Sharing Voices: David Stanko talks to Ted Gibson

Stanko and Gibson

Redken 5th Avenue Consultant and Master Colorist David Stanko recently chatted with renowned celebrity and editorial stylist and salon owner Ted Gibson. Stanko asked Gibson some bold questions and learned about his $950 price tag per haircut, challenges he faces in the business, his upcoming 16-year anniversary with partner Jason Backe and his mission to bring hair to the Oscars.

DS: It's amazing that there is no Oscar for hair. When did you decide to make this a campaign and how is it going? 

TG: I started it last August but it had been on my mind before then. I felt it was an injustice to U.S. hairdressers that there was no opportunity to receive an Academy Award. 
I remember as a kid I wanted to be a hairdresser and my parents said, 'Why do that and stand on your feet all day? Be a lawyer or a social worker.' But those were things that did not make my heart sing. Hairdressing was getting a bad rep. An Academy Award could bring it to another level. Every hair manufacturer in the world should be behind this. They all supply the Academy with products for events leading up to the awards and the movies, but none of their people can get an Oscar. It's disheartening.

DS: It's said the beauty industry is "recession proof." Do you agree or disagree? 

TG: Both. It is recession proof in that people still need to get their haircut. But in 2008, we had to be really smart about our business. One day I had to let 10 people go because of the recession. Clients were not coming in as frequently. In response, I created 'Recessionista Tuesday,' where cuts with any stylists were discounted on Tuesdays. I promoted it through my publicist, agents and Facebook. All the editors wrote about it, and it brought in clients because it was timely and fashionable. 

DS: Who pays you $950 for a haircut? Do you think it is really worth it, and are you booked solid or is most your work outside the salon now?

TG: I get $950, plus tip. I work with the most famous women in the world like Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway and Demi Moore, and my clients are getting the same thing those women get. I spend 1½ hours with my guests. I do my own shampoo and blow dry, and I provide the same expertise that I do when I am on 'What Not to Wear.' So, they are paying for a certain level of expertise and service, but they are also paying for access to me, and that access does not come at a small price. When I talk to students, like I did at the Aveda Institute recently, I tell them if I wanted to be booked with 10-12 clients a day at $950, I could be, but that's not my focus. I do celebrities and magazine covers to promote my brand. Today, I'm doing a makeover on Rachael Ray and that helps bring guests in my salon. I want everyone to charge $950 for a haircut because we make people feel good. 

DS: Are "celebrity stylists" overrated? Or are they just like the average hairdresser, only famous?

TG: I don't think they are overrated. There are always hairdressers who are better than others. You need some talent to get to a certain level and sustain it, but it's not just about talent but also personality. Kids think they are going to come out of beauty school and be a celebrity stylist. You will eventually, if that's what you want. But you have to build a foundation. 

DS: Since your father was a military man, what did being an Army brat teach you? 

TG: My father served 50 years in the Army and the Civil Service. I traveled every three years, to Japan, Germany and Hawaii. It taught me to accept many cultures. Also, I had to make friends in an instant and adapt to different situations. 

DS: Are you a supporter of those who serve in the military; do you do anything for them in particular?

TG: I don't give back to the military in any specific way, but I try to go back to Texas to see my mother every 12 weeks. Eight weeks ago, I got an award from the McLean School District as an alumni. I'm proud that I'm from a small town that supports the military. I was glad to be able to leave and follow my dream but it's important go back too. 

DS: Where do you get your confidence? 

TG: Many different places. I learned discipline from my father—how to be on time, persevere and listen to others. I also had great mentors who were hard on me, like Horst at Aveda. There are many great people who helped me along the way and gave me a great foundation.

DS: You say you were shy and are still seen that way by some. What's the best way to overcome shyness?  

 

TG: I still haven't overcome it. I tell people, look, my New York salon is on the second floor. When the elevator door opens and I get out, it's show time. This is Hollywood. Even if I don't feel like it, I have to act as though I'm not shy.

DS: You pride yourself in being a gay man who looks "built" like a bodyguard. What's your health and bodybuilding routine? 

TG: I go to a private gym and do cardio 4 times a week and light weight lifting. At 29, I was a competitive body builder, but I'm 46 now, so I don't lift weights as much.

DS: According to a NY Times article you were interviewed for, you've been with Jason Backe for 18 years and had a commitment ceremony after 2 years. Do you intend to get married, and do people make too much of you're being gay?

TG: No, I don't think they make too much of it. And actually, we will have our 16th wedding anniversary on the 25th (of May). We own everything together. As a couple in a long-term relationship, it's all about give and take. One is always better at something than the other. President Obama would not be in office if he did not have Michelle. Every man has a significant other who helps him be the best he can be. 

DS: Whom do you admire most in the industry and outside of it? 

TG: Vidal Sassoon—I had the pleasure of meeting him several times and, in 2011, I talked to him about the Oscars for hair. He created a revolution in the '60s when he cut Mia Farrow's hair for Rosemary's Baby; why couldn't he be nominated for that haircut? Outside the industry, I admire Oprah, Jay-Z and Estée Lauder. 

DS: What are the biggest challenges facing salons and hairdressers in the future? 

TG: The average woman is looking for a place to get her hair done, but she's also looking for a great experience. You can get a great haircut anywhere, but she is looking for more. The challenge is that we are not as professional as we could be. Raising the bar is essential, so we can raise our prices every year. 

DS: What is the most satisfying part of your life? 

TG: The ability to do what I want and create a life that allows me to be who I am, professionally and personally.

DS: What do you still want to accomplish, besides establishing an Oscar for hair?

TG: I don't have a Vogue cover. I want to own beauty schools, redevelop my product line and add salons.  

DS: If you had to spend a week alone with anyone from history, who would it be?

TG: Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King, because of what both faced and how they withstood it. I'd them ask what kept them sane and grounded. I'd ask Martin Luther King how to move mountains and have people really understand their value. 

DS: What's the biggest professional mistake you ever made?

TG: Not listening to my heart, going with my mind and entering a business relationship that was not good for my brand. I'm still trying to recover.

DS: If you could choose one moment in life you'd relive again and again for all of eternity (like in the 1998 Japanese film After Life) what would it be? 

TG: My wedding day because it was a day after which I knew I'd be different. And I knew that I'd come to a place of self-discovery. I knew who I was and who I wanted to be, and that it was for the rest of my life.