Toronto based hair stylist Rocky Vitelli has been an innovator in the hair industry for 30 years, now styling at New York Fashion Week, Toronto Fashion Week, and the Miss USA pageant. As the Global Board Artist for CHI and international educator, Rocky performs at hair shows creating edgy, editorial looks for the progressive woman. If that's not enough, Rocky is a four-time Canadian Artist of the Year winner, and still continues to maintain relationships with clients, styling at the award winning Local J Hair Salon.
We caught up with Rocky to talk about what fuels his creativity, how to get the perfect flat iron curl, and advice for new hairstylists starting out.
How did you get started in the hair industry? Did you always know you wanted to be a hair stylist?
I started when I was 18 years old. I finished high school and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I used to play this game with my Dad as a little kid and I would play the hairdresser and stand on a chair and comb his hair… so I said to myself ‘maybe it’s hair that is my calling!’
I found that the first 4 years of hair dressing school was very difficult because I thought hair dressing was going to be like being an accountant. You learn, and once you learn, you know everything. I was frustrated because I wasn’t good enough, and I had to keep learning. I was like ‘when can I just stop learning and be good and not have to learn and just work and make money?' It’s never like that! There’s always something to learn for anybody.
What is the most rewarding thing about your career?
Any show that I go on, I always come home inspired, whether I learned something about life or whether I learned something about hair. I think that what we need as hairdressers is to constantly be inspired. When I come back home, I have much more positive energy around my clients, and clients want to be around those that love their job and are inspired. Life is about growing. As you grow, you gain wisdom and you feel good about yourself.
What are your biggest challenges?
I always have something on the go. Aside from my salon and what I do in the salon, I also have hair shows that I need to prepare for, I have photoshoots for the company (Farouk Systems) that I need to prepare for, and I also have photoshoots for myself that I need to prepare for. So it’s easy to procrastinate or leave everything to the last minute or try to do everything on set.
What do you do to combat this?
There’s a beautiful book called the “War of Art” and the way that I relate it to hair is this: procrastination is the evil side. We all procrastinate when we need to do something. Procrastination is one of the evils that’s in our industry that we see it a lot in hair dressing school - I was the king of procrastination! If I had problems with something, I would just hope it went away instead of facing the difficulties with it, learning it, and moving on.
The procrastination part of the book is so vital and so valuable. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow never comes.
Do you ever have "off" days?
There's another book called "The Four Agreements" and the four agreements in life are: always do your best, live by your word, don’t assume, and don’t take things personally.
Doing your best is such an important thing because in our industry, we always want to deliver our clients our best. And sometimes, your best could be different if you have something going on in your life.
My father passed away in the middle of a client. I got the phone call and they said you need to come to the hospital. So I finished my client and when I was done the client said to me ‘Rocky, you don't seem yourself today. You seem really down.’ and I said ‘I’m sorry, I tried my best.' They asked me why I didn't leave the haircut, and I said I wanted to make sure that I gave them a good haircut and that they were okay with it.
I wasn't the same happy go lucky guy that I usually am, but I still made sure I gave them a great haircut. I did my best, but really my best was in the state of mind that I was in… which is okay!
Do you prefer working those big hair shows and fashion weeks or working directly with clients?
Each one fuels the other. For me, working on regular clients everyday at the salon is such a great inspiration because you’re making regular everyday beautiful people feel good about themselves. You're inspiring them and they go home happy - that’s what I love.
What I do with the runways and Fashion Week, it’s a different type of inspiring - it’s inspiring my creativity, it’s inspiring my passion and my love for the industry and it makes me want to learn more. If I had to take one away, I couldn’t! I need to have the creative side and I also need to have the client side.
What hair trends do you wish would come back?
Short hair! I would love to see anything above the shoulders come back. As much as we say it’s here, I’m still finding that the majority of people just want their hair long.
Chin length bobs, short shags…I’d love for that to come back. A nice short shag was always one of my favourite looks because it’s short but it’s still modern, sexy, and feminine.
Any styling secrets for those at home?
If you’re doing your hair at home and you’re putting a curl in with a flat iron, the faster you move the iron, the looser the curl. The slower you move it, the tighter the curl. If you want the hair to go straighter on the ends, go slower on the top to the mid shaft, then speed up your pace as you’re coming down, so this will give you more body closer to the head.
What is your favourite way to use hair extensions?
I use hair extensions all the time! I use clip-ins because they're fast and easy and you never know what hair the model is going to have at a hair show or a fashion show. Whether it’s a photoshoot, a hair show, or Fashion Week, I always carry every single colour (of hair extensions) in my bag!
Any hair extensions styling tips?
I curl the hair as I’m clipping (the hair extensions) in so that it blends better. Most of the time I want length and body so I’ll put a couple of rows back to back and then start elevating and coming up higher.
What advice do you have for any newbies starting off in the industry?
1. Never give up...it’s not going to happen overnight. Don’t give up, keep practising, and conquer whatever you’re having difficulties with before moving on to the next thing. Things change, new things come out, and we need to allocate that time and practice to learn what you need to in order to be successful. Don't look back and say, 'I don’t know how to do that!'
2. Be patient! Rome wasn’t built in a day. Sometimes people are too hard on themselves. They get down not themselves if they're not where they should be at a certain point in their career - I was like that myself.
3. Humbleness. We need to get people to understand that social media is not a place where you go and criticize people. If you have something nice to say about something you seem on social media you say it. If you don't have anything nice to say, don’t say it!
-As told to Luxy Hair
All photos courtesy of Rocky Vitelli.