Eugene Souleiman can’t sit still for a single minute. Buzzing with energy and fidgeting pretty much non-stop, he is a delight to talk to, mainly because he’s very cheeky, says all the things that come into his head, and has a ready, generous laugh. As global creative director styling for Wella Professionals, London-born Souleiman is known to be a risk-taker, creating bold, experimental looks on the runway.
We are meeting in Berlin, at the Wella Trend Vision conference, where the definitive trends in colour and styling for the season are analysed. Souleiman has just finished telling us about styling one of his favourite SS 16 shows, the graphic red hair for Yohji Yamamoto, a designer who, along with John Galliano, he seems to have a special connection with. But then Souleiman has worked with the best in the business, whether it’s designers, photographers or artists, and constantly challenges himself to push harder and further, elevating his work to an art form while also reminding us not to take hair too seriously. “It’s just hair.”
ELLE: Why did you decide to become a hairstylist?
Eugene Souleiman: I didn’t plan on it! I’m an art school dropout, I got kicked out because I was in a band and I didn’t study; I was having too much fun. So I went to the career office to get some advice, filled out a form with like 100 questions, and this lady there told me I’d make a good hairdresser: ‘You’re eccentric, you’re creative, you have good motor skills(!), you enjoy people, you have a lot of energy — this is the job for you.’ So I did it.
ELLE: Where do you find inspiration?
ES: I don’t look for inspiration — I live. I thrive on experiences, and for me, music is the spice of life. Music can move me quite specifically. Even with traditional Arabic music or bhangra, I feel something. And when I feel, I think. It inspires me emotionally, it puts me in a place that I can create from.
ELLE: What are you listening to right now?
ES: At the moment I’ve gotten quite analog, and I’m listening to a lot of garage bands from the west coast. I love Thee Oh Sees, they’re great, and lots of bands around San Francisco that do collaborative projects. Oh, and there’s this one guy you have to check out, he’s so good: Ty Segall. He has the hottest girl drummer! There’s nothing better than a girl drummer, if you ask me.
ELLE: Who is your musical icon?
ES: As an image-maker and an artist it would have to be David Bowie, wouldn’t it? He inspired so many amazing musicians for 45 years.
ELLE: Let’s talk fashion. You do Paris Fashion Week and couture shows, too. Who are your favourite designers to work with?
ES: Paris Fashion Week just rejuvenates me. John Galliano at Maison Martin Margiela, of course, and Yohji Yamamoto, who I’m always thrilled to work with. I also like working with younger, more free-spirited designers, like Jonny Johansson at Acne — he used to be a musician earlier, did you know? So I instantly connected with him.
ELLE: Is there ever conflict in your creative collaborations?
ES: I think conflict is the wrong approach, it’s bullshit. If you feel that you’re not going to give the designer what they want, or you don’t understand the designer, you don’t work with them. Period. You have to keep yourself open, listen to the designer, their stories. I work quite instinctively from there.
ELLE: What is the biggest hair trend this season?
ES: I think right now it’s about looking at a woman and her natural beauty, and enhancing that beauty in a more relaxed way. You can see it at Chloé, Roland Mouret, Blumarine. This is actually quite a hard thing to do, because it relies on nuance, on the little touches that make something special. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but when you work in that nano kind of way, you have to be really concise, and I find that very interesting.
ELLE: So a more minimal approach to hair?
ES: I was talking to someone the other day about minimalism, and they said, but minimal is… nothing. And I said, well actually minimal is A LOT. Minimal is not nothing! I did a job with Victoria Beckham recently, and the team was very stressed out, they told me they wanted something very modern, very minimal, clean but not uptight, constricted but not too heavy with product, yes but no but yes but no… and I said, look, this is quite simple. I just need to change where the parting is, it needs to be diagonal; then I shaped the hair. Victoria came in and she loved it. She said it was just what she was looking for, just a little thing, but not in your face. If you want great hair, you should have styling that feels and looks minimal, but really, a lot of thinking goes into creating that.
ELLE: Is there a hair trend you absolutely hate?
ES: You’re going to think I’m really strange but I’m just going to say it. I love bad taste. Because I think it’s a great springboard for creativity, it’s very fertile ground. Bad taste forces you to look at something and process it. And I think you can do bad taste with good taste. When someone says maybe we shouldn’t do something, I think, maybe we should. It’s a bit like saying no all the time. I like to say maybe.
ELLE: Have you worked with Indian hair?
ES: I come from South east London, so that should answer your question! (Laughs) I think Indian women are very lucky, you have the best hair in the world. You have thick hair, wonderful texture, it’s not too straight. You can do a lot with it, add movement, the possibilities are pretty limitless. However! I will say this: Indian women have got to stop dying their hair black. And red! You need to understand subtleties in hair colour better.
ELLE: What are the essentials to keep hair looking good?
ES: Shampoo and hair mask. Never be cheap with your cleansing and moisturising products. You have to think of shampoos and conditioners like you would skincare or make-up. You wouldn’t buy cheap cleanser that takes all the moisture out of your skin and then slap something greasy on your face, would you? So, why would you do that to your hair?
ELLE: What is the one product you think Indian women should use?
ES: Wella’s System Professional range is so good. I love the Luxe Oil (Rs 2,499), it’s a great combination of keratin and oil, superb for hydration, as well as an anti-humectant. You’ve got something in there that seals hair, and you’ve got something that imparts moisture and weight to hair. This is a lot lighter than the oil you would use traditionally in India, too, and very effective. It’s fantastic.