On Photography: Part One

My very first camera was something my father bought me when I went on a school trip to Switzerland when I was twelve. It was quite a long time ago so it was beautiful, but not terribly sophisticated or expensive. I had no idea how to use it. It was a classic black and white film camera, you gave it to the drugstore, and they processed and printed postcard-size pictures. My biggest regret in life would be not documenting everything I experienced, the way Jacques Henri Lartigue did from the age of five. I would have loved to have had an iPhone fifty years before anyone else did because I have so many memories of such extraordinary things, especially when I started working at René of Mayfair.

Twiggy photographed by Barry Lategan in 1966

Twiggy photographed by Barry Lategan in 1966

I befriended the photographers, that’s what I remember. My favorite was Barry Lategan, a South African who came to London and eventually became one of the top Vogue photographers, specializing in beauty and hair, and he was good at fashion too. He took those iconic images of Twiggy that helped launch her career. He and Leonard of Mayfair worked together frequently, and I just loved his photography.

I got to work with him once when I was quite young, maybe 20, and I was hopelessly terrified to actually be in a studio with Barry Lategan. I was working for Elizabeth Arden, and they gave me a piece of paper and told me to go to this studio in Chelsea to do hair for a photoshoot. So I got there and it’s filled with people: a famous makeup artist, Barry (who I don’t think even said hello), three statuesque models, and then there’s me, with my little bag of tricks. At lunchtime the photo assistants would set up a ten-foot long piece of wood over a trellis table, and all this food came out. I had never seen food like this before. It made a deep impression on me. My ambition was to work with Barry in his studio more often, but it didn’t happen. I left England in 1972 to move to South Africa.

I started doing hair for one of the best fashion photographers in South Africa, Georgina Karvellis. She would send a girl in, often her girlfriend Marge, with a tear sheet from American Vogue. I would do the hair, and they’d jump in a car and go to the studio without me – and yet, amazingly enough, the hair looked pretty fantastic in the photos. I had a friend, Alan, who was a yoga teacher and a photographer, and he had a studio in his house where we used to do pictures for Bumble.

I moved to New York in 1977, and then Barry moved to New York around 1978 – he fell in love with someone, that happened a lot. I used to work quite a bit for Mademoiselle magazine, where the beauty editor was very supportive of Bumble and I was comfortable with her. I overheard her talking about doing a beauty story with Barry Lategan, so I asked to do the hair. The studio was in the West Village, I still walk by it sometimes. He didn’t remember I was the same little guy from London.

Michael cutting Aldo Coppola’s hair

Michael cutting Aldo Coppola’s hair

I started talking to Barry about living in South Africa, and it turned out he knew my first wife Di, because she’d been a model there. We all had dinner together a few times. He asked if I’d like to come to Rome and shoot the collections with him for Italian Vogue. I said yes, I’d like that very much.

In those days Rome was the fashion capital of Italy, and had fashion shows twice a year. There were two studios, with Barry and I in one, and David Bailey with the legendary Italian hairdresser Aldo Coppola in the other. They actually asked me if I’d cut Aldo Coppola’s hair, that was kind of a thrill. We’d start getting the models ready and photographing them at 6pm, and it would go on until about 4 o’clock in the morning. It was a great experience.

I did a few more shoots with Barry. There was one stunning story that we shot in Fort Lauderdale, with ten pages of saturated blue skies and colors. (This was where I first heard the name Steve Hiett, because people kept asking if it was inspired by his work.) I also did a few ad campaigns with him. But I realized that if I was going to make Bumble a success, I couldn’t be out of the salon so often. I stopped dreaming about being an editorial hairdresser at that point.

Barry Lategan for Vogue Italia. Hair by Michael Gordon. Styling by Nicoletta Santoro.

Barry Lategan for Vogue Italia. Hair by Michael Gordon. Styling by Nicoletta Santoro.

I started taking photos for myself around the early ‘80s, when my daughter Sian was maybe three or four. I used to take her and her big sister Heather away once or twice a year on vacation, just the three of us. I took pictures of the girls at the beach, and they came out well. I’d always been around photographers, and one day I just knew how to take a picture.

Eventually I moved from photographing kids to photographing models. In 1985, we had moved Bumble to the new location on 56th Street. On the top floor of the building was a model agency called Zoli, one of the top agencies at the time. They often sent their new girls downstairs to Bumble to ask us to make their hair different, to give them a look. That’s where I met Stacy Williams, from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. It’s common that if you’re a model with a photographer boyfriend, they usually take the best photos of you, because there’s trust and intimacy between you. Stacy’s friends started asking for pictures, so we had a steady stream of girls that wanted to test at Bumble.

I got so much information about photography just from watching talented people on set. I was never formally trained as a photographer. There were only four things you could control on a camera, which did a lot: the f-stop, the speed of the film, the aperture opening, and the shutter speed. Eventually it just clicked for me. Photography must have been just occupying my brain until suddenly I figured out how to do it. I was also building a library of images from English Vogue, American Vogue, Italian Vogue, Avedon and Penn and everyone I’d worked with – my eye was becoming more sophisticated.

Signs of the Times

While digging through old photos in our archive for a presentation I was giving, I stumbled upon some scans of Bumble and bumble’s logos throughout the years. Even though I’m no longer involved with Bb., I enjoyed reminiscing about the journey from our salon in South Africa to the brand we built in New York. I thought it might be interesting to travel down memory lane with you and tell the story of each logo. I hope you’ll find it interesting, as well.


1972

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When we first opened in Johannesburg, I cut the hair of the creative director at Grey Advertising, the most renowned advertising agency in South Africa. One day, as I was cutting his hair, he offered to do our logo. Nowadays that might cost $50,000, so it might seem strange that he did in exchange for the occasional haircut, but people used to do things like that. I loved the curvaceousness of this logo; so 70’s. The window of the salon was painted over with a very rich blue with the logo in silver, because we didn’t want people looking in the window. This was for a few reasons. The first was because we had, in my opinion, the most unique and beautifully designed salon maybe ever, and I preferred people come in the front door and see it for themselves as opposed to just peeking in from outside. A few of my clients at the time were the best interior decorators in Johannesburg, and they also redesigned the entire salon in exchange for haircuts. It was beautiful, structured as an octagonal maze, and it was by far the best salon design I had ever seen. The second reason was we usually stayed open much later than was officially allowed, and needed privacy to continue doing that. So, we just had this big, curvy logo on the window. It was lighthearted, flippant, and funny, and reflected the playfulness of the name and the atmosphere of our salon.

1977

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When I relocated to New York, I didn’t have enough money to redo our logo. I quickly became so nervous about our name, our look. I thought, “What the hell am I doing coming to New York with a name like Bumble and Bumble?” I worried I’d become a laughing stock, and that I would fail even worse than I had imagined. It really was such a stupid name in comparison to the rest of Hairdresser’s Row, which was very, very French. Luckily, I met a fabulous graphic designer called Mike Quon. And what do you know? He did our new logo for free. It was very cool and everyone absolutely loved it; it actually won a few awards. For me, I always knew it was great, but had a feeling that it was too rigid for us, at least compared to our first logo.  Regardless, people loved it, and we kept it for about five years. Looking back, I suppose we were the only salon that could afford to have a bit of fun with our logo, because everyone else was so buttoned up. We could afford to morph and play around and change, and I think this logo reflects that.


1986

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After about eight years of real success, we decided we needed to move. Our lease was up and we had to find a new place to go. We found a fantastic building in the design district that used to be a carriage house, about 12,000 sq. ft. It was the mid 80’s and everything had an air of Miami Vice. This era unfortunately influenced the salon design, which was pretty hideous. I don’t think I had grown into good taste at that point. I made Mike Quon change the logo again, against his wishes. I regret it to this day. Whenever I think about how the salon looked and how I looked, I groan. Looking back, I was this logo’s worst critic, but I still think it was pretty bad, even now. But we really had to recreate this entire new space from scratch, and this was the result. It was certainly a sign of the times. I only wish I would’ve met Ross Anderson sooner, who ended up making the space incredibly beautiful.


1992

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So we had this massive space, and it quickly filled up with new business. This is when I first met Tibor Kalman and Alexander Brebner, who were working for the famous design firm, M&Co. Tibor was a charismatic, verbally gifted guy, that had this very cool agency with great clients. He was the best salesman I ever met. Alexander was working for him when he got his first haircut with Howard [McClaren] at Bumble and bumble. I wanted to change the logo again, and Alexander had actually already started designing t-shirts for us, so we figured who better for the job than M&Co? Their team wanted to do a complete salon redesign along with a new logo, and of course I was on board. For the interior, I was introduced to Ross Anderson, who did really cool work with industrial aesthetics and materials, which was unusual at the time. He undid everything that was bad and brought out all the good underneath. He found gorgeous steel behind all of the enameled stations, he changed all the ceiling tiles.

For our logo, I asked Alexander if he could do something calligraphy-inspired, with black ink on paper, no computers. And he came up with the logo that Bb. still uses to this day. There was never a “correct” way to write it, and no two products had the exact same logo. The handwritten style complemented the industrial feel of the salon and gave it such a handcrafted look. It really represented the craft of hairdressing and showed just how far we’d come. After that, I convinced Alexander to join us. He was at the height of his creativity and did really great work. He was very hands on, and had done lots of boards and explorations of how to apply the logo. I think his words sum up the journey of the Bumble and bumble logo better than mine could: “As a company evolves, as this one has - and as a designer evolves, as I have - so does visual identity, as ours certainly has. But a brand is much more than a logo - it’s the people, the environment, the total experience you provide that makes it memorable.”

Meeting Alexander and working with him during this time at Bumble I believe we were at the height of our creativity. I think the work he did for Bumble in that period is legendary.


Corinna – Pony Studios

To celebrate the launch of Pony Studios, a revolutionary new hair education space in Oakland, California, Michael had a chat with Pony founder, owner, and Bumble and bumble alum Corinna Hernandez to talk about her story, her career thus far, and her vision for her new space.

MG: So, how are you? Are you excited? Did the launch weekend go well? C: The class was good. It went very well, we got really great feedback, and we only had a few minor audio/visual hiccups.

Are you ready for a question? Yes!

When did you get into hairdressing? It was 1999.

How did it happen? I met a hairdresser, Collette LaRoche, who really inspired me. I saw this girl walking around with a cute haircut, whose hair was similar to my texture, and I asked her who cut it. I booked an appointment with her hairdresser. It took me two months to get in. And I loved her. I loved her personality, her stories. She said she made really good money and went to Paris three months out of the year, and came back to work to her clients and she felt like it was play and not work. I mentioned that I thought about doing hair at one point and she told me to go for it. So I left there and immediately signed up for beauty school.

Where did you go to beauty school? It was in Sacramento, California, at a place called Federico Advanced. I went to the night school, so it took two years.

Were you working during that time? I was actually an office manager at a physical therapy office.

No kidding. And how long were you in Sacramento? Well, when I finished beauty school, I met Rowena [Hiraga], who had just left the Sassoon Academy to start her own salon. At this point, I had started working at a pilates studio, and she was taking classes. I heard that she was a hairdresser, so I introduced myself and told her that I was in beauty school and just about to graduate. She said, “You should come work for me. I’m just starting my salon and I just left Sassoon, and you’d be my first hire.” And so I did it, I went to work for her. That was in El Dorado Hills. That wasn’t necessarily where I wanted to be, but I did want to learn from her, so off I went.

What happened next? After a while, I wanted to be in Sacramento. I felt an urge to be in a different environment, and I felt ready to move on. I went to Sacramento to work for Shannon Marlin, who was also opening her own salon. When I got there, she asked me if I could teach what I learned with Rowena, because she had heard that the Sassoon education was a difficult program to complete. So I said, “Okay, I'll teach. I've never taught before but I'll teach.”

Did you enjoy it? I did, I really liked it. I felt like it was my thing. At first it was a little weird, but I kind of fell into it. I started going to New York to Bumble and bumble to train for the Network Educator position at her salon. I started being trained by Amanda Rich and Kevin Perryman, and I learned how to teach, how to speak publicly, all that.

So that was very different from the Sassoon method that you had learned. Yes, very different. But even when I worked with Rowena, we carried Bumble and bumble and I was very drawn to its aesthetic. That was always the kind of hair I wanted to be doing; the Sassoon technique wasn't really enough for me. When I started learning to cut with a razor, I was surprised at the amount of technique that was built into it. At the beginning, it was hard for me to not over-fix my cuts and to stop trying to make them look like scissor cuts. I had a hard time trying to break away from the discipline of scissor-cutting and not really looking at the person. My biggest takeaway from Bumble and bumble at the beginning was how to really look at the person, how to look at the hair, and how to make them work together.

How did you go from Network Educator to working at Bumble? I used to go [to Bumble and bumble] once or twice a year for network education. One of those times, I was with Coby [Alcantor, hairdresser and creative director] at the uptown salon, and I mentioned that I wanted to make the transition to Bumble and bumble. She said, “I'll help you, you just have to write a short letter to Howard [McLaren, legendary hairdresser and educator], get your boss’ approval, and then just send it.” So I went home to got the letter from my boss, and she was really excited for me. She said, “Do it. I would do it. You write the letter and I'll sign it.” I sent it in and I got hired at Bumble and bumble three months later. [The process of getting a letter of employer approval prior to being hired at Bumble and bumble was a part of Michael’s “No Poach Policy”, implemented to ensure that salon owners never felt as though Bumble and bumble had “poached” or stolen their employees.]

When did you start assisting at Bumble and bumble? It was 2004. I very quickly went from renting my station to making minimum wage, but feeling excited about it. I was at a point in my career where I was ready to be a student again. I loved learning, so I was happy being in that position. Coco [Santiago, hairdresser and educator] was my first teacher.

Were you downtown or uptown? I started uptown. Betty [Skier, salon manager] hired me over the phone. The first day, no one knew who I was and Betty was on vacation. Looking back, it was kind of funny because no one had any idea that I was going to be there, but they told me to just go to the floor and observe. I felt very out of place.

Is that when we first met? Well, I actually met you before I started with Bumble and bumble, before I moved to New York. I met you while you were out on the road, and I was in line to get my Hair Heroes book signed by you. You asked me if I was a great hairdresser. That really made me pause, but my friend was with me, and she answered, “Yes” for me. So you wrote, “To a great hairdresser” in my book and signed it.

It was really the best, most exciting time. I was learning so much from people who knew more than me. I just want to share that and keep it going.

Oh, that's a nice story! I suppose what you’re doing now is very influenced by what you learned at Bumble and bumble, right? Absolutely. It was really the best, most exciting time. I was learning so much from people who knew more than me. I just want to share that and keep it going.

Did you have to learn Scottish? I did have to assist Raymond [McLaren, brother of Howard, another legendary hairdresser and educator] once and I was so scared.

I can imagine. He looked like a character in Harry Potter. Right! When he looks at you, it feels like he’s looking deep into your soul. [Both laugh].

What do you think was the most important lesson you learned there? I distinctly remember listening to you speak during meetings. You always told us to document our work, and to take 50 photos in order to find one that's really great. Using and developing my eye were really huge lessons for me, as well. A lot of the things that still help me today were the public speaking that we worked on with the educators, as well as working with the acting coach they hired. Another big one was working with Amanda on how to open, organize, and close a class. I never knew I would end up doing what I’m doing now, but all those things continue to help me every single day.

So what happened after Bumble and bumble? Did you go back to the west coast? They were starting the Bumble and bumble Live program. I kept hearing that they were looking for people to go out into the field and teach. No one I had spoken to about it was into the idea, but one day I ran into Amanda and said, “Can you tell me more about it?”, and she explained the job a little further. I asked if they would move me back to the west coast, because I really wanted to go back home, and she said, “Yeah we’ll send you back, and we’ll give you a car and a laptop and a phone.” So I did it. I was the first person to leave Bumble and bumble in New York to pursue that, which resulted in me teaching 4 days a week in a different salon every day for four years.

Tell us about Pony. What is Pony? I originally just wanted to open a simple salon, and I had the idea to call it “Pony” after the ponytail, which was a style we seemed to always be doing backstage, and which is harder to execute than most people think. Then, the prices in San Francisco started going up, and I just didn’t feel like I could afford to open a salon. It wasn’t really until this year that I felt like I could do it. I live in Castro Valley, where there are about 60,000 people, and I knew I didn't want to do it there. So I landed on Oakland, which is between my home and San Francisco. When I saw this space, I knew it was meant to be an education space, and it became a little theater. I always thought Pony was just going to be a salon, but it has become so much more.

And now you’ve just had your first teaching session at Pony. How did that feel? It was so exhilarating to have my own space. Before, every time we had a class we would have to borrow space, bring in all of our own stuff, and break it all down ourselves when the class was over. This time, it was just all here, which was so relaxing. I was still nervous, and I still felt like everything was going to go wrong because that's how I always think. But it went really well. Everyone was great, and I know it’s only going to get better.

What's your biggest hope for the new place? That it becomes a space where hairdressers can learn and grow and feel like a part of their community. That’s always been my goal.

That's a great goal. What is the most important thing you want people to take away from Pony? To learn to take responsibility for their careers. That it's up to them and that its in their hands. I want them to work hard for it, and I want them to walk away feeling empowered, excited, and inspired. I want them to feel more knowledgeable than when they came in.

It’s so interesting that you have all these great hairdressers that came from Bumble and bumble. It must feel like a bit of a reunion to have them all on the education calendar. People from Bumble and bumble are really excited. I find that a lot of alumni are coming to me and offering their help. Everyone's very graciously volunteering their time, and they're all getting paid, but it's definitely not what they’re worth, so I am very grateful. I hope that someday soon I can pay everyone what they really deserve.

Well, they want to support you, and they want a place to come teach. I think the huge shift to renting chairs that we’ve seen recently has left a bit of a vacuum. And I guess you and all of the others that had a positive experience at Bumble and bumble miss that feeling of community and mentorship and education. [Bumble and bumble] was the best, it really was. What you did there brought people from all over together. The other day, on one of my posts, Raisa [Cabrera] commented that “Pony feels like home.” That made me feel really great, because that was always my intention.

All of the Bumble and bumble alumni you mentioned have very different styles. What was the process of selecting and assembling this team like for you? Everyone that's currently on the roster had reached out and asked if they could be a part of it, except for Dennis [Lanni]. He was someone that, with butterflies in my stomach, I reached out to for help. He’s always been a standout for me. He always made everyone feel so comfortable, and safe to make mistakes. He doesn’t let the stress get to him. He's mindful and thoughtful and cool as a cucumber. He's one of those hairdressers that has an instantly recognizable signature style, and I wanted him here because I love his energy, his art, and the way he does things. He called Pony “unplugged”, which I really liked.

I think what you’re doing with Pony is filling a void. The kind of training that you and your peers had doesn't really exist anymore, so I think you’re going to do extremely well, and I wish you the very best. Thank you so much. That means everything to me. I’m just blown away by what's happening, because in some ways I used to feel invisible to so many of the people I’m working with now. They are people who I always looked up to and who have taught me so much. I hope to return the favor to the new generation of people that come to learn at Pony.


Join Corinna, Michael Gordon, Dennis Lanni, Ramona Eschbach, and more for demos and an industry mixer at the Pony Studios Launch Party on March 10th, in Oakland, CA. Tickets can be purchased at ponyeducation.com.

What's Next

Now that 2019 has arrived, I’d like to take the time to clarify a few things about myself and my work. I often meet people who ask me about Bumble and bumble and Hairstory, assuming I still work for the companies I founded. It recently occurred to me that because I’ve been quite private about what I’m currently working on, people had no reason to believe I had even left Bb., or more recently Hairstory. I would like to set the record straight. Both of these brands are in my past. Hairstory was a fabulous concept and a lot of fun, but the knowledge that I had something bigger to achieve kept me from staying. I had an idea, an idea that I’ve had for many years, but wasn’t ready to pursue.

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At Hairstory, this idea grew, becoming more powerful as time went on. I viewed it as what I had always wanted to do, what I needed to do before I died. My last hurrah. Unfortunately, Hairstory couldn’t facilitate this idea. It came close, but in the end this idea I had won, and we parted as friends. I wish them all the best, and hope they’re successful, which I know they are. But I wanted to clarify, once and for all, that I am no longer a member of the Hairstory team.  

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Much of my work with both Purely Perfect and Hairstory was built around finding a way to cleanse the hair without stripping it of what it needs to look amazing. I still believe that non-detergent hair cleansing is the most important concept to hit the hair industry in decades, maybe ever. It has become a crucial part of my work and is now the foundation of my current venture. To summarize this concept, 95% of shampoos are made with the kind of detergent you’d wash your car with. Years and years of putting what is essentially napalm on your hair on a daily basis takes a massive toll, and by the time you’re in your 60’s, your hair is lifeless and dull. I am certain that the cause of shitty hair is shampoo, and I am determined to create a viable, lasting alternative that really works. The key is to figure out how to make detergent-free shampoo options that work for everyone, and that is exactly what we want to achieve.

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That being said, I’m not quite ready to talk about what I’ve been working on in detail. All I can say, in the most objective way possible, is that it’s something that is absolutely necessary, and that its time has come. I will be sharing more details as we get closer to launching this new idea. Until then, I hope this blog will compensate for the more private time I’ve taken over the past few years to regroup and really start working towards my last hurrah. We are going to give the beauty industry a wakeup call, and I can’t wait for you all to experience it. Until then, I hope you’ll enjoy hearing from me a bit more in the form of this blog.