Vasken: his first steps in hairdressing
VG: Dear Vasken It is our pleasure to welcome you to the Leading Salons of the World Press Room. Thank you so much for accepting this interview. You are the owner of VASKEN Salon, and a renowned Master colorist. You have been the magician behind Maren’s unique blond, and my beautiful highlights for quite a while now. We are so grateful for your talent and friendship. Today we would like to focus on your unique path, and position in the Beauty world. Please tell us: How does an Art dealer end up in Beauty?
On my way to London-- I had decided to move there—I stopped at my brother’s Salon in White Plains, NY. I wanted to bring my Art book collection with me and needed some time to organize it. It was meant to be a simple stop. It ended up being a few months. During that time, I grew closer to my brother, got closely involved into his business, and kind of naturally became his consultant. I was advising him on how to be a “different” hairdresser. As I was going back and forth between London and New York, I was able to bring to him what was working in Europe.
What kind of advice did you give him?
I told him to concentrate in one area. He was concentrating on hair color and he had a very good buddying relationship with L’Oreal at that time. He was in L’Oreal’s Color Council, in which were only about 5 or 6 selected stylists. So, he was in a good company. He was doing very well. He had a great deal of work ethic. He was a hardworking, charming man, ever so ambitious.
What was the trigger that propelled you to take over his business?
One day, as I was away, I got a phone call telling me my brother had an accident. He passed away as I was making it to the hospital.
That turned my whole world upside down. I knew nothing about salon business, but as I was going through his papers, I was seeing his work, his ideas, his ambition, and also the suffering he was going through on a personal level. That all prompted me to become the guardian of his salon.
Still, I did not intend to stay. I thought it would take me a couple of months to put his affairs in order and then maybe I’d sell the salon to somebody else, move on, go back to my life, and finally move to London.
…and yet you ended up staying…
Two months became two years in the blink of an eye. The rest was a very solid choice I made. In two years, I had become such an imperative part of his business. I was becoming THE business even though I was not doing any hair.
How did you become “Vasken, Master Colorist”?
I was the manager, adviser, … everything, but still I was not producing. I knew that in order to develop a sound business, I had to produce. And, so I decided to take a crack at it. I decided to become a colorist. I liked chemistry, I liked science, I liked mathematics, I liked hair, I had already developed some ideas and notions of how I wanted to see a woman’s hair color. I was becoming an aesthetic judge. Being an Art dealer, I already had an eye to look at things in a different way. So I decided to bring all that prerequisite work I had, and transition it into hair color. I thought if I did that correctly and properly, it could make me a very unique individual in the hair color world.
You learned from the bests…
Yes, one of my mentors at that time was James Viera. He was with L’Oreal ‘Techniques Professional’, the division that does all the testing of their products. He had been L’Oreal chemist, designer and formulator of hair color for 40 years. He gave me the much-needed push. I decided to learn the ropes of coloring from the best. Another one was Daniel Galvin, who, at the time, was doing the color of Princess Diana, the most profiled woman in the world. I met his daughter Louise through a friend, then spent days with him and his manager at his George street salon.
Your life seems to gravitate a lot around London.
London was always very avant-garde, especially for hair and style; it has always been ahead of the curve, definitely ahead of New York, maybe at par with Paris and Milan. I could see a lot of French hairdressers coming to London, to L’Oreal headquarters. London was the right place for me to go, and Daniel Galvin more importantly was the right person to learn from, at the time.
How did he influence you?
I wanted to become a colorist that captures the very real assets of hair color, go after tangible results and very healthy shiny hair. My approach to hair color has always been very organic, but “Only healthy hair is a beautiful hair” was really something I got from him. I also got from him the idea to work with colors not necessarily with lighteners. It was all about richness of the hair color. The rest I had anyhow. I was doing color on women without actually touching their hair; I was giving them advice at first. All I needed was a technical training, and the technical training alone as you know is the easiest thing in anything.
Why did you pick L’Oreal at the time, to learn the technical part?
It wasn’t L’Oreal per se, or the technical aspect; it was L’Oreal the quality product that I wanted to associate myself with. L’Oreal was already a great market leader, not only in aesthetics, but also in prestige. There was no other color that I wanted to touch, and since I am a little bit of a Francophile, it was a perfect marriage for me. L’Oreal liked me, so much so that, when they sponsored a color specialist degree, like a PHD of hair color if you will, I was included in the pioneering elite group. I was invited to London, to their then new headquarters in Hammersmith London. I launched this course with them, and so my name is on their plaque like the first seven of us who did this pioneering work. Since then, I’ve always remained close to L’Oreal and Kerastase.