I recently had the pleasure of sitting in the chair of William Strange, a hairstylist at San Francisco’s prestigious Carmichael Salon and Color Bar, one of the nation’s best salons and as recommended by Allure magazine. I referred to him in my companion review as a sort of Texan Billy Idol for his humor, talent and love of rock n’ roll style. After the cool Sam Rollinson-esque bob he gave me, we sat down to talk about his career, which has included highlights such as styling for rock stars and NYC Fashion Week.
How did your hairstylist career start? You were in the corporate world first, right? How the sudden change?
I was a consultant at a firm that specialized in employee benefits. Hair and fashion were always a passion of mine but I never thought I could make as living at it.
I completely burned out as a consultant and looked at it as an opportunity to ask myself what I wanted to be when I grew up, having already grown up. I can say with 100% assurance that I’m in my dream career. I love being creative. It’s the key to my happiness in my work life. Comment: Because you’ve done other things in life, you must really have an appreciation for doing hair, making people happy with your creativity.
How did you get your big break?
I’ve had many great breaks. The first is the training I got in the beginning through my mentor, Kenny Berk. He worked with Sassoon in the ’80s and I think ’90s. He’s had a profound effect on my approach to my craft.
My commercial break came through working with Ted Gibson out of New York. That’s when I worked on teams for New York Fashion Week. At a Rachel Roy show, Ted asked me to do final look. It’s checking the models before they hit the runway, a huge deal. I was perfecting a model’s hair and a woman walks up asking to squeeze in to touch up the lip liner. It was Bobbi Brown. Then Rachel comes over to adjust a collar. There it is – Bobbi, Rachel and I getting a model ready. I had arrived!
You love high fashion, he runways, and The Runaways – music is definitely an influence in your work. What artists/bands inspire you?
I’m living the dream right now because my favorite design is on trend – the shag. I love that style. Joan Jett, who I’m a huge fan of, wears it best and you can see the versatility of that style through her look over the years. Music and high fashion have a huge influence on my work. I respect the style of the former and current glam rockers like Jett, Bowie, Billy Idol and some hair bands who started the look, like Motley Crüe (although that look devolved into a caricature of itself).
High fashion with a risk intrigues me. One of my career highlights was working Rachel Roy’s NYFW shows. She’s always ahead of the curve. Others I admire are Alexander McQueen and John Varvatos, and I love to see the innovation of new designers. I’m a fan of Project Runway because it’s a mass platform for new talent.
Music and fashion are entwined and that puts hair in the middle of it. Hair should get as much respect, and we’re getting there. Until two years ago, hair wasn’t mentioned on the Academy Awards ballot. Ted Gibson started a campaign while I was working with him to get it on the ballot. It’s combined with makeup. Now there’s a movement to get its own category. It’s past due!
You worked for Ted Gibson at his Florida salon. What was that like? What did you learn from him?
I helped open the Ted Gibson salon in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with him and his business partner/husband Jason Backe. It was a special time and completely unexpected. Working there you never knew who would be in. The celebrity clientele just mixed in with everyone else. You could have one of Bravo’s Real Housewives seated by a real housewife. That’s the magic of Ted Gibson!
Working with that team taught me to say yes to any opportunity, and unexpected things can happen. I met with Ted never expecting to work for him. He then invited me to New York to take a class with his stylists and then came an invitation to work NYFW. I think this was my audition to work with his Florida team. Saying yes to those things led to me being Florida Director of Education and a top tier stylist.
Ted Gibson is also a master of using social media. That and the power of yes are what I carry with me from that experience.
What’re your favorite iconic hairstyles?
As mentioned I love a good shag haircut. I can make them look different on every client. Big sexy hair is part of my trademark. That’s what I give my clients who ask me to make them look like a Victoria’s Secret model.
Classic Sassoon looks never go out of style. I adore precision graduated bobs, asymmetrical looks, and pixies. Nothing’s off-limits as long as it suits the client and isn’t dated. As a matter of fact, I think the mullet is about to make an appearance. It’ll be different from [in] the ’80s but I’m excited.
If you got four people to choose in the whole world to cut and style for, who would they be?
Joan Jett is at the top of my bucket list. Sally Hershberger, one of my heroes, is her go-to. Zoey Deschanel. She was such an icon for a bit and needs to create a new strong look. Laura Jane Grace from the band Against Me! is a trans woman who I admire. I’d love to create a great chic rocker look for her. She has this amazing hair that could use me. Walk The Moon – great band, boring hair.
Your favorite hair products of all time?
That is a tough one. It changes. But hairspray is a must. Maybe that’s my Texas roots showing. My desert island product today is Redken Wax Blast. It’s a light hairspray with wax in it. It holds and pieces out hair. Amazing!
What is the best advice you can offer to others who want to make it in the industry?
Say yes. Never stop learning. Work hard.
What is working New York Fashion Week really like (funny stories, etc.)? Is it as hectic as the backstage videos and shoots show?
It is utter controlled chaos. It moves quickly. The drill was that Ted would demo the style. Then we’d take our stations and move them through. The models go from show to show and they rarely wash their hair during the week. That is usually a benefit. Dirty hair holds style. But one time I kept getting models who had a glue in their hair. Ends up they had just walked Gwen Stefani’s Lamb show where they had glued crystals in their hair. It was hell to get that out to flat iron their hair. I jokingly say I have resentment towards Gwen Stefani to this day.
At another show I was styling the last model for a Lela Rose show and working next to Ted. I looked up because camera flashes were erupting. Ted had Mandy Moore in his chair for a touch-up before she took her seat. I never knew who I was going to see.
When a client is unhappy with their hair, what do you do in that situation?
Hopefully that doesn’t happen. That’s why beginning with a thorough consultation is imperative. Usually a cut isn’t too far off the mark but sometimes adjustments are made. Although a couple of weeks ago a client with long hair came in and we decided on an a-line bob. She came back the next day because of a comment from her husband so we completely changed it into a dramatic graduated bob. It was a journey but now I know I’m designing for two people with that client.
Any specific favorite looks that you’ve done?
I was brought in to design a stage look for Tommy Lee of Motley Crüe. He’d attempted a mohawk. I asked him what he wanted and he said when the light projected his shadow onstage he wanted to be all “drumsticks and hair.” I gave him a high textured razor cut. When I watched the show and his shadow was all drumsticks and hair I knew I nailed it. Very satisfying.
He’s one of your dream musicians to work with. How did that come about?
His manager found me through a mutual friend.
What do you see more of in your field of work: natural inborn talent or learned and developed skills?
I see both. Anyone can learn to cut hair. It’s just knowing angles and lines. What elevates it is continually working on your craft. However, I think there is something innate about staying ahead of trends. I think there’s a fashion energy out there and you’re either tapped in or not. I grew up in a farm town with a population of 750 in Texas. I was always ahead of the curve. I don’t know how or why. I guess I was just born connected to that energy.
What hairstylists do you admire?
Angela Berk and Russel Thompson – my current bosses at Carmichael have challenged me to be the best I can be technically. They live and breathe it. They expect nothing less than excellence because they have total confidence in their designers. It’s challenging and refreshing.
Ted Gibson and Jason Backe – they taught me to know my worth, say yes, and only I set my limits.
Kenny Berk – my mentor whom I’ll always credit with the foundation of my success.
Sally Hershberger – an amazing icon who established a signature look with the Meg Ryan shag in the ’80s and has stayed relevant.
Vidal Sassoon – he is the master. He changed the game. He invented precision cutting. Every woman who is glad they aren’t in the salon every week getting roller sets under the dryer, owes him a debt of gratitude.
Hair care tips?
Listen to your designer when it comes to good products. Always use heat protection!
What is beauty to you?
I can find beauty in everyone. It’s there. Accentuate the positive. Deflect the negative. True beauty shows through joy and contentment.
You’re from Lubbock, Texas and grew up on a farm. Did that environment influence your style in any way, or the way you work?
I benefit from amazing parents. They taught me to respect others, do the next right thing, and [have] a strong work ethic. I owe any success I’ve had to them.
Farm life is tough; it’s hard work. I learned how to work hard early on. Being from a small town I was a bit odd because I loved fashion and being ahead of the trends. That’s ballsy in a small town. It gave me the gumption to take risks. I’ll never forget being laughed at for wearing parachute pants in the ’80s and a year later they were the rage in my small town and I was SO over them. Parachute pants taught me to trust my fashion instinct.
What do you think the current hair trends say about society? The way we feel? Versus the way it was in the ’80s?
Hair reflects the times. The ’80s were the decade of excess. Hence the gallons of mousse and hairspray! This last recession gave us the ombré trend. It allowed longer time between color appointments. I think we’ll see a resurgence of a more coiffed look after this hipster “I don’t care” thing plays out. It’s like The Who lyrics in “Won’t get Fooled Again” – “and the parting on the left are now parting on the right…” It all comes back around! Hair is important because it’s a big part of how we feel about our appearance. Good hair can make your day. Change your hair and change your life.