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Updated: May 21, 2014 17:10 IST

A cut above the rest

SHONALI MUTHALALY
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HAIR PLAY: David Nisbet. Photo: M. Vedhan
The Hindu HAIR PLAY: David Nisbet. Photo: M. Vedhan

David Nisbet, art director at Toni & Guy, says India is going to be setting fashion trends

How cultural is your hair cut? You'll be surprised.

David Nisbet, art director at Toni & Guy (T&G), has spent 16 years cutting hair all over the world. For the last 10 years, he's also been training stylists, a vocation that's brought him to Chennai.

Styling from the age of 15, Nisbet began working in London, after which he moved around the world: “Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Amsterdam… I also worked in Eastern Europe: Prague, Budapest, Bratislava…” Besides T&G, he's run his own salon-bar in Amsterdam offering cocktails with blow-drys. “I called it Scandal.” He worked as an art director for Red Ken, doing the fashion week circuit — “New York Fashion Week and then did the fashion weeks in Milan and Paris”. And yes, he likes to culturalise haircuts.

Style and substance

“Style depends on a number of factors,” he says. “Culture, religion, the weather, your job, your personality...” This is why, he insists, it's essential to systematically study hair cutting and styling, and then to make an effort to understand your client's environment.

It's an approach that's vastly different from India, where traditionally styling has had no definite curriculum. Most barbers and beauticians pick up scissor, razor and blow-dry skills casually, learning as they work on customers. After all, hair-only professionals were an oddity 10 years ago, and even now customers find it difficult to wrap their heads around the concept of a salon such as T&G. “People call it a parlour,” says David, rolling his eyes. “My God. It's not a parlour.”

Contemporary hair salons all over the world, connect the fashion ramps and the street. Discussing the need for a formal education in hair styling, David says it's essential. “To be able to break down an idea, to translate it — that's very difficult. You should be powerful enough to create a style, a look. Geometry and math, fashion and technology: everything features in hairstyling.” He adds that without systematic training stylists are in always in danger of “going stale quickly. Of making mistakes and not knowing why”.

The Indian market, meanwhile, is expanding rapidly. “People are travelling — so they have more exposure. They are prepared to pay that much more because they know the difference.” This isn't limited to the hipsters. Formerly conservative businessmen are also picking up their game. “Earlier, they didn't have to leave their cities. Now they go all over the world for business seminars, to address conferences. They can't do that with hairy ears and fluffy hair,” says David. “As they travel, they find an individual style that fits around them.”

His Indian stint is proving to be an eye-opener. “India's diversity's amazing. It makes you feel needed. In one square metre, there is so much going on — you can sit there all day and never get bored… I think the next 10 years are going to be mind-blowing. India is going to be setting fashion trends. There are so many different lengths and textures of hair here. So much variety!”

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