Peter Gray

Posted by Stephan Moskovic | June 22nd, 2015

Peter Gray

To hear Peter Gray (Home Agency) tell it his journey into fashion was part happenstance, part manifest destiny. Working in a London salon that doubled as an editorial space, Gray quickly found himself pulled into a world of intrigue and high stakes glamour. Though he’s become one of the world’s premiere hairstylists, working regularly with photography’s elite like Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Terry Richardson and Ryan McGinley, Gray views his craft pragmatically. “I started cutting hair in my late teens to keep me out of trouble and off the streets- it still does just that,” quips Gray “it’s more of a necessary passion than a calling!

While hair may not be his calling, it’s certainly Gray’s calling card – his inspired creations are filled with color, vitality and wit. Whether he’s giving Aya Jones sleek new bangs, criss-crossing braids around Devon Aoki’s forehead, or shaving models hair into kaleidoscopic buzz-cuts, Gray pushes his craft into the realm of art. Describing his signature style as versatile and eclectic, Gray is always the first to take hair into daring territory, but he can still give Natalia Vodianova a ponytail when the moment calls for it. This adaptability has made Gray a man to watch, his commitment to the idea of the “total look” pushes him to create hair that works not just as an art piece, but as something that seamlessly merges into the final image, famously stating that he doesn’t want to separate hair and fashion, he wants to fuse them together.

A Models.com interview by Janelle Okwodu

Cover photo: Aya Jones by Daniel Sannwald (Management + Artists) for Numéro May 2015, courtesy of Daniel Sannwald for Models.com
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Photo of Peter by Daniel King (Home Agency)

You mentioned that some of your best times were working with Martin Margiela on his collection —what made it such an incredible experience?

P: The most important thing I always remember from Margiela, it was never about him. He sublimated ego absolutely, put the whole Maison as a whole. And to actually be not just a part of the Maison, but be an invisible section of it.

When he did Hermès, he kind of ushered in this era of normal woman. And he brought back older models, older actresses. He’d had people street-casted, we had women from all over the place. He wasn’t afraid of putting it out there and saying, well this is my perception of glamour: to walk into a house and say this is my ultimate perception of luxury.

That’s really incredible.

P: And then to take no personal credit for it, to still be invisible to this day. I love how much the team meant to him– we would discuss the shape of a woman’s head for twenty, thirty minutes, to determine the position we’d go. Would it elongate her neck if she wore this coat, or would it be better if she wore a shirt instead of a coat.. Or should we, perhaps, talk to her about having bangs. It was kind of like, there were forty-five, fifty women, and each one would get this incredible consultation that you wouldn’t get anywhere other than that really high-end salon.

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It sounds like he was one-of-a-kind with regards to how he handled his collections.

P: I mean just, so personal and so quiet.

He had such a couture approach to life, it was just like every little detail counts. He’d walk around and kind of have his fingers in every little pie; but he was very quiet, and very withdrawn, so you’d never really know where he was when he was. So it was really such a buzz to work with someone like that.

I was so lucky in London, I met amazing people — Ray, Eugene, Greg Cazaly, David Adams — just incredible people looked after me at that time.

How did you get your first start in the business? You mentioned something about hair keeping you off the streets, now what did you mean by that?

P: Well, I was kind of an errant teenager. I went to boarding school in South Africa and we had very strict, sort of Oxford rules with hair-length. One of the juniors had been [given notice] on a Friday afternoon, I was like, to hell with this, I’ve got a solution: sit down, give me some book-room scissors and a comb, I’ll cut your hair. I cut his hair, then word of mouth spread, and I ended up cutting, the school had three hundred kids, mostly boarders, and I probably ended up doing about two hundred, a couple of staff members. We used to cut in the showers, almost every evening, every weekend.

I think if you’re going to succeed at anything, I don’t think obsession is a bad thing, I think it’s a total prerequisite.

And then, one of the lab technicians, her husband ran a bigger salon in the city, and she [suggested her husband’s salon]. I went; I was a Saturday boy, and I loved it. I ended up saying to my folks, well I’m going to take a year off, not go to university — and they were both academics, they sort of had a bit of a meltdown. I was like, I want to carry on, I want to maybe qualify and see where this leads. I booked the ticket to London for two weeks’ time, went and told my folks I was leaving. They were like, yep, sure. I was like, no, I’m really going. I went to London and from there the adventure continued.

I was so lucky in London, I met amazing people — Ray, Eugene, Greg Cazaly, David Adams — just incredible people looked after me at that time.

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It sounds like it all sort of just came together the way it should.

P: Serendipity, that’s all I can put it down to. Everyone goes, how did that all happen? I was like, sheer damn luck, and the harder I worked, the luckier I became. It didn’t matter what someone gave me to do, I was just obsessed about it, you know, everyone always says, wow, you really obsess about things when you get into it, and I’m like, honestly I think if you’re going to succeed at anything, I don’t think obsession is a bad thing, I think it’s a total prerequisite.

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Definitely, it puts you ahead of most people, it gives you an edge.

P: Yeah, and I think it is getting the edge, and the more you look at successful people, you realize how hard they work for that success, and you want a piece of that success obviously. Everyone’s like, wow, you’re so lucky you get to do creative stuff. I promise you it doesn’t come without a fight; I’ve shared rows with stylists, and photographers, and all the rest. It’s got a lot more to do with application and obsession than it has to do with luck.

Solve Sundsbo, he was kind of an amazing force for me, and the time where I was working with him, it was sort of, oh god, ten, twelve years straight of just churning it out.

Now you’ve gotten a look on incredible stories over the years, are there any that you consider especially meaningful?

P: Solve Sundsbo, he was kind of an amazing force for me, and the time where I was working with him, it was sort of, oh god, ten, twelve years straight of just churning it out. I was working with incredible makeup artists like Val Garland, and Lisa Butler. Working through that whole London time, there were just so many young photographers churning out so much amazing, creative stuff in the late ’90s to mid-2000s. Just being a part of that.

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It’s amazing how many people who are very prominent within the industry came up in London during the time. They got their start during that era. Would you say that the industry has changed as you’ve been working in it? Have you noticed any sort of shift?

P: Yeah, everybody always goes, oh, it’s changed so much. I enjoy change, I embrace the change, I think it’s fantastic. I’ve got a certain amount of nostalgia for film, but then, digitals allow the image to become that much more important. It’s allowed people who didn’t have that technical know-how to take incredible pictures and grow through it. I think it’s an evolution rather than a change. It was [always] changing, if you talk to people from the ’60s, and ’70s, and ’80s, each eight to ten years there’s this paradigmal shift, and it’s gradual, but it’s a complete shift in the notion.

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Any project recently that you’ve had a lot of fun doing?

P: I’m working on a project called “Noise”. I’m working with a bunch of friends, all hairdressers, and we’re sort of working outside of product endorsement. So where product endorsement has become de rigeur and the norm, we’re working outside of that, and we’ve done shows in London, Paris, Moscow, we’re about to go to Shanghai and Tokyo. It’s definitely gaining sway, and it’s all about the craft of hair and the craft of creating an image: you get fifteen to twenty minutes onstage, two to three models, and that’s it. It’s a little bit of that Dogme 95 film-philosophy, where you create a series of parameters and restrictions in order to push creativity forward. And that’s what we’re trying to do with this “Noise” event, and that’s led to interesting kind of head-pieces, and we’re getting known really for creating these crazy pieces.

I’ve been working with Daniel Sannwald, Owen Bruce, Anthony Friend, some really interesting people out there who are pursuing photography as a creative form, not just as the business of fashion.

And then we’re doing a number of shoots, not mainstream mags, we shot something for a Canadian mag called Pulp. I worked with the makeup artist Marla Belt, and nail artist Tracylee, I’m working a lot with Isamaya Ffrench as well, and all of us are sort of very intent on pushing the creative elements of what we do. Tracylee is fantastic, she takes nail-art to a different level, it isn’t just bling on the nail. And Marla, and Isamaya Ffrench, it’s so exciting to be able to work with young makeup artists like that, they have so much to say visually and have this ability to generate crazy amounts of ideas. That’s what I’m getting a real buzz off at the moment. Doing shoots based on these headpieces, based on our shows in Japan. [In fact] we started with shows in Japan, and that sort of expanded now and became “Noise”, and that’s sort of feeding itself back into our editorial art. And it’s giving us a whole new lease on life.

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I love that you guys are coming together as a passion project.

P: Absolutely, and it has to be. There’s absolutely nothing other than pushing the envelope, there’s no other motivation, there’s no financial motivation. And the people we’re working with are a real kind of interesting retinue of photographers, young ones, young people who are kind of really up for something, rather than the older, more established ones who will give us that guaranteed coverage. We’re picking young, energetic people: I’ve been working with Daniel Sannwald, Owen Bruce, Anthony Friend, some really interesting people out there who are pursuing photography as a creative form, not just as the business of fashion.

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It sounds like you’ve got the next generation of really exciting photographers involved in the project.

P: I like the crazy ones, I like that Daniel comes with such a left-field approach. And I like working with Owen, because I feel like he has got such a classic approach to beauty that it kind of really disturbs it, the way he shoots it, you can do crazy images, and you can create crazy pieces and crazy makeup and nails, and it all comes together in a beautiful way. It doesn’t just look all avant-garde student at play.

I think so often we’ve just chased down the financial route, let’s do this because we can sell this idea to this and that idea to that, rather than pursuing it for the sake of creativity. There’s this huge group of people who want something efficient, now. And I don’t think that the commercial side of it’s bad at all, I think it’s an amazing part of the business, but I also think I’d like to hang on to the creative as well.

In a way it’s an antidote to the way the business is going: everything is contrived and everything is overly thought out, the marketing is all being thought out in advance, all the shots are being predicted.

You’ve built a really kind of legacy of work, I think that’s important.

P: I think the harder you work, the luckier you are; the old adage is so true. It means you’ve got that tenacity and obsession, and you know what you want, you know where you want to go, and other people will follow.

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2 Comments to “Peter Gray”

  1. Teo Totev says:

    Great style of amazing photographer!

  2. You look extremely wonderful , love look

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