Freelance Hairstylist. FRANCO VALLELONGA
Editorial @ 7th Man Magazine. Harper’s Bazaar. i-D. (etc.)
" I think occasionally it’s healthy to just switch off and let other elements influence you. "
What better way to begin than with this charming tête à tête with the highly attuned Franco Vallelonga. Born and raised in Perth/Australia, Franco's aptitude for form and colour eventually led him to hairdressing at the tender age of 15. A decade later and with an amassing wealth of knowledge, he boldly relocated to london where he currently still lives and works.
With Franco's flair for editorial hair illustrated in the likes of i-D, Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Another Man and Elle & embraced by brands from PPQ to Paul Smith. We enquire as to what direction his career might take and consider what aesthetic route the industry is currently favouring
ElysiumEditorial: As someone who was always aware of their innate affinity for shape and colour, we wondered when the first thoughts of hairdressing occurred & why did this trade eventually take precedent?
FrancoVallelonga: I wanted to be an interior designer when I was in high school, but at 15 I decided to do some work experience in a hairdressing salon. After the week it felt very natural for me to be in the hairdressing environment. The guys at the salon said I had an innate flair for hairdressing and offered me an apprenticeship. So I decided to follow the path that seemed to create itself for me. I did go back later to study my certificate in Art & Design and after that I began studying interior design. I missed hairdressing so much I dropped out after six months and went back
EE: You relocated from Perth to London around 12 year ago to build a career in fashion focused hairdressing. It seems your aims have been met with utmost success, we wondered whether you still find your location to be artistically engaging?
FV: I really relocated from Perth to Sydney and then onto London. My plan was to do 2 years in London then move to New York for another 2 years and move back to Sydney. I felt that there was so much to be artistically influenced by in London; I just couldn’t seem to part with that feeling. I’m still being driven by that today and won’t leave until I feel I have done all I can here. I believe that you have to pull yourself out of a place occasionally to keep that creativity and energy going. I visit Australia every year and travel as much as I can. I love seeing what everyone else in the world is doing and enjoy taking influences from where ever I am in the world - colours, textures, moods. London is definitely my home for the foreseeable future though
EE: 7th Man Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, i-D, Marie Claire, Vogue and Wallpaper are a select bunch of publications you have been involved with in an editorial sense. As you develop beside your editorial career, what has to date been your most inspiring shoot?
FV: I was trained to do very classic, polished, beautiful, shiny healthy looking hair. So I get really inspired and excited when I am working on an editorial that allows me to think outside of the box. I love working on hair in a way that I wouldn’t normally do. Although there’s not a shoot that really stands out to me, sometimes its months before I see the pictures of a shoot I’ve done and I get all inspired again as it wasn’t the way I saw it on the day. I think of every job as if I’m creating a piece of art, each piece changes, improves, develops and is always different from the previous one
EE: Your CV boasts experiences as a Stylist, Session Stylist and Artistic Director. Perhaps a sweeping generalisation, but does the final title involve self-implemented briefs from a trusted stylist hand?
FV: I wouldn’t say that it boasts. It’s only a brief explanation of my achievements in the industry so far. With a career spanning 22 years and with the right drive and determination I guess you can learn a lot and gain plenty of experience by working hard. I feel like there is still so much more for me to learn and become involved with
*'Japanese Touch' in Fashion Illustrated _ Photography: Carlos Lumiere _ Stylist: Pepe Garcia _
EE: From the laidback locks of ‘Walk in the Park’ to the arranged shapes of ‘Japanese Touch,’ your portfolio connects on many levels. Is this versatility the key to success or is it advised to mould a signature in such a competitive craft?
FV: I guess there are many keys to success. I know various people who mould themselves into what they do best and are very successful with that. I love to do different things because I get bored doing the same thing every day in the same way. I think that what works for me is that I have the versatility to see each job differently and I work to do what is required for the job at present whether it be classic, edgy or natural. Sometimes a job starts out classic and ends very natural, so I think you need to be versatile and have an open mind initially
EE: We’re well aware that is it often the most mundane elegant tresses that require the most attention, what product is your current go-to aid?
FV: Well I have to say I’m always up for trying out new products, there's really so many to choose from. For hair I love Ojon products they are really conditioning and leave the hair feeling soft and shiny. But if I want products to give me a bit of texture and hold it’s a mixture of Bumble and Bumble, L'Oréal and Sebastian. For my grooming its mainly Mac Pro, and BECCA cosmetics although I’ve started using Kyoku for male skin care and that’s starting to build up in my kit too
EE: Such exquisite movement can be optimized through the hair, a sense of lightness often impossible to match through fabric – we assume this fluidity maintains priority in an editorial sense? Or do you find that the hair is often styled as an afterthought to the wardrobe?
FV: Everything on a shoot must work together like cogs working to make a clock tick. Hair, make-up and clothes are all of importance to the overall look. There is nothing worse than seeing a beautiful, immaculate outfit on someone whose hair is an undone mess. It also depends on what you are shooting for. If it’s a fashion story it’s about the clothes and the hair and make-up must work to complement those clothes. If it’s a hair and beauty shoot, it’s about the hair and skin initially and if clothes are involved they must compliment this look
EE: Whom do you aspire to style, is there an individual that seems to optimise the way in which you approach and present your hair?
FV: I’m more of a fashion hairstylist than a celebrity hairstylist. I’d much rather style for a fashion house than a person. Although recently when I watched the movie ‘The Artist’ I could have imagined that would have been the perfect era for me to be in. I love all the classic beauties, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Gregory Peck, James Dean but I also love someone who pushes the boundaries, namely Madonna and Lady Gaga. Bring back the old days and I would have been a celebrity hairstylist. I like to make someone feel better about themselves after I’ve done their hair, that’s when I feel like my job is done and I’m happy
EE: Evidently you are a seasoned and accomplished creator, we wondered what else you might have planned in the not so distant future?
FV: Well I have quite a bit happening, I’ve recently joined Era Management and we are working together very well. Having an agent has given me more time to concentrate on myself and do the things I’ve never had time for, beginning a blog for example. I just wanted to promote what I like and what inspires me. There is a whole new technical world out there. I’d love to educate the new hairstylists and groomers. I gained a teacher training certificate a couple of years ago now but I haven’t found the time to teach much in the past year. You will no doubt see more of my work soon, after recently working on a host of editorials and some advertising for a few fashion companies, I am excited for what ever else comes my way, I enjoy any challenge
*Testshoot _ Photography: Paul Krokos _
EE: An imperative figure in the industry was once quoted as saying, ‘if you have a sense of style and purpose and a will you don’t want to compromise. You must always do what you feel is right.’ Would you agree, is there such a thing as a healthy dose of creative stubbornness?
FV: (laughs) There is defiantly a lot of that mentality out there, though I would never want to be thought of as or know as stubborn. But yes, I agree, you must always do what you feel is right. Untrained hairstylists often see a picture and assume it’s easy to create on every hair type. This is entirely false, nobody’s hair is the same and you can’t always do what you want, this is where the stubbornness must subside. Depending on the hairs natural ability, you need to work with what you’ve got. Sometimes you need to educate those people so they are aware of this fact. We are all kings of our own craft and that’s why we are hired, if you know your craft there’s always a solution. I guess this is why a good team is so imperative on a job
EE: That same figure was also vocal about his work ethic, claiming ‘creating beautiful hair is not just my job; it’s my way of life.’ A little melodramatic perhaps, does work always trump play?
FV: Hair is my work and yes in a way it is my life, I often find I look at hair without even meaning to. I think occasionally it’s healthy to just switch off and let other elements influence you. When I’m out with friends away from the fashion world and I get asked what I do, I usually say I have a tedious office job. If I don’t do that, I often get asked for advice and tips. In all honesty I’m just not interested in their hair or if it’s the right colour for their skin or to hear about all their bad hairdressing experiences. I just want to be anonymous and be Franco the person not the hairdresser. I have to, it’s the only way I keep sane. Most of my friends now know when I want to talk shop or not & save me when I need to be saved
EE: Speaking of boundless creativity causing a stir in the industry, who would you site as the hair counterpart to Phoebe Philo of Celine?
FV: As an assistant I worked with many great hairstylist Laurent Philippon, Malcolm Edwards, Luigi Moreno, Niel Moodie, Tyler Johnson, Sam McKnight, James Pecis, Duffy and the list goes on and on. I guess we all assist until we become our own Brand. I think Eugene Solomon is a mastermind with hair. Angelo Seminara’s hair collections always make my jaw drop. Malcolm Edwards and Antoinette Beenders are the most organized hairstylist I’ve worked with. All are exceptionally talented and all have their own edge to their brand, similar to the way Phoebe Philo has put her edge on Celine
EE: On the catwalks this AW2012 we’ve seen a strong emphasis on a centre parting, healthy looking hair slicked back into an achievable ponytail. In an industry hectic with creative thoughts, what looks do you personally see gaining momentum on the street?
FV: I do see a strong influence toward the classics, like the ponytail, beautiful waves and beautiful blow-dries. Which is great to see after a lot of undone messy styles with seen in the recent past. Hair has become more shiny & healthy looking again rather than the matted beach textures. Personally I welcome the shift, it all arks back to my training roots
EE: Would you be so kind as to attach an image _ related to hair or random _ that best represents the direction the industry is currently heading?
*Emerging Trend: Shiny elegant waves take precedent this season _
EE: Due to its very nature, hair is so incredibly fine and ‘fiddly,’ does manipulating such a canvas require a healthy store of calm and a patient hand? If so, is this a trade viable to a select person, or is this craft entirely inclusive to beginners?
FV: I don’t think you do, although I consider myself to be quite a calm person I know there are a lot of tantrum throwing hairstylist that we all know and have heard about. I think you just need to love hair. Products help you create the canvas on which to work and mould hair, good training and skill follow. Anyone can be trained in hair, its the people that are ambitious and keep trying that eventually succeed
EE: For anyone currently reading this text and considering the industry as a potential career route, do you have any stellar advice to impart?
FV: Get good training first. Practice, practice and keep practicing. Assist everyone you can, look at the hair you like or want to do in magazines and assist the people doing it. If you enjoy what you do, never give up! You’ll get there eventually
*'The Maltese Falcon' in Schön Magazine _ Photography: Dim itris Theocharis _ Stylist: Dar ren Knight _ Model: Sam Webb _
EE: After your work, what is your best talent?
FV: When I get time, which is not often, I love painting. I was selected to attend a high school that specialised in the arts when I was 12. So I guess you could say I have an innate talent for art. I have a few of my paintings in my flat now that I’ve done over the years. I’d like to do more at some stage and perhaps have an exhibition
Elysium(E): A place or state of perfect happiness – When are you at your happiest?
FV: Lying on a beach in the sun beside beautiful clear waters, a cocktail would make me extra happy or eating really good food. Coming from an Italian background and growing up in Australia there has always been an abundance of fresh produce around me, it’s all about good food
To conclude, what one question had you hoped might be included in this interview, furthermore how would you answer said question?
FV: Q.What does your mother’s hair look like...
A. A mess! It was so embarrassing when I was out with her and she would have this huge white re-growth and dark ends. Everyone would look at me and say I thought you were a hairstylist. I was so ashamed of myself. I did do it 3 times in 6 weeks when I was back in Perth last. I made her go blonde so the re-growth blends better, though I wish she would let the colour grow out and have white hair. At least now I live over the other side of the world I have an excuse. Ooops! Sorry Mum, I do love you
*In FT 'How to Spend It' Magazine _ Photography: Emma Tempest _ Stylist: Thea Lewis _