Sharing Voices: David Stanko Talks to Eva Scrivo

Redken 5th Avenue Consultant and Master Colorist David Stanko interviews Eva Scrivo, stylist, author, educator, salon owner and celebrity colorist for L'Oréal Professionnel. The two talk about what leads to a successful career in the beauty industry, the importance of maintaining a personal portfolio of work, her 'uncut' cut signature style and much more.

DS: The very first thing you said to me was that you had been working for 13 days in a row. What has kept you working for that many days?

ES: I feel so blessed to be as busy as I am in the salon behind the chair at this point in my career. I worked 13 days straight because we were teaching a "Designing The Look" class for L'Oréal Professionnel last week at my salon, which was really exciting because we usually teach at the Academy, but we find it to be very creative and inspiring here. We're able to talk about business and how my salon is run. I also worked on a couple shoots, including one for the NFL. Working 13 days in a row doesn't happen all the time; I usually have the weekends off. But when you have these wonderful opportunities in life, it's very important to identify them and jump through these hoops and not say, "I'm tired," or "I've been working so hard lately." I think what separates good hairdressers from great hairdressers–or successful hairdressers from highly successful hairdressers– is pushing yourself, pushing the limits and not cutting yourself short that last hour of work or saying you're too tired to come in for that one client or to stay. I think it's critical to the industry and to the customer. Service and art–high art–is what we're doing every day. We're not just cutting the hair short and covering up somebody's roots. It's a high level of art and it should be treated as such. We create transformative experiences around a woman's face and it affects her overall style and energy. I believe in pushing yourself as an artist and as a businesswoman and always have the client come first.

DS: I really like a lot of what you've said. I want to talk for a moment about "Designing the Look," a class that you teach. From one educator to another, what do you find is the most rewarding and the most challenging part of training?

ES: Well, "Designing the Look" is the first class that L'Oréal Professionnel has ever had to combine cutting and coloring. We inspire hairdressers and break down not just the artistic aspect but also the technical aspect of how to create a transformation with new or existing clients. It's about head shape, not just face shape: the bones of the head and skull affect how the hair falls and how to choose a correct layer pattern for that client. And of course the color: how it works with the skin tone and how you can counter balance when someone has either rosacea or olive undertones in their skin. Most classes that L'Oréal Professionnel offers are geared towards either cutting or coloring, but we've combined them in this class. About 90% of hairdressers do both cut and color in the U.S. and in other countries, so this class really appeals to people looking to grow their business and develop their expertise. When I meet these students who come from all walks of life, all income levels, all levels of skill and experience, I'm always touched by their openness and vulnerability. When someone has that openness to learn after 20 years of experience, that's very inspiring and makes me remember that this is a career-long learning experience. We are not necessarily born with an instant gift to cut, but we are born with the gift of a good eye and determination to learn a technical craft, and push ourselves to work hard and pay our dues, and to care. Meeting a student with the right attitude and openness to learn is very gratifying. And it's very gratifying when a student has a technical realization after years of doing something automatically, without knowing what they're doing or why they're doing it. Only when you can truly write a language will you be proficient in speaking it.

DS: I quite agree with the technical turn-on that people get. I call that "tribal formulation:" people learn certain formulas because their mentor used that formula so they use it on everybody. What would you recommend to today's hairdresser to gain more global insight to be better prepared to have more meaningful consultations?

ES: Well, it's interesting that you say "meaningful consultations" because people have consultations but they're not meaningful. They think they're having consultations, and they're not. The most important way to have a consultation is actually face-to-face, eye-to-eye. Looking at your client in her street clothes before she's changed into a dress or smock, assessing her style, looking at who she is as a woman, and making sure that you get her aesthetic; that you understand who she is. These are all cues in my book ("Eva Scrivo on Beauty: The Tools, Techniques, and Insider Knowledge Every Woman Needs to Be Her Most Beautiful, Confident Self" (Astria Books, 2011)) for how I size up my client so that I'm making the right choices for her based on who I am and my specialties. I like to have anywhere from a 5-10 minute conversation, face-to-face. I ask her what her challenges are, what she'd like to have happen today, and what has and hasn't worked in the past. This is all very important information that allows me to formulate a color and technical shape for her. I also ask her what she uses at home, and suggest what she needs to maintain her new look.

This is truly the formula for success because most mistakes happen when there is a lack communication between client and stylist. The strangest way to do a consultation is by looking into a mirror, if you think about it. There's no other industry where that happens. It's kind of like a TV screen – you can walk out like the conversation never happened. I think it's why clients will feel so comfortable with us and tell us something inappropriate or cross a boundary too quickly, because we're not looking at each other, So to have a meaningful consultation, you have to be looking at the person.

DS: It seems like you take beauty way beyond behind the chair. Where do you personally search for your own inspiration?

ES: I think it's important to do something that's completely different than what you do everyday; do something widely opposite of what you do. I think it's important that people have hobbies; that there are ways to express other parts of us. I love reading, yoga, gardening, biking and yard work. I love doing something where I have no connection with another person and it's just for me. I think that is a wonderful way to enrich your soul and enrich a different area within your artistic self. I'm also lucky enough to live in New York where I find inspiration around me every day. The salon is on a very exciting street: Bond Street in downtown Manhattan off the Bowery. It's an area that is kind of exploding right now and there is a lot of inspiration around us.

I can't help but say I know I've made the right career choice. After 25 years of experience, I still feel excited working with clients and working with cut, color, shape and makeup, and really changing the way they feel about themselves and how they move through the world. That to me is the most inspiring.

DS: You're one of the few that is still called a generalist that still does everything. If you could be the queen of all hairdressers would you try to start a trend where people re-master both cutting and coloring?

ES: There's something to be said for specialization and it's something that we actually do at our salon. But both specialists walk over and do the consultation with the client so that we're not operating blindly. We departmentalize the ones that we feel have that particular strength. It takes a certain person to do be able to do both well. I think it is very rare. I think it's because I have an art background, where I painted and threw pots as a kid so I worked with color and I worked with shape. I find that when I train people, they typically have a strength and I develop that strength.

I don't think we should necessarily go back, but I think that colorists should understand shape and how to highlight Balayage in a haircut, and that haircutters should not be so disconnected from color. We should work as a team with our client in front of us. Departmentalized allows stylists to be more successful. I feel that to be successful at what you do and feel good about what you do every day that we need to focus on what our strengths are. My strengths are cutting and coloring. I can do both really well and I sincerely mean that and I think that is rare—maybe because I'm a woman—because I can talk about makeup and color more comfortably because it's a part of my life.

DS: [For working with clients] I have my own portfolio from tear sheets as well as research on the internet from Googling 2013 hair styles or fashion runway shows just to get a sense of what's going on in fashion and makeup. I think knowing this becomes your talking points for the client that asks, "What's the hottest, latest, and greatest?" It might be ‘Rihanna red' but that may not be the hottest, latest and greatest for you. I love trying to develop a signature look for a woman.

ES: Yes, and not mimicking celebrities or runway, but really using them as inspiration. You brought up a great point about reference photos. It's very important to use reference photos and to build your own portfolio chair-side. Why strengthen another hairdresser's work when you're a hairdresser? You should be taking photographs of your work, of your transformations, before and after, and putting them on your iPad or phone and keeping it chair-side so you can share inspirational reference photos that bridge the communication gap between stylist and consumer, and allow us to be very clear on the path that we're going. Everyone has a different version of caramel, blonde and honey, and all of these romantic words that we tend to use to communicate with people. But it's not real communication, so I like to use reference photos. I also use reference photos in all of my training with people so I can make sure I know where they're going with their model. To teach a hairstylist, you need a visual to actually create or have a technical response; it's just the way the creative mind works. You need that cognitive interaction. You have to see it—and you have to hear it—in order to do it. So without the reference photo we're missing a very important component of teaching this craft.

DS: Right, unless you are Michelangelo or Mozart. Michelangelo says I see a piece of marble in front of me and I see what's inside of it and I just sculpt away until it's free. I think sometimes the most difficult thing is when a girl comes in with medium waves, center part, one length, level 6, virgin head of hair and says "Do whatever you need to do to make me look pretty." I think that's one of the most challenging things ever.

ES: Yeah, and I think it all goes back to communication and developing your communication skills. As a hairdresser, it's one of the most important components. It's just as important as the technical craft. You asked me earlier how I stay inspired. I actually feel very inspired by reading and learning about how to better communicate and effectively communicate with people as a leader. Management is a skill as well as communication. I love reading books about how to be a more effective communicator and it helps me in business every day as I'm communicating with my stylists or my clients. A wonderful author to look for is Jim Collins: "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't" (Harper Business, 2001), "How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In" (Collins Business, 2009) and many other titles, including Betsy Myers' "Take the Lead" (Atria Books, 2011). These books are life changing because they teach you how to be a more effective communicator. Once we learn that and once we start to develop these skills within ourselves, we kind of open up all these opportunities for change and growth within ourselves. How I talk to people, how I treat people and the way people feel around me is very important.

DS: When we talk about communication, it's more than just talking. It's the lost art of listening. The woman will pour her heart out to you; explain to you who she is. She might be a party girl or a conservative attorney and that allows me to tap into customizing a look for her.

ES: Beautifully said! I love how you put that and it is the art of listening—whether it is with a client or staff member—and that's something I had to learn. I was a fabulous talker; I've been great at that since I was a kid sitting on the phone all night. But I had to ask myself if I was a good listener. And I wasn't until I realized that being a great communicator was to truly listen and allow people to share their feelings. I read these books about these very large companies and why they some have failed—they use examples of companies like Zenith, Motorola, Apple and IBM—to see what the differences were and it's fascinating. These things apply to small companies as well. There are basic principles in growing a business, whether large or small, that you can apply to a salon.

DS: Jack Welsh, former CEO of GE, also has some profound teachings from his experience running such a large company. If you don't grow, you die, and if you don't expand, you die.

ES: How can we apply these big principles to the salon industry or even to your own chair? We can, we just have to learn how to execute them. What does growing mean? Does it mean just getting more clients? Does it mean to be working so hard that you don't have time for dry cutting? You have to be careful how you grow. You want to really develop your skill set and be proud of every haircut and have it serve as an example to the younger people around you. It's dangerous to grow your business without growing yourself.

DS: Yeah, I've seen that in restaurants and every other business too.

ES: Absolutely. I think that sometimes we don't apply these basic communication skills, artistic and business principles to our own chair. These are valuable lessons and this is also a financially rewarding career. Most doctors make $200,000 a year. Many stylists make $200,000 a year. If you're serious about your profession you could be making more money than the woman sitting in your chair. You have to really treat yourself and look at yourself as the professional that you are, with serious earning potential.

DS: Like I always say in my classes, my retirement is contingent on how successful I can be today. This is not a hobby for me, this is a career. You have been doing hair 25 years; I'm at the 26-year mark. You've seen the Krystal Carrington Sebastian hair dry trick and the perming, all of those prisms and all the crazy stuff we use to do and now your clients generally settle in with you as you mature and they become a little bit easier. The best thing a client can say is "Do whatever you want; I trust you."

ES: It is big and it takes many years for you to hear that and for someone to really mean it.

DS: The challenge today—and I'd love to hear you comment on it: the younger generation coming out of beauty school with the internet, going to school at night or taking courses on the computer. There is a different way of handling them and speaking to them. They grew up never doing anything wrong. Their parents never reprimanded them, so if you dare have a one-on-one and say "You did XYZ and that made the client uncomfortable," or "You didn't execute that so well," that kid is likely to quit or not come back because they aren't used to hearing that sort of criticism.

ES: That's why we hire so carefully. I believe in the ‘hire slowly, fire swiftly' concept. We typically hire young kids right out of beauty school and we typically do not hire established hairdressers. We have done this for a long time, but there is always the exception. It has more to do with an attitude and a mindset. I can teach them how to cut hair and how to color hair, but I cannot change their personalities or their work ethic. I cannot teach work ethic. I am looking for a young student that is truly open, motivated, excited, vulnerable and eager to learn, and because of that I don't necessarily attract a lot of people but the ones I do attract are just winners and they are exceptions. I hire very carefully. They first speak to my husband, Arik, or to my manager, Steven, and then typically another assistant walks over for a third interview and they are going to get a sense of who they are. So now we have four opinions happening. The assistants come to me and I'm like, "Do you feel that you'll enjoy working with this person?" Because they will be the one working with them primarily, so I really care how they feel about them. If they feel like they would be a great addition to the team and they feel invested in the person, they sign off. They want that person to be successful too. It creates more of a team—it creates a team of people. They don't feel as competitive towards each other and we feel more like a family. Then I meet them. We have a long interview process because someone can interview really well in the first 15 minutes and they can excel at showmanship but you have to have the technical skill to back it up.

DS: Would you rather be seen on the red carpet or appear on Page Six again?

ES: I would definitely say red carpet. I don't typically read a lot of gossip magazines or articles about anything, since I've been so close with so many celebrities for so long that I know much of it is fabricated and exaggerated. I tend to not even consider it real information or real news because I know the actual story, and I'm reading what the world sees and it's shocking—so definitely red carpet.

DS: You have the ‘uncut cut' signature style and Balayage and that is always this mystical technique for most hairdressers and you teach a class on that. Can you just give me the 30-second elevator pitch on Balayage?

ES: Well my latest creation, artistically, is painted cuts. I often cut the hair first, designing a layering pattern for the person's face shape, head shape and the general aesthetic. I dry the hair smooth and then start painting and Balayaging using the French hand-painting method of highlighting, whether it be with lowlights using INOA color in combination with Platinum Plus and it allows me to create light and dimension and bring out the hair cut. It's almost like if you think of a sketch. A sketch is an initial shape and then you begin to color the sketch and the color becomes this beautiful nuance that creates more of a feeling around the haircut. Painted cuts will be something that I will talk more and more about and something that I will be teaching in my next journey with L'Oréal Professionnel, so you'll hear more about it.

If I could sum up Balayage, it is very misunderstood. It is actually a very technical craft—as opposed to the freestyle art form that it has been compared to—because you paint on the top section of the hair and there's an under section that you're not painting. There are a few reasons why that makes so much sense. There's always that underline hair that is your lowlight, so that stays within the hair so the pieces are more dimensional because you're only painting the reflection. It's exactly what the sun would do in an ideal circumstance without aging your face. The hair is always lighter on the top and on the ends.

When you use a foil, you paint both sides of it so the color is not dimensional. The color around it can be dimensional, so you have to lowlight and tone and all of those things, but with Balayage you can skip two steps of toning because you can rinse it exactly when it's done and it maintains more of the natural hair within it. It's not for everybody. Just because I have these specialties doesn't mean I don't love foils. I do what's best for the client. Balayage is a very misunderstood technical craft that I'm teaching for L'Oréal Professionnel and I'm inspiring many hairdressers and hair colorists around the country and teaching color in a whole new, fresh way.

DS: The title of your book is...

ES: It's "Eva Scrivo on Beauty." It's basically an all-encompassing book on all aspects of beauty, from getting the right haircut to choosing the right color makeup, applications and styling techniques that you can do at home. It's basically the tools, techniques, and insider knowledge every woman needs to be her confident, beautiful self. There's a whole section about communicating with your hairdresser called ‘Salon Confidential.' It teaches the client how to get her expectations met in the salon, how to size-up a new hairdresser, how to interview them—because we should be interviewed. They should know who we are because this allows a woman to see if somebody actually listens, see how they work with your hair, if you like their touch and if they understand you. Then you can ask questions like "How would you envision my hair cut?" It's this fabulous interview process that can happen.

DS: I think you'll find this funny: I'm often asked, "How do I pick a salon in NY?" and my response is always two-fold. How much do you want to pay, and what level of drama do you want to participate in? Much of the fun of being in the salon is when a client just sits there in amazement of the performance that unfolds in front of her.

ES: Yeah. Magic happens.