guido Palau’s sample look on a live model. At the end of the audition it didn’t seem like we would be told whether or not we had been selected to work at the show, so I approached the team lead and told her about my tentative departure from the city: she leaned in close and under her breath she whispered: “I would go ahead and change your flight.” 

Paul: Guido Palau is a brilliant session stylist. What was it like working alongside him? 

Working alongside his team was amazing; it was a life changing moment. I’m a diehard hair nerd, so working shoulder to shoulder with other artists equally devoted to their craft was really inspiring. Every pair of eyes, every hand is fixed on the hair. For this particular show, there was a minimum of four hairdressers working to perfect each model’s look.

We worked as a unit, not only tending to our own tasks, but also interpreting the needs of the stylists around us. Every now and again Guido would pass through the room and his feedback was always the same: work faster! At one point, I thought that the models would never stop coming, there was an endless number of them. In the end, we styled 55 women and placed 12,500 strands of faux-wool dreadlocks in their hair.   

Michael: Specifically, which shows were you a part of, and of those shows, which one had the most unique esthetic? Briefly describe the steps you took to conceptualize and create that look.

This year, I was the lead on the following shows: Andrea Jiapei Li, Eckhaus Latta, Oak and Marcel Ostertag. 

The most unique esthetic was the one that I conceptualized for Eckhaus Latta. Not because of the single look that we created, but because we accentuated the individuality of each model – we really played to each woman’s natural texture (it’s a very Sassoon approach). I kept it cohesive by giving them each a lightly greasy, lived in appearance, as if to say: “I woke up like this. It was very chic and tousled.”

To recreate this look, look for your model’s imperfection, and play it up – not down. For instance, maybe there’s a cowlick that’s sticking up, or a slight frizziness about the hairline. It’s a very revelatory sort of style, very liberating. To create this style, we started with an off-center part, and we wet down the hair with Sebastian Volume Spray and Texture Maker; this created a pieced-out look, and encouraged strands to clump together. We followed by using a wig cap to flatten the hair to the head. We finished by distributing Sebastian Dark Oil through the mid-lengths and ends, which gave sheen, plus resulted in a wet-look.   

Michael: In your opinion, what prevailing looks (cuts, colors, styles) will be lifted from the runway to the streets in the months ahead?

I like to think that this season’s hair will focus squarely on the individual, on effortless wearability – whether that means greasy and grungy or beautiful and shiny. I think that the coming season will celebrate textural individuality. All the looks that I created this year were sleek and slightly androgynous – sexy. They were controlled, yet loose at the same time.  

I think that there will be a lot of movement towards having the hair back and off of the face, which could mean the resurgence of shorter cuts.
Paul: The beautiful multi-colored, felt dreadlocks created at Marc Jacobs have been met with criticism. What do you have to say to people that call the look ‘cultural appropriation?’

As an artist, I approach every head of hair as fiber, fabric. I’m convinced that we have the ability to manipulate any material, make it take on myriad shapes and colors. I suppose you could say that I take a very editorial or artistic stance when it comes to hair. I was taught, early on, that hair is hair – that’s the only perspective that I have. 

My only interest is in continuing to explore this amazing, natural fiber that we call hair. I’m so lucky that I can make a living doing what I love! The rest seems inconsequential.        

Michael: If you could give one piece of advice to craft hairdressers, who aim to be a part of next year’s events, what would it be? 

A. If you aim to be a session stylist put yourself out there – and never say ‘no’ to any opportunity. Lean into the uncomfortable experiences – because when you’re truly uncomfortable – that’s when you grow. Follow the people that you admire. You really are who you surround yourself with. To be the best, surround yourself with the best.    

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