26 March 2023

Estetica’s Exclusive Interview: S&M – Shay Dempsey & Michael Polsinelli

Sebastian Professional Global Artistic Directors Shay Dempsey and Michael Polsinelli just launched their personal creative brand S&M and their project Brainwerx with the backing of the prestigious brand, Sebastian Professional.

The launch of S&M is followed by a series of intimate conversations and introspective evenings called Brainwerx. These sessions take hairdressers into each of these icons’ personal artistic journey as artists and the inspiration that constantly pushes them to drive creative ideas forward. In other words, they’re teaching how to build the creative mindset where inspiration becomes easy to recognize.

So what is the genesis of Brainwerx, I mean, why?
S&M:Why is always a good one. As you know, we are the Global Artistic Directors for Sebastian Professional and its a huge honor for both of us and get to a point in you life where you really feel that you make a difference. The thing that we usually do is come up with collections and we have to teach, do events, and we have to wear many different hats in our position. But aside that, we always have to work slightly within a box because we are sort of looking after the world when it comes to creating collections for products. At the same time, we’re the type of people that we just can’t sit still. We love to try and understand what else is out there and what’s another possibility. And that’s when we started talking about this project. It’s more of a personal thing to just escape the responsibility of being who we are and going to the studio and saying, well, what do you think about this… it’s part of our evolution as hairdressers and as artists and as people.

Tell us about the concept of Brainwerx. How important is sharing for you?
S&M:Sharing is everything. We usually get a lot of questions like: Where do we get inspired? How do we get our creativity? And these are some questions that are huge on people’s minds. Working in salons can be very tough work for people, because you get caught up in it and you don’t get any time for anything else. Creativity doesn’t happen unless you try to make it happen. Creativity is an action so if you sit there and you think about being creative, it’s simply not going to happen. You have to understand that you have to go make the mistakes and make your own methodology and, in that journey, you will learn and get to the next level because it is part of digesting that process.

What most people look for from a course is ‘what am I going to take home from this’… what would that be in your words?
S&M:What you will take from this is something that you can use in a salon. If you change your mindset, you will change the way that you look at hair. It will change the way you see something maybe in a multidimensional shape and speak about that to say – let me step back and take a look at this in a different way, I am going to talk to my client about this in a different way, and I am going to treat hair like a fabric, maybe I’m going to treat hair with a positive and negative space… so we think it is going to give you a self-confidence to take back. We don’t want to lead you by the hand and tell you what to do, we want to share with you the ideas, take them, cultivate them and make them your own. It’s about empowering people and giving them the opportunity because they can do it too. We want people to take away the individuality of it all.

This new brand called S&M… when this happened? Why now?
S&M:It’s something we have been thinking about for more than two years and sometimes you have to get your foot in the water and get wet. We started to play in the garage with some hair pieces, it took us about six months of our own personal time. So we talked to each other and said ‘we just have to do something with this’ and we decided to do it. We started with hair art pieces… but the next project can be something about cutting wigs, creative styling in some way, we’re not going to get stuck on this: it just happens to be that this one is the one that actually sealed the deal for us to go. From a personal point of view this is something we needed to do to feed our own souls. It was something organic and simple.

How do you see your S&M brand evolving in the future?
S&M:With each project there will be a seminar somehow worked out. In November we are going to have a cutting seminar where we are going to actually use our techniques to create something a bit edgy that you can take back to the salon. The intuition and the idea that we thought is right. We hope it can be bigger than us at some point, but we want it to be something amazing, something beautiful and something positive so that we can give to many, many hairdressers. But right now, this is what we are.

It is really such a good thing that you are doing this hand in hand with Sebastian.
S&M:Absolutely. And the great thing is that they were the ones that embraced it. They said green light straight away. Sebastian is not a brand that is like everybody else, so we are different to begin with, and we like to think we helped cultivate that and make that grow from our heritage, our history. Hopefully we have done it justice. They know us as people and individuals and they know that we just have to get that out and they said ‘Go for it!’ So we are so happy that we have support from the brand.

Your journey with Sebastian it’s been something amazing.
Michael:I started from the bottom as an advocate trainer in the salons. Then I moved to SDA and from SDA I made it to the Artistic Team. And that’s when Robert Lobetta looked at me and said, ‘hey, can you give me a hand,’ and that’s when it all took off from there. And I’m glad that happened, because then I met one of the most important people in my life right here.
Shay:There was a lot of change going on at the time. I was working as the UK ambassador for Sebastian and I was doing shoots and then they had the relaunch, so there were these sort of tryouts. Michael came over from NYFW and we worked together with another hairdresser and that was the first time when we really got to sit down and talk. It was a bit crazy and then we got through the relaunch and it was down to the two of us… We were just thinking, how are we going to get this together? Because he lived on one side of the world and I lived on the other. So we literally had a chat on the plane and knew that this was the chance to make it work. So we had to take the boundaries down and get it all together and make it work.”

I guess that being neighbors now in Los Angeles makes everything easier.
S&M:Well, when we really got together it was a counterbalance. It was hard, it was difficult. I mean, we are two creative people that have certain things… and trying to make people think like one is an acceptance and understanding and really letting everything else go. It’s all about listening. What makes him happy, what makes me happy – and now it’s for real, for the first time in our lives, a true collaboration. This is not easy to find. It requires you to take your personality at the door and ask, how are we going to do this?

How do you feel about the perception from many people that Sebastian is like a sort of a cult?
S&M:Yeah, it really is, it’s like a cult! Sebastian is something that started more than 40 years ago, and this brand has something about it that once you’re in, you’re in. You bleed black. When I first saw Sebastian, there was always something new to the eye, something you really wanted to know how it was done and how it was created. That’s the challenge for us at each collection: Is it edgy enough? Does it tell a story? Because there’s always a story about how the product relates to the hairstyle. And I think that for the real die-hards, that’s what they expect from Sebastian, and if they don’t get that, they let you know. We’ve gone to Brazil, had shows for 2,500 people with Sebastian tattoos on their hands, on their necks… and they go around like a football team bumping their chest. I was like ‘whoa!’ So it really means a lot. We are extremely proud to be the ‘popes,’ but with it comes a lot of responsibility. The connection with the hairdressers is so unique. So trying to keep that tradition alive and growing it is an honor and a responsibility.

You’ve been in so many amazing projects within Sebastian, so how do you feel about being behind a new product?
S&M:It’s very, very cool because this is something new for us in the last three years, and to be flown to Switzerland to put on the canvas coats and the goggles and get to work with the lab guys is pretty awesome. Sometimes they have something ready for you when you appear, for example for Metamorphik, they had Resintek ready to go. So we were like what is this? And they said ‘oh, just a form of resin and you heat it up and it has some form of hold.’ It’s amazing, it’s happening in front of you. Now Dark Oil, that’s another one as well. So when they sat down and said ‘an oil,’ I’m sure our faces were like… ‘another?’ But hold on, when we tried it out onto the hair and then we noticed how amazing it really is! We have given birth to quite a few products, something like 12-15 – this is something very personal and important to us as hairstylists, to lead a company forward, it has to be done in an honest way, because otherwise it just won’t work.


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