For Howard McLaren—hairstylist, creative director, educator, photographer, videographer and engineer—art takes many forms.
It seems as if Tev Finger, CEO of R+Co’s parent company Luxury Brand Partners, made the phone call to Howard McLaren at the perfect time. McLaren was working with Amanda Wall, now R+Co’s artistic director, at Whitehouse in Los Angeles; “not really a salon, but a kind of lab,” he says. He started Whitehouse after stepping out of his role as creative director of Bumble and bumble, craving more involvement and influence. When Tev Finger approached him about this new brand, at first, McLaren wasn’t thrilled. “I told him I didn’t want to go back into the industry and be a puppet—I didn’t want to sell out,” he says. But when he found out he’d be collaborating with Garren and Thom Priano, he was floored by the idea.
McLaren’s story starts in Scotland, where he was born and studied engineering. He got his first taste of the beauty industry when he attended a party hosted by his sister’s stylist. “I discovered these insane fashion people,” he recalls. He trained in Glasgow, but it wasn’t until the mid-80s in London where he met Anthony Mascolo of TIGI that he immersed himself in the hairdressing world, simultaneously growing an interest in photography and videography. After discovering education and stage work in London, McLaren relocated to Paris to do session work for major magazines, where he encountered razor cutting and Bumble and bumble founder Michael Gordon. He decided to move to New York to work for Bumble and bumble as a top stylist, where he also worked on educational films and product design. “We had no rules,” he says, “and we didn’t fit in with the whole idea of distributors and products, so we made our own and they became hugely successful.”
Though a huge believer in education, McLaren says he didn’t start a program at Bumble and bumble for almost a decade, until the products took off. The program broke down the basics: All students started at the same level with classes like razor or scissor cutting, focusing on technique. “We wanted to make sure that students understood the classics, how to do everything from a roller set to a great one-length haircut,” McLaren says. “Everyone thinks they can do a blow-dry, but doing a blow-dry for Vogue is different from doing one in the salon.” That disconnect is something McLaren is still trying to abolish. “I’m always looking to see not what’s cool but what’s necessary: What can I bring to a young hairdresser or a hairdresser who’s getting bored?” he says.
And at R+Co, it still comes down to education for McLaren. In addition to involvement in every aspect of the brand—shooting photography for the packaging, handpicking designers and writers—he’s insistent on helping the industry understand the classics and the hairdressers who created them. What’s more, a school is in the works. “For us, this is an opportunity to help change our industry,” he says. “We want to encourage people to become influencers, the next Garren or the next Sassoon.” Or even the next McLaren. ✂ —Kristen Heinzinger
Photography: ; COURTESY OF HOWARD MCLAREN