| FLARE sat down with famed hairdresser Orlando Pita, a former Wall Street exec who’s now known for his $800 haircuts. Find out why he’s worth the big bucks.
As someone highly tapped into the fashion industry, you’re a regular backstage at fashion shows, shooting magazine covers and working with celebrities. Can you describe the ‘in’ look right now in hair?
Now that I have a salon I realize that what we do in the fashion business is so different to what (real) women’s needs are. Quite a few of our clients come in with really long hair and are ready to cut it off. But in fashion, we only work with 16-year old models who don’t want to cut their hair. So we have to try and think of ways to do hairstyles in shoots with long hair as a base. I think we end up doing, for a lot of these shows and shoots, hairdos and styles that women don’t really want to take the time to do themselves. A good hair cut works in the morning with minimal styling time and good products help her to get out of the house and start her day. I’m trying to bring the two worlds together. I’ve tried to introduce haircutting into the fashion business for a while now, but it’s hard. The girls don’t want to cut their hair. The few that do, like Agyness Deyn, who’s chopped her hair off, and bleached it, do so well. I mean she’s a quirky girl, she’s not your obvious beauty and yet she had 16 pages in Vogue a couple of months ago. I don’t know why these girls are so scared. Really they end up all looking the same—you can’t differentiate one from the other.
What are the signs of a great haircut?
If you can make it look good when you do it yourself later and people still say to you, “God your hair looks great,” you’ve got a great haircut. For me it’s not about how it looks when you leave the salon. That should be a given. I don’t care if you pay $50 or $800, people should take pride in their work and your hair should look good at every level.
What is the cost to sit in your chair?
$800.00. I do your hair from the beginning to the end. It’s usually about an hour to an hour and a half. A lot of hairdressers charge $500 and do four haircuts in an hour. The assistant’s blow-drying it and nobody writes bad stuff about them. I’ve gotten a lot of negative press about my price.
Why is that?
Nobody had charged $800 before I did so that was the outrage. I opened my salon in October 2004 and that month the New York Times wrote a terrible article on the cover of the style section.
How often are you in the salon?
One week of each month.
When you’re not behind the chair, what’s a typical day like for you?
I’m on an airplane a lot. I mean, there are a lot of different facets to my job. There are the 360 styling products I developed with T3, I consult, I have the salon, I do fashion shows, photo shoots, videos, TV commercials. And I run my business as a whole, so I have an office, with employees. I don’t know if there is a typical day in my life. I travel a lot. And a lot means a lot.
What was the moment when you felt you really made it?
There was a shoot I did with Mario Testino and Carine Roitfeld [now editor of Paris Vogue] was the stylist. It was for Glamour magazine in Paris. We were doing a shoot on a rebellious girl from a bourgeoisie family and I did this kind of punk hair and tied these ropes around the girl’s head and braids around her face and stuff. Carine came the next day and said, “I hate the hair. I hate the makeup. I hate the styling. Let’s start again.” It’s hard to hear that. Everybody was like, I can’t believe it. She pushed us in another direction that resulted in Jean Paul Gaultier seeing the pictures and flying me to London to have lunch with him. I got his show from that shoot so it kind of changed a lot of things for me. Because then I got Chanel a few seasons after that and then Gucci a few seasons after that. That shoot changed me.
Was there a moment when you’ve thought “God I love my job”?
Yes. I got to do Yves Saint Laurent’s last fashion show in 2002. It was an haute couture show and there were a hundred and fifteen models. It was a two-hour show that was televised in France. It was a major event. He had only worked with three hairdressers in his career—Alexandra, Valetin and me—I felt so honoured to be there at that last show. It was such a beautiful show. I remember going to the fitting and Yves Saint Laurent saying he was so honoured to work with me. Just saying things that I felt I should be telling him. Great man. I loved working with him. He brought out his favourite pieces from the past forty years and I was able to buy dresses. They had all the archives at the avenue Marceau, on all the floors of the building. There were racks of dresses. The woman who worked there, Nicole, said to me, “Just go and look.” I love clothes. That’s why I’m a hairdresser in the fashion business because I love clothes. Kind of more than hair, actually.
I love doing hair but it’s clothes that move me to do the hair. I’ve always loved clothing since I was a little kid so to get to go through the racks of clothing at Yves Saint Laurent was incredible. One of those things I’ll always remember.
What was it like growing up for you?
When I was five, we came to America from Cuba. My father worked at a textile factory and mom was a seamstress so she made all our clothes. We didn’t have money to buy clothes in stores, so my mom was very creative. We always dressed up to go to school and got made fun of a little bit, but I felt cool in my clothes. It was 1967 when we came to America, so we had bellbottoms and velvet and all that. I was always aware that I liked clothes and how I looked. I liked to see other people dress up and I liked when people were original.
How did you end up a hairdresser instead of a clothing designer?
I love to sew. But I think I hated every haircut I ever had. I would tell the hairdresser what I wanted, because I knew even when I was a little kid. But my mother had already said, “Cut all their hair off,” so, I’d always come out with the same little boy haircut. And so at around fourteen years old I cut my brother’s hair and it came out terrible. But we both thought, even if I do a really bad job, I’m at least trying to get close to that picture we like, whereas this other hairdresser isn’t even paying attention to us. Then talking to my grandmother, I said, “I think I know what I did wrong.” Then she said, “If you want you can try on me.” Little by little that’s how I started doing haircuts. Then I became obsessed with it. Because I wasn’t good the first time I was on a mission to get good at it. I don’t know why. I never thought of it as a career. It kind of came to me.
How did it develop into a career?
I had been working in finance on Wall Street but I didn’t want to stay in the corporate world. So I stopped working because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My brother was working as an assistant with a fashion photographer and at that time hairdressing was a hobby to me. Their hairdresser cancelled one day, and they couldn’t get another one. My brother proposed me, I came in, and I did the shoot. It was for Sports Wear International Trade Magazine, January of 1985. A week later the photographer’s agent called me and said, “I just saw the pictures.” She thought I had something, so she offered to represent me. It wasn’t really something I went after.
Has there been a moment in your career when you’ve hated your job?
Probably a year before the shoot with Paris Glamour, that got Gaultier’s attention. I was frustrated. I had been at it for almost ten years and there hadn’t been much advancement. Plus, with freelancing it’s so hard to make a consistent living. As much as I liked what I was doing, I was trying to think of something else. I decided to give myself another year. I had lived in Paris at the beginning and I had just returned to the United States. I had stopped traveling, I couldn’t take it. I called up Mario Testino and said, “I want to try this thing again. I want to go back to Europe.” So he gave me that pivotal opportunity in Paris.
What’s next for you in 08?
My life will probably be a lot like it is already. My life has changed a lot in the last few years since I opened the salon. I felt like my job was a little monotonous, I knew what I was doing next season, and then it continues, every season. As exciting as it sounds to most people, after twenty years of doing the same thing it became monotonous. Once I opened the salon, it opened new doors to consulting deals and working more within my trade rather than the fashion business. And that opened all new doors to me. I can’t imagine adding one more thing. Maybe some time off.