Sharing Voices: David Stanko Talks to Rodney Cutler

David Stanko and Rodney CutlerRedken 5th Avenue Consultant and Master Colorist David Stanko interviews his new boss, Rodney Cutler, the founder, owner and force behind Cutler salons in New York City and Miami, FL. Stanko and Cutler have a candid chat about philosophies on life and work; the famous Emma Watson cut; and how Cutler balances family, work and training for the upcoming New York Ironman.

David Stanko: Are you training for the New York Ironman?

Rodney Cutler: I am. I just did a half Ironman in May – it was hard. I realize I need to figure out a way to do my workout in the morning at 5am, do a full day’s work, be a great dad and play with the kids at night – and then get on the bike for an hour with a belly full of food.

DS: So the Ironman is three months away? We’ll be rooting you on!

RC: Yes, it’s just hard for me to disappear for my training, so I have to put it together in chunks. Actually thought about bringing my stationary bike to my kid’s soccer games (laughing).

DS: You have received some amazing press surrounding the cutting of Emma Watson’s hair. Are you still in touch with her? What are your tips for working with high profile clients?

RC: Yes, I just cut her hair the other week.

I highly recommend reading The Tipping Point. My advice is to find a network and know your craft. If the opportunity to work with a celebrity comes along, take it and be confident. Articulate the decision-making process. As for Emma, it was a one-off thing where someone recommended her to the salon. I was glad this happened 30 years into my career. I feel like I’m balanced in who I am as a hairdresser and who I’m not. It became a layer of what I do rather than define my career. 

With that, as hairdressers we have to be very careful, responsible and respectful. There are implied moral laws in the beauty world. 

DS: What drives you and your partner Redken? Can you tell us about your relationship and partnership?

RC: We are in a fortunate situation. As we all know education is the obvious backbone of many hair salon manufacturer success stories. I tend to think we are one step beyond that. It’s very easy to focus on the media opportunities. I did not want us to be this company that is driven by how much we are celebrated, rather then our craft. You have to be careful not to become a media company. I have always felt that if you focus on your craft and you have the right spokespeople, then the press and the craft come together. Redken is constantly evolving and driven by products and education. Their core values are in the right place.

DS: Would you site Redken as the brand that has helped you with some big opportunities, like Fashion Week?

RC: Yes, working with Redken was one of the top five best decisions I have made. I love that it has been very authentic and organic. We didn’t sit in a room to strategically suck everything out of the relationship. Our conversations (Pat Parenty and I) were driven by two things: focusing on fashion and then for Redken to help leverage our team to take things to the next level. From day one we didn’t have a big master plan. We wanted to grow my team – in eight years, we went from three editorial people to having about 40. We do more shows then anyone, over 40 shows a season now. Also, we were one of the first salons to be connected to a big manufacture and the first salon with a partnership with a manufacturer. Redken did some great things – they identified Guido and at the same time didn’t diminish what we were doing.

DS: You mentioned two names, one of which was Pat Parenty, who is responsible for all of the L’Oreal Professionnel products. I deal with Pat a lot myself. I think you’ll agree in saying, he’s always reachable, honest and simply tells you the way it is.

RC: He has a true intent to help you out, but doesn’t always say yes. He’s just great, he’s awesome. Once he trusts you it’s just, “Go – go and do it.

DS: The other name mentioned was Guido, who I had the opportunity to interview a few months ago for

RC: When you look at the body of Guido’s work, you see how much impact he has had on the conceptual side of hair. I strongly recommend for hairdressers to look at Guido’s portfolio at Look at his body of work – it is diverse, but consistent and a beautiful use of shapes. It is unbelievable how creative he is. His shapes have inspired so much in fashion.

DS: When it comes to your own businesses – your three salons in Manhattan, and one salon in Miami what qualities do you look for in new talent in joining your salons?

RC: Their approachability and ability to evolve. I tend to look to the character side of things. You have to fit into our culture. It’s important for stylists to see their profession as lifestyle and not just a job, especially for younger stylists. When it gets rocky, that’s when you find out what people, and your company, are all about. For example, although I didn’t like going through it, the recession has taught me a few important things: we can survive; we can even thrive and to always re-assess your ways of doing things. 

DS: It’s no secret that I have recently joined the team at Cutler and I’m proud to say, those are some of the reasons why I have come on board. I see first hand at your 57th street location the talent and “fearless colorists” – there was a pink-headed girl, there was an aqua headed dreadlock girl. The colorists’ produce solid, competent, beautiful work. I just love the system of blow dry assistants that you have in place. It allows us colorists to book more color and simultaneously shows how the assistants are being trained. You’ve employed some great practices in your salons. 

RC: We are very fortunate to have you in our midst. But our relationship was a long work in progress. I always encourage stylists to make sure it’s going to be the right fit. Stylists need to interview us just as much, if not more, than we need to interview them. I have no doubt, this is an incredible opportunity. We don’t even realize the number of doors of opportunity in front of us. Like this interview!

DS: Right!  Who knew this could happen so quickly. I’m no fool; I’m going to interview my new boss. I’m going to get a gold star when I come to work today. You mentioned a few moments ago looking back at Guido’s work, for you personally, do you look backwards or forwards for inspiration?

RC: I don’t look backwards at all. I don’t keep tons of memorabilia. I think it’s my sporting background – you are only as good as your last at bat. I consider that to be one of my strengths. I really do wake up early every morning and ask what’s the objective today and how are we going to make it better.

DS: You’re often on TV and videos. How do you feel about it, does that make you nervous?

RC: I’m not nervous, but I don’t like to watch myself afterwards. I know it’s not the right thing to do in order to get better, but I just can’t watch. If I do watch, I watch it alone. I don’t get nervous about being on TV, I get really nervous about delivering the goods and the proper message. My anxiety is result driven. I actually enjoy the moment and the huge rush when I'm on camera, but I’m insecure about delivering.

DS: I understand what you are saying. If one is introspective enough, then you are aware of your inadequacies. We just need to choose to work on it in order to better ourselves. We have to hold ourselves accountable.

RC: I’m blown away by how in control you seem. So – are you really that in control? 

DS: I think there are two keys to that; you have to honest and genuine and you must know your material. If you’re really grounded with your information then you can’t be thrown from it. Secondly, you have to enjoy it. Like you, I honestly find being in front of the camera and people fun and enjoyable. Also, I learned early on to be really nice to production crew. When it’s time for a break and lunch, let them eat first. If they are hungry then you have a cranky crew and they’re not going to look out for the small details - like your collar is crooked or your nose is shiny (laughing). But, I find it all fun.

RC: That’s a good point. I always race to the food, I’m not going to do that any more.

DS: What weighs heavy on your mind and keeps you up at night?

RC: The emotional aspect of the business keeps me up. Since I run the business, with the unbelievable support and help of my manager Derek Reynolds, I don't find the financial part of my business to be stressful. However, making sure the staff feels empowered and inspired, and dealing with personnel is more then just business to me. I think it’s important. I take it personally because it’s someone’s life.

DS: What are some characteristics that people would be surprised to know about you?

RC: I’m more vulnerable than I would like to be at times; also there is a side of me that is incredibly competitive and intense.

DS: What’s the story with Michael Gordon, formally with Bumble & Bumble?

RC: It’s an unbelievable opportunity for me. He’s my Mr. Miagee. Remember Karate Kid? Michael has incredible focus. He built an icon. I encourage people to study it [Bumble & Bumble] and why it worked – and that’s where I need to get better at focusing and de-cluttering. It’s really about shifting our minds, simplifying, and getting to the micro-level. That’s what Michael’s all about. He is incredibly authentic.

DS: What’s next for the Cutler Empire?

RC: Sole focus is to become the best hair salons in the world. 

DS: Wow.

RC: From craft and service, we’ve got long way to go. When we focus on great hair, we become worthy of being the best in the world and going to the next level.

DS: Thank you Rodney, you have been wonderfully candid, humble and insightful. You have given us valuable lessons into the best practices and craft side of the business. See you at work!

RC: David, looking forward to it. To have the opportunity to work with you is incredible. Thank you!