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Who is Stephen Moody? An In-Depth Interview with a Hairdressing Icon

Wednesday, 29 March 2017 14:35

"I’d like to begin by telling you how I met Stephen Moody, and how that moment changed my life." An exclusive interview by Josh DeMarco, hairstylist in Philadelphia, PA – an educator for Wella Professionals, certified in 'Cut Craft' and part of the Mizutani Artistic Team.

Our salon (Jason Matthew Salon) had just converted our color line to Wella. As a very generous thank-you, Wella sent us three of their biggest-guns for a day of top-tier education and inspiration. Stephen was one of three who came. I showed up enthusiastically early, because I wanted to take advantage of this day, as I knew it would be special. Our stylists were circled all around, watching hair being done in these presentations, and there I was, right in the front, as close as I could be. It was after completing one of his haircuts that Stephen paused to call me out and ask me a question; a question that I did not know the answer to. He asked, "Josh, can you grab me a 7 row?", I can't exactly explain the feeling that came over me, but I can say that sheer panic sounds pretty close. I had only met him in person the day before, but known him by reputation my entire career, and here he was calling on me, in front of my entire salon. All the blood in my body rush to my face at once, as it dawned on me that I had no idea what a 7 row was. 

Let me rewind a little bit and explain my background. My first salon experiences out of hair school never focused much on cutting with structure. They had been more about working quickly and working in quantity. I realized in this moment that there was so much more to learn in the world of hair, and basically to put it simply, I did not know the fundamentals. It was because of that embarrassment, the self-realization set in, and I gained the clarity needed to begin my own journey with continuing education. This was certainly a “defining moment” for me, and I knew right then, what I was watching, was how I now wanted to cut hair.

Little did I know that morning, that this day would be the beginning of my obsession with learning and now teaching the methodologies to really cut hair, and to create shape with all with proper techniques.

So, who is Stephen Moody? A question that I'm certain most of you readers may know, or at least think you know.

A hairdresser who in 1980 joined the Vidal Sassoon team in London, and by 1987 was the Principal of the North American academy in Los Angeles, CA.  Then in 2003, became International Executive Director of Vidal Sassoon Education, and since 2012 can now add the title of Global Dean of Education for Wella to his incredible resume. This impressive role is responsible for creating educational resources for more than 800 WELLA hairstylists and educators around the globe. The man has a resume that spans longer than most insta-famous hairdressers have been alive. But I wanted to take a deeper dive into getting to find more answers to the question, ‘Who is Stephan Moody’? How did he get involved in hairdressing? What made him tick? How is he always current and non-stop creating? What drives him?' These were questions I wanted answers to. How is it that a man who started his career in 1975, is still LEADING the world of craft-hairdressers with the creation of innovations in teaching, that allow them to elevate their skill set? It is simply incredible. Stephen's latest projects are called Cut Craft and Triple Craft. They have changed my approach and understanding of haircutting in tremendous ways. They are arguably the most sound and influential ideology to hit hairdressing since the original ABC’s.

You’ve been at the top of your game for a long time. How did your origins, and your introduction to this industry play a role in your shaping the path of your career?
My first memory in life was a hair salon. My childcare was being passed around from one client’s lap to another. I was introduced to the hair world at a very young age. I remember hearing stories upon stories of a man, this incredible person in London –almost mythical– by the name of Vidal Sassoon. Those tales made an indelible mark on me as a young person and my family (who were hairdressers and salon owners, as well as successful business people).
I recall walking the trade show floors with my mother at a young age, and looking in a state of wonderment at the industry as a whole. Whenever I went to these trade shows I couldn’t help but gravitate to the Vidal Sassoon organization, I was in a state of awe. My vision had been incredibly skewed because of the influence that Vidal –the man– had initially on my mother, and then eventually on our business. I saw the prosperity of my family grow as a direct result of two things, education and Sassoon. My parent’s investment in bettering their professional skills and their business through education, was incredibly impactful to me. That word, EDUCATION, really made a significant mark on me. I know currently, everyone is into education, or is an educator, but in those days people weren’t. It was not ingrained in the way that it is now. Things were different then. So I looked at it from a very practical standpoint; this thing, –education– had taken my family on this incredible journey. It was through that journey that I was really able to see how education literally made hairdressers and their business' better. The other important word in addition to Education was Sassoon.  More specifically, those two words together, Sassoon-Education.
That was my initial entry into the thought process of hair. I know this sounds weird, but I really didn’t know anything different. I grew up in an very tiny, and rural coal mining village. So really, I kind of stood-out. My vision was very polar in many ways, and it was polar towards hairdressing and hairdressing education. When I decided to go into a career of hair, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel from the beginning. That light, was going into a career of ‘Paying it Forward’.
Eventually, I dug deeper, and became part of the Sassoon Academy myself, and then realized that embedded with them, was Wella, where I am happily today.

What was most pivotal moment in your career?
I was at Sassoon, and I was taking a course with Simon Ellis, the then General Manager. He had been teaching me personally, and asked me if I’d ever thought about working at Sassoon. In the back of my mind my first thought was, ‘I don’t really think of anything else’. It was that conversation that went from: ‘Have you ever thought of working at Sassoon?’ To going for an interview. I clearly remember, around 65 people going for 4 available positions! In the 1980's was massive amounts of unemployment (the majority of unemployment was young people). There were a lot of people looking and applying for the very few available jobs. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t stand a chance’. This memory is one of so many defining moments, but Simon asking me if I had ever thought of working for Sassoon was definitely the most pivotal moment in my career. It was from there that my whole world changed. I went from living in the North of England, and working in my parents salon, to working at Sassoon in London.
I eventually became an educator, worked my way up to Principle at the academy, and then to the Director of the academy. This ultimately brought me to America, and that has always stuck with me. I’ll tell you why: As educators we can go through our day blasé or we can go out of our way to say kind things and to be attentive to people. I’m sure that when Simon said to me, ‘have you ever thought of working for Sassoon?’, he could have thought to himself, ‘Should I go into this? It might add 30 minutes to my day. Or should I just go home?’ He quite easily could have chosen not to say it. But, he went out of his way to be attentive, encouraging, and offer kind words. That has always stuck with me. Because of this lesson, I really, truly, try in a genuine way, to reach out to young people, and mentally give them a pat on the back.

What was your “Aha" moment, the moment when you felt you arrived?
The majority of educators can do hair, or they wouldn’t be where they are. I think there is a large spectrum of how people “deliver” education. If the difference between a good hairdresser and a fantastic hairdressers is a mile – the gap between a good educator and an absolutely fantastic educators is 100 miles. It’s a much larger/wider spectrum. My ‘aha moment’ was when I truly discovered different learning/teaching styles. Something profound happened to me when I had just emigrated from the UK to Los Angeles to teach. In the UK, there was much more of a visual style of teaching. In other words, watch me do this, and if you watch me and pay attention, you’ll be able to do it. It was that type of a delivery system. At the time I was teaching a five day course in Santa Monica; we had gotten around to mid-week, and this system of ‘Watch Me and you’ll comprehend it’, simply wasn’t working. By Wednesday I was practically banging my head against a brick wall. I was getting nowhere with half these people, and had actually cancelled my demo model for the day. I remember taking a piece of chalk and literally writing out what would now be known as T.S.A. (Cut Craft language: Technique, Shape, Action). It was very rudimentary and raw at the time, and wasn’t as comprehensive as it is today, but it was the beginning of something that would manifest later. It was the first time that I really thought ‘it’ through, and conceptualized it. I remember sharing it with this group of people before lunchtime, and them having this incredible reaction when I had finished. They all stood up and started clapping really loud. Which, for an American audience, was something that I had never experienced before, and don’t think I’ve experienced since. I could just see the light bulbs glowing. They came up shook my hand, and truly thanked me. At the end of the day, there was this one woman who stood around and waited until everyone was gone to speak with me. She came up to me and said, ‘Stephen, I just want to tell you that this morning was the best 4 hours of education that I have ever had. I only have one thing to say to you; Why didn’t you do that on the first day? And why don’t you formalize that?’. I didn’t have an answer. It really made me think, 'We really should have a format to appeal to different types of learners in different ways.'
I knew how to cut hair, but I really didn’t know the physics; if you did ‘this’ then the result would be ‘that’. I didn’t know, and certainly couldn’t verbalize or write it on a board. That was the first time that I had really pushed myself to open my teaching process and look at it in a new way. That was a massive aha moment with teaching, with sharing, and with educating. IT WAS 1987, AND I CAN CLEARLY REMEMBER EVERYTHING ABOUT THAT DAY.
The above concept of constantly changing teaching styles goes through my mind today, the audience is a continually moving target."

What are your top 3 career moments?
I think number one would have to be moving from the Sassoon Salon division to the Sassoon Academy. That was a favorite. I think number two would be moving to the United States, and seeing all of the wonderful opportunities and avenues available. That gave me a new perspective; there is this great world beyond London. I mean, I had been to America, as well as taught in other countries, but actually living and working here with American hairdressers, that was a milestone to me personally. I’d have to say my third was moving to from Sassoon to WELLA. That has been such a fantastic career moment. This transition has taken me to a place where I have been able to develop, ‘Cut Craft’, ‘Stage Craft’ and ‘Triple Craft’. Doing those amazing things, AND getting to do it all with other super talented people. None of the three things that I’ve mentioned could have been done without collaborating with other great people. Someone had once asked me how I would describe a career in hair, and I said, ‘For me hair is Football, not Golf.’ With those three career moments, it wasn’t me with a golf ball, it was me with an offense, me with a defense, cheerleaders, a quarterback, all working with a team.

Who are some of the most memorable icons in our industry you’ve encountered?
Vidal Sassoon. And I know that a lot of people say that, but I was incredibly fortunate to know him both professionally and personally. He was someone that I looked to as a friend, someone who gave me council, and I just simply learned so much from him. Some lessons had nothing to do with hair. It was all to do with how you carry yourself, how you behave in front of people, and the most important thing that I think I took from him… was how incredibly humble he was. He just walked into a room, and he didn’t have to say anything, you just knew he was there. Vidal had a larger than life personality, and –in a way– Fabio Sementilli, who unfortunately isn’t with us anymore, had that same type of presence. You just knew he was there. Both of them were very warm and charismatic people. I can think of a lot of fantastic people, but I’d stick with Vidal and Fabio, for two different reasons. They were very different people, but I think the common denominator between them was their charisma, charm and presence.

What is the importance of mentoring in this industry?
Mentoring is an age old method of paying forward something you’ve been gifted, that you want to gift to someone else. Imagine your grandfather gives you a pocket watch, and somewhere along the line, you fall upon hard times… and figure you can get some money for that pocket watch, but you decide not to do that. You decide to do what your grandfather did for you, and you give it to your grandson. That watch is now a family heirloom, with significance beyond its physical manifestation, it is now a token of your family’s legacy. To me, that’s the level of importance of mentoring. Much like an antique pocket watch of that importance, it’s not something that you can go to a store and buy, it’s something that is quite unique to you and your legacy. I think mentoring is quite similar to that scenario. It’s unique, it’s treasured and time-honored, and you can’t understand, appreciate, comprehend, and master it by watching YouTube. Some of it you can’t understand by simply taking a class. Some of it is a journey of being encouraged, reminded, praised, and holding a person’s hand. Whether you’re the mentor or the mentee, the learnings are based in a real relationship between two people. I keep coming back to this action of paying-it-forward, but it is that whole journey, and I find tremendous value in it. It is the profound sharing of knowledge in that special way, that helps keep our craft together. Mentoring is the vessel that carries the integrity of what we do. Mentoring is a bit like a bob really, it’s never going to go away.

What inspires you to continue to educate?
To be honest with you, it’s really seeing a smile on someone’s face. I mentioned earlier about that light bulb beginning to glow. I just did some mentoring recently at an incredibly successful Wella salon and helped them with their training program. I’d like to think that I shared things that helped them help other people with their careers, and in turn, help their business. Seeing that light bulb glowing or seeing someone get ‘it’, or realize something profound, that can truly help them... to me, that’s like getting that $100 tip. I can’t monetize it, but it’s incredibly satisfying, and is what makes me want to get up in the morning. That is what makes me want to come to work. I’m extremely blessed that I get to travel the world and share knowledge. I do set my iPhone alarm before I go to bed at night, but honestly 99.9% of the time, I’m up long before that iPhone buzzes, for the simple reason that I’m excited. Vidal once said to me, ‘Stephen, do the math, figure out how long your life is, and figure out what percent of your life you’re asleep. Now add on to that the percent of your life that you’re at work. If you add those two percentages together, that time of sleep and work could be 60-70% of your life here on earth’. What he meant was, be comfortable in the bed that you sleep in, and at the job where you work. I just couldn’t imagine doing a job and thinking to myself, ‘is it 5 o’clock yet?’ I think we’re in such an amazing craft, where we can sculpt and change the color and texture of a 3-dimensional material; and within a month, in one way or another, we have a fresh canvas to work with all over again. This thing that we’re working on, can make people's days, their lives. It makes them successful, it gets them a job, a partner, and on and on. It’s simply amazing. There are very few things in life that you can literally manipulate in so many ways. It walks around, it's part of society, it's a walking billboard. And that billboard is on someone’s body. It’s amazing.

Let’s talk about your most current project, Cut Craft, in depth:
Cut Craft in its purest form, supplies a language and a logic to approach cutting a head of hair without going into panic mode. I think it arms people with the ability to cut hair with intent. It allows people to go from here to their destination purposefully. It gives people the confidence to be able to deliver that, and feel confident saying, ‘I hear what you’re asking for but can I recommend or suggest?’ It directs them to a look that suits the client as an individual, and suits their personality, lifestyle, body shape, hairline, and hair texture. What it does, that is extremely important to me, is connects back to hair color. The nicest haircut in the world is boring and flat without the addition of color and styling. And what that all comes around to... that sound that everyone wants to hear, and that’s ‘Ca-CHING’! The ultimate spin-off of Cut Craft, is driving people back to where they belong, which is sitting in the stylist’s chair, receiving multiple services.

With over 40 years of experience in our industry, what do you consider your Magnum Opus?
Driving our craft back to where it was when Vidal had been at it for about 20 years. Many salons have gone away from street level, from being in a major location, and for one reason or another, the craft has financially gone into a financial dip at the moment.I think Cut Craft is a component of helping with that, and there is another project that I’m working on called Triple Craft that is really driving that as well. But, before I hang up my scissors so-to-speak, I’d really like to see the financial health of the industry elevate beyond where it is now. I think a lot of that is social economics. I think there is a fashion element in there too. We’re in a little bit of a lull fashion wise, with the way that hair looks. At the moment to many the iPhone is way more important than hair for example. I mean, who would have thought that 30 years ago? That your telephone would be far more important than your hair. But things go around in circles and I think that will come back around. The wise hairdresser and the wise salon owner are going to be on the front of the curve, rather than the back of the curve. Hooking things together like cut, color, finish, and perm for example. I see that becoming big in the not-so-distant future. Salons, stylists, and salon owners, chair rental people, whoever they are out there, they’re prepared for what’s coming, and will be on the front of that to be able to financially be on top of it all. So, I think just like the length of skirts over the years, it can only go so short before it goes long again, and vice versa. I think hair is no different. You don’t need to go to a university to realize that fashion goes around in circles."

What would you want your legacy to be?
I think it could simply say on my tombstone, ‘He shared, and people remembered’. My mantra for delivering education, is always to put out our objectives, and ask, ‘What do you want to walk away with at the end of this class?’ Some people put up creativity, some people put up confidence, someone else might put up a line, or shape, or whatever it is they’re looking to achieve during that class. For the last 30 years I’ve pretty much put up two things: Share and Retain. I love when people take classes and they have an open mind, I like to call that the ‘dry sponge syndrome’. If they come to class and have a dry sponge they can basically soak up lots of knowledge. If they come and the sponge is already wet, that sponge can’t soak up much more because it’s already full of water. So that’s the share part. When your sponge is full, it’s time for you to share.
The second word is retain. I live and die by analogies. I love to teach by analogies. I believe they help people learn and retain the knowledge. For me the best storyteller in the world is Jesus Christ. If you look at the bible he didn’t say it’s a bad idea to murder somebody. He wrapped the lesson in a story around murdering somebody which ended up meaning it’s a bad idea to murder people. So Jesus Christ, in many ways was a fantastic teacher, sharer/ storyteller. I appreciate how he approached lessons by giving analogies, and you remembered the importance and deeper meaning of these lessons because of the stories. That’s always my second objective.
Share and retain. I’d like to think that people learn and soak in the message, and that they’d remember it. Ultimately I would hope they’d pass it on. It’s quite simple really.

Personal Expressions

What is your favorite city and what do you love about it? Florence, Italy. I’d have to say going to Porta Vecchia. One of the most beautiful sunsets with incredible food and drinks.
Favorite Music? 80’s
Favorite Movie? Bond
First haircut you did that you were proud of? The last one that I did
Favorite color? Blue
First car? A pile of shit
One thing people don’t know about you? As soon as I get home I put on my pajamas
Non-hair related hobbies? Motorcycles
Can you cook? Yes
Signature dish? Anything on the BBQ, regardless the weather
Greatest band of all time? Echo and the Bunnymen
FootBall or Futbol? Round ball

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