Sassoon Academy's Right of Passage Into the Inner Circle

A Right of Passage

On the evening of Friday, March 20, 2015 an elite group gathered in the Windy City. The crowd included Sassoon International Creative Director Mark Hayes, U.S. Creative Director of Education Traci Sakosits (via Skype), and an exclusive who’s who of the beauty industry, including our own Vice President of Digital Gordon Miller. 

The spotlight was on Travis Smith and his creative collection. All in all, there were 11 models, exemplifying his take on a futuristic, dystopian theme. The hair: inspired by Canadian vocalist, Alice Glass, of electronic band Crystal Castles. The fashion: influenced by a Danish designer out of Copenhagen who once worked under the direction of Alexander McQueen, was by Anne Sofie Madsen. The music and mood: driven by a 1988 Japanese science fiction thriller film, Akira. In the moment, Smith just wanted to hide. But there was no need. The presentation ended, and Hayes critiqued the work and welcomed him further into the inner circle of Sassoon, increasing Smith’s chance of one day representing the highest tier of the well-respected brand. “The collection included extra effort that went above and beyond,” Sakosits says. “That is why Mark passed him with distinction.”


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Smith’s collection epitomizes the training of the Sassoon team, and how it doesn’t just offering training to others, but also provides internal training—an integral part of the culture, one that contains historical heritage, is greatly admired, and is represented and carried out under the creative leadership of Hayes.

Smith’s journey started in 2011 when he was convinced by his then girlfriend to attend ISSE, where he watched a Sassoon presentation. “What drew me in was the craftsmanship and inspiration of combining music, art and architecture,” he says. “Everything is very specific. That turned my eye.”

Smith, an Orange County, California native turned Chicagoan, when he became the city's Sassoon Academy lead cutting instructor, graduated from Paul Mitchell The School Costa Mesa and directed a Robert Cromeans salon for the first half of his career. In 2012 Smith started his training in Beverly Hills, spent over a year learning the techniques, and accepted a position at the Santa Monica Academy in July 2013. The next year he relocated to Chicago.

“Travis is very dedicated to what he does,” Sakosits says. “He understands how to cut hair, and as a teacher he has a desire to share that.” All creative directors celebrate their interest in hair and their progressive skills with biannual presentations. The path is simple but the presentations are not. As an assistant, you qualify to create a class presentation, known as a salon day. That is the entrance into the next level—stylist—which requires working on the floor for six months to a year. Then a date is set for a creative presentation to showcase the talent of the stylist, who has built a clientele and is no longer assisting. 

When the initial training finishes and a stylist decides that they want to be on the creative team, they take a leadership path. When the stylist is ready to be promoted, it's celebrated with a creative presentation.

“The biggest challenge for me was trying to make it so it didn’t come off cheesy,” Smith says. “If you’re doing something futuristic, it can get cheesy. I didn’t want it to come off tiresome or cliché.”

Afterward, Smith didn’t have much time to celebrate. The next day he would be up early for ABS Chicago. “There’s never really a moment where you sit back and say, ‘This is awesome.’ You take it in, you think about what you can do better and you get ready for the next thing.” And it looks like that next big thing is Smith. —Kelsey Murray, Digital Editor

Photography: Joshua Flowers; Photography: Randy Taylor