This Hairstylist Has Been Behind the Chair Since He Was a Teenager
“I’ve had long hair pretty much my whole life,” says Duffy. But it wasn’t always this way. Tired of the crew cuts he and his two brothers had been sporting, he went to the barbershop when he was 12 and said, “Dad, can I have a different cut?” The result? “I ended up looking like a red-headed Rick Astley with a bad quiff I’d try to cover up with cheap hairspray.”
The style grew out but left a lasting impression. At 13, Duffy found himself talking to his family about his future career. “Because at that age in England you have to decide what exams you want to take,” he says. “So my big brother said to me, ‘You’re always messing around with your hair. Why don’t you become a hairdresser?’ I thought, ‘OK, cool, I’ll give that a go.’ ”
Soon after, Duffy scored a weekend gig at the local barbershop in Caterham on the Hill, in Surrey, which kept him busy pouring tea and cleaning up. When it came time to fulfill another school requirement — a week of real-world work experience —his mother took him to London to secure a position at the posh Vidal Sassoon salon. “She made me write a letter to apply for placement,” he recalls. “She bought me a lime green wool double-breasted suit jacket, which was the most horrific thing you can imagine with my red quiff, took me up on the train, and brought me to the head offices.”
The snazzy ensemble must have worked; that week-long stint led to a steady weekend job. “At 15, I left school and started my apprenticeship there.” He swept floors, practiced techniques on mannequin heads, and recruited strangers off the street to come in for styling sessions. While most apprenticeships last three years, “I finished mine in just over two because, as a kid, I was going 400 miles an hour.”
Duffy backstage at the Mary Katrantzou show in 2016.
While working, Duffy soon met hairstylist Eugene Souleiman, an in-demand innovator to this day. “I didn’t quite understand what it was he did,” Duffy says. “He was running off to New York, Paris, Milan, or to the big shows in London. He took me along to a couple of them.” But about four years later, Duffy pumped the brakes on his budding career. “I threw it all in, bought a camper van, and traveled for about two years with my best mate.” They indulged their wanderlust, living in the Alps and sleeping on beaches.
When Duffy returned to London, he connected with a friend at GQ magazine who asked Duffy if he could shave a shape into a model’s head. “It might have been a Nike [swoosh] or something, but I remember it was the very first thing I’d ever had published.”
The next several years were a blur of firsts and learning curves. “I was making mistakes and figuring things out; I worked on jobs I was really proud of and others that never got printed. It was all invaluable.” He joined Souleiman’s team, crafting memorable avant garde coifs at shows like Alexander McQueen, Lanvin, and Louis Vuitton. “In 2003 I’d been hairdressing for three or four years, and Eugene did 48 or 49 shows that season. It was phenomenal to be a part of his team.”
Duffy helped create looks for shows like Roberto Cavalli (left) and Haider Ackerman.
While Duffy can’t remember his backstage debut, he does remember messing up a lot in the early days. “My first-ever show in Milan I did this laborious rickrack pin set with braids running through the top of the hair. I think a third of those models went down the runway with half their hair done. But you learn by your mistakes.”
These days, whether he’s styling models for brand campaigns or designer catwalks, Duffy feeds off the disruptive creativity of collaborators like designer Rick Owens and peers like Souleiman and Guido Palau.
And he’s encouraged by the direction of fashion today. “When I started assisting on shows, we would be creating the designer’s look of the season, and we’d try to re-create 30, 40, 50 clones of that character,” he says. “I know it’s cliché, but these days beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Look at your group of friends — you don’t all dress the same. You all have your own individual flavor. I think fashion has evolved into this individuality. And it’s really encouraging, because people looking inward at fashion can see a breadth of style, identity, and character on the runways now.”
Primer: The tea-tree-oil-infused lotion gives hair “that lived-in texture,” along with a healthy dose of moisture, Duffy says.
Bumble and Bumble Tonic Primer, $26; sephora.com.
Styling Cream: The award-winning product provides light hold without leaving hair stiff or crunchy.
Kiehl’s Since 1851 Creme with Silk Groom, $24/6.8 fl. oz.; nordstrom.com.
Volumizer: When Duffy needs to create long-lasting height in a hairstyle, he reaches for this no-fail mist.
Oribe Volumista Mist for Volume, $44; neimanmarcus.com.