Beautiful People

Holli Smith Uncut

Beauty Papers contributor and hair stylist Holli Smith talks to Beauty Papers about hair and identity and how San Francisco shaped her outlook on life. 


Hair Stylist Holli Smith is known for her personalised styling and unique cuts. Her work has been featured internationally in a variety of prestigious publications including US Vogue, the New York Times T Magazine, i-D, Interview, and she has collaborated with the likes of Annie Leibovitz, Collier Schorr, Dan Jackson, Greg Harris, Jamie Hawkesworth and Harley Weir, to name a few. In her work Holli explores identity and what a cut can say about a person; for this issue she styled a shoot called “Uncut”, in which she rolled up her model’s hair to look like a cut – a narrative that aims to explore hair and identity, urging the viewer to distinguish between a committed cut and a fleeting style. Here, she elaborates on her Beauty Papers shoot.

Beauty Papers: What is your approach to the craft of hairdressing in a predominately male industry?
Holli Smith: It’s not a surprise that women have had to overcompensate in attitude to be able to be heard in a world dominated by men. I suppose I am a bit post this time. Often gender is not a question and I feel like there is no difference between men or women in a team and those are the best and most creative days for me and, I think, everyone. However, if I do feel it I rely on my snarky sense of humour and my over-thinking, and that allows me to be versatile in all situations.

The hairstyles are about cuts, but done with the model’s own hair and rolled in a way that looks like a cut. Cuts versus styles: one is a commitment, the other a momentary look.

BP: You started your career in San Francisco, how did this experience shape and define your ideas?
HS: I found my inner freak in San Francisco. I found inspiration from many homemade cuts that people had. I cut hair in parking lots, McDonald’s bathrooms; I used cigarettes to burn or cut layers – DIY everything, all day and night. It taught me to be free. My dyke clients also needed something that a barber alone could not do and a person from a salon wasn’t capable of either. Learning to be able to do both barber and cut short and long hair on any kind of person was the only practice I thought fair. It was exciting to be able to help people discover their identity. Shaving parts of hair back then helped people identify visually who they wanted to be known as, boy, boyish girl or girl, girlish boy…

BP: Part of our identity is formed and shaped by how we look. What is your opinion on the message presented in the industry regarding beauty?
HS: What I love about Beauty Papers is that it is more about the observation of everything; that allows us to find beauty in the things we are drawn to. It’s a real lesson in how to look at things in a different way.

I cut hair in parking lots, McDonald’s bathrooms; I used cigarettes to burn or cut layers – DIY everything, all day and night. It taught me to be free.

Since there are more women shooting women, identity is being fleshed out more. There are more ideas about what both women and men can look like now, making this a more exciting time in the business. This is beauty to me.

BP: What are your goals for the future?
HS: For the last two years I have been working with a crossfit trainer (Kyle Finchman) who has me using my own body weight as resistance. We are working on some gymnastic movements and so my goal is to do this piece called the Muscle Up. I am feeling the Muscle Queen vibe in my mature years. Ironically satisfying.


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