Bill Watson, international artistic director of Toni&Guy, walks down the memory lane, and tells us about the frenzy at the fashion weeks, and why he does not dictate terms while styling someone’s hair.
What makes Toni&Guy different from the rest?
We always go back to our roots. The company was styled in London in the early ’60s. They were an immigrant Italian family and immigrants were sometimes embraced by the public and sometimes not. They lived in such a part of the town that took nothing less than a lot of hard work for the brothers to get the brand off the ground. If you know a little about Italians then you would know that they are very good with their hands. The brand was international in its philosophy from the word go. It never mattered where you came from or what you believed in, it was only about doing good hair.
What’s your equation with the brand?
I flew to London from New Zealand to set out on my journey. When I got there, they were incredibly welcoming and inclusive. Of course I had to prove my worth to them once I got onboard but the mentality with which they let me join them, the open and encouraging environment, was what hit me the most. They want good people on their team with right motivation for doing the job. Sometimes, in other places, one is met with arrogance. For me, it is the death of all creative process. A lot of unnecessary drama ensues as a result.
How did Toni&Guy happen for you? It has been 24 years now.
I got lucky. I lived at the other end of the world, all the way in New Zealand, a country not known for hairdressers for sure. I began my hairdressing days after I came across a couple who had done well in London. They were not famous or anything, but they had worked with some large companies. Their story inspired me to take the plunge. They encouraged me as well. So, I started working with them till I got good enough to make a trip to London and see what was in store for me. Toni&Guy were not very big at the time and therefore it held plenty of opportunities, something that allowed me to work in Milan, Paris and New York fashion weeks. Things like this don’t happen every day and Toni&Guy made it possible for me.
What was next?
I started to manage their academy, and after a while managing the same academy got to me. At that point they suggested that I do managing for academies across the globe. I was delighted at the prospect. So as the brand grew, I grew with it. It has always been fun.
Tell us something about your stint in India?
I have been coming to India rather regularly for about ten years now. It started with tours for training academies, branding, and product range launch. The last four years have been more about brand development in the country.
It has taken about four years for the entire project to come together.
Yes. We wanted to get it right. A lot of people asked us why we didn’t get to India sooner. Finding the right fit and good people takes a while. Going around the country, speaking to 17-year-olds about career opportunities, picking the right ones, and taking them to London to have them trained with the team there. All of that took time.
What is it like to work in India?
Today was a fun day at the office. I frightened the team a little yesterday about what they were going to learn today. Braiding in a contemporary manner was what they were to work on. Now braids have this lovely ability to look rather complicated while being one of the easiest hairstyles. We use them a lot for fashion shows and so everyone needs to know how to do them well. A few members were apprehensive before the class began, but once they got into it they enjoyed themselves thoroughly. And that’s what it is about, to have fun and develop a strong passion. Naturally, the outcome is right.
What is your style? Playing it safe or experimenting?
I’ll be honest. When I experiment too much, it is rude. People pay me to do a job at the end of the day. When I do shows, when I do shoots, I don’t look for the designer’s or the editor’s appreciation, that isn’t a marker for me. I am part of the overall. But when I work on an individual, independent client it’s quite a different experience. It’s thrilling because the person who is in your care is nervous about the outcome. It is a responsibility and my intention is to make sure the client has a wonderful visit. Getting a haircut is a very personal thing. People say that they do not follow fashion, but everyone has their own sense of fashion. An accountant has his and so does a surfer. I do not like to play it safe but at the same time, I don’t dictate to the person sitting in the chair.
According to you, how has hair styling changed in India?
Things have changed. Look at your hairstyle for instance (fringes). It would have been odd for a woman to carry off hair as short as yours some ten years ago. It has changed dramatically. Women I meet these days have tattoos and I think that’s all thanks to the accessibility of everything and thanks to the social media, where we get our ideas from is as arbitrary as anything really. It’s cool, it’s empowering. I like it. When I had first moved to London I thought being in England is what would make me good, but I disagree with it now. It is the passion that does.
So, you are saying that an individual’s personality is what decides?
You got it.
What is it like during fashion week?
At the shows, we have models from everywhere. Lately, we have started getting a lot from China because designers want to penetrate that market. We are waiting for Indian models to start coming our way. The only concern used to be that a lot of them won’t let us cut their hair. That has, of course, changed dramatically now. Hair is an accessory to express yourself. I love fashion, but it only means something when it represents something.
Do the girls throw tantrums?
Imagine this, you are 17 or 18 years old. You have been sent half way across the world, away from home. You have done 10 shows in one week with little to no sleep. And then ‘they’ pounce on you, when you are tired, pulling at your hair, removing makeup, putting on makeup, working on the fingernails, working on the toes. And if you are worth it, you are booked throughout, with a motorcycle on standby to shuttle you from venue to venue. Four weeks of fashion week is a circus. It is hell on earth for the women. I have sisters, so I kind of get it, you know.
How is working on fashion week different from a salon?
The principle is similar. We meet designers, do a consult, they have a story to tell. Then you start testing and coming up with ideas for hair. It’s pretty much the same as in the salon, but on steroids. Everything is more jacked up because millions of pounds are at stake. You still work on the same attributes, you have to be a good listener and you need to learn to take criticism really well.