23 May 2022

Estetica’s Exclusive Interview: Sebastian’s Michael Polsinelli & Shay Dempsey

They’re the tastemakers breaking the boundaries of style and design. Searching for inspiration in every area of life. They get to create what is next. Introducing the creators of Fearless Hair Fashion Shay Dempsey and Michael Polsinelli!

The dynamic duo are both Global Art Directors for Sebastian Professional and Estetica had the pleasure of sitting down with them for an exclusive interview on their latest collection and what it’s been like working side by side for Sebastian Professional.

What has it been like working for Sebastian Professional?
[Shay]: Sebastian as a brand obviously is like the left-center, so we have a greater ability to be more creative. So as global artists, we’re given free rein. We can look at inspiration, no matter where we find it, and we can usually portray that in the hairstyles we create. For us it doesn’t get any better.
[Michael]: For us hairdressers –and we feel we can say this on behalf of many hairdressers– the biggest dream is to be able to work somewhere, do what you feel, and have somebody who gives you a platform to do it. That is the greatest job in the world. We’re so lucky to do this with Sebastian, because Sebastian fits us so well. We have the amazing opportunity to travel the world, meet and work with so many great people. We learn from all these experiences as well.

You both seem to personify the brand. How long have you been working together?
[Michael]: It’s been about 8 years ago.
[Shay]: We’re frighteningly similar: we like the same music, we’re like brothers from another mother.
[Michael]: What makes this work is that, first of all, I love him as a person. In order to work with a person you have to love them on the inside. If you’re too different, it’s great, but after a while it’s just too hard. Although we are similar, we are also different people and we like different things. But it’s complementary, not an obstacle. I learn from him, he learns from me, and together we get to where we have to be.
[Shay]: It’s built over time! I think even Procter and Gamble and the brand itself had to settle us in. We were coming from different places and working on different projects. Eventually they could see the cohesion and they understood that this was really starting to work. Now people say our hands work the same way when we’re on stage, because now we are more in synch with the brand.

What is it like to be in partnership with Sebastian?
[Michael]: We do have a lot of creative freedom, but at the same time we work for and represent an amazing brand. We have targets that we need to understand and hit. We work with a big family at Sebastian, where everybody has their jobs and responsibilities. We all put those ideas together and come up with something every six months. Everybody knows what they have to do and we all complement each other.
[Shay]: It’s amazing! It amazes me how well the team works. It’s so big but yet it’s so small, we even hear everything that goes around the world. How that was deployed, how that collection worked – we’re very focused on the brand. We have Select, which is a fantastic agency – and that’s one of the bonuses, because we have all the power. We work out of his garage, which is now our garage. Another advantage is that we always have the full support of the team.
[Michael]: Hairdressers like Shay and I love to break boundaries all the time. A lot of hairdressers think, “Oh, they just do what they want.” But it doesn’t work that way. When you work with a huge company or manufacturer, you have to take what you know, understand what they know, and come out the other side. It’s a growing process. It’s great for us.

Where does inspiration for a new collection come from? How do you choose your collaborators?
[Shay]: The process usually starts with the guys at Sebastian. We look at whatever they want us to bring them, whether it’s a product or a collection, and we think, “Would that work?” For example, the Digitality story started because everything is moving at such a pace, the consumer now knows as much about hair as the hairdresser. So we started elaborating the process until we found Nick and Warren – a photographer and a digital specialist. They’re not beauty photographers – they do videos. They work with movies, bands –they just plug into everything– so we thought they were a good fit.
[Michael]: Today’s hairdresser is very plugged in and tuned in that if we did something yesterday, everyone has already seen it. Digitality is a combination of technology and technique. That’s why we think hairdressers are much more intellectual about how things work and how fast things work.
[Shay]: Certainly the younger hairdressers are. We did a show in Vegas and we were constantly stopped by young kids –maybe 20 years of age– and they wanted photos. They knew us from YouTube, they knew us from stuff that wasn’t even Sebastian. They just googled us.
[Michael]: That shows you the power of the Internet.

Are there any trends you are inspired by at the moment?
[Shay]: It’s hard for us because we work so far in advance.
[Michael]: We’re four collections ahead already.
[Shay]: You can imagine our thought process: it’s about looking at the past, present, and future. Everyone needs to be inspired, you can’t just dream up this stuff.
[Michael]: And you can’t lead if you’re going to be generic. If you don’t step outside the lines, there’s nothing new. If everyone does the same thing, it’s boring. Everything is about being intuitive. Collections are like a picture in time. When we look back, we think, ‘Wow! Look at what we were wearing.’ It’s a reflection of who we were and who Sebastian was at that time.

When collections are done so far in advance, how do you keep them relevant?
[Shay]: We are on a journey to try and inspire hairdressers. We try to be as creative as we can.
[Michael]: Once again, the benefit of working with Sebastian is they give us the outlet to be creative. It’s nice to be able to express yourself and make people happy. If some people aren’t happy, that’s okay, too! Because Sebastian realizes that not every collection is going to be for everybody. Sebastian is about making you think.

What’s in the future for Sebastian’s collections?
[Michael]: The next collection –‘Totemic’– is what’s happening for Autumn/Winter. The inspiration came from a lot of different things, but perhaps the biggest influence for Totemic was globalization and what’s happening in the world today. We looked at subcultures from all around the world and what we found was so interesting that we decided to create something with it.
[Shay]: As you can see in some of the imagery here, we tried to look at these past traditions with a more modern feel. We took some of the past techniques with the idea of creating something that would be completely new to the eye.
[Michael]: The North American Indians were fascinating. The way they lived and the natural sort of innocence in their beauty was just magical and a source of great inspiration. We looked at the craftsmanship many tribes had, and all of it was so meticulous and inspiring.
[Shay]: Our goal was to take elements from some of these celebrated traditions or crafts and make them our own. After many attempts, we created several new techniques inspired by past ones, and that was pretty exciting. Tribal is one thing. But we are the tribe, Sebastian is the tribe. We have our own little tribe, and it’s getting bigger [Laughs].

Discover here the amazing ‘Totemic Collection’ by Sebastian Professional’s Shay Dempsey & Michael Polsinelli!


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