Hair stylist Neil Moodie has been a leading figure in the fashion industry for nearly three decades. He was notably a collaborator on some of the 90’s most iconic editorial visuals and was a former co-founder of the ‘Windle and Moodie’ salon and product line. Here he talks about working with Corinne Day, ‘Iconic Heads’ and playing with colour.
Interview MAXINE LEONARD
Beauty Papers: How did you begin your journey?
Neil Moodie: In 1984 on leaving school I began my hairdressing apprenticeship in Birmingham where I grew up . In 1986 I moved to London and finished my apprenticeship then went on to work in various salons in central London.
In 1992 after almost giving up hairdressing, I decided to become a hair colour technician at Toni & Guy salon in Kensington (when it was still a smaller, non franchised company)
I met photographer Corinne Day in 1991 through a mutual friend and I began to colour her hair for her. In 1993 she asked me to colour a new models hair for a shoot she was doing for The Face Magazine. I did the colour, and 2 days before the shoot was happening, Corinne called me and said the hairstylist on the shoot had dropped out and could I do the hair for the actual shoot. I committed the cardinal sin and called in sick to the salon on a Saturday and went to do the Face shoot. 3 months later the shoot was published, and there was one picture where I’d sprayed the girls hair pink on the ends. This picture seemed to launch my editorial/fashion career. 1 week after the shoot was published I got a call at Toni & Guy salon from the bookings editor at Italian Vogue asking if I could go to Milan and work for them on a shoot and could I reproduce the pink ends again. I went to Milan. From then, Corinne asked me if I would work with her all the time as she really liked working with me and she liked my ideas, After some trepidation I said yes. My first advertising campaign I booked was Miu Miu with Corinne and the rest is history really.
BP: You moved to NYC, what was the draw to live in the big apple?
NM: I first visited NYC in 1995. Corinne was confirmed to shoot for W magazine and requested me to do the hair. They agreed and so we flew to NYC for a week, did the W shoot, and also an album cover for a new musician and I had an absolute blast. Corinne knew NYC very well and we hung out with loads of people she knew and they took us to some really cool bars, clubs and music venues. On the flight on the way home, Corinne said to she didn’t want to go home as she’d had such a good time, and would I move to New York with her and her boyfriend . I said yes, and so when we got back to London, we started to plan the move. There was an energy and buzz about the city that I loved and I felt I had to go and experience it first hand. I knew if I didn’t go that I would regret it.
1 year later I moved there after finding an agent. I went to live with one of Corinne’s friends Rachel who found an apartment in the East Village for us to live in. Corinne couldn’t move straight away and sadly not long after I moved there, she was diagnosed with her brain tumour, so her move never happened.
I got a call at Toni & Guy salon from the bookings editor at Italian Vogue asking if I could go to Milan and work for them on a shoot and could I reproduce the pink ends again. I went to Milan.
BP: You collaborated with Corinne Day creating some of the most iconic visuals in the 90’s. What was it like working with Corinne?
NM: Corinne was one of the most amazing people I have ever met. She was so softly spoken but had the balls of 10 men, and a vision that I’d never experienced before. She loved pushing the boundaries, questioning what was the norm, and a complete anarchist, but with a charm that could sell sand to the arabs ( most of the time lol) . She was very forceful with her work sometimes, which was often perceived as difficult and uncompromising, but in the end that’s what has made her such an iconic photographer. Corinne taught me to think outside the box, to see beauty in such a different way. She made me look at hair differently too.
She introduced me to photographers and artists I’d never heard of, seeing beauty in the most simplest of forms then on the other hand in the most extreme forms too. I thank her for teaching me that, and her attention to detail. She was so meticulous about everything in her pictures which nobody ever saw unless they worked with her. Her pictures often look so effortless but creating them was far from that, but that was what made her so unique. She would move a finger 2 millimetres, a tiny piece of cord on a dress 1 cm to the left or the right, or 4 whispers of hair across a little, and for her it would make all the difference. It could take her 3 hours to set up a picture until she was happy but then she’d only take a few shots and she’d be done. She also taught me the art of perfect imperfections.
BP: What is your approach to your craft?
NM: I love hair and sometimes I consider it an art form. I think every form of styling in hair has now been done, so it’s hard to re-invent the wheel, however, I think my approach is to take traditional styling techniques and use those to begin to create looks but then try to re-invent them with a different texture or twist. I’m known for my use of textures and I’m always looking for ways to reappropriate. I also love the use of colour in hair too. Having a colour background opened my eyes to many possibilities in changing a haircut just by the colour. I also love wigs and accessories and I’m always looking for new accessories to use. I now have a girl who makes amazing wigs for me and she has helped me to have a better understanding of what is possible with wigs. I also believe you can never stop learning……. I’m always happy for somebody to teach me something new or to help me make improvements on what I already know
BP: Do you believe editorial has a social responsibility?
NM: Yes and No. Editorial is basically a way of selling products, be it clothes, beauty or a lifestyle. That’s its purpose. People can look at the images and love or hate them, that’s their prerogative. Ultimately a magazine is trying to sell products with its imagery and if people look at an image and want to look like, or emulate the person in the image then job done. If they don’t and choose to hate it then so be it. It’s impossible to please everybody and It annoys me when people get on their moral high horses about editorial. My philosophy is If you don’t like something, then don’t fucking look at it, nobody’s forcing you.
Corinne was accused of promoting heroine chic and anorexia in her editorial pictures back in the 90’s, yet that was never her goal. She just wanted to show another kind of beauty. The media were looking for an excuse to blame something for the increase in drug taking and that illness. None of the models in her images took heroine or were anorexic. The dreadful gutter press love to create drama and lies to rile the public up, just to sell newspapers. People have been taking recreational drugs for decades plus I also don’t believe anorexia stems just from looking at a model in a picture. It’s a much more deep rooted, mental problem than that. It’s all about choices. It makes me laugh how Corinne’s images are now seen as iconic and her so called “anorexia” images are often used in Vogue now without anybody batting an eyelid. You usually find what was once shocking, eventually becomes normal once the shock has worn off. I don’t feel much shocks me anymore.
BP: You created a capsule collection of ‘Hairts” with House of Flore. What prompted you to make these? Were they sold?
NM: “Hairts” or “Iconic Heads” as they became known, was an idea I got from seeing the 60’s cloche cap in designer Rudi Geinrich’s book. My stylist friend Grace Cobb who had become fashion director of the Face magazine at the time, asked if I’d like to do a hair story for the magazine. Naturally I said yes, and suddenly I drew a blank for an idea. I find Ideas rarely come when I’m actively looking, but one day when looking through the Geinrich book and I saw the cloche cap, I had a lightbulb moment: “Make hairtsyles out of felt, worn like a hat.” I initially attempted to make them myself but rapidly realised I was not a milliner. I approached the amazing Steven Jones to help me and although he wanted to, he was too busy, so I spoke to Grace Cobb and she introduced me to Flora McLean. Flora, is a designer/accessory/millinery designer, and on meeting me she told me she had no respect for hairdressers (good start !!). Anyway, I told her my idea and luckily she liked it, so was prepared to work with me and we went about creating a collection of 10 hats based on iconic hairstyles.
The shoot came out and the response was phenomenal. British Vogue did an article about them, Newspapers wrote about them, they appeared in Japanese and Italian Vogue, iD magazine, and they’ve ended up appearing in the British Design Museum’s “50 Hats that Changed the World” Book, a Spanish book about the best hats ever designed, plus an exhibition Stephen Jones curated at the V&A museum. They were never really for sale, although on creating a second collection we were commissioned to produce hats for the mannequins in the Colette Store in Paris, Diane Von Furstenberg’s flagship store in New York and Cara Delevingne owns one of the Marcel ones which I gave to her as gift after she saw it on singer Paloma Faith and loved it.
Ideas for me rarely come when I'm looking and one day when looking through the Geinrich book and saw the cloche cap, I had a lightbulb moment.
BP: What is your opinion of the changing definition of beauty in the industry?
NM: Generally, I really like how the definition of beauty has changed. Kate Moss becoming a supermodel in the 90’s was for me the defining moment when the perception of beauty really started to change. She was not your regular beauty in the world of ubermodels. Beauty is about genetics, and we come in all different shapes, sizes and guises. I like how now, all kinds of beauty is celebrated. You don’t have to be amazonian, have immaculately placed features, or look like an obvious model to be what was considered beautiful anymore within the industry, although I still believe there’s a place for that. Whenever selling any kind of product it has to be aspirational. It’s human nature to aspire, but those aspirations don’t have be channeled in only one direction.
BP: How do you relate to this shift, has it effected your work or changed your approach to the craft?
NM: For me, the shift was a bit of a shock in the beginning. It took me while to get my head around it, but I believe I embraced it quite early on compared to other people I know who were totally anti it. In life, things are always changing, and as we grow older we are more reluctant to change as we become comfortable with our habits. My father hated change, and I always promised myself to not be like him in that way, so with all the frequent changes I’ve chosen to keep abreast of what’s happening, how to incorporate it into my world, and use it in a way that works for me. It hasn’t affected my work or my approach to my craft per se, although I do believe it has affected how we work. Every shoot we do now, there is “behind the scene”s filming, social media shoots going on alongside and a separate moving image shoot of the stills shoot. For me it’s often too much content to produce in one day and I sometimes feel that shoots are suffering in terms of creativity & quality because of all this extra activity going on at the same time, giving us less time to create. My friend recently said to me, social media has made people become happy and content with “the mediocre”. I’m inclined to agree on some occasions.
BP: You launched a technical range called WAM, how did you move into creating your own range?
NM: WAM came about after meeting with my previous business partner Paul Windle. Paul has had the Windle salon in Covent Garden since 1988, plus he had produced a Windle ceramic straightening iron off the back of initially being the distributor of GHD irons in the early days. I was working with Paul on a freelance basis as editorial director of Windle and I approached him about expanding the electrical line. He said it was too much work to do it alone, so I offered to do it with him, as I felt that there weren’t any decent electrical ranges for professional hairstylists based in the UK at that time. In my kit I owned curling irons from France, a straightening iron from Japan and a hairdryer from Italy. Paul agreed to do it and so we went to work creating WAM. I crudely drew curling and straightening iron designs in pencil and visited factories in Korea and China to find out who could produce them for us. The hairdryer was eventually made in Italy because at the time, the Italians produced the best dryers.
BP: In 2010 you forged a partnership with Paul Windle launching Windle and Moodie.What inspired you to create a range of products?
NM: Following on from the WAM launch in 2008 Paul invited me to co-partner up with him with Windle. He wanted to re-fit the salon, rename and rebrand it, with the idea that we may produce a product line in the future. We were both tied to Bumble & Bumble contractually at the time so the product line came later. I was sceptical about the salon as I’d never aspired to have one nor felt like I wanted to go back to working in one again ( which I still don’t) but Paul agreed that I didn’t have to work in it, just be involved creatively, and maybe with some of the training. Paul’s distribution contract ended with Bumble and Bumble after Estee Lauder took over, and after 6 years I ended my freelance editorial contract with them as I didn’t really like how corporate it had all become with Estee in control (it’s the anarchist in me I guess). Paul and I had already begun talking about products, what we thought was missing, and what was wrong with what was on the market at the time. Paul asked what I would want from a brand if I created one and I said I only would only want to have something with my name on it that I believed in 110% and would solely use. I didn’t want a generic brand that we would just put our name on for the sake of it, then use other products lines too. He felt exactly the same so the timing seemed perfect. We had no outside investment so we were totally in control of what we created and produced. I recently resigned from Windle In Moodie as Creative Director to explore other creative territories.
BP: Who are your heroes?
NM: Vidal Sassoon – For revolutionising haircutting. Richard Avedon – For being one of the most talented fashion/art photographers of our time, whose work I have referenced over and over again. Rudi Geinrich – For inspiring me to learn how to make hats. Corinne Day – For showing me the way. Julien Dy’s – One of the most inspiring hair stylists who turns doing hair into an art form. Sam Mcknight – The first editorial stylists work I really took notice of, and his ability to still be at the top of his game after all these years. Miriam, Stuart and Tracy – The people who first taught me to cut and style hair between the age of 16-19. They encouraged me to move to London and pursue my dreams and I’m eternally grateful. Debbie Harry – For being the coolest pop/rock star I’ve always been obsessed with and referenced. Alison Moyet – The singer/songwriter who’s voice and lyrics take me to another place when I need inspiration. I also love her mentality towards life. I feel very in align with what she thinks. (I love her tour blog and twitter account) I wish I was as bright and as literate as her. Mike Leigh – Whose films, their subjects and characters always amaze me. Louise Bourgeois – One of the most talented artists of our time right up until she died at the age of 98 in 2010. I have one of her spider sculptures tattooed on my chest.
BP: What is beautiful to you?
NM: Colours, shapes, form, beautiful mouths and teeth, a lovely pert bum, landscapes, music, and photography for capturing a moment, a place or a subject in time forever. The world is generally beautiful, its a shame we’re slowly fucking it up!!
BP: What are your obsessions?
NM: Trainers, Hair accessories, art and photography books, online shopping and the comedy shows: League Of Gentlemen, which made a return over Christmas (whoop whoop) ……. Catherine Tate & Victoria Wood for their observational comedy genius, and early French & Saunders which still makes me laugh. Good food – I love eating. I also love a new gadget.
BP: What’s next on your journey?
NM: I’ll let you know when I get there.