Life of a Stylist: Rachael Gibson on Being the ‘The Hair Historian’
Published by the BBC and Vogue for her expertise in the history of hair, Rachael Gibson (the Hair Historian) explains how the industry can move forward by taking a look back for a special edition of Life of a Stylist.
What are your current roles?
My day job is head of digital for LWPR, a PR company that specialises in the hair industry and represents lots of fantastic brands, salons and creatives. My side project is running @thehairhistorian – an Instagram account showcasing the history of hair. I also work with journalists, authors and on TV and radio talking about the social and cultural history of hair, sharing why hair has always been an integral part of our lives.
What was your path into the hair industry?
My background is in fashion. I studied design in Manchester before doing a Masters in Journalism at the London College of Fashion. This combined experience in art and studying the culture of fashion really paved the way for my interest in hair. I love exploring the ‘why’ behind people’s chosen styles.
I worked as a beauty journalist before joining Hairdressers Journal International as digital editor. Spending five years working at HJ made me fall in love with the industry and develop a passion for the people, the craft and the impact of hair in people’s everyday lives. After leaving HJ, I worked with session stylists, including Sam McKnight and Guido Palau to build online education for hairdressers.
What challenges do you face in your role?
Currently, it’s not being able to visit art galleries. I find endless inspiration in wandering around museums and galleries, and living in London meant I’d got used to just nipping out for a lunchtime walk around the National Portrait Gallery.
It can also be a struggle to get people to understand why hair is important. I have definitely faced quite a few sniggers when I tell people I’m a hair historian, but I’m proud to represent another side of the industry.
What do you love most about your role?
I love helping hairdressers explore new and fresh avenues of inspiration. It means so much to me when people tag me in a haircut or style that was inspired by a piece of art I’ve shared or written about. I love helping people realise they can take their own passion – whether that’s art or something else – and use it to enhance their creative work.
What have you learned from working with leading publications?
I’ve always been passionate about research and fact-checking – which comes from my journalism background – and that’s essential when you’re providing quotes or expertise.There’s a responsibility to provide accurate information and do proper research. That goes across the board, whether you’re a hairdresser providing a trend quote or a journalist writing a feature.
What can hairdressers learn from hair history?
There is endless inspiration to be found by stepping into an art gallery or opening up a history book. Most of what we do has been done before and I find looking at historical processes, techniques and products is fascinating. Product development has transformed the hairdressing industry, but when it comes to cutting, colouring and styling, we’ve always been passionate about changing our hair to fit trends.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to study the history of hair?
There are so many fantastic books out there – I share lots on my Instagram and would always recommend using them for first-hand research. There are also lots of great short courses in trend and fashion history available online through universities like the London College of Fashion. My biggest piece of advice would be to stay curious and read, watch and listen to as many diverse sources as you can.
What’s your favourite hair-related quote?
There’s a quote from Guido Palau about his session work that I love: “First I invent a world, then I imagine who’d be in it and then I can create the hair.”
What’s your favourite Instagram account to follow?
I love @in.hair.itance for its amazing archival photography covering the diverse history of hairstyling amongst people of colour.
What’s next for you and your career?
There are various ongoing TV and book discussions, but I’m personally on a mission to make everyone realise how culturally important hairdressing is as an industry.