Destroy the Hairdresser caught up with Aveda’s Global Director of Color, Ian Michael Black, at the Charlotte Master Jam. Ian is a leader in the industry and a source of inspiration for tens of thousands of colorists.
He is in a muted pink sweatshirt and jeans, hanging out at the edges of a technical rehearsal for the event, where he would Emcee later in the evening. First question off the bat: 'If you could do one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?'
Too easy. We applied that question to hair: ‘If you could do one service for the rest of your life, what would it be?’
‘Oh, highlights!’ he says with an excited smile that makes us believe he could do highlights for years without complaint.
‘I can put five thousand in, I can be minimalist and put eight foils in (not ten, he emphasizes…EIGHT), the process of it appeals to me, I can work clean and get into the zone.’
IMB Commandment #1: It's about how and where to place foils to get the most impact.
Eight will make the most difference, he promises. Colorists sometimes don’t understand how to place foils to get the most impact. What hair do you see from the scalp to ends? That’s where you work. It’s this comprehension of what the visual end result will be and how the client’s hair falls that drives Ian’s placements. (Short hair notwithstanding)
IMB Commandment #2: All or nothing. There is a beauty in simplicity and a beauty in complexity.
The journey that the icons in our industry take is as important a tale as what their newest collections are. Everyone comes from somewhere.
Q: How did you get to be Global Director?
A: I. Was. The. Craziest teenager you can ever imagine. The first time I ever went to a proper nightclub in London I was 15.
He did go to school the next day…at lunchtime. He attended beauty school for 2 years. If there had been a yearbook, Ian admits he would have been voted person least likely to succeed; the social scene took precedence. He grew up in a household that wasn’t into fashion, listening to his mom's Andrew Lloyd Webber albums. What he appreciates about that is that it gave him an almost clean slate to develop his own culture and aesthetic. Ian discovered things that interested him just by appreciating bands and fashion he came across. He bought a Siouxsie Sioux album because he saw her on television and thought she looked interesting. 'You liked what you liked.'
IMB Commandment #3: Developing a sense of aesthetic is important.
His first job was chosen literally because it was two doors down from the Vivienne Westwood shop on King’s Road, and it 'would give him access to the employees and their delicious discounts'. Toni & Guy (TIGI) came next in their Covent Garden and Knightsbridge salons, as well as working in the Advanced Academy.
Then Aveda came into the picture.
Make it interesting and Ian will be intrigued. He was attracted to their story (Our mission, at Aveda) and their new London Academy. They had a great reputation, and he transitioned to the Aveda tribe. It was truly an Outliers 'right place, right time' moment.
Q: What is it like, Global Direction?
A: Everyone thinks it's being super creative and artistic all the time but it’s actually business driven. It's about understanding what is good for the business and the industry. I help develop hair color products. I don’t make them for me, I make them for colorists. If it was for me it would probably something very self-indulgent but it’s for everyone who chooses to visit an Aveda salon and we develop tools while fully aware of that. We focus on what people want.
Aveda's Blonde Finishers are the result of this focus. A line that brings blondes to another level, it is designed for the behind the chair colorist. Ian wanted something that works in five minutes and that smells good. 'If I need to refine or enhance something, I need to do it in five minutes and it has to smell like conditioner.' His favorite? Gold finisher. 'On top of powder lightened highlights that are that raw bleach blonde we have all seen before, it creates a soft refined blonde.' There are other secret projects in the works that will be revealed in 2018 that will be new color lines for the Aveda network. No he didn’t give us any hints. He did grin a lot though.
Q: What is your aesthetic right now?
Q: What’s beautiful to you? (We were not letting him be vague)
A: Something that has a softness to it. It could be the craziest color but it has to have a softness to it, a femininity. Going back to all or nothing, I love androgyny. There's nothing more beautiful than a super androgynous girl. At the same time its that or really refined and beautiful. Just because you color someone’s hair pink for a wow factor is one thing but making it look beautiful and expensive is a whole different challenge.
IMB Commandment #4: It’s about the whole package.
Its the hair, the make-up, the fashion. However its also about making that person the best version of themselves. I’ve seen models look uncomfortable with that fashion or that haircut. Even though its great work it’s not the girl she is. Let the people be themselves and be better versions of themselves.
Aveda is running a contest on Instragram where Aveda artists can win a photo shoot at HQ in Minneapolis, supervised by Global Directors. In the #avedaartist winners shoot, one of the models stood out to Ian as being more at home in androgyny than super girly dresses. Coaching the stylist to choose denim rather than McQueen, the finished image looked better than if the model had been put in something that was not a true reflection of her style.
"I love the individuals. Square pegs in round holes."
On developing a style: However you dress, it’s all drag. That’s what people don’t realize. Just because you look normal doesn’t excuse you from this; you’re in normal drag. We all dress up as something, we all choose to look a certain way. Crazy style is sometimes armor to keep people away because they’re shy. Others choose to dress normal because they don’t want to stand out. Having lived in NY and LA, Ian sees the dressed up to dress down costume of NY as being as much drag as the club kids in the 80's and 90's. The rule: Celebrate. Just be yourself.
Q: How you feel about labeling yourself as a Master colorist?
A: Oh I hate it. I hate the label, I hate the word. It’s not something you should call yourself, it’s something other people might be able to call you. Being called 'Master' implies you know everything and no one knows everything. I was with someone last week, incredible cutter, one of the best in the industry, and he mentioned he used to have the Master Stylist descriptive in his Instagram and he took it off because it means nothing anymore; everyone is calling themselves a Master.
IMB Commandment #5: Consistency is the key.
It’s not that you have to be The Best. There is no quantitative The Best. Who’s to say they are The Best anyway? Consistency is the key; can’t be great in one service and awful in the next. Successful people are consistent people. This can also apply to educators. The greatest educators are the ones that can consistently deliver the same message with the same enthusiasm every time they teach. It’s a rare talent.
IMB Commandment #6: Enjoy each guest for what it is. The good question to ask yourself is ‘what do I do on YOU,’ not ‘what do I do?’
''Pictures are the curse of our industry."
Working behind the chair is very different from editorial work. How often have you had a client bring in an array of Pinterest photos only to be upset at the final result? Because pictures can betray us. 'I like the color in this picture (but really I like it because it's on a beach. Or it's Gigi Hadid).' It's time for a paradigm shift for pictures in consultations. Allow yourself to be an artist; encourage the client bring in pictures of what they don't like because that can help narrow down what they do like. It will help colorists decide what they can and can't do within those realms.
Ian has a highly trained eye when it comes to understanding the minute shifts in level and tone that he can make to enhance and refine a hair color and dimension that will reflect perfectly against a client's skin tone, eye color, and visual features.
Q: Best advice for young stylists who utilize social media?
A: Take pictures of every client. Get them to follow you. At the end of the day, you cultivate a gallery of realistic colors because you did them. Use social media to your advantage so that clients aren't bringing in Pinterest photos, they are bringing in your Instagram.
Ian Michael Black's work is a tour de force in the hair world. From a smashing Instagram to exclusive and intimate classes, from LA to Taipei, he continues to inspire, encourage, and elevate the art of colo(u)r.