View the interview on Smashbox Studio’s Yellow
Several months ago, I inexplicably found myself on Tabatha Coffey’s Facebook page and it occurred to me that she could be an interesting interview for the blog. She’s a fascinating personality and entrepreneur. She’s in a niche creative industry. And she has a spirited and growing fan following. I wrote her a quick message requesting an interview and within about 20 minutes, I had an enthusiastic “Yes, I’d love to next time I’m in LA” sitting in my inbox.
Then, Tabatha’s Salon Takeover Season 3 was green-lit and schedules got crazy. After months of email tag, the date was set for the interview & photo shoot and finally, I found myself face to face with the slightly scary, highly glamorous (always a good combination) Tabatha Coffey. Fresh off being awarded the HRC Visibility Award, we sat down in the Dark Room Lounge here at SMASHBOX West Hollywood and chatted about her story, Season 3 of her Bravo show, her hair-trend forecast, and what’s up next.
SB: So tell us a little about your background and how you got started?
I was born in Australia, in Brisbane. And I started hairdressing in Australia when I was fourteen. I left Australia and went to London to re-train and just expand my skills; stayed in London for eight years and then moved to America.
SB: Who would you say have been your mentors? Who taught & inspired you?
Vidal Sassoon has always been someone who was a mentor to me because of what he did to change the industry and bring awareness to hairdressers. I adore Vidal Sassoon. The man’s 84 and the legacy he’s created…I think is something that is incredible. My first boss was a huge mentor. He was incredibly…crazy and amazing at what he did. It was very impressionable because I was so young and he taught me that there were no boundaries except the boundaries you put on yourself. So he was a huge influence on me as well. And a lot of designers. I look at fashion…sometimes a lot more than hair. And honestly, I’m inspired by anyone who is standing behind the chair all the time and working. Because it is incredibly rough. It’s a tough job.
SB: What is your hairdressing philosophy?
I’m a purist. I’m a total purist. I believe in hair-cutting as the foundation that sets everything up. Then you can go in and wreck it and texturize it and style it however you want. I believe in the purity of a beautiful, foundational line put in a haircut. And then the creativity of being able to make that into anything else you want it to be.
SB: Is doing hair for Photography or Film something you are interested in doing more of?
I’ve done a good amount of editorial work and it’s something that I love because I like thecollaboration of it. I love to be able to work with a photographer and a stylist and a makeup artist and even a client and bring the dream to life. And I think that when you do that kind of work…because it isn’t salon work and because you’re creating a look, you can be so much more creative. You can think outside the box a lot more. And that’s something I truly love to do.
SB: Who are the other hairstylists out there that you admire & think are doing great work?
Guido [Palau] is an amazing session stylist and does incredibly beautiful work. Serge [Normant] does incredibly beautiful work and all the fashion shows. Those people I look at because they are editorial stylists and they’re working with designers and they’re doing runway shows. They’re kind of setting a trend that is trickling down to the rest of us.
SB: Any hair trends that you’re noticing? Or forecasts?
I look at fashion because fashion drives everything – whether it be what we wear, the makeup that we choose, the colors that we wear…to me it all comes from fashion. I think, sadly, people are so consumed with celebrities. Sometimes they look at who whoever is wearing on the red carpet and that’s…not necessarily a trend to me. A trend to me is sitting in a busy street and just watching; watching people and seeing what the vibe is there at the moment – that’s how you see a trend. And to me, they’re the most interesting trends. But I think the forecasting comes from the fashion world. It comes from innovative designers that are trying to put together a look. And we all kind of dilute it and dilute it and dilute it until it gets to the point, where it gets to the masses.
I like that there’s more volume in hair. Everything was so incredibly flat for such a long time. I found it boring. Super straight hair can look nice aesthetically but it’s really not that sexy. So I love that there’s more texture in hair, more movement, more waves. But it’s rough, not that curling iron set. It’s people working with their natural texture or putting some movement in and wrecking it out with the right product. I just love that volume is starting to make a comeback.
Color’s interesting because I think people are a bit more experimental. So they don’t mind pieces in that are a little bit more interesting and a little bit brighter. It just seems like it’s a little bit more fun, which is what is should be. Hair should be fun. It’s a great accessory. It’s something that you wear everyday. And you can change it everyday. And change your whole entire look and persona. And I think some people don’t realize how powerful that is. They concentrate on changing their clothing, their makeup but they don’t realize that just slight, subtle changes to their hair can change their look and the perception that people have of them.
I really just thought it would be fun. It was something new. There was a casting that went out and it sounded like it would be interesting, just something different. I really had no idea what to expect, what would happen, or where it would lead. It just seemed like something different and fun.
When Shear Genius finished, the show was totally wrapped and…I had a phone call from BRAVO. And they asked me if I would go have lunch with them at the office. I had no idea why. I thought it was probably just to say goodbye. And they asked me if I’d be interested in doing my own show for them.
SB: How do you explain mass audience interest in your show & the hair salon industry?
Well, I think everyone can relate to hair. Everyone has had a good or bad hair-experience. So I think that hair is very relatable to anyone across the board. And I think that the business that we talk about is relatable to any business. It doesn’t matter if it’s a restaurant, or a clothing boutique, or an office. It’s very relatable. The problems that these salons are having, whether they be staffing issues or lack of cleanliness or financial issues…anyone who has a business, struggles with those same things. So I think it opens it up. So that it’s really not about hairdressing as much as it is about business, and interaction with staff members, and how you treat clients, and how you keep yourself motivated, and how you keep yourself on top of your game. And I think people look at it and it resonates. To me, it’s great because I get letters from every industry and people say “Thank you. You made me reassess…that I’m lazy sometimes, that I’ve become complacent,” or “I don’t care as much as I used to,” or ” I lost my passion” for whatever it is that they do. And I think that’s something that people see in me. I’m really passionate about what I do. I get a little crazy sometimes, I know, and I lose my temper. But I’m passionate. And I really do want to help these salons and I think that comes through for people.
SB: What can we expect to see in Season 3?
We will travel again. Every area has its own geography and its own flavor. And I think that’s a great thing to show people. And to be able to go in and see the challenges that maybe one city’s facing to the other. I would like to tackle some different aspects of the hairdressing industry this time. So I would love to takeover…a beauty school. I think that could be really, really great. I’d like to delve into some different business issues. And I think that they’re out there with a lot of the salons that have been contacting me, especially with the economy. There are a lot of different issues that people are facing at the moment. So far…we’ve had some exciting ones.
SB: You have a very dedicated following. And we noticed that you are very involved in responding to your fans through social media. How do you have the time?
Y’know what? I just make the time. It’s really hard sometimes because it’s time consuming. But I’m really, honestly, so appreciative of the support, the fans, the questions people ask me; people looking for help. If people are going to take the time and support me…the least I can do is write back to them and thank them or answer their questions or tell them what’s going on. So it’s something that I consciously make the time for. Sometimes it works and I can do it daily and sometimes it doesn’t. But I don’t sleep very much [laughs]…so you often see me facebooking at obscure hours or answering tweets twelve hours later because that’s when I have time to do it. But I just really appreciate everyone’s support and think that they deserve to be acknowledged. The funny thing is that no one thinks it’s me. But it’s crazy. You can tell it’s me. I don’t have an assistant. No one’s answering for me. I always get the question, “Is this really Tabatha?” And it pisses me off.
SB: What’s next up for you? Anything else we can expect you to takeover?
I would love a training academy. That is my dream. And that’s something that I’m really actively working on. I would like to open a school for hairdressers, where they can expand their education on practical hairdressing terms and come out trained by me and my staff. But also for established hairdressers – so that they can learn more about the business of hairdressing. They can learn more about the creative side of hairdressing and the other things that will help translate more into more revenue in their businesses and their pockets. I think that’s something that’s lacking a little bit within the industry at the moment. It’s always one or the other. It’s creative or foundational but it doesn’t cover everything that’s going on within the industry. So I would love to do that.
Product is something that I’ve definitely thought about; having my own product line. That’s something I would love to be able to bring to people as well.
And…there may be a book in the future.
Quick Questions with Tabatha Coffey…
How would you describe your personal style?
I like drama. I like dramatic clothes. And I like edge. So I tend to like things that are tailored and slightly dominatrix-esque.
Tell us, who does your hair?
I color it myself. I always color it myself. Cut-wise, I have a couple friends that work in LA, who do it if I’m in LA. If I’m home, then in my salon. My staff do it.
What does it take to get an appointment with you?
Shit. Well, at the moment the list is really long because of filming and my commitment to Season 3. Typically, I’m booked out three or four months in advance with regular clients and taking new clients that come in as well. But at the moment, it has gone now to 6-8 months. It’s rough. You need patience.
What are some of your favorite LA restaurants or spots?
If you could pick your last meal, what would it be?
Bow pasta. Preferably homemade pasta with fresh porcini mushrooms; sitting in Italy with a nice glass of wine…I’d be good.
Finish the sentence(s)…
Always…be true to yourself.
Never…compromise your own integrity.