In this month’s edition of ‘Ask The Expert‘ we speak to Tom Connell, Artistic Director at Trevor Sorbie to discover how he has built a career in hairdressing and the moves he made to go on to lead an international brand. We delve into all areas from Tom’s professional training to how he feels the business of hair is evolving in 2018 and beyond.
What is your first memory of appreciating really great hair?
In my first year of NVQ college, I stayed back at lunch to cut one of my classmate’s hair. I was only supposed to be blow drying, but wanted to rush ahead. The haircut wasn’t going to win any awards, but the feeling I got from doing it was the first time hair truly got my attention.
It gave me that feeling that I’m constantly chasing….if you get the same feeling doing something on your own (or on a block) as you do in front of a large audience, then you know the idea is coming from the right place. I believe you should do the work for the love of doing it, not for the money or awards it can get you.
When did you decide that becoming a stylist was going to be a full-time profession?
When I saw Trevor Sorbie on stage in Liverpool. Until that time I had been happy enough in my training but hadn’t really caught the bug. On my way home from seeing Trevor’s show I made my mind up – that was who I was going to work for. It gave me a target to aim for. I read everything I could find about Trevor and the company and realised the recruitment process was extremely difficult.
It consisted of a trade test of 5 models to pass the first stage, followed by 4 weeks of intense ‘Vardering’ (4 models per day), finishing with a final test evening presenting 11 models to Trevor, which is watched by the whole company. The journey from seeing Trevor on stage to passing my final test was a long one – but I just set myself achievable goals to get there.
What was it like training at Trevor Sorbie? How did it compare to other training you’d had?
Much more structured and disciplined – I realised a haircut I thought was finished really needed another 30 minutes of refining. I learned to take my time, appreciate the craft and not to be happy with average. If you are working in an environment where the standard is extremely high, then you have to raise your game in order to keep up. That’s what I found was the most beneficial thing I got from working at Trevor Sorbie – the constant comparison to great hairdressers making me stay focused everyday.
What is one thing you wish that you had been told before embarking on a professional career in hairdressing?
To cut back on partying and focus earlier. I had fun, but looking back I wasted a lot of time which could of been spent developing my work. It’s important to hit the ground running in this industry as there is always the next generation right behind you. Set your achievable goals right from the very beginning, achieve them, then move on. Have your end goal in mind but break it down into smaller targets that are easier to achieve. This will make the beginning of any career less daunting and helps with the first steps on the ladder.
What is your best career highlight to date?
On Sunday 15th October 2017 I headed up the Trevor Sorbie main stage show at Salon International to over 1000 people, then as soon as I came off stage I travelled across London to the Novello theatre, where I performed at the Tribute Show for the first time.
Creating a show like that, with the photography and film that goes into them, takes a real effort. You must be obsessed with creating an event which gives the audience what they are paying for. If you work for a company like Trevor Sorbie, and you are going to stand on stage asking people to pay to see your work, then you should be taking it as far as you can and inspiring people.
The adrenalin of that day, seeing a years worth of work come to fruition, felt like I’d achieved what I set out to after seeing Trevor on stage 15 years before. That was the best day of my career so far.
What do you think has been the main attribution towards your success?
Persistence and consistency. To be creative isn’t some magical process, it’s down to being disciplined enough to work at something every day without excuses. If somebody wants to achieve anything, they must aim for it and keep going. That’s the most important ingredient to anyone’s success. I set myself standards, things that I have to do each week: 5 hair ideas, a show idea, a new idea or incentive to introduce into the Trevor Sorbie salons.
Most of these ideas won’t work, but if you do it enough you will be able to sift through to find the best ideas. To do this, you must fill your mind with interesting things; books, films, documentaries, music, art etc. If you constantly absorb new ideas from other crafts, your brain will process them, and they will emerge as an idea when you least expect it.
What is the best piece of advice you can give to stylists just starting out in the hair business?
Don’t try to replicate what already exists. If you want to be noticed, separate yourself from the pack and let your personality and interests influence your work. If you do that, the hair you produce will have an authenticity to it which will stand out. Beyond that, you have to be disciplined and work extremely hard. The most talented people I know in any industry are the one’s who have worked the hardest. Natural talent will only get someone so far. To truly excel at anything you must be completely absorbed by it. Let it take over and become more than a job.
Where do you find inspiration to keep your hairdressing fresh and innovative?
I use my interests outside of hairdressing to influence my work. If you look inside the industry for inspiration then it can lead to replication. My biggest influences are film, music and food. Some of the world’s best chefs have had more influence on my work than any other hairdressers’. Experimental chefs such as Ferran Adrià, or Grant Achazt constantly challenge what exists, and look for ways they can surprise their diners with something that’s totally original. This approach fits into our industry perfectly.
When I am preparing a hair show, I break it down into every aspect of how a typical show is usually done, and try to alter each step to become something that will surprise the audience, to give them something that they haven’t experienced before. I want an audience to leave feeling excited to go to work tomorrow, feeling inspired to want to produce fresh innovative work.
Where do you see the future of hairdressing heading?
I think salon work is moving in the direction of a great cut left much more natural. Clients want nicely conditioned hair that is well cut and easy to dry. From a creative point of view, I think the work will move away from the over-retouched, aggressive hair photography we see a lot of and align more with fashion and street culture, to make it more relevant to today.
This is something I believe to be particularly important, as otherwise we would be in danger of being left behind by other aspects of the fashion world. I also believe we will see a big shift towards video in shows and education in the future – in fact it’s happening already. With companies like Hairtribe and INFRINGE, hairdressers are sharing ideas and techniques across the globe, which means education companies will have to change in order to survive. However bringing the hairdressing community closer together by sharing our work can only lead to the progression of our craft.
We’re always looking for experts from the beauty, barbering and hair industries to share their career progression story and highlights
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