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
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
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
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
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
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