Stefan Avanzato is currently (at the time of this interview) the leading men’s hairstylist for Dolce & Gabbana at their flagship store in New Bond Street London W1.
- When did you first realise that you wanted to be a barber?
I’ve always been interested in fashion and style so it only made sense that I should get involved in a career in the fashion industry. I started off my career in ladies hair, where I learned all that I could at John Frieda. But as fate would have it, after 3 years of training and having been qualified, I developed an allergy to hair dye and had no choice but to leave. Undeterred, I knew there had to be another way to stay within the field that I loved, and that’s when barbering opened up to me.
- What steps did you then take to realise that ambition?
Not wanting to let all the training go to waste, and really determined to develop my passion in the area, I decided to help out a friend of mine, the owner of a local barber shop. From there, the opportunities came and I loved seeing that even with men’s hair, there was so much to do and work with in terms of style.
- Where were you trained?
John Frieda and Falltricks Academy
- Tell us about your early career and where was your first job.
At 16 years of age, I started at John Frieda as a trainee. I was assigned to a stylist, Kevin, he was one of the top stylists in the salon and he taught me a lot of what I know. At JF I was working as I was learning, which was perfect for me as I’m more of a hands-on learner. But with the allergy caused by hair dye, my apprenticeship and my progression there had to come to an end. I went on to train further at Paul Falltricks Academy and stayed away from all chemicals and colours, specialising only in cuts and styles. This helped me to refocus and see how I could turn the situation around. Having finished the course, I needed to get out there and put all that knowledge and skill into real practice.
Doing my best to move forward, I began working in a friend’s barber shop for the first year and learned what I could. I then went on to manage a couple of other barber shops in the local area but my desire was to get back into the Central London scene, as the atmosphere is different and the opportunities are far greater. I found a great opportunity with a male grooming salon called Murdock in Mayfair where I worked my way up to store manager, this was a new barber shop so it was an exciting challenge as the client base had to be built up from scratch. I still have very loyal clients from here today.
- Can you tell us about your allergy that you suffered from when you first started out and how you overcame it?
The allergy was something of a surprise, it came out of nowhere and took nearly a year of working in a salon environment to kick in.
I went to several dermatologists but none of the lotions or creams they suggested worked! There was no cure and no solution. The skin specialists and others all said I needed to give it up and think about my health more and find a new career.
Nonetheless, there is truth in what they say, and every cloud has a silver lining, and the closed door sent me to open a new one in the world of men’s styling and barbering.
- Who is your inspiration or who do you admire most in the world of hairstyling?
My ultimate inspiration would have to be Vidal Sassoon, although it’s not in the men’s area of hair, but, rather in the women’s field. He started as a young 14-year-old child working in a salon learning and creating something totally unique to every other hairstylist. He was a great businessman; his method and his professionalism and charisma are truly an inspiration. He made it for himself and grew bigger and bigger every year because of his unique touch which made the latest trends accessible yet different. Although he has now passed, his name will always live on as one of the greatest hairstylists ever.
- Do you have an artistic background or talent?
I’ve always been creative and loved using my hands to create things. I always loved drawing and making things, but I never imagined that I could transfer that to hair styling. But it very much completes me and who I am today. Now that I’m older, I apply my creativity to my work and enjoy the artistic talents of those around me. I’ve even started collecting a few pieces myself now.
- What do you love and hate about your job?
I have a lot of different clientele from all sorts of backgrounds like footballers, designers, journalists and bankers to name a few, and I love the contact I have with such interesting people. To have such inspiring clients on my database is an honour. I’m often required to attend some amazing events and shows with some really great people! It’s a job that requires a lot of presence and socialising and I love that aspect of it.
I don’t hate anything about my job, but if I really have to find a complaint, I would have to say the long hours, but apart from that, I love it through and through.
- What has been the biggest challenge in your career to date?
Getting over the allergy obstacle was a pretty hard task, but I’ve learned that nothing can knock you down unless you let it. So now, my biggest challenge would have to be making a solid name for myself in the industry and trying to demonstrate what differentiates me and my techniques from the other barbers and stylists.
- Tell us about the “tools of the trade” What essentials do trainee barbers need and what brands would you recommend and why?
I would say never compromise on tools! Always use well-known and professional brands. Wahl or Andis for clippers make sure you have a good pair of scissors, only this way can you get clean lines and sharp haircuts when you use cheaper makes or blunt scissors it can be quite uncomfortable for the client and you won’t be able to get the desired effect, the details or texture. Spend a little more on your tools and you will definitely reap results.
- Where have you worked?
I can proudly say that I have worked in the three top gentleman’s grooming salons in Mayfair and the experience in each of them has helped to shape me into the person I am today. I started off in Murdock Mayfair for 2 years, building it up from scratch, and then I went to Pankhurst and have been able to strengthen a solid and brilliant client base from day one. Then I was headhunted by Dolce and Gabbana which is where I am now. I believe that a friendship on a more personal level, as a confidant, for example, lies behind the professional relationship and is very important in order to maintain or add to one’s client database. I believe that for this reason, I have been lucky enough to have each of my clients follow me from each workplace and know that they trust me as their barber.
- Do you get commissioned to work on fashion shoots etc?
I’ve been in several articles regarding things I have done in the past. Being GQ, BBesquire, shortlist Sunday Times style mag, and also Mead magazine. I’ve done a few shows in my time and test shots for certain actors. I also did the spring/summer collection 2014 for Dolce and Gabbana and have worked on the Bentley video at Pankhurst. which was used to develop the brand along with other short how-to videos. All of these events have been great fun and make my work exciting and new. The challenge drives me and working with so many people from so many walks of life is both interesting and motivating.
- What have you got planned next for your career and why?
My next step is to go freelance and eventually open my own barber shop with my loyal client base and eventually create my very own brand and academy to train young barbers with the same passion as me.
- What advice would you give people that are thinking of becoming a barber?
The key is to be unique. People look for originality but also practicality. My advice would be to tap into who you are and to bring that into your work, and practice practice practice. It’s essential to be somewhat different from every other barber/stylist out there. Making a name for yourself is key, so make sure you are willing to attend events and socialise, you never know what opportunities you might find.
- What styling and grooming tips can you pass on to our readers?
For Shaving- Preparation is the key to not irritate sensitive skin. Exfoliate lightly to open the skin and remove the dead skin cells, then apply a hot towel to the face for a few minutes to open up the pores, then use a pre-shave or a shaving oil to soften the hairs on the face. Depending on the skin type sensitivity- always follow the grain to avoid Ingrowing hairs and irritation. No matter what your skin type, I always recommend that you moisturise daily.
When going for a style, you want to get that fresh look every day, so try to go for one which is achievable and easy to do every morning at home. Don’t overcomplicate, you want a style that looks like you’ve taken a lot of time to achieve, but you don’t want to waste a lot of time getting it daily!
Hair- find a product that is good for your hair type. Never use too much as you can always add more if needed. The more natural the hair looks the better. This also depends on what type of hair you have so not in all cases. When getting a haircut NEVER allow Thinning scissors to be used. There are so many other techniques to texturise and thin a haircut without them, a good barber will know.
- Finally, who’s hair would you most like to cut and why? (Would you change the style or colour etc?)
I would have to say, David Beckham, who wouldn’t? He’s set the trend for so many hairstyles over the years and pulls off so many different looks and isn’t afraid to try something new. Tom Ford would also be a great challenge! I’ve heard he is a perfectionist, a bit like myself, so that would be an exciting challenge. If it was to be an icon from the past, I’d choose Steve McQueen and Johnny Cash. Two of the greatest male style icons ever.