Hairbrained Q and A with ZGAT

The Zagreb-based team, ZGAT, touts technically on point cuts – with a twist. Though the team is disciplined, to be sure, they’ll be the first to tell their students: “Don’t be a slave to technique. Always change something.” Their advice is liberating, and it allows students the freedom to trust their instincts. “Let technique guide you,” says Mario Mesaric, creative director of ZGAT. “It’s your safety. But if you don’t use emotion, your shapes will be flat and one-dimensional. Create a shape with feeling: make it your own. Make it apart of you.”

This radically different viewpoint might seem like enough to set ZGAT a part from other creative teams – but the differences don’t stop their. Zgat believes in a visual journey; theory is standard procedure, but Mario and Ivana keep students engaged by simultaneously cutting and speaking. 

“Mario Mesaric and Ivana Spicer are humble, kind, approachable and patient; but above all, they’re very knowledgeable, and they excel at taking complicated topics and simplifying them,” says Shannel Mariano, Hairbrained shootout winner and ZGAT class attendee. “They’re very good at explaining what they’re doing, and why they do it differently than other artists. They do what they love – and they do it with love. Everything with them feels very uncomplicated and straightforward. When they guide their students, they do it with a surprising level of integrity and authenticity.”

ZGAT puts out one creative collection per year, and this year’s collection is both visually stimulating and thought provoking: the very definition of art. Read on to discover the source of Mario and Ivana’s inspiration, and take note of their differential philosophies, and perspective-changing outlooks on hair – and life.   

Q. Mario and Ivana: what are your individual roles within ZGAT, and how do you complement one another?

A. Ivana: Mario holds the position of Creative Director; his role is to inspire and provide technical guidance to members of our creative team. He also acts as the lead for our photo-shoots, plus distributes our images to various media outlets (Instagram, Facebook, etc.).

Mario: Ivana is our (very capable and diligent) manager. She is responsible for coordinating everything in regards to the ZGAT Salon and Academy. Her multi-tasking abilities are stunning and inspiring. We definitely compliment each other. Where one struggles, the other excels. I think we each operate from different sides of the brain, so the relationship works beautifully.    

Q. Before cutting a head of hair, you go through distinct steps. Can you share those with us?

A. Mario: Ultimately, we are trying to gather as much information as possible about a client and their hair: The way she washes her hair, how often, in what way she dries and styles it. But more than that, we want to know about the clients’ lifestyle: What she does during the day, what kind of music she likes, her personal style, etc. Then, we perform a hair-growth analysis: Scalp health, hair thickness, density and lastly, natural texture. We follow that with an analysis of the face and bone structure. We take into account the forehead, eyebrows, eyes, nose, lips, jaw, chin, neck, etc.

After we’ve thoroughly examined all of these things, only then will we plan and prepare the details for a haircut. When you take all of these things into account, you can count on a nice, unique form with the possibility of movement and enhancement of the natural texture.     

Q. You put out one collection per year. How do you conceptualize these collections?

A. Ivana: Collecting ideas is a continuous process. Mario has a virtual warehouse, where he has been gathering points of inspiration throughout the years. Each year, he narrows these, and presents a single concept to the rest of the ZGAT team, via video and audio presentation. Each member of ZGAT creative team is assigned a task in the creation of the collection, thus becoming a part of it.


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Mario: As a collection begins to evolve, and begins to come to life, Ivana curates and choreographs the models, effectively creating a visual concept for the ‘stage.’ As for the shapes and colors of the hair, this is something that almost always develops in an organic way.

Mario and Ivana: To successfully create a collection, you need teamwork.

Q. Inspired by controversial Chinese artist, Ren Hang, your current collection is striking. How did you come across his works, and in what way did his images influence the tone of your collection?

A. Ivana: Mario has been following Ren’s Instagram profile for quite some time; he’s viewed his collection, as a whole, taking in every video, article and image available on the internet. He’s a controversial visual artist, but he’s also a poet. His work is considered to be uncensored, erotic, dirty, raw, and somewhat disturbed on nature. What inspired us is the way in which he merges the bodies of his models. His compositions are very creative and interesting.

Mario: Ren’s work is very provocative and (sometimes) explicit. Oftentimes, this is simply too much for the people of China; social attitudes are conservative, there, and people are reluctant to accept his messages. Our collection, RH, is a representation of our spontaneous reaction, of humanity’s spontaneous reaction – and ultimately – a reflection of our state of mind.      

Writers note: Though I usually try to 'leave myself out of my work,' the ZGAT artists felt that my feelings about the collection were worth noting – worth sharing. So I'll say this: upon first inspection, I found that some of the images made me uncomfortable. I wanted to look away, but I couldn't. What I find most noteworthy - aside from the flawlessly cut hair - was the fact that the images made me think. In fact, they made me think a lot. I wondered: Why were these images disturbing to me? The conclusion that I ultimately came to was this: This collection demands that the viewer be comfortable with themselves, and with their sexuality. It was an impactful revelation.

It’s this writer’s opinion, that ZGAT has successfully melded beauty and philosophy - and if you ask me, that's art personified.

Q. You advocate forward movement. How do you make sure that you're always growing, as an artistic team?

A. Mario and Ivana: We’re advocates of doing what you love. Perhaps, it’s cultural, but we’ve been applying ourselves to our passions since childhood; we were lucky enough to find hairdressing at a young age. We like to think that it called us, and not the other way around. As for how we apply ourselves to growth? Six days a week, eight hours per day, we work at the ZGAT Salon, plus we operate the Academy. Additionally, we try and apply ourselves to other artistic projects (such as our collections). Collectively, these endeavors train us, and propel us into the future.  

Q. As a team, you’ve been called, humble, down to earth and kind. Do you feel like your life experiences have shaped your positive and accessible attitudes?

A. Mario and Ivana: Of course, our life experiences have shaped us; they’ve made us who we are. Our country (and it’s struggles) has been hugely influencing. Croatia is a small and modest nation. People are brought up to be hard workers, and most will work hard for their entire lives. Though we’ve never had much, we think that this helps to keep us grounded.

When we were first staring out, it was difficult. We had to explain where we were from, because not many people have heard of Croatia; most people don’t know that it exists. We had to work twice as hard to get noticed, to gain recognition. But these origins have made us who we are. We respect our heritage. Social media has been hugely instrumental in breaking down borders (both real and imagined). You can follow people you never knew existed – it’s amazing!

Truthfully, when we are at home, we are doing what other hairdressers do: working behind the chair for 8 hours per day. The fact that we conduct (educational) seminars doesn’t make us better than anyone else; it simply makes our ideas and techniques good enough to share with our colleagues. And trust us: There are SO many great ideas and techniques out there just waiting to be shared. We don’t think that we are the best. It would be foolish to think that way.

We don’t feel any different than we did two years ago (when nobody knew who we were). We love what we do and we do it with love. We don’t think about anything else.       

Q. Sum up your philosophy and haircutting, and on life.

A. “This adventure is made possible by generations of searchers strictly adherent to a simple set of rules. Test ideas by experiments and observations. Build on those ideas that pass the test. Reject the ones that fail. Follow the evidence wherever it leads, and question everything. Accept these terms, and the cosmos is yours.”

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Cosmos: A Space time Odyssey.    

What ZGAT artists Mario and Ivana truly specialize in is providing a shift in perspective; a shift in how their students see hair and how they ultimately cut hair.

And while a shift in perspective, alone, won’t change your life, it could provide the spark that lights the transformational flame. What you do to keep that fire alive is up to you. 

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