The Interview

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If hairdressing had a fantasy football league then the first name on any managers team sheet would be Robert Lobetta.
What can I say about the man that hasn’t been said before. Nothing. The man, the legend was in Auckland recently with two of very best Australian crimpers, Emiliano Vitale and Benni Tognini. Now that is looking like a line up of the very best stylists, that would cruise to victory in any fantasy football/hairdressing competition. I was lucky enough to catch up with the Maestro, the current Australian Hairdresser Of The Year and the Australian godfather of avant garde hairdressing.

JD: What are you guys doing in NZ today?

RL: We were doing a seminar, it was an open forum seminar. It allowed everyone to have a view point in what we were doing. So the interesting thing for us was how we could teach people on a level that hadn’t been taught before.
Just opening up and asking them what they wanted to see, normally it isn’t done that way, so by doing that we managed to force them out of their comfort zone and not sit back and just take it in. They had to give back.
The first thing we did when they came in was we asked them why they were here and what do you want from the day.
Then we got these sheets of paper, everyone put their name on a sheet of paper and told us what they wanted from this day and be really honest about it. If your are not honest with yourself then we can’t help you, be absolutely honest to yourself on what you want out of it.
We went around the room and asked what they wanted out of it.

EV: It was something a little different for us, we wanted to take our class on a unique journey, something we had not done before so the outcome was something that was going to come from those who attend rather than us who facilitated. We knew we wanted to push some “educational boundaries” as it was not a class on haircutting, it was aimed at being an interactive journey of the creative. I don’t like doing things I’ve already done before, I like new experiences.
As a group we would get the participants view point on what they like because the whole objective of this thing is to let them all know they are individual people and everyone’s going to see it differently because if you all see it the same you are lying to yourselves.

RL: I know they all saw it differently. Once we expose the fact that they all did see it differently and they verbalised it they felt comfortable in their own skin about what they wanted to say. That should have made it a lot more easier for us but actually it made it more complicated for us as now we have to get a particular model finished and done with all their view points involved.
It wasn’t challenging at all, surprisingly, as they were open and that made it really interesting for us as well. As teachers myself, Benni & Emiliano had to be ready for whatever came our way. We worked in a way which I called it a process way, so for instance the first model came out and E was going to cut it. He put a piece of paper on it and clipped it in. As he clipped it in it made a little indentation in the hair and I said to him why did you do that you’ve dented the hair?

EV: The collaboration with the audience was really scary and R said I made a mistake and then I had everyone say they thought it was a mistake and had to be honest enough to say, I really stuffed that up.
So in other words we taking him through something of reality there was no, “You’ve done that now lets hide it”, lets be honest and you’ve done that now, what we are going to do to correct it?
So it was the spontaneity of the event letting people see the process you go through.

RL: Another time E he was cutting in little steps and indentations. He was getting down to here (points to eyebrows) and all of a sudden he’s like hang on this isn’t looking right so he calls us over and asks, “What do we think?”.
I said, “You know what E, it don’t look right” and he goes, “Yep your right”, so we worked out a solution as a group. So it’s about keeping it open and getting them to be participants. It was refreshing to them because I don’t think anyone had done that and for us. So no ones actually done reverse psychology where they were actually telling us what to do. To a degree, and we would do it based on what we thought would work.

EV: I Didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, I called Robert over. I started to take it a little differently. I followed what Robert was saying and then Jock (Jock Robson from Dharma) said why don’t you lift it? I lifted it and it was pointy and he said why don’t you just let it go and that’s when that happened it was just beautiful.
So its a whole different way of learning we all learnt out of it. For us teachers as well, what we got out of it by forcing them to see things differently and think differently made us do different things. It was enlightening in that respect.
You know you can push the boundaries a little bit and that was really exciting. We didn’t even know Benni was coming, we were just spending some time together last week, it was just this natural involvement.
It was good, it was amazing.

JD: I’d like to congratulate you on your recent success winning Australian Hairdresser Of The Year, how does that translate to your day to day work in the salon.

EV: Still working 5 days a week in salon. How the reward translates, it takes up space on the mantelpiece. When you eventually win an award you realise you don’t need an award. Its been a funny journey for me. I’ve been wanting to win Australian Hairdresser Of The Year for such a long time and it’s my first time winning the award. It’s a responsibility with everything that I say and everything that I do. There’s a massive expectation, so you get that. What I realised is that I deserve to be there as I’ve done the work. I would not have got there had I not done the work and the collection that I did I was really proud of.

It hasn’t changed my year. It was already so busy that it acutally hasn’t made any indentation. The only indentation it’s made is on the mantelpiece at the salon. It is something I am very, very proud of, don’t get me wrong, but once you win it’s back there, as in the past. The journey that I’m on is far more spiritual. I’ve got everything that I need, Im doing everything I want to do, like… look at that (gesturing towards Robert and Benni) Benni changed my life, and Robert changed Benni’s life and these guys are here doing stuff with me, like Ive got goose bumps …like seriously…that’s my lotto. I’d give any award away to spend more time with them.

JD: Are you going to continue entering competitions?
EV: At this moment I really want to focus on Global.Synergy and our big show in November, SSSHHH. To be honest I haven’t decided AHH… I honestly don’t know.
Last week I thought I would have, spending time with these guys, makes me realise that I don’t need to. Especially with Global. Synergy, that’s now my passion/baby. I want to drive that globally.
It’s very hard to enter an award. If you’re going to enter an award, you’ve got to put a lot of energy, time and money for that matter.. I want to put energy, time and my money into Global. Synergy because GS changes peoples lives. Who knows lets see what happens.

JD: Tell us a wee bit about Global. Synergy.

EV: The finalists are mentored by the best in the Industry like Robert. The winner in NZ will win a trip to Oz. From England to Oz, the winner from Oz to England and so on. It’s putting so much back into the industry that I love and gives the finalist such a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow in themselves. That to me is far more rewarding than accolades. To give is the best thing in life. So my question to myself is why would I continue to enter awards when all it gives me is that (gestures to the accolade). Whereas GS, it changes peoples lives.
For example, the Australian finalists got to shoot with Robert last week and Benni mentored. I mentored along with Dennis Langford and Matt Clements. There were 5 young hairdressers mentored, it was extraordinary so I’d rather put time and energy into that than anything else.

JD: Do you encourage other staff members entering competitions?

EV: I encourage them to be true to themselves. So as long as they are true I will support them. If I feel they are going the wrong way because they think that I want them to do it or other people want them to do it, I will sit them down and ask them questions. Otherwise its more about their journey and who they want to be. If its competitions, then great.

JD: Robert you had a moment by chance in 1977, when you proved yourself wrong by weaving hair and it changed the way we look at hair forever. You showed the industry that hair was a fibre and anything was possible. Benni and Emiliano have you ever had one of these moments?

RL: (Laughs) See what he did there guys, he used me as a metaphor.

BT: I have enjoyed 39 years in the hair industry and its been really quite a journey for me to see amazing artists. People like Robert, and Trevor Sorbie and a few other people that have been part of my journey. I’ve looked at a lot of their work and I’ve purely just copied. I’ve tried to take ownership of it and then try to venture with that, so for me, I just don’t’ think I’m that ground breaking. I think I test my own grounds through their experience.

EV: A break through moment for me was with Robert. We were shooting in January and it’s probably one of my favourite shots from the collection. Wherever I think of a shot Robert’s done there’s always this trickle shot, with the red lips. It’s like the lipstick was dripping it always marked my imagination of Robert. We were shooting and had to wet the models hair down. It was combed beautifully but because her hair colour was blue/black it started running down her face. The shot was dead but Robert was going, “no no no keep it going”. We got the make-up artist to wipe it down, and we just kept on spraying. Robert is going “spray spray”, I’m spraying and he’s going “spray more, more” and now its dripping. There’s water everywhere, there’s blue everywhere, the make-up artist is wiping it and I’m spraying and Robert is screaming, “Spray spray”. It was chaos and then he goes let me do it and then he sprays the whole bloody thing and then there was a shot and it was the drip. It was perfect.

What I realised in my life is every single time I get to a moment where its like almost right but not quite. See success comes after failure and to get there you have to go through failure first. I used to always get close to success and I’d think I was failing and I used to think I was failing because of times like the colour running down on my models face. Robert pushed me through what I would have previously thought was failure and in that moment it was my latest “ah ha”. To push beyond failure you have to surround yourself by people that share the same vision because they will take you there. That was probably one of the most inspirational and influential moments for me, but its a metaphor for my whole life.

BT: You should tell the story about Charles and the mat in 1977.

RL: I was getting bored with hairdressing and just not getting anywhere with it. My good friend Charles decided lets go out for dinner and maybe he could get me beyond where I was going in my thoughts. At the restaurant he was looking at this woven mat, he picks the mat up and goes Robert why don’t you do hair like the mat. I picked up the mat and looked at it all different ways and said Charles it’s a mat, what you talkin about? You can’t do hair like a mat.
It has no beginning point no end point its just a square thing, it has nothing to do with hair. You’re mad. We got into an argument. Charles then bet me at the end of the argument a case of Champagne if I could weave hair. I love Champagne, he baited me… So I went ah yeah Im gonna enjoy this Champagne because there’s no way I can weave hair. In my mind I couldn’t. I went home and as I was going home I just gently thought…well maybe I can. I dissipated the thought.
The next evening, I said ok I’m going to get a model and I’m going to go do it (thinking that I couldn’t) Charles, cos I want my Champagne. I could almost taste it.

I started doing it and for some reason I wove hair, that day and it changed my whole life. But what really changed my whole life is Charles challenged me about this mat. It really wasn’t to do with weaving at all. What he said was you can take an everyday object like a mat and by that you can take anything else you see and do hair exactly as you see it. We had all been taught how to cut hair and hair would do a certain thing. We had all been taught how to cut hair and dress hair but no one says wait a minute, “you can treat hair like a piece of carpet and look at it that way”. So all of a sudden you looked at it totally different. I thought, ok I can do whatever I want with hair, just like someone using clay. They use clay, I use hair, so off we go lets do that. It opened the floodgates of how you see hair and I think by being at the forefront of that cult movement, everyone up to this day who has managed to do hair like they do today go back to that moment in time.
So really it was Charles who fortunately started it by challenging my thought process.

JD: I used to look at old copies of this hair magazine from the 70’s and 80’s and it had a lot of your work, the Mascolos, Trevor Sorbie and the Rusk’s from Glasgow, but yours always looked like it was from another planet. It looked like it was photo shopped well before digital photography was around. How did you do that?

RL: No retouching, you had to get it perfect. So you’d spend hours doing it. Some of those weaves in any of the styles we used to do would take up to about 13 hours. I used to joke to the models, Imagine after 13 hours of someone doing your hair, you’ve had it.
The magazine owner was quite clever because he owned the colour company we all used and he would come to my salon and go Robert have you seen what Trevor’s just done and he’d show a little glimpse of it. I’d be like wow that’s amazing and then he’d run to Anthony and say Anthony have you seen what Roberts done?
He’d play a game with us all, by saying look they are all doing fantastic things, you’d better do something better. What that did for him is it made us into competitors in a friendly way.
It was that competition that made us friendly rivals and that gave us a friendship but at the same time pushed hairdressing even higher. So it helped us all grow our careers tremendously by pitting us against each other.
It was a fun time.

JD: I think Social Media is taking a lot of the mystique out of hairdressing. The amount of mediocrity on there is overwhelming.
RL: If It’s available you can find anything you want, at any given moment, at any given time. So it’s levelled the playing field, totally levelled the playing field. And its never going to change. That’s where we are now and in order to get ahead of it you’re going to have to do different things. So I think you got to play the game back into social media as much as you can.
Everyone’s a photographer now and everyone does it, click click click.. So that’s where we are unfortunately, it’s not unfortunate it’s just inevitable that things change. As long as we can embrace the fact that we can handle the change we’re ok. It’s when you can’t handle the change and go back to the old days that’s when you die. So we don’t want to do that.

JD: Any other creative outlets other than hairdressing?
BT: Sculpting, I play around with texture and fabrics and don’t ask me what it turns out like. It’s quiet time for me.
It talks back to me, what’s in my head, creating. It’s not people telling me to do things. It’s the environment or it’s a room that I can go into and just disappear and do my thing. Sometimes its steel, sometimes its timber but a lot of times it’s hair.

JD: Do you use wigs or the raw material we sweep away everyday?
BT: I actually stopped that. I got to a point where it just wasn’t giving me enough back. I was probably searching, and it was time to let go and try something new. We have a really big wig room and showroom, bringing out all the old and re-doing them, that’s been really great. Physically re-doing them. Thinking where was my head space back in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s and now I’ve looked at that and used a certain texture and what’s interesting is some of the textures are around like that at the moment.

EV: I’m not as far ahead as these guys so Global. Synergy and the salon.

RL: Mainly work in photography, film and video direction. I also do contemporary art, so that’s my field spaces. As much as they are broad they all somehow connect. It’s the diversity for me that helps me stay focused on different things because I can be good at one thing and do it for X amount of time then move on to something else and do that for X amount of time. So it revolves around. I suppose for me continually finding something new that I haven’t done before.
So I enjoy those aspects. I’ve always done those things.

JD: Ok, so my final question is do you think Tottenham will finish in the top 4 of the Premier League this season?
R: They’re gonna come 5th, which pisses me off but I know it (laughs).
I was in Edinburgh and Hibernian were playing Barcelona in a friendly 5 years ago, and for some reason I don’t know why, my whole outfit was burgundy and blue. I’m going out with all these Hibernian supporters in green, and I’m thinking oh dear.

JD: Hibernian’s city rivals, Hearts, are maroon and their away kit is maroon and sky blue which would look similar to Barcelona. Which would attract unwanted attention in the wrong half of Edinburgh.

RL: Ahhh maybe that’s why I was being stared at.

JD: Do any of you guys follow the beautiful game?

BT: I follow Liverpool but not fanatically.

EV: I Leave it to my father. He follows football but doesn’t have a favourite team.

So on that note I managed to start with football and end with football and the three geniuses were gone…

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