Mark Garrison Interview

Mark Garrison is the owner of a trendsetting salon that bears his name and caters to the celebrity crowd in New York.
A hairstylist for over 20 years, we spoke with Mark Garrison about his business and the business of cutting and styling hair.

Q – Mark, how big of a salon is the Mark Garrison Salon? How many stylists do you have working for you?
A – I have seven stylists and seven colorists and an entourage of assistants in each department. It’s a departmentalized salon. We have a Color Department and a Styling Department. We have 6-8 assistants in each department. These are aspiring hairstylists. They’re serving as apprenticeship or internship at my salon with the idea of learning through our regular training program. We have a formal weekly training program on Wednesday nights. The idea is to learn the skills that will eventually bring them to being a full-fledged colorist or stylist. It’s in-house training. That’s how I grow the salon from within as opposed to hiring a stylist or colorist from the outside who has a clientele.

Q – So, am I to understand that the person who cuts your hair is not the same person who colors your hair or perms your hair?
A – Yes. It’s departmentalized. In other words, we have a Color Department, and a Cutting Department. So, typically the cutters are also the stylists. In other words, if someone comes in for an up do or a blow out, they’re gonna see a stylist in the Styling Department. A cutter and stylist are basically the same thing. Then you have the colorists who specialize in color and other chemical treatments whether it would be the straightening or relaxing of the hair, perming the hair. So, in our salon you specialize. More an upscale, more sophisticated operation I would say because it becomes a specialty. Now, you get into salons throughout mid-America, you’re a jack of all trades. You do it all. You’re a one man show. There’s nothing wrong with that either. But, from a business standpoint, as an operation…..I’ve been doing this 29 years-----the most efficient businesses are departmentalized.

Q – Do you cut both men’s and women’s hair?
A – Yeah. We do twenty-five percent men. Some stylists do more men than others. Seams like the cute girls attract more of the guys than some of the others. Maybe that’s understandable. With a guy a lot of times they relate more.

Q – Would you cut the hair of a non-celebrity?
A – Absolutely. Of course. That’s our bread and butter. For me or anybody to tell you otherwise would be a crazy (thing) not to do. You can’t subsist on doing high profile people alone especially when you have a business. It’s the everyday folk. That’s your bread and butter. Those are the people that keep you in business. The foundation is built on everyday regular people. I’m going to give equal attention to that person as I would the next. I don’t discriminate. If I have the time and someone books on my schedule-----absolutely.

Q – Are you able to mention any names of the celebrities who come through your salon?
A – Sure. You could go to my website too and see some of the people I’ve done, people from Sandra Bullock to Ashley Judd. I just finished a big photo shoot with Cheryl Tiegs. Isabelle Rossalini to Debra Winger to Annie Lennox to Courtney Love to Jerry Seinfeld. These are some of the people I’ve done over the years.

Q – How did you get interested in the world of hairstyling?
A – Originally?

Q – Yes.
A – As a kid. My aunt was a hairstylist and always going with my mother to the ship. I come from a small town in North Carolina and the first unisex salon came about when I was 12-13 years old. That meant it was a cool place to get your hair cut as opposed to if you were a young guy you went to a barbershop or a women you went to the beauty shop. This was now a unisex, cool, cut joint. So, the guy who used to cut my hair there had originally planted the seed, saying get out of high school, go to hair school and come work with me. So, the seed was planted there along with the era of the movie “Shampoo”. I was like a teenager when it came out. That was further appeal for the industry. And then I got out of high school, went to college and dropped out after 2 months knowing I needed to get a trade and enrolled in beauty school the next day.

Q – What were you studying in college?
A – I had the idea I was going to be either a veterinarian or a dentist. But, that was like I knew I was going to college, so, I had to have a focus. That was my whole thing. I wasn’t gonna go to college just to like go, four years, and get a degree. I’ve never so much believed in that-----go just to get a degree behind you. That was always the common, current thought about college-----get it behind you. I never believed that. You go if you have a focus. I didn’t have that focus. I said I’m gonna get a trade, learn a trade-----and it happened to be hair, and I’ll do it ‘till I figure out what I really want to do. That was my attitude and here 29 years later and through many incarnations of the business…..

Q – How did you land your first job at a Top Salon in San Francisco? Did you have to audition?
A – Yeah. Well, first of all it took me a month to get up the courage to even go in and apply. I actually moved originally to Santa Barbara. I had two choices, either move to L.A. or move to San Francisco. I moved to San Francisco because I knew I was going to be an assistant and I wasn’t going to have any money, if I moved to L.A. I was going to have to have a car. It was just a different sort of set-up. It would’ve been more expensive to live in L.A., so I moved to San Francisco. I honestly spent a month before I got the nerve to go in and apply. I applied and they called me back the next week with a job. I became the top stylist there. I was doing all the photo work there; the hair for the press releases for the salon. I got more into doing that and I said o.k. if I’m going to do hair that’s what I want to do-----a photo session stylist. So, that’s when I moved to New York and spent a year doing testing. Doing hair for photographers. Just doing it for free to get together a book. Then I moved to Paris for 5 years. Then I worked with Jean Louis David who’s like a big name hairdresser is Paris.

Q – Then you moved to New York again and opened your own place?
A – Yeah. When I came back from Paris I segued out of the studio work. When I came back from Europe I had done hair for all the major magazines and had covers from English Vogue to Italian Vogue to German Vogue to all the different Elle magazines, the most prestigious ones. I came back to New York having done well as a studio hairdresser, but, I was bored with it. I was bored with the traveling. You never know whats gonna happen next week. I segued back out of that into the salon with the idea of-----see where that takes me.

Q – Was it difficult to get the word out that you were open for business? Do you have a lot of competition?
A – Oh, it’s huge. But again, by the time I had opened my salon I had been in the business 20 years of which 20 years of being with and associating with the top guys in the industry. I had already established a name. My name was in the press. You’d see my name in articles. I had already cultivated a name as it were.

Q – It says in your bio, “Mark Garrison and the Mark Garrison Salon never fail to create great hair”. Do you ever get any unhappy customers and how do you deal with that?
A – Oh yeah, we’re not perfect. Like anything we aspire to a hundred percent on every job, but again it’s a subjective sort of craft. I can do something that’s great in my eye, in my interpretation, but, ultimately the lady doesn’t like it or it doesn’t work for her, or whatever the scenario is. First of all, you have to appreciate a complaint. You have to appreciate it when someone speaks up and says they don’t like something. I’m never going to impose and say that’s right, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Let me investigate it. Let me look. Maybe there’s another solution. Maybe she’s got a point there. Let me do everything I can to make it right. We have a lot of leverage on our side in terms of experience and training that helps us to be secure with each client that we’re going to give them the best. Again, it’s how you handle a complaint. It’s always with appreciation, never with attitude.

Q – What does your future hold?
A – I’m buying a building that the salon will move to. So, we’ll have our own building that my salon will own as opposed to leasing a place. So now, not only am I a business owner, but, I’m becoming a landlord as well, owning my own 5 story townhouse, that will have the salon. We’ll start dabbling in products. It’s kind of a natural evolution.

Official Website: Mark Garrison Salon

© Gary James All Rights Reserved