He found himself in the spotlight when he created David Beckham’s famed World Cup mohawk in 2002. He also trained alongside the household name stylist Lee Stafford. However, Adee Phelan has much more to talk about with his launch Sknhead, the first product range to combine hair care and skin care.
In this month’s Ask the Expert, we find out how Adee made his journey to the top and what makes Sknhead so special…
When did you first realise that a career in hairdressing was for you?
The first time I thought that hairdressing was going to be my profession was when I went to the British Hairdressing Awards 1997/98 with Lee Stafford. Lee won Men’s British Hairdresser of the Year and at the time I was his interior designer. He got me up on stage and said “this is my painter and decorator friend!” On the way back in the car, Lee said to me, “you’d make a great hairdresser”. I kind of shrugged it off.
Six months later, I was doing some artwork in Lee’s shop while he was doing a haircut. I made a suggestion and Lee kind of looked at me as if to say, “crack on with your painting!” Later, Lee said, “you know that idea you came up with today? It was a pretty cool idea, but it probably wasn’t the right time to say it.” That’s when I thought, maybe I’ve got an eye for hair, maybe I’ve got an eye for design.
Lee took me under his wing. I lived with him when I was homeless in Essex. People like Martyn Holmes, Steve Turner and Lee Stafford trained me. It was 10 months of boot camp! 18 months to the day, I was picking up Men’s British Hairdresser of the Year. From that point, I never looked back. I thought, to be a great hairdresser, you not only have to have great technique, you need to have an eye for design.
What inspired your Sknhead range of products?
I didn’t want a huge range of products. I wanted a range that was compact. I also wanted each product to be able to deliver more than one service. So I wanted, for example, my pomade, which is fundamentally a styling product, to be a blow dry product as well. Suede Head; I wanted to be a really cool textured product, but I also wanted that to be a blow dry product. Silver Fox; I obviously wanted that to be for silver hair to give it a really clean, fresh look, but I also wanted it to work as a toner.
So, the whole inspiration behind the brand was to create multifunctional products in a compact range that wouldn’t confuse people. Many brands out there, and they are amazing brands, can get confusing with light waxes, heavy waxes, textured wax, this or that wax… I just wanted 7 products that could go in your tool kit or your retail stand and do the A-Z of luxury grooming. So that was the concept behind it – compact, luxury, quality and multi-functional.
What would you say is the hero product of the Sknhead range?
I love all the products in the Skinhead range, but the hero product has got to be Game Changer. The others took a long process to get right, but Game Changer took five years. It’s extremely difficult to get a product that’s a moisturiser, a tattoo balm, a blow dry product and a finishing product all in one. I was even told by industry greats that it’s impossible. Well it’s possible now – I’ve done it!
Game Changer can tap into so many markets. It’s a great for holidays, too, because it’s got that coconut summer feel to it. Every luxury brand has a hero product that carries the range and Sknhead’s is definitely Game Changer. While all my products carry themselves, this is an industry first. I truly believe that I’ve created something that’s never been done before, so I’m extremely proud of Game Changer.
What is your first memory of noticing great hair?
My first memory of noticing great hair was Vidal Sassoon. Before I got into hairdressing I was an interior designer and loved architecture. To me, Vidal Sassoon was more than a hairdresser, he was an architect of hair. He was the man who took design and brought it into hairdressing by talking about lines, bone structure, face shapes and head shapes.
We all have our favourite hairdresser and opinions on who is great, but there is no question that Vidal Sassoon brought these amazing concepts of design and architecture into hairdressing. He made it possible to create shapes that were never created before. Of course, Lee Stafford and the guys, Martyn Holmes and Steve Turner, inspired me to start my career, but my first real interest was Vidal Sassoon, the king of hair design.
What piece of advice do you wish you’d been given when you first set out into the hairdressing craft?
If you want to make it to the top, there will be no social life. No watch, no clocks, no windows. You might have to sacrifice family, relationships, holidays. You’ll need commitment, dedication and focus. Invest every penny you have into education and seminars. Never take no for an answer. Basically, you will have to sacrifice your life to make it to the top, like the greats of any industry!
If you want a 9 to 5 job, hairdressing is wonderful, but you won’t be picking up awards and creating iconic looks without sacrifice. I’ve done it for 18 years, working 16 hour days, so my main piece of advice would be this – prepare to make sacrifices.
How did the Sknhead brand start?
It was about 17 years ago, the first time I was nominated for British Hairdresser of the year. I got to my room to do my hair for the award show – yes, I did have hair back then! – and realised I forgot my hair products. I had this coconut moisturiser in my bag, so I put it on my hair and body and went out to win my award.
The next day, everyone asked me what I had in my hair and said it looked really cool. The idea started then. I thought, wouldn’t it be amazing if you could get a product that you could use on your body and your hair? That’s how Sknhead first started.
17 years later, I’ve endorsed lots of brands and had products in the supermarkets, but I wanted to create my first luxury grooming range. I wanted it to be really luxurious and high quality, not mass produced. It took me five years just to develop that one multi-use product because it had to be light enough for your skin but heavy enough for hair. I wanted it to be a tattoo balm, beard moisturiser, blow dry and finishing product all in one, so you can imagine how long it took to balance all those processes! We launched Sknhead 3 months ago and I am very, very proud.
What advice would you give to hairdressers and barbers just setting out?
Focus on technique. Don’t worry about being famous or getting Instagram followers; focus on technique, technique, technique.
Invest your money into seminars and shows. Never stop learning, Be focussed, dedicated and put the work in. Don’t chase awards awards and fame, just keep practicing.
Come up with your own ideas and inspire yourself. Don’t be worried about copying other hairdressers, because if you’re copying someone, you’re going to become a watered down version of them. Look up to them and take great things from them, but put your own twist and taste into everything. It’s a wonderful industry, so invest the time, hardwork and dedication.
Where do you get your inspiration to keep motivated and keep pushing yourself?
My whole career, Alexander McQueen has inspired me. Second, Tom Ford, for that luxury feel and quality.
Number three, the people I surround myself with. My PA, Jez Wilcox, is an amazing guy and always tells me when I’m going wrong. He’s not afraid to say, ‘no, let’s not do that, let’s do this instead’. Don’t have people around you who are ‘yes men’.
Finally, where I live in Soho. Any designer or creative will agree, that’s where you find motivation, from the streets of Soho, Covent Garden, New York City – you name it. You’ll always find creative people walking the streets that will inspire you. Don’t look at magazines – inspire yourself.
How has social media changed the hairdressing and barbering world?
Social media is an amazing platform. When I first started out, we did a haircut or collection and posted it to a magazine. We’d wait three months for it to be printed and we’d get excited. These days, you can do a haircut, upload it to social media and the whole world can see it.
Social media can be a wonderful platform, but please don’t post gimmicks. Post your techniques and tricks. Have some fun and enjoy the work. But when it comes to cutting people’s hair with an axe, what is that saying to the industry? So my answer to social media is that it’s been a wonderful thing for the industry when it comes to getting your name out there and building a profile. In the wrong hands, it can be terrible, but it is amazing for young hairdressers to get noticed, especially outside of the big cities.