Big Hair Don't Care
Hair stylist Jimmy Paul talks to Beauty Papers about the need to push for more equal, progressive casting in the industry and gives us a snapshot of New York’s counterculture throughout the decades.
Interview Esra Gürmen
Hair stylist Jimmy Paul grew up in a segregated blue-collar town in Pittsburgh, dreaming of being a hairdresser. As a teenager, he turned to fashion magazines to escape the humdrum of everyday life. When he was 16 his uncle took him to New York on a church-sponsored trip to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and they stayed on 43rd Street, next to the infamous 42nd Street (an experience which he later described in a ’97 interview with Index magazine as being “like a Donna Summer video – unbelievable, the most divine thing”). On that trip he bought his first issue of Interview and was sucked into the fantasy world it projected. Three years later, on his 19th birthday, he moved to East Village, New York. He attended the Robert Fiance beauty school, and at 23, he got a job as an assistant at Oribe and his freelancing career took off.
Nowadays, Jimmy Paul is busy doing runway hair for the likes of Opening Ceremony and DKNY, and editorials for W, Harper’s Bazaar, Interview, Vogue, i-D, and collaborating with photographers Steven Klein, Steven Meisel, and Inez and Vinoodh among others. Jimmy was a contributor for our first issue, so we asked him to talk us through the inspiration behind his shoot.
What was the inspiration for your shoot for the new issue of Beauty Papers?
One thing I love about fashion is how immediate it is, and I think the immediacy is what makes it. It’s a very important aspect of it – the “right now” of it. And a magical thing is happening right now, and I want to be a part of it. The word diversity has all of a sudden come up, you know, in 2016 – sometimes fashion can be so old-fashioned! All of a sudden there’s this “new” idea of diversity. But I want to not question it. I want to go with it.
My aesthetic very much comes from my personal life and the way I grew up. My mom is a hairdresser; I grew up always appreciative of high fashion and of the street – what real women look like, what real people look like.
Of course, it’s great that things are changing, albeit slowly. But I see what you mean, in an ideal world we wouldn’t even need to talk about diversity; it would just be the norm to have an equal representation of beauty and beauty ideals.
Yes, I think we’re on the same page here. But also, I think that we all know that, and I want to push past that rhetoric, and just do it. Alice [Metza] is an absolutely thrilling model; she’s the kind of girl that you’d see walking down the streets of New York. When I first saw Alice on the runway at Marc Jacobs, I was so excited; that kind of girl is not represented in fashion, and she should be, and it’s an absolute revolution to someone like me who’s been looking at fashion for his whole life and has a bit of a photographic memory. There was Veronica Webb and Talisa Soto in the 80s, and that kind of girl has gone out of fashion. So when you put a girl like Alice with the top casting people and she’s getting every show, it’s a revolution. People will get used to it. To be able to get these girls was very important to me; the casting was spectacular. For this shoot, I’d say it started with the casting, and from there, I have a kind of foundation of what I like in my head that I can’t erase or change. I know what I like.
New York City and its culture shaped who you are; what would you say is your favourite era, having witnessed so many of its styles and looks?
It’s really hard for me to pick one era that stands out. I moved to New York from a very small working-class town outside of Pittsburgh, not far from where they made The Deer Hunter. I mean it can be very bleak; it’s pretty intense. So, to me New York was a fantasy; it was where Truman Capote lived. The early fashion images done here in the 60s, imagine David Bailey coming here, and Warhol’s Factory, and then Avedon, Vreeland – these are all my favourite eras. New York Dolls, early beginnings of punk – you know, the history of the underground, from the late 50s until now. I moved to New York in the 80s, and everyone is like, “Oh, New York in the 80s, you’re so lucky.” But when I lived in New York in the 80s, I wished that I had been here in the 60s and 70s, with Max’s Kansas City, Debbie Harry, and CBGB. I was like, “Oh, I just missed this!”
Yeah but then you were there with the likes of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Yeah, I remember seeing them, sure, but it was also the beginning of AIDS and crack. It’s the real world; there is always good and bad. It was an exciting time certainly, but it was a horrifying time also. But, you know, out of that comes a lot of creativity and a backlash, and to be a part of those politics is thrilling.
So let’s talk about the present a bit more. What have you been working on recently?
Well, it’s New York Fashion Week and I did a couple of shows that I think are really exciting. I did the Opening Ceremony show. I loved the hair. I am still striving. It’s not a done deal; it’s extremely competitive. You’re only as good as your next thing.
Do you think that’s good for creativity or can it be overwhelming?
I don’t know really, I need the energy. I need to be a little bit afraid. I think that that’s absolutely real.