Stelli, one of the most renowned hairstylists in the fashion & beauty industry today, met with our founder Wendy Iles during his career. Probably one of his most defining experiences. We talked to him, read what he has to say.
Stelli, whose name is an abbreviation of his first name of Greek origin. The convergence of classic and modern is evident in his aesthetic, as can be seen by his love of elegance and timelessness. Selections of his work can be seen on Instagram @stellihair and on his website.
Was there a key moment in your life when you realized you wanted to become a hairstylist? What was it?
There was, very early on actually. When I was five or six years old, my mother changed my hairdresser for some reason. There, sitting at the high seat intended for children, I saw above the mirror a photo of a guy with an incredibly rich and casual pompadour: it was James Dean. Moreover, I was fascinated by the hairdresser’s craftsmanship. I knew immediately: this is what I want to do when I grow up! Something similar happened to me as a barely 13-year-old, the situation had triggered an intense interest in this profession in me and there were no doubts and also no plan B for me.
How did your career develop?
That also started quite early. In the seventh and eighth grade, I did two internships at a salon where the average age of the customers was about 70. At that point, I preferred anything but going to school – even working with the Granny’s. After graduating from school, I did an internship before starting my apprenticeship at a popular salon in town. There I was thrown in at the deep end, because the timing of appointments was very tight, which meant that I had to quickly build up my own customer base. This taught me to work under time pressure – skills that I still call on today when I need to achieve results quickly. At my next employer, the focus was on French old-school hairdressing techniques: round brushes, branding irons, curling irons, etc. Tucked hairstyles and toupeed up do’s were the order of the day. The next stop was a renowned company. There, I met trainers who had themselves trained at Vidal Sassoon and Toni&Guy. I was very lucky to have both philosophies combined under one roof and learned one after the other. I learned British haircutting techniques to perfection and then did further training as a colorist. Then it was off to make-up school in Switzerland. As my interest in photoshoots grew and I wanted to gain a foothold as a freelancer, it was an advantage to have basic make-up knowledge. To find out what suited me best as a freelancer, I first took all the jobs that were offered to me. After two and a half slow years, things started to progress steadily.
Hair by Stelli
What has gotten you this far, what has been beneficial?
Professionally, it’s definitely the fact of having learned different techniques from all my differently specialized mentors in the first decade of my career. I was able to call up the right one depending on the requirement. Personally, it was and still is the tips and critiques that I receive from friends and colleagues whose aesthetic sensibilities I value that also push me forward. Then, of course, ambition and also a motivation to prove the people who did not believe in me wrong.
Were there moments when you questioned your path?
There were, especially in the first third of my career. Every change was like a new training and it made me feel I was having to start from scratch again. But when I look back, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. The technical stuff is one thing, but the struggles really made me grow because otherwise, I would have found it very difficult to withstand some situations of a non-technical nature in my later career. As uncomfortable as nervousness and stage fright can be, they can still spur you on to your best form. It is good to become aware of one’s abilities but also one’s limitations and to stand by them. This cuts the tension out of perfectionism, which can be very exhausting, and allows you to assess yourself more realistically.
The word hair: What feelings does it trigger in you? What sort of connections do you associate with it?
I think of touching, feeling, movement.
Art & creation are close to each other, some looks are works of art and shape entire decades. Is your work different from that of an artist?
Maybe I have an artistic streak, but I’ve never seen myself as an artist. I do often find my heart beating faster when I see something timeless. This applies to hair, design, fashion or photography. It is obvious that the combination of modern and classic often creates something timeless. One of the reasons why many things with substance and a good foundation from past decades and eras can be reinterpreted again and again. It all has its justification for existence and will always stand the test of time against fads.
How long have you been in the beauty & fashion industry?
This year it’s 30 years.
Hair by Stelli
What has changed for the better in the industry?
The products, the tools, and the faster communication in film and image. Things have changed a lot for the better.
And what has changed for the worse?
The uncontrolled information on social media. It leads to a loss of value. Much of it is without substance, perceptions are shifted and a gap to reality is created. The setbacks in time, effort and budgets are also sad to observe; the state of the economy and pressures on time for more profit in so many areas is not conducive to good products or results.
What do you think would be helpful for a good product or a good result?
To reflect, to reduce, to leave room for solid growth. To question one’s own self-perception and competence before making decisions that also have an impact on others. The soul of a brand is created in the process of creation, in the design, with emotions and heart and soul. In the end, this is felt by the customer, whose needs can then be reflected. This paves the way to success.
What would you change if you had the chance?
The fast-tracking culture that seems to have become established. It’s distracting and sometimes conveys the wrong message to the inexperienced. It robs the essence of a substance and suggests superstar mentality in the same move. I wish both value and self-worth were not defined by the number of followers and likes. Hopefully, in the future, this misdirection, which can lead to delusions of competence and ego, will be noticed and corrected.
How did you actually come across ILES FORMULA?
I have to backtrack a bit on that because before I came across ILES FORMULA, I came across Wendy Iles first just over 20 years ago. That was both the first and one of the most impactful experiences with her, right at the beginning of my freelance career. Honestly, I don’t think she remembers it, but I’d like to take this opportunity to thank her for that experience.
Hair by Stelli
Very much welcome – what was the experience?
At that time I was quite inexperienced and took too big a risk when working with her. She didn’t even realize it, but she played a very big part in me coming out of that awkward situation smoothly…
It was my very first ad, a hair commercial, a big production with a lot of responsibility for many of us on set. As is often the case, we were pressed for time. I was booked as a colorist, a dark-haired model was to have her hair colored a few shades lighter. She begged me not to use any bleach. But I knew without bleaching I wouldn’t be able to achieve the result the client wanted. Inexperienced as I was, I wanted to please both the client and the model. A big mistake, as I should have discussed this decision with both the client and Wendy, but I single-handedly decided against bleaching in favor of lighter coloring. The result: a good shade darker than the client wanted. During color approval with the client and Wendy, I was solidly convinced that the result would not be taken from me as is. Internally, I was caught between fear and uncertainty. But thankfully, the unexpected happened, which I would never have expected at that moment: Wendy looked at the model and the hair color, turned to the client, and said, “It’s a shade darker, but honestly it looks very harmonious with her skin tone – we should keep it that way and not go lighter.” She was making a purely technical argument but at the same time, without realizing it, she saved me from the worst thing that could have happened to me that day! I think everyone in the industry knows what that means. Commercials are one of the supreme disciplines in terms of craftsmanship, so you can imagine what a relief her words were for me. She saved me! Without realizing it…
The pressure, the weight that fell off my shoulders, was enormous. Of course, something like that never happened to me again and it was a learning moment, not only for the situation itself at the time, but also because this experience proved helpful for many projects after and I still benefit from it to this day. I realized that I can’t make decisions like that on my own for jobs like this. In this one case, I saved the model’s hair quality and Wendy saved me, although unknowingly. I am very grateful to her for that.
It’s a beautiful story, thank you so much! What else has particularly shaped or influenced you?
Professionally, it was certainly my mentors. Each of them had his or her own strengths, be it professional or interpersonal. The latter should not be underestimated. Rarely do I still meet one or the other, which are wonderful encounters. Gratitude from my side and on the other side, a kind of pride and satisfaction to have accompanied and also paved this or a part of my way.
I have also been influenced by analog photography. I was fortunate to have worked for a number of years with photographers of the analog generation who had mastered the craft from the ground up before having to switch to digital. Analogue was a completely different way of working. We were given more time, asked for fewer subjects, had to be more precise, there was less retouching, and more feeling was needed. Everything had to be pretty much on point before the shutter was pressed. I’m a big old-school fan and like traditional craftsmanship. I find the inner peace that comes with dedication and passion to be valuable.
Hair by Stelli
Who would you like to style one day and why?
All those who emotionally release something in me or with whom I feel a certain attraction. It’s not uncommon to find both sensitive and strong personalities that create intimate moments – I’ve often experienced this when shooting a portrait. The spirit that resonates during such shoots contributes, among other things, a large part to the fact that a photo touches or even captivates the viewer. Even if it’s not always visible on location at first glance, like the set or the styling, but it’s palpable and influences the result, just like the music in the background, by the way. Only when all this blends together does it come to a harmonious outcome. Whether it meets the taste of the viewer is secondary, it has to be coherent first.
And the hairstyle?
The hairstyle is not always superficial, especially in a portrait. It sometimes happens that the person already has a lot of what it takes for the desired result – then it may only need a small correction or the right product for optimization. Recognizing this takes courage and experience. It’s all the more exciting when attitude, posture, expression in the eyes or movement not only the hair but also the moment is brought to life.
What experience has strengthened you in your personal development?
Over the years, recognizing my strengths but above all my weaknesses, accepting them and not being afraid to name them freely. Of course, like many others, I try to achieve the optimum according to my ideas. But by realizing that it’s okay if I reach the limits of my abilities or don’t have any influence on something, I’ve become a little more relaxed over the years.
What helps you in weak moments?
Time out to reflect, my dearest, my inner circle, those who know my quirks and weaknesses. They give me support when I need it.
Hair by Stelli
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