Hairbrained member Paul Stafford is self-made; throughout his memorable career, he’s successfully blended a fashion-forward aesthetic with hard-earned technical abilities, to create signature looks.
His trend-setting artistry is well known throughout the world, and he occupies a place in the British Hairdressing Awards ‘Hall of Fame.’ His many accomplishments aside, Paul Stafford has walked a long and winding road to get where he is today – and he wouldn’t change a moment of his sometimes arduous journey. He would say that he has come full circle.
Read on to learn about Stafford’s rise to glory and fame, plus discover how he lost it all – and is now more fulfilled than ever before.
Q. You’re an influential member of the craft-hairdressing community. When did you first decide that you wanted to be a stylist, and what (or who) was your primary influence?
A. I was expelled from school for bleaching my hair, and I wanted to assure my parents that I’d chosen the path of hairstylist, instead of being forcibly dismissed (as a student). So, I went to the salon that originally colored my hair, and talked them into giving me a position. Luckily, my parents bought it – or at least I think they did. Though it was an accidental placement, within days, I knew I was in the right place – I knew that hairdressing was the perfect career for me: The creativity, the heightened social interaction, and the diversity. I’d always felt a little bit like an outsider, but the beauty industry is inclusive. At 15 years old, this gave me a huge boost in confidence.
Eventually, I began to work with stylist and salon owner, George Carrigher; he worked with Sassoon in the late ‘60’s and ‘70’s, and was a part of the ‘first wave’ of Sassoon stylists. While working with Carrigher, I learned technique, shape, design – and most notably – the importance of foundational work. He spun tales of late nights spent practicing haircuts, lines and angles, and it all felt very glamorous. Though I never worked directly with Vidal Sassoon, I became preoccupied with him. You could even say that I was a disciple of his teachings.
Ultimately, I met Sassoon at a Berlin airport. We were introduced, and he said, “oh, yes, Paul Stafford, from Ireland? I know you.” I was completely disarmed, totally speechless! The very next day he stopped by to watch me cut hair onstage (with Denman); he flashed me his famous smile and shot me a thumbs up. It was my greatest accolade.
Anthony Moscolo has also influenced me: he’s a rule breaker, a visionary, and a great supporter of young talent. When he first looked at my (very) amateur portfolio, he generously offered his guidance and constructive criticism; he told me what I needed to work on. His advice has been invaluable, and (to this day) he remains a great source of inspiration to me.
Q. You’re heavily influenced by fashion, and you yourself have more than a little bit of panache. How does this play into your work?
A. Fashion plays a huge part in my work – though it's not an exclusive influence. I’m also influenced by music, art and design; these form the core nucleus of my world. My own style is pretty classically influenced. I can be a bit rebellious, but it’s not a ‘me against the man’ sort of thing. I think it's more modern styling with a punk aesthetic.
Q. You’ve been involved in many different aspects of the craft-hairdressing industry: Salon owner, platform artist, session stylist, and behind the chair stylist. Which position resonates most with you, and why?
A. All of the above! I have a genuine love for the craft (in it's many forms). I think I’m lucky: I'm good at observing, I'm curious, and I ask a lot of questions. The opportunities I've been afforded are gifts that I take with gratitude; I've learned that it’s foolish to take things for granted, and so I throw myself into everything I do. I always give 100%.
Q. You were the king of the ‘Paul Stafford Hair’ empire. You no longer own your salon space – yet you’ve said that you’re happier than ever. Can you tell us about that?
A. I became obsessed with building my own empire, but today, that seems like a distant memory – a different life. Ultimately, I’m a creative person, not a major tycoon. My strengths are passion, innovation and creativity. Walking away from that empire gave me the space I needed to explore those aspects of myself, again.
I can’t say that I won’t consider expanding and growing (within my business) sometime down the road, but for now, I’m building a different kind of foundation; one that’s education based.
Q. How do you find balance in your fast-paced life?
A. It’s true; I’m fanatical and ultra-focused. But luckily, my wife Leisa is in the business as well, and she’s sympathetic to my late-night web browsing, long days, and endless traveling. I’m blessed with boundless energy, and it’s allowed me to multi-task.
I love music, and I read constantly, but even my vacations would be considered high-energy, to some. You’re more likely to find me (and my family) wandering city back streets and alleys; you’d be hard-pressed to find me lounging on a beach. I love the color, smells, art and diversity commonly found in the big cities of the world. Some of my favorites are NYC, London, Bangkok and Naples.
Q. You’re an educator at the upcoming Hairbrained ‘Teach In,’ in Las Vegas. How did you become involved in the event – and how did you come to be such an avid supporter of Hairbrained?
A. Hairbrained is really such an innovative platform; I love the fact it celebrates everyone. From industry greats, such as Mark Hayes and Sam Villa, to busy, behind the chair stylists (who knock out great work on a tight schedule), it's an amazing forum where everyday issues are discussed, ideas are shared and friends are made, globally. I also love that it’s interactive. You can dip in and out, taking what you need to better your craft – and hopefully you leave a little of your own experience behind for others to learn from, in the process.
Hairbrained has always been really supportive of our work. So when I was invited to be a part of ‘Teach In,’ I gladly accepted.
Q. If you had one piece of advice for up-and-coming stylists, what would it be?
A. Know your history, research the past (the techniques, the foundations) and practice, practice, practice. Listen to every word, ask every question – and always observe.
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