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[Exclusive] Paul Mitchell Never-Before-Published Interview: Before he was the Brand (P. II)

Part two of TGNR’s never-before-published interview with hair product legend and magnate, the late Paul Mitchell.



Paul Mitchell

Enjoy part II of TGNR’s hitherto unpublished interview with famed hairstylist and hair product magnate, the late Paul Mitchell. An interview conducted in October of 1981, Philip A. DiCostanzo and Sara Ann Kizer spoke with Mr. Mitchell on a wide range of topics, bringing forth the undeniable incisive nature of one of the legendary catalysts of the modern beauty industry.

If you have not yet read Part I, please click here before proceeding.

By Philip Anthony DiCostanzo & Sara Ann Kizer

Paul Mitchell: Now, when they don’t have the mass market cut on them, individually cut. Which was not available at all when I started with The Crimpers. If you didn’t go to The Crimpers or Sassoon’s, you couldn’t get a haircut that you could just let dry, or blow-dry. It was unavailable. So the transition was really incredible – see what I mean – because now there’s a big middle America. Even Archie Bunker’s all get pretty good haircuts.

TGNR Philip A. DiCostanzo: Would you say today, in 1981, with all that you’ve been through, would you say now, the hair cutting renaissance, with the development of all the techniques – I’m sure you have done everything that could be done with scissoring, cutting hair in every way – is the renaissance of that development in hair cutting over?

PM: No, it can’t be. Certain areas of our business have gotten more predominate. They take over from the cut. The last major revolution in the business was the rebirth of the perm. So when perming was reborn, because permanent waving up until the Sixties was a dirty word. You know, there was a Toni perm that your mother gave you when you were little that you remember that was frizzy and ugly? All the young ones never wanted perms.

So we had to find new names for them, new approaches, and we learned. We re-educated ourselves about the products. Like when that lady said to me (referring to the show), “When you were a specialist, only cut,  how did you get back and be able to do some of these things?” Well, I knew it all. So, now I have to think: “How can I use the perm better now than I use to do it?”

So when you ask me if the renaissance of cutting is over? No it’s not.  It’s still going on and changing, and going on and changing, and going on – but its more subtle. There’s subtle changes but the bigger changes come with techniques like perming, when we had something exploding into bigger stuff.

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We’ve been waiting for the color thing to happen. The color is the next thing, but the color is a little harder. It’s more technical. So hairdressers are more scared. If you fuck up the color it could take two hours, or it could take you two days to straighten it out.

So hairdressers are a little more scared. We have to learn a lot more about the color.

“There’s a trend in hairdressing that if you fail at everything – go to beauty school. That’s not going to be good enough in the future. You are gonna have to be a little smart or you’re not going to be able to survive.”

TGNR PAD: Do you feel like a hairdresser now?

PM: Hmm… it’s just me, I don’t know.

I’ve been a hairdresser all of my life… so yeah. But I feel that… a little different… I certainly feel more businessman hairdresser.

I think that is the next development in the hairdressing world. There’s a trend in hairdressing that if you fail at everything (else) – go to beauty school. That’s not going to be good enough in the future. You are gonna have to be a little smart or you’re not going to be able to survive.

What I told them all tonight when I opened with, “If you’re not retailing in 1980 you’re not going to have your shop or place.” You won’t survive the Eighties, and I believe that. The shops who could survive on haircuts and blow-dries in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies were a little harder.

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But we had perms as a whole other income, however that has settled down. Because otherwise everybody would be permed by now. You know what I mean? You get sick of everything.

After you’ve had a big, curly head for awhile you go, ‘Oh shit, I don’t want this.’ So you change to straight, and that’s beautiful because now it’s like we cut everybody’s hair to death, or we’ve permed it all to death. Now we need to color it all to death, and after we’ve colored it  – then, we get over it.

Then we know how to do it and we get on to the next thing. But the next thing is how to set hair differently. Its almost like the next thing is happening before coloring really got to its ultimate peak… do you follow what I’m saying? We never really did color to death.

So, now what’s happening already… because of education… the lack of education available… I’m talking about real top education for hair colorists, for people to become really incredible hair colorists is not available. Only a very few, I think John Gunther has got a thing going which is very interesting. If you think of all the hairdressers around, it attracts very few people to that thing that he does.

When you look at it on the whole – and it’s real nice that he does it – because I don’t know who the hell is really getting that education.

We got all these pseudo-professional companies that they sell to the public and to hairdressers that give us some help, but really they’re not doing their job right. If they were, we would be doing as many colors as we are perms, but that never happened.

And what I’m saying is that because of the lack of availability to have information, the next drift is coming up, and the next drift is: “How can I change my haircut?” Because if my haircuts are super conservative, I’ve got to be able to change it.

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So, how do I change it? If the customer won’t let me cut it different, how do I get to change her hair? My suggestion is that it’s the new way of setting hair and I call it: hair sculpturing. You can call it anything, you know.

It’s funny… I call it hair sculpturing and put it on the bottle of my product and Vogue knew nothing about it but yet they featured an article – I think it was in August – about hair sculpturing and showing all these pictures of hair sculpturing.

Which I was delighted because it was the name of my product. You know, and it is wonderful. It amuses me and I’m delighted because so often I think, that I must be on my own limb. I mean that I’m the only one thinking of these things, and it’s real hard to get a big fashion magazine to… even to get to talk to one of those editors; they’re unreachable.

You know, then you get in and they think that you’re an off-the-wall hairdresser talking about sculpting and  making the hair all stick-up, and it’s sticky for awhile and  when it dries it’s not… and some of them are bright.

You know, I had a wonderful article in August GQ that covered everything… also, in Harper’s Bazaar. Some of them are real bright and they need a little pusher and what it takes in those big magazines to write about hair stuff, to create the public demand.

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It’s like when they talk about… we need another Dorothy Hamill. We don’t need another Dorothy Hamill. I really disagree with that. The problem with Dorothy Hamill is that we get wigged out like we only play one tune. Okay, I’ll teach you to play “Mary had a little Lamb.” Now, you know how to play “Mary had a little lamb”… how long can you continue to play the same thing before it becomes a bore?

If I show you those notes on how to make “Mary had a little Lamb,” and you take those notes home and you change them around, you come up with another one.

So, we don’t need another “Mary Little Lamb” trip which is Dorothy Hamill. We need the freedom to be able to change that around and that’s what we got going… It’s okay. We still need the press now to start telling the world that blow-drying and setting are not the only ways to do your hair now.  We’ve got a real major story going…

TGNR PAD:  If you were to tell someone about hair sculpting, what three or four things would you tell them?

PM: First, it’s a new way of setting hair. It’s a method that allows you, your versatility with the same haircut. So, it allows you to take one haircut and have several looks. Of course, which is a plus immediately. That’s a new thing instead of having to wear it always the same. The “how-to” method is that you need to use sculpting lotion.

TGNR PAD: Is that a setting lotion?

PM:  It’s a setting lotion. It’s a 1980s setting lotion, like all the other setting lotions of the Sixties and the Fifties and further back. If you noticed, we didn’t use setting lotions for years because the hair would have white dust that would fall on the shoulders.

It took the shine out of the hair, left the hair too heavy, and (chuckles) lots of bad things like drugs…. gives side-effects that are not good and you have to keep working… on working out the drugs. That the side effects then makes you need the drugs again. Now, I see… not the kind that we do for pleasure, I’m talking about the other ones, the helpful ones, on the other end.

Working through the sculpting and the setting lotion was the same thing. The setting lotion had lots of bugs in it… and we got rid of that now. I find this to be as cool, and as shiny, and as healthy looking, and the hair looks better, and it stays better, and people’s hair improves if they use the system.

So, what we’ve learned to do from way back, when we permed people’s hair, when we would color people’s hair, we didn’t have the technology to bring their hair back, looking healthy, shiny, and free. When we permed it, in many cases we would ruin it. We’d color it and in many cases we’d ruin it. Now, we’ve got the technology not to ruin it, or if we ruin it… to put it back again and make it look good.

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Paul Mitchell Never-Before-Published Interview: Before he was the Brand (P. I)”]

So, that allows those areas of our business to expand. The setting lotions improved with the conditioners that have improved, so now we can put this new kind of setting lotion on the hair and immediately when heat touches it, it goes hard. Therefore it forms the shape the hair was combed in.

That is always amazed to replace a roller, or a clip, for a curl with molding or sculpturing the hair into a shape. What holds it is the lotion, the minute it gets hot… you’ve got to put the client under there quickly; you don’t have time to make a telephone call, you’ve got to get her under the dryer quickly… it goes hard… and there’s a set.

So, that she gets a totally new style. With a new way of setting hair unlike anything you’ve had before. Maybe back, when my grandma, or my mother used to put a finger wave in their hair, Jeanne (Braa) takes a lady like you (indicating TGNR SK) and puts a finger wave all the way down the whole thing like an old fashioned finger wave, she doesn’t let the underneath dry, only the top surface.

So the top goes crunch, goes hard and gives a nice wave and takes the underneath and she’ll take a blow-dryer and run her fingers up underneath like this (demonstrates) and literally goes back and it starts to expand out and the top waves are shiny and finger waved. So now we can create looks that we could not create without the sculpting lotion. So styles are revolving that we couldn’t do before.

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PM: What’s gonna happen on the notion of all we’ve learned about cutting… since the rebirth of hair cutting … we learned certain things like … I call it, “before V.S.”… there was cutting and sets, and teasing. Alright, and then we learned how to cut hair… again. Then you’ve taken that, people like myself, and changed it.

What’s gonna happen with the combination of all the new things we’ve learned about cutting, the rebirth then of perming… you know, it’s not new but it’s new now compared to what it was when my mother had a perm.

So, the combination of all these new techniques we’ve learned about cutting then the ever, continuing , changing, evolving art… plus what we’ve learned now about perming… what we’ve just scratched on the way of color, instead.

Now, were learning to set hair again…differently… but we’ve got these unknown factors from when we’ve learned before. So new hairstyles will evolve from the spot that we know that will have a large bearing on fashion in the future. But it’s almost like the biggest kept secret – nobody has written a story about it.

The public are really not aware of it, a few hairdressers are. I’ve been doing this now for approximately two years but I’ve been going around and around and around, doing these kind of shows, spreading the products around, so that people not only have the ability… but the thing to use to make it happen.

So, there will be an explosion and it will go more than the cutting and the blow-drying did…because it was only a limited few who could do it before. But you see what’s gonna happen now… it’s gonna go (laughter) and they’ll be lots of new, different kinds of wavy looks and wild, spikes looks, and different things are gonna happen that are gonna be a big flash. It’s gonna be wild. Its gonna go back to styles as opposed to cutting and freedom.

You haven’t lost all the freedom. It’s not going back to the old thing of rollers in the hair and going under the dryer for a long time. Usually, these styles dry very quickly. The hair could be done with a diffuser. For home use, so that somebody could repeat a reasonable facsimile of the style.

Join TGNR for part III of its never-before-published interview with hairdressing and product legend, Paul Mitchell.

Write to Philip A. DiCostanzo at

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