The relationship a woman has with her hairstylist can be more profound than that of any other in her life. It is a situation where she can find herself very exposed, all flaws out in the bright lights, while simultaneously looking like a drowned cat. For some of us, it can be just as fraught with anxiety as with joy at the end result. Very often, after the relationship has weathered the storms of vanity and trepidation, a strong bond is established that is based on trust and intimacy of a sort that the strongest friendships are built upon. When that relationship ends, for whatever reason, the anxiety is back in full force. I found myself in this situation recently when, after seeing the same stylist for four years, the relationship came to a sudden halt at the end of the summer. The indecision about where to go next led me to just start cutting my hair myself. I purchased a pair of good scissors at my local pharmacy and just started gathering my hair at the ends, chopping a chunk off and then evening it out as I would blow dry my hair. At first I was pretty pleased with myself and the results. I followed the lines left by my former stylist, and actually loved the slightly punk effect it had on my hair. By the new year, however, things had gotten weird because I had no clue about layering, and my hair was back to the heavy and shapeless mass that characterized its style in my high school days. As good fortune would have it, just in time, I had the opportunity to have my hair cut by none other than celebrity stylist, Nick Arrojo.
Arrojo began his career with the legendary hair stylist, Vidal Sassoon, with a talent for creative hairstyling that was apparent early on, earning him the position of Sassoon’s youngest ever Creative Director. American television audiences may recognize Arrojo from his seven seasons on TLC’s “What Not to Wear”, as a makeover artist on the popular ten season reality show. Fast forward to 2016, and Arrojo has two thriving salons in Manhattan, located in Soho and Tribeca, a brand new 3300 square foot space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and he runs a New York State licensed cosmetology school that is located next to his Tribeca salon, the Arrojo Academy. Considering his major experience and cred as a hair stylist, I felt a bit awkward and slightly ashamed of my “Girl Interrupted” hair cut as I sat in his chair trying to avoid the mirror. I needn’t have tortured myself however, as Nick, possibly sensing my anxiety, immediately put me at ease with his Mancunian accent and his confidence. The Manchester, England-born stylist just started up a conversation about music, a shared passion, all the while working away as I continued to avoid the mirror. It was all over pretty fast, and after a blow out from his very talented assistant, Tarin Sara, what was left was a perfectly shaped, stylish and healthy hair cut.
It turns out that Arrojo wrote the book on the razor cut, literally. He is the author of Milady Standard Razor Cutting, the worldwide recognized guidebook on the precision-based razor cutting method. Arrojo gives credit to Sassoon for the philosophy, what he calls “our flavor”, that guides his salon and the school, saying “When I worked for Vidal Sassoon as a young stylist, I became a disciple of the Sassoon technique, and over the past 35 years, my technique has evolved, but its roots and its foundation are in what we like to call craft hair dressing.” This guiding principle is instilled in the professionals who teach at the Arrojo Academy, and while all cosmetology schools must follow the same curriculum, Arrojo makes clear that “Because this school is owned by me, I make sure that all of my teachers understand my techniques; and while my techniques don’t guarantee that they will get their license, because they have to do the techniques that the state mandates, it is my techniques that bring students to my facility because of my reputation.” Arrojo explained that the academy has a lot of internal training with its teachers so that they understand the philosophy of what his academy is teaching, and the principles of what Arrojo himself believes in as a professional hair dresser.
“Some of the things that I have evolved in the hair business is definitive, not just with precision-based hair cutting, but also razor hair cutting, hair painting, so we can bring to the students a good array of advanced technique while they’re learning their cosmetology program.” Arrojo is a real stickler for the rules and regulations of the state’s license requirements, and the teachers at Arrojo Academy all must be NY State licensed hair stylists with a minimum of two years experience working in a New York salon. “The way our curriculum works is broken up into modules; there are things that are mandated that you have to learn, so every cosmetology school in New York City will operate in the same way. Having said that, Arrojo builds its Arrojo philosophy and techniques into the program to give the students a greater experience, and that’s what our focus is.” “We follow the rules and regulations that we have to teach, so we teach everything in the book, but build in our flavor on top of that.”
Asked to explain the difference between razor cutting and using scissors, Arrojo made the analogy that razor cutting is like sculpture while scissor cutting is like architecture. “Razor cutting is like a sketch, scissor cutting is a line drawing. So when you cut hair with a scissor, you follow lines and create shape through geometry. When you cut hair with a razor, you actually go into the hair and create softness, and swing and movement. So there are two different philosophies with razor hair cutting and scissor cutting; what Arrojo has done which has been kind of the benchmark of my technique, is marry the two together so they both have craftsmanship. So I’ve really studied razor cutting for the last twenty five years and developed and evolved the technique in America that has really caught on and become really popular across America.” Arrojo has become one of the known hairdressers in America that has pioneered razoring.
Arrojo says that one of the things that he fully believes as an educator is that “It is important to understand history and to know where we’ve come from to see where we’re going. My idea when I created and designed the school, I wanted to create a wall of heroes, it’s actually called “Heroes Way”, and it features four of my heroes, all of whom are actually now deceased, two of which only passed away in the last three months.” Arrojo says that the four men who are featured on the wall have shaped who he is as a hairdresser, and Vidal Sassoon’s portrait is first up, followed by the founder of Aveda Hair Care, Horst Rechelbacher, famed Chicago hair dresser Jerry Gordon, who passed away on November 26th, 2015, at the age of 78, and finally, Gordon Nelson, a hair dresser who also apprenticed with Sassoon. Of the four, Arrojo calls Gordon “a mentor, a best friend, and an iconic hairdresser.
“When a young person comes to my school and they’re hanging up their jacket and they are putting on their apron to go and learn their first blow dry, I wanted to have that wall of heroes so that those young people, or maybe not so young, as they’re walking to the clinic floor, that’s what we call the big salon in the back, I wanted them to get inspiration from those four people as those four people have given me the inspiration. For me Arrojo as a brand has been built on education. Myself personally, I believe the key to success is through education. The reason why I got into owning a cosmetology school is pure and simple; I wanted to influence the way in which hair dressing is taught, trained and executed in America. Most of the time, when young people go home and say to their parents that they want to become hair dressers, it’s often frowned upon because a lot of people don’t realize or understand how successful you can be and how much of a valid career hairdressing can be, and it’s got so many different paths. My number one focus is to help to develop and evolve the hair dressing industry at large to make it stronger and better and to create awareness for how great this career can be.”
SOHO: 180 Varick Street, New York, NY 10014, 220.127.116.1186
TRIBECA: 200 Hudson Street NYC 10013, 1.646.979.2260
WILLIAMSBURG: 11 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11249, 1.718.215.6625