28 October 2021

An Inside Look At Hairdressing in Russia

Here’s hoping our readers are prepared to sit down for a fascinating account and astute insight into a world that once existed only behind an “iron curtain” and is now open, if not always accessible, to us all.

Ten years ago, in 2010, Maria Klass and Kirill Sarychev opened HairFckerStudio in St. Petersburg, embarking on what was to become their own hairdressing label and a flagship for hairdressers throughout Russia. Today it is a vibrant studio consisting of three large halls, a Hairdressing and Production Academy.  Kirill was born in Novorossiysk, a sun-drenched city by a warm sea, but he moved to a bleak, grey-colored St. Petersburg, where he ironically found his “tabula rasa“ and infinite inspiration. Kirill starts out with an overview of Russian hairdressing culture before explicitly answering the specific questions we had for him.

A lot of people from all over the world ask me about Russian hairdressing. And I agree – understanding culture and, above all, your native culture is very important step for moving forward. Indeed, it is embarrassing to admit that most Russian hairdressers don’t know much about their culture and the history of world hairdressing. The ultimate irony is that I am writing this article in English and most of our hairdressers will read it after international editing.
In order to better understand culture, we need to know the following things – names of the people and heroes who made hairdressing history, historical points and events, influences from outside and current trends. Nowadays heroes are not so important, because it is difficult to know who will be remembered years later. But if a hairdresser is remembered for more than 10 years, I think it would be safe to say that he or she has had a lasting influence on industry.
 History and the heroes of the past is the theme of my special article and here it will be just an introduction to modern culture.  Most people know that before the revolution of 1917 Russia developed in the same way as the rest of Europe and aristocratic fashion from France, England, Holland and Germany had a big influence. But after the Soviets came into power, things changed radically – farmers became the most powerful class and all aristocrats and people who had actually built the country became outlaw antiheroes. Many of them were killed or prisoned, the luckiest ones escaped, and the rest went quietly underground. Hence an entire generation of Russian barbers and hairdressers, who had been highly respected and financially well-off individuals took this path. Soviet farmers were not interested in promoting any fashion movements. They declared that the Soviet Proletariat should not follow the capitalist values and traditions, opting instead for universal, typical, and casual garb. Hair care was relegated to being merely a hygienic procedure. Barbers and hairdressers were needed only because the hair grew and had to be cut periodically. AT that time they were not concerned with beauty, so hair was very simple. It was the dark era of hairdressing.
Things changed with the birth of rock’n’roll music that was so strong that is broke through the borders and shook up the communist idyll. Although jazz and other modern music had infiltrated someone into Russian society, it took rock to actually change  people’s mindset. It was the strong “capitalist” enemy and it came it the time when people were not more so enthusiastic about a Soviet future: they were tired of building communism, poverty and a lack of individualism. Cold War borders were closed but people were yearning for freedom and world culture. Spivs and foreigners were dark freedom fighters – they brought fair capitalism into the dangerous soviet reality. They earned money and fashion was their merchandise. Most of these spivs worked in barbershops – at that time it was illegal to be  out of job and hairdressing offered the opportunity to have plenty of free time, They worked during the morning in the salon and then hit the streets to sell foreign magazines, clothes, music and gadgets.
But they were not only the rogues hiding from government control – they also had  to be true professionals. It was difficult to become a hairdresser and keep this job, and they realised how much they owed to this profession. During times when there were no hair schools,  there was actually a shortage of hairdressers and people from elite classes hunted talented specialists, loved them and opened all doors for them. In the 1960s, hairdressers became highly respected and wealthy members of society, real VIPss. The only way to enter the industry was to be a close friend or relative of the “hair mafia”. Another interesting fact is that barbering was only job that members of Russian mafia could do in prison. The world of organised crime did not allow thieves and gangsters to work, even during the day, because they had sharp tools in their hands, and at night scissors and razors could become lethal weapons.
 Criminal culture was very influential in Soviet Union and Russia, many people had their friends and relatives imprisoned and adapted their everyday life to the prison regulations and lifestyle. Respect for criminals can be traced to the underground tradition, as they were originally often the victims of the Soviet regime and not always thieves and murders, but civilized individuals, often politic offenders, and all of them were forced to survive together in their underground network.
The most popular haircut in prison was the shaved head, as being bald was one way to seem more anonymous and faceless to their jailers. And for civilians a bald head was a way of expressing solidarity with prisoners and a symbol of hatred toward the communist regime (remember  that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels both had long-hair and beards).
After the USSR was fell apart, hard times came. There were no job from the government and people started opening small business – one of the most popular was salon business and a lot of random people came there thinking that they could make money this way as they did in Soviet times. But they were mostly not very successful, because skills were lacking and there were no professional schools or system of standards and quality control.
The most typical picture of a 90s Russian hair salon were three big women in dirty aprons smoking at front of the door and gossiping about their clients and husbands. Salon interiors were devoid of taste and looked the same everywhere  – horrible! People called them “Beauty Toilets”. They had highly recognisable smell of perms and chemicals, there were long lines and staff was rude. They used the products from local shops and markets, second hand gloves, and even washed foils after bleaching.
Professional cosmetics came to the market in the mid-90s and it revolutionised the industry. Corporations understood that there was a truly enormous potential market, but they had to support salons and help them stay alive. That was the beginning of the “shampoo era’’,

– What are the hottest hair fashion trends in Russia at the moment? What is on the horizon for trends later this year? Will crazy colors resist? What’s trending for men?
Styles are mostly the same as in America – all kinds of vivid colors, short hair, money piece, mullets etc. One of the most identifiable trends we’ve founded is  Ribbed Hair. This is the ribbed surface on short hair. We developed this technique a few years ago and it was inspired by cyberpunk and industrial design with numerous parallel lines. We turned the idea of this pattern on short hair into the organized structure and cam up with a new style that goes beyond the hair tattoo and shaved patterns. I can talk about it as a local trend because we only teach it in our school in Saint Petersburg. Moreover, each of our team of stylists has mastered this technique and, as its founders, we know how to sell it by explaining all its benefits to the client. So Hairfucker produces a lot of Ribbed hair daily:  10 to 20 hairdressers work in the salon every day and each of them does Ribbed Hair.
 The other trend that I can talk about is humour – people laugh about everything, especially fashion trends, and create funny, stupid, absurd hairstyles to troll the fashion.

– Are there regional differences in trends in Russia, and how much do they influence your work?
Because of the internet trends move fast and in the big cities all over the world most trends are similar. We can say the same about big Russian cities, especially Moscow and Saint-Petersburg where hair fashion is influenced by the rest of the world, especially thanks to foreign educators that visit these cities often. And with local hairdressers, these trends travel to other cities where they meet the post-Soviet culture that is still brutal, rude and conservative. When we talk about this sad fact  we can see the pioneers of the new trends as fashion heroes that help our culture become more modern and tolerant.
We were born in a country under a dictatorship. 70 years of communist occupation led to social taboos and strict laws forbidding people to look flamboyant or express their individuality. And things haven’t really changed. Today, you can still get beaten up or even killed in a fight for having long or dyed hair. Kids get kicked out of school for colorful strands of hair or unusual haircuts.
Our mission is to help people look extravagant and to make the unusual the norm. We want an end to discrimination based on appearance.
We live in a rather harsh climate. Summer lasts just a few days. And if you have to work during those days, you end up going without summer for a year unless you travel to the south in search of it. The sky is almost always overcast. Last December, there were a total of 95 minutes of sunlight in the city. 95 minutes over an entire month. It’s cold, gray and rainy. Color photographs of the city often look black-and-white. The weather underlines the drabness of the post-Soviet landscape.
We’ve always wanted to make people look more colorful and make their dispositions more cheerful. After all, many people are a lot more vibrant on the inside than they let show. It’s our task to bring out that interior state and make it more harmonious with their appearance. Our hair is one of the ways we communicate with the world. It’s non-verbal, but it tells the world who we are. Sometimes we defend ourselves, sometimes we look for others like us and sometimes we make threats.
Our hairstyle and our appearance also let us change who we are on the inside. People sometimes blossom when they give themselves another color. It can elicit a mild euphoria, as though they have accomplished something through bravery in their lives. Kind of like plastic surgery without a knife. You change people, it inspires them, and then they inspire others and so on until it changes our city for the better. Those are our guerrilla tactics.
Also, St. Petersburg is the cultural capital of Russia. There are a lot of creative people here, and sometimes it’s actually shocking to see how creative they can be. And those people want haircuts, too. Under the right circumstances, they might even become regular clients and request absolutely incredible things each time. At that moment, your client becomes your co-creator, and together you begin to come up with a new idea and flesh it out. For example, your client might show up with an idea, and then, as an artist, you then figure out the nuances of how to make it work and bring it to life.
 We often create replicas of famous paintings on peoples’ heads: Malevich, Kandinsky, Rodchenko, Pollock, Rothko, van Gogh… The list goes on. There are too many to remember. Clients show up with a picture of a painting and say, “I want that.” Sometimes we even recreate the same painting on completely different people.

– What are Russian hairdressers interested in copying from abroad?  What other countries do they look toward for inspiration?
One of the unique thing about Russia is the geography: we are located between Europe and Asia , we are neither East nor West with a strong Soviet communist background and this is our unique Middle Ground. Also we don’t have many big cosmetics brand, just a couple of them. Most of the world’s major brands have only distribution here and don’t develop the trends to sell their products. There are not many  people hired by brands as ambassadors or creative teams, so most of the stylists are independent. They are not motivated to become a “sell-shampoo-soldier”, but they can be very independent with an extraordinary level of creativity.
– What can hairdressers in other parts of the world learn from their Russian counterparts? What are they already copying?
The original and most popular color trend is airtouch, because it was founded in Russia by Russian colorist Vladimir Sarbashev and spread fast there, where lots of stylists that learned it the founder and taught themselves. Instead, the rest of the world doesn’t do it correctly – you need to learn all details and nuances first-hand and get a lot of practice. I believe that airtouch is the real revolution in coloring as it is a really innovative technique that makes it possible to achieve a variety of results. It offers more options than any other technique and it goes far beyond the highlights and balayage.
Once you’ve learned the whole system, it’s easier to understand what I am talking about. It gives you options to achieve clean, cold blondes, hide gray hair, make root shadows and make safe corrections  without having to bleach pre-bleached or damaged hair. Ever since I learned it 3 years ago, I use it only on long hair. This trend is global and I am sure that after few years whole world will blow hair during the color service.
It is important to stress the discipline and training this techniques requires – like Sassoon’s cutting method. You need to train hard to work more quickly. I remember my first airtouch color service took me 10 hours on long hair! Most professionals (and clients) are reluctant. But in Russia – quality is the a priority, and speed is secondary. In America it is the opposite: most colorists try to work faster and they are not ready for 6-10 hour services, even if it can become 3 hours after you’ve trained your motor skills sufficiently.
Another thing that comes to mind is crudeness and rudeness – there are a lot of hairdressers who are not politically correct or tolerant – they are rude, strong and masculine, often without limits. Like Yura Badhair, who cut hair with circular saw and injured his model. This case is not to be emulated, but illustrates how fearless some Russian stylists can be. Also i know one guy who is the founder of big company and he teaches hundreds of his stylists such things that I cannot even mention here. It is like new punk rock – as the world is trying to become more tolerant and inclusivec – Russian artists insist on being more alternative and rioting. They are not seeking anyone’s approval  – they just want express their inner feeling
One of the things that Hairfucker spreads as a trend and I know that people copy is the idea of Graffity Hair. We express the message in words or symbols on the most visible part of the human body – the head. Just like graffiti, it’s not permanent, the hair will grow back and the message will disappear. Just like graffiti, it evokes emotions: admiration or disgust, but it does not leave anyone indifferent. It can be ugly or beautiful, it can be art or vandalism. Hair art can go outside of galleries and become real street art. Lettering on the head is more noticeable than a print on clothing or a tattoo on your body; it is less common and attracts more attention.

– How has Covid changed the hairdresser’s job and how far are they from getting back to normal?
Compared to the rest of the world, Russians are not afraid of Covid and since june 2020 we have been open for business as usual. We have to wear masks but no one cares. After the first lockdown salons opened with some limits of capacity and more intense sanitization, but we returned to normal life. In the beginning people were scared and there was no government support. After the lockdown every salon lost members of their team – hairstylists had to work at home or in illegal places, renting chairs, and a lot of them didn’t return to the salon, but instead started working independently. We see that more and more co-working places are opening for them.
I don’t think that it is good for building culture because they don’t have teams, leaders, or share ideas. Sometimes these places looks like Donnybrook Fair. Working in a team you are the part of small army with same ideology, so we have a few companies that are cool and strong thanks to team spirit. For example, in Hairfucker we have the large common space with round-the-clock access, equipment for photo shoots, motivation and team building meetings, clients and collaboration events and other opportunities that don’t exist in co-working spaces.

For me personally, I had a time to think a lot and create. i wanted to do something that can endure longer than just a hairstyle or pictures in an Instagram feed – so I turned more to Art.  I developed a few projects that we realized in 2020, like the documentary HAIR=ATAVISM, and Dirty Art Hairdressing – an art exhibition that I organized in New York in DorDor Gallery. It was dedicated to Russian avantgarde hair artists – Covid gave me the time to work on these projects and we are going to develop them further in 2021.
We consider hair as a creative medium, separate from its human, endowed with mystical properties because once it was part of a living being. For the first time, we used hair for art objects, reflecting on the topic of recycling, because tons of cut hair are thrown out every day and they lose their value as soon as they are separated from a human. Therefore, we created pictures made of hair. While creating this sort of picture, it seems like you are signing it with your own DNA.
Creating an art objects from familiar things, such as human hair, seeing something differently than others, and being creative by inventing a new reality – this is what we consider true contemporary art.

Photo credits:

Hair: Kirill HairfuckerModel: Lesya Sito | Photo: Iskander Sadykov

Hair: Serafima, Lara | Photo: Olga Kramer


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