David Stanko Interview with Ruth Roche

David Stanko and Ruth RocheDavid: Hello everyone, this is David Stanko on behalf of stylistvoice.com and I have the distinct pleasure to interview a wonderful colleague of mine, Ruth Roche, who is also a personal friend of many, many years! Finally we get to share time together on the phone, during this interview after sharing many a stage all over the world together. So, Ruth, how are you today?

Ruth: I'm doing great, I'm happy to be talking to you.

David: Good, you are a part of a very elite special group of folks as part of this Stylist Voice and we are thrilled that you have accepted to do this! So let's just jump right in, here is my first Ruth Roche question: Give me that the 30-second elevator pitch on who is Ruth Roche?

Ruth: Ruth Roche is a four-time NAHA winner in our industry, has contributed to the Milady Textbook of Cosmetology, it is kind of kooky, kind of crazy. Loves to educate people, will dabble in many different genres of our industry, be it book worth celebrities, editorial, education and salon owners and salon stylists.

David: Wow! That is impressive – I would hire you just on that! Ruth, you have mentioned sort of a vague outline of so many things that you have done so it is going to help our listeners hop in for second because I know that you are often talk about Trevor Sorbie, you have talked about him on occasion and for our listeners, could you please tell everybody who Trevor is and the impact he's had on your career?

Ruth: Sure, Trevor Sorbie is one of the greatest hairdressers of all time and he began his career—his father was a barber—and he ended up getting into hairdressing with Vidal Sassoon and became an artistic director. And in 1974 while he was with Vidal Sassoon, he cut the Wedge haircut, which became very famous, right? And so that was really what put him on the map when he was with Vidal Sassoon and at the time he was the first person that really started cutting hair with razors and at Sassoon that was not part of their philosophy. And so he kind of broke the mold and kind of busted out and started doing his own thing. He's always known for his very avant-garde work. He was someone that I always admired and I thought wow! Now I might have the opportunity to try out and work for him—I was all over it. And terrified. But I had to try.

David: When did that happen, when did you have the opportunity to try out or meet him?

Ruth: That was in 1988. And he had—there was an ad, I believe it was in American Salon Magazine and it said "Trevor Sorbie wants you!" like it was one of those Army posters, you know, that he was starting an artistic team in the United States to support his product line, and one of the women I worked with she said, "Ruthie you gotta do this." She ripped out the page and put it in my cubby at work. At the time I had only been working at the salon for three years, I had only been on the board for two and half years and I went for it and it was very amazing process, something that I don't regret doing and it was good.

David: Where were you working at the time, Ruth?

Ruth: I was working at a salon in Santa Barbara, California, called Apace. What's interesting is this summer, I went back to that salon, which has a different name now and but is owned by the original owner, and I hadn't walked past those doors in 25 years. And I got to see some of the people that trained me when I was an apprentice, when I started out, so it was a pretty phenomenal experience—to be able to go back there 25 years later and share stuff with people that got me started.

David: Hard to believe it has been that long, isn't it?

Ruth: Yeah, and I just realized I think last week that it's been 30 years! Yesterday I was teaching a class that's an exchange for Pureology and one of the students said, "How long have you been doing hair?" I said 30 years, and then everybody goes, "Whoa." And then somebody goes, "Well how old are you?" And I'm not going to say that right now!

David: I hope you kicked them out!

Ruth: Yeah I sure did! Right now I'm on Fifth Avenue.

David: So you said a few moments ago, how many times have you worked with NAHA?

Ruth: I have won NAHA four times, I've been a finalist for NAHA multiple times, which is also an honor.

David: In what categories were those four awards?

Ruth: Two of those times were Avant-Garde Stylist of the Year. One was Hair Stylist of the Year, and then Master Stylist of the Year, which is a category that you need to be invited to enter—it is for the people who have either won previously Hair Stylist of the Year, or industry icons.

David: I know you really well, as I mentioned at the beginning, so I know it is hard for you to use the words "icon" and "invite" and "award winner!" When it comes to NAHA, what advice—because you are certainly in a position to give advice—what advice would you give to the recent winners of NAHA? Would you give a message of humility or appreciation, or something completely different?

Ruth: I think that's just perfect, because it is wonderful to win something, it is such a great feeling, and I've been on both sides: the agony of defeat and the winning side of it. For those that won this year, I think it's important to publicize it as much as possible, you know, make the most of it, use it, because you have worked hard for it. But to always stay humble and know that—you know—enjoy it now. You never know what the future holds. You can win a million more times, you know? And you never know what opportunities are around the corner.

David: That's a pretty powerful message, living in the moment and appreciating it, thanks for that. You've had really such an amazing career from being a hairdresser and an educator to the awards that we were just talking about. What sacrifices did you have to make to stay so career-focused over the years?

Ruth: I never actually thought of it that way, like "Okay, I have to give this up in order to do this." What happened was that I was so busy and so passionate about my career that I never thought about it. And now looking back on a 30-year career, I didn't have children. I almost got married one time. I think living your life on the road—doing shows and travelling all over the place, and then going to the salon and being sort of married to that—your career becomes your lifestyle when you take the path that I did, which is full-on jumped in at 100 miles an hour. And so I think that people talk about balance and having that balance in your life, and I have always found that a little bit challenging, to have that balance. And I admire people that are able to find it, but as far as sacrifices go, I never consciously chose not to do those things. It just didn't roll out that way. It didn't unfold in that way for me.

David: Wow. I think so many can relate to what you are saying. You know you start jogging, and then running, and the next thing you know you have run 10 miles, 20 miles, 30 miles and it just sort of seems to happen seamlessly. And all of the sudden, 30 years later, you wake up and somebody says, "How old are you?"

Ruth: 102!

David: Right! It was fantastic. Ruth, I do happen to know that you were—and I'm going to use the past tense—you were once a salon owner. To coin one of the TV programs today, "love it or leave it?"—and why?

Ruth: I think that a lot of people, like me, have a dream of having a salon—[people] who are artists, who love doing hair—and when you open a salon without any kind of business experience or working through business programs… I never did anything like that, and you know, my business plan was based on having an academy in a salon. The academy portion of it always went really well. The salon went really well. What happened was, I didn't really know what I was doing, so thank God I had friends in the industry who helped me get things moving. I had it for 8 years and the first 5 years was fantastic. Besides building the excitement, I didn't mind working all those hours and staying late. It was fun. And I loved what was created there.

And then the economy crashed and a lot of our clients were from the downtown area in Manhattan, the financial district. It hit everybody in our nation, and it definitely affected the salon and the business of the salon. And over time, it was just more and more work to--the amount of work that it takes to successfully run a business, and lead a group of people, and coach them and have them having a great career and helping them to grow—that's really more than full-time job in itself. And I was trying to do that—besides the clients that were behind the chairs and having an agent, I was working with celebrities and doing fashion and advertising, and I was still doing shows. And I started working with Pureology again, during the last couple of years I had this salon—maybe it's ADD, I don't know—but I like being involved in different things, instead of the same thing all of the time. And running a salon takes a different set of skills that I simply don't have. You know I'm a leader, but I'm not a manager. I don't care about the numbers; you have to care about the numbers.

David: Ruth, what was the name of the salon when you first opened it?

Ruth: The name of the salon was Rare Salon and it stands for Ruth Anne Roche, Etc. It was actually Ruth Anne Roche Educational Production. That was the name of my company, but I always thought Rare Hair was a great name for a salon. And the experience that I wanted my clients to have there was rare—I wanted them to have a rare experience [regarding] the way they were treated and getting the coolest hair ever. In New York City, that's tough. Customer service sometimes is—I don't mean in hair salons--but everywhere, it can be on the low end of the totem pole, as you know. I just wanted it to be a place where people never wanted to go anywhere else, because they had such a great experience.

David: And after your ownership of the salon, what happened to the life of the salon?

Ruth: I was fortunate that I had such a great team that is still there and one of the team members—her name is Fatima Shik—she purchased the salon three years ago. And, she has a much better business mind than I do and it's really thrilling to see her run the business like she has. You know, right now, it's still Rare, and her company, which is FS Charlie. So it's Rare by FS Charlie. I'm there as Artistic Director, and I take care of my clientele that is still there on a part-time basis. But it's great because I got to build something, and then to pass the torch, and I [still] get to be a part of it, boss everybody around if I feel like it. But I get to go in and still be a part of the team and I still get to be involved if Fatima needs me. And it's great, because I don't have all of the other things that I'm not good at tying up my time.

David: Okay, now tough question, if you weren't hairdressing, what career would you want to do?

Ruth: I love animals! I love all animals, except for maybe New York City rats, but I saw one the other day and I even thought he was cute for a second. I would probably work with animals in some way. I don't think I could be a veterinarian, because I can't deal with blood and stuff. I could never be a doctor or nurse—it just freaks me out too much, but maybe working in research or animal rescue—something about working with animals is just perfect.

David: Maybe you could be a Lamar groomer!

Ruth: Well, they have beautiful eyelashes, so yeah, that could be cool.

David: And just think—the hair that you use could turn into hair extensions and hairpieces!

Ruth: Which is another source of income!

David: Right, you are always thinking. Speaking of the hairpieces and things, create a picture of your New York City apartment. Do you have hairpieces and mannequin heads and model wardrobes everywhere?

Ruth: Sometimes, it's all put away. And that's usually no longer than 24 to 48 hours before I stress back out at the closet again. And it's mannequin heads, and another hobby of mine is painting. I've started painting these big paintings that are 3-feet by 4-feet. They're huge and they're in my apartment. I use big easels—I've got an art area when you first walk in through the front door that's really just supposed to be an entryway, and that's usually where I have all of my extra hair stuff, because I have to have every possible thing you can ever possibly need to create whatever you need with hair. And it just doesn't fit. You know, I have a one-bedroom apartment. I have a couple of cabinets and closets, but there are multipurpose linens, mannequin heads, lots of model wardrobes and tax records, all smashed in the same place. So, usually there is a bunch of it either in a pile or stacked up, with mannequin heads rolling around.

David: That sounds familiar to me. Speaking of those heads rolling around, what would you say your process is to prepare for a show or an event that you're going to main stage or teach at? What's your process?

Ruth: That is a good question. It's different [each] time, but the first thing that came to mind is that—like having a date, or something that you have to prepare for, whether it is NAHA shoot—you know there is a deadline, you have to get it done by a certain time. I am one of those people who needs deadlines, I need that pressure to get things done and that is a big motivator.

When there's something I need to prepare for, I usually take like a boatload of all kinds of magazines and start flipping through them, pulling things out. Whether it is a photograph that I like, a fashion story, weirdo amazing hair—it could be the color, it could be the lighting in the picture, it could be an article about bloggers or whatever, just anything that catches my eye as something new and exciting. And then I start taking the pages that I tear out and put them in piles according to the sort of themes that start to show up. There are, like, pastel fabrics going on everywhere. Or, right now, what happens to be really hot is the mixing of prints—prints that would normally clash mixed together in one garment.

And so we can take things that are going on in fashion, or elsewhere in the world, and utilize them as inspiration by putting two different patterns on someone's head of hair—coloring it in two different patterns mixed together. You know, that's just an example of doing something like that. I saw a picture once of a tattoo—a makeup tattoo on someone's face—that was really swirly and very curved—it wasn't hard or sailor-like or anything like that—and it looked like it could've been her hair combed on her face. And that became something that I was obsessed with and I ended up doing a NAHA collection around it, of hair that looked like it had been painted onto the skin in all of these different vibrant colors. So, that kind of thing, looking at all of the different kinds of hair there is to do.

There's shape there's texture, there's long, there's short, there's down, there's up, there's weird, there's simple. How can we take opposites and put them together? You know, it might be awful. It might look terrible. But if we don't try, we'll never get to the next thing.

David: I think that is terribly motivational—just from the process of miscellaneous magazine tears, and not starting with anything in mind, but looking for the common denominator, and how you form categories, and fill up those buckets, and then soon you are on to a new theme—I think that's terrific. Speaking of interesting things like that, I know that you have been asked to return to Australia for the big hair show Down Under, and I also know you have a few Aussie friends that will come to New York, and stay with you, and job shutter with you. How did that whole thing start, what prompted you to almost have—like, a hairdresser-exchange program?

Ruth: Yeah, it just worked out that way, that when I was with Trevor Sorbie, I was in Australia twice with him doing big shows down there. And then when I moved to Redken, they knew me from my Trevor Sorbie days, and Redken brought me back to Australia. They have a big show every year, called Hair Expo, in June. And so that's the event that I had gone twice with Trevor. I think I went two or three times when I was with Redken. Then I went another few times when I left Redken and I was with Rare. And then, along the way, when I was with Redken they had an artist at the time—he has a salon in Cambria, called Form—and he just took care of me like nobody's business, and made sure that I always knew where I was going, what needed to happen, helped me get everything that I needed and just kept me on track. He was my right-hand man every time that I went there on behalf of Redken. So that's how we started our friendship, and then when they would come to New York, he would stay with me, and when I would go down there I would stay with him. I actually spent almost three weeks at this place on the coast at Christmastime, which is summertime for them. It was amazing, and beautiful, and just such a great place, such friendly people.

So, I built a name for myself there and then when certain Australians would come over here, who knew whom I was, he would say, "Hey, I'm coming to New York with my shadow, can I come hang out at the salon?" and I said, "Sure!" And we had one guy that shadowed for a month! He'd decided to go around the world for a year—Jason was his name—and he came and assisted us for a month just for fun, and it was amazing. We had to develop a special Australian scalp massage because he was such a good shampoologist, and we had to name it after him, the Aussie Scalp Massage.

David: Wow! That is exciting when folks are so into what they do, they will give up the year or month and—I'd come hang with you for a month.

Ruth: I would love to hang with you for a month. When are you coming?

David: I'll be downtown in a few minutes! Ruth, the last few questions I want to throw at you are random, and I think they'll be insightful in terms of rounding out the Ruth Roche experience. First: what is one of the books you are currently reading?

Ruth: I'm reading a book called The Return, and it's a Sci-Fi novel about about people who have come back, that have died. But they're not like walking around like zombies—they are the [same] people that they were when they died. And it's interesting because I don't like zombie movies—they scare me, and then I have nightmares and I can't do it. But this is more of the psychological, twisted situation that I'm trying to figure out, why they are coming back, what is going on and all that—how the world is treating these people when they come back, because it honestly doesn't know what to do with them. They are not evil and they are not trying to hurt anyone, but everyone is afraid of them at the time.

David: It sounds like a couple of the books you were mentioning to me about Buddhist philosophy, or reincarnation, or working within and on yourself—it sounds like a modern twist of that.

Ruth: Yeah, and I've always got some book like that sitting on my night stand or I travel with it because my goal is to live in the moment, and it's probably one of the hardest things to do. To appreciate this moment, right now—Zen Buddhism is about that. There are a lot of philosophies about that; you and I have talked about that a lot. At the end of the day, that is really what is important, you know? It's not things that have happened in the past, not what is going to happen tomorrow, but what is going on right now.

David: So let's pretend that, right now, you and I are stranded on a deserted island and the only way that you can make money is to cut hair. Or the way that you can get food is to cut hair, and you are allowed to bring one thing with you. Is it a razor or scissors?

Ruth: Would I be cutting your hair?

David: No, because I'm growing mine out—I'm going to do the island chic for a while.

Ruth: Okay, I would definitely choose scissors because you can use scissors and get a similar result to a razor. You can do different techniques with the scissors and get a soft, centered edge on the hair, whereas with the razor is not as easy to cut lines on the ends of the hair, and you know, it's just a different tool and it's mostly made to soften hair. Sometimes you need to add strength, but with the scissors you have more options. That's why.

David: Wow, great answer. And the Ruth Roche that we all know has a loyal following. People come to see you, and they enjoy your technical aspect, and your personality, and the talent you have. What would you say if your goal was to attract a new audience beyond those loyal Ruth Roche followers?

Ruth: When I opened Rare, I stopped travelling as much as for these shows, so for a period of about eight years I was out there, but not as much. In those eight years, everyone started doing hair at that time. You know, people who had been doing hair ten years or less may not have seen any of my classes or have been to any of my classes or shows. So, that's an audience that doesn't know me, and that I don't know, and that I would love to know. It's also the generation of social media, so the way that I'm trying to reach out to them is through social media. The younger stylists that are coming into my world are coming in either as students or through social media. I'd love to be more involved with young people starting out in this industry.

David: Terrific, what would you say is next for Ruth?

Ruth: I'm really drawn towards who the next stars are going to be. I've been so lucky for what I have been able to do in the industry. I'm not planning on going anywhere or going away or retiring, so I feel like I could help the next generation of hairdressers become the stars, the leaders, you know, and that means taking people under my wing. You know they want to be platform artists, working with the apprentices in the salon, and the newer staff, anybody who has potential and wants to grow. I'm excited about that.

David: Fantastic. You know my last question, which is always fun, and since you live in Manhattan I'm hoping you'll give this thought: If you had your choice, would you rather have your name appear on page six of the New York Post, or to be seen on the Red Carpet?

Ruth: Oh god, I love that. I would want to be seen on the red carpet. That's more glamorous, it's like I get to wear a cool dress probably and get my hair and makeup done and look like a celebrity. So yeah, the page six, the publicity could be amazing, but you never know what you're going to be publicized for. It could be something not positive so to end up on page six could be, you know a 50/50 shot of what kind of publicity you might be getting.

David: Wow, great answer. Well Ruth, listen, on behalf of American Salon and Stylist Voice and myself, I want to say thank you for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to join this group of illustrious folks in stylistvoice.com. We'll look for you in the magazines, on the main stages, and everywhere else that there is hair to be had. Thank you, Ruth, for everything.

Ruth: Thank you so much, David, for thinking of me! It's been really fun.

David: Take care, love you!

Ruth: You too, love you too.