A Conversation with

Holli Smith

San Francisco native and renowned hairstylist Holli Smith is known for personalized styling, an easygoing attitude and immense talent. Her work has been internationally featured in the hottest publications梩hink Harper抯 Bazaar and Vogue Japan梱et, despite her enormous success, she抯 as down-to-earth as they come. In between lazy beach days and her endless search for new music, Holli sat down with us to talk about her daily inspirations and what reminds her of home.

How did you get your 揵ig break styling hair?
I knew I wanted to work with Guido, so I went to his agency Art + Commerce with a few pictures in hand to show my body of my work. I ended up bonding with an agent over being from California, and she got me in with Guido on the coming show season. It was a fast world, but I was really motivated by the drive, so I worked super hard and was asked to go with him to Milan and then Paris.

Tell us about a particularly memorable shoot.
My first shoot with Collier Schorr for V Magazine. It was incredible to meet someone I admired as an artist and as a fashion photographer梐 woman who took pictures that expressed what I think about in my cuts and my styling. Her pictures are so suitable for the person, even if the subject had never seen that side of himself or herself. It is like a discovery, an uncovering of this overlooked piece of someone. It was the beginning of an amazing future.

You recently did some work with Emily Weiss from Into the Gloss that involved a pillow fight and a broken guitar. You also did a shoot for the New York Times involving magical realism. How did you prepare for those?
I had heard about Emily from both [makeup artist and Stila founder] Jeanine Lobell and [creative consultant] Jen Brill before, and they had mentioned that I should meet her. When she came in to my shoot with Ryan McGinley for MySpace, I just took to her right away. I sat her down and sprayed her haircut with Maximista, a major favorite of mine. I knew the only way to make her haircut look like it had as much movement as was needed for the pillow fight scene was with Maximista. It is the fastest drying, most effective and versatile product I use. It can look dry, moist and high-glossed wet.

(See the full video here)

The Magical Realism shoot for New York Times was on the island of Nevis at the Brice Marden Hotel, which has the most incredible landscaped grounds. I was with [photographer] Benjamin Alexander Huseby and [fashion stylist] Vanessa Traina, and we were shooting these heavy material dresses with beautiful printed designs ranging from flowers to abstract shapes. I knew I wanted to do something strange, classic, graphic and minimal. Anais Mali was our gorgeous model; she has such an incredible face and her hair was very curly卼he kind of hair that will not stay smooth on a humid and windy island. I used (and live by) Superfine Strong Hair Spray. It helped with the wind and kept the humidity from creeping in. It was a perfect classic middle part and a chignon with the hair going over her ears.

What inspires you?
I think the most inspiring thing is music. It has been my consistent vice; it makes me feel like I抦 somewhere else. Growing up, I felt so far away from anything different, so music was my all-access pass to a new world. When I抦 listening to music, I feel free to think about other ways to do typical things厀ith living, with caring, with creating.

Who are some of your hair icons and mentors?
My living hairstylist icons are Guido and Christiaan. They cut and style hair the way I have always believed hair should be treated: uncovering the freedom within the hair without any limits. Then there is Yusuke Suga, who was an amazing hairstylist in the 70s with cutting training from another icon of mine who just recently passed, French cutter Kenneth (Battelle) of New York.

My haircutting icon is Bruno Pittini. He did a stage performance of 15 haircuts in one hour, and they were amazing. He passed one year later. I felt lucky to have seen him work and watch him so focused. My cutting mentor, Yosh Toya, trained under the French scene and adopted their non-Sassoon philosophy, which rejected overly structured cuts. It was from him that I learned all my cutting techniques.

What are your go-to products?
Maximista, Superfine Strong, Cr鑝e for Style and Dry Texturizing Spray are products I use every day and on every shoot...but I also have Shine Light Reflecting Spray, Imperm閍ble Anti-Humidity Spray and Apr鑣 Beach Wave and Shine Spray at my station.

What do you do for fun when you抮e not on set?
Right now, because it抯 so hot in New York City, I抳e been renting a Zipcar to get out to the beach. Far Rockaway is starting to blossom again, and Montauk is super fun. If I have a whole day, I抳e been known to drive there, sleep at friend抯 place and come back at 5 AM to get to work. I love to read on the beach, especially historical biographies.

For fun, I am really into seeing music when I can. Music collecting and dancing is and has been a huge part of my life. My best friend Kim Ann Foxman is a really successful DJ and musician, so it抯 easy to find the right sounds when I stick close to her.

What are some of your favorite places in New York City?
I really love Printed Matter for amazing books and small works. It reminds me of my hometown of San Francisco and has many SF artists pieces. For music, I go to Other Music. My friend Scott Mao has been there for a long time and is really insightful, and the whole place has helpful energy. It抯 been around for years in New York and has an excellent website for downloads.

I love Angelica抯 Kitchen; I eat a lot of macro or vegetarian foods when I抦 not working because there is so much catered food at work, and that抯 tough to eat day after day.

I live in Williamsburg, so if I treat myself to something a bit more thrilling, my brother Nate has a restaurant on Bedford and N. 10th. It抯 called Allswell, and he is the best at what he does; it抯 so fun to hear him talk about food!

My favorite place to shop is Savers Thrift Store in West Hempsted, Long Island. It is a chain that started in SF抯 Bay Area, and there are at least three on Long Island. It makes me feel at home, and I get really excited to pick through people抯 old belongings. I prefer garage sales and yard sales, especially when I am in the Hamptons and Montauk area.

Where抯 the best place you抳e ever traveled for a shoot? For fun?
Peru was amazing. I got to snowboard on sand dunes and, on a free day, I went in a small plane to see the weird and unanswered mysteries of the Nazca Lines. The Nazca lines, which date back to 600 A.D., are geoglyphs of drawings in the ground of strange shapes and detailed animals like hummingbirds, phoenixes and fish. Some are the size of three football fields, and no one knows how they were done so precisely. I had known about these from watching a UFO documentary my friends had told me to watch, and then there I was with a chance to see this fantastic piece of history卛t was mind-blowing.

Kenya was amazing, too. I went with Cass Bird for Maiyet, and we had 200,000 acres of wildlife reserve to shoot in. Every place we went was a totally different landscape than the last. Elephants, zebras, giraffes everywhere

What抯 your beauty routine for summer?
Sunscreen; it varies from SPF35 to 50 depending on the job. I love this stuff my girlfriend got me into called Vanicream, which is a fragrance-free, paraben-free, non-irritant line of soaps and lotions. The face lotion is killer梚t抯 super affordable, but you can only get it in more private pharmacies in New York.

I sometimes wear eyeliner, but for the most part, I don抰 wear any makeup. I have a boyish way about me when it comes to that. I feel like I look my best without covering up my skin, so I抣l only wear lipstick with nothing else. Sometimes just mascara, but not as much since the lash thing has spread like wildfire and it feels a little too trendy卙ence the eyeliner instead. Not just on the top, but all around my eye and only in the lash line. I have really dark lashes anyway, but it just makes it look even stronger/tougher. That抯 my look.

Is there a philosophy that you stand by?
I try to re-introduce people to who they are, minus all their prejudices. Most people don抰 like something about their hair or face, and I feel like the right cut and a conversation on how to care for their hair is all they need. I want people to be more embracing of themselves.

Can you share some of your upcoming projects?
I just finished a truly incredible four-day shoot for the September issue of Fantastic Man with Collier Schorr and Jodie Barnes. We used 26 models, and everyone was shot at least twice (some people four times!) for a total of 78 portraits. I went through four bottles of Maximista and two cans of Superfine! The model talent ranged from top models Garrett Neff and Ollie Edwards, to street casting, and even an enormous body builder. Definitely keep your eyes open for this one.

There抯 also an amazing story coming out in a new magazine called Everything, which is the brainchild of my close pal Benjamin Sturgil. I did a shoot with an up-and-coming photographer named Christelle De Castro: eight pages of boys with really huge sculptural hair. Having all of the Oribe products was key; I knew I could pull off all these shapes and ideas because I had the product.

Finally, I have a great project coming out that I did with Jodie Barnes and Amy Troost for the Italian magazine Muse. It抯 a huge wig story on model/actress Drake Burnette. We did a different set, different make up and a different wig for every picture of her. It was hard work and really complex.

- JULIE BOGEN

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