Having racked up close to fifty Vogue covers and with a photographic series featuring Kate Moss on permanent display at the National Portrait Gallery, last night’s (October 1) Coterie event focusing on the astounding talent of session stylist Neil Moodie was always going to be special.
Hosted by beauty journalist and co-founder of BeautyMART Anna-Marie Solowij, an eighty-strong crowd listened intently as the man of the hour told tales of his salon beginnings, his amazing session adventures and his future aspirations. At his side were long time collaborators and firm friends, internationally-renowned make-up artist Wendy Rowe and respected fashion director, stylist and editor of Beauty Papers, Karl Plewka, who together recalled on-set anecdotes and shared tidbits of wisdom about the evolving editorial industry.
“I started hairdressing when I was 16,” Neil revealed. “It was after I left school when I realised I wasn’t going to be a journalist. I was just like, ‘What can I do that will just p*** everyone off?’ I got into session after I switched from doing cutting to doing colour… and that’s how I met (fashion photographer) Corinne Day who gave me my big break.”
“We’d met through mutual friends, and I was working at Toni&Guy, colouring her hair. She asked me to colour a model’s hair for a shoot – pink tips as a kind of forbearer of the dip dye trend – and two days before it took place, she called me asking if I’d step in as stylist. I committed the cardinal sin of phoning in sick on a Saturday so I could take the job, which was for The Face magazine… and when it came out, they’d credited me as ‘Neil Moodie for Toni&Guy’! The salon saw it and said ‘Neil, we think there’s been some kind of mistake…'”
“A week after my first shoot with Corrine, there was a phone call for me at the salon,” he added. “I thought it was a friend messing about – they told me the woman was insistent she speak with me. I picked up the phone and said: ‘Who the f*** is this?’ She replied: ‘I’m calling from Italian Vogue. Can you come to Milan next week with your pink spray?’ They’d seen the shoot and wanted me to do hair for them… so I went to Italy and shot with Stella Tennant! I left the salon for session pretty soon after that.”
“What I learned from being a colourist I took into my session work,” Neil explained. “Even though I don’t colour hair today, I’m really good at communicating what I want… and when you’re creative, what you try to do is push the boundaries.”
As Wendy and Karl joined him on the panel, Neil admitted that when they first started working together on editorial shoots, they had more freedom as a creative trio.
“In the ‘90s it was much easier,” he told the audience, “it was like: ‘you’re my mate, let’s work together.’”
“At the time, we were very much tribal as teams,” Karl agreed. “Sometimes it was hard to let other people in… and some producers just want to get the job done. I need people like Neil and Wendy around me to make the job work. I will fight for the right team – and that will never change.”
“Sometimes, I won’t do a job if I don’t feel the team’s right,” said Wendy, “especially if it’s an unpaid editorial. If I’m going to put myself on the line for something, I want it to be the best.”
“Fashion has become a huge democracy – everybody has their own point of view,” Karl reflected. “But when s*** hits the fan, great work comes down to the people who know what they’re doing.”
As conversation turned to more of Neil’s seminal work, he reflected on his continuing collaborative relationship with Corinne, his adventures in millinery and building up trust with big name models, including Cara Delevingne.
“At the time – it was 2007 – Kate was so prolific as a model and the National Portrait Gallery wanted a set of pictures of her that would remain in a permanent collection,” he told the audience. “So, off we and Corrine went to Kate’s house. When my mum saw the pictures, she asked ‘What did you do (to the hair) again?’ They were just very natural, candid shots and Corinne picked her favourites!”
The black and white photos weren’t the only work of Neil’s to be the subject of an exhibit. “I also worked with milliner Flora McLean to create a series of hairstyles without hair – ‘Iconic Heads’. We ended up creating 12 hair-hats from various materials including plywood, shaved plastic and – my original inspiration –felt,” Neil explained, walking guests through a couple of styles he had brought along to demonstrate. “They’ve since been worn by the like of Paloma Faith and appeared on mannequins in the windows of Dianne von Furstenberg,” he added.
Despite grappling with plywood curls for the ‘Iconic Heads’ project, Neil earmarked a more recent job as the strangest he’s had to handle as a stylist.
“I’d say it was creating a new cut and colour for Cara [Delevingne] for the film, Valerian,” he said. “She wanted me to do it, but the studio and crew were in Paris and I wasn’t allowed on-set. So she came to me, and we had to film the haircut in the UK and send the video over to Paris for approval and for continuity purposes!”
“I actually first met Cara when she was not as known in the industry,” he continued. “I was working alongside Wendy and Cara was just 17 at the time, really nervous and it was a big thing for her – the launch of Burberry Beauty. She was just like this little girl, but it catapulted her to stardom.
“When you’re hair and makeup, you end up being the mum/dad figure for girls starting out. I fixed her hair colour then too as she’d had a bad set of highlights… but now she’s in LA being a big superstar so we don’t see her so often!”
As talk turned to the future, Neil reflected on his decision to resign as creative director of Windle & Moodie.
“When we started out, I was frustrated the UK didn’t have good enough heat styling tools. I’d met Paul [Windle – his former business partner] – he’d created a straightener – and I said I could expand the range. That’s how WAM was born. I travelled to China and Japan [for research and development] – and I was sketching tongs!”
WAM evolved into Windle&Moodie wet products, and both the brand and partnership became established. That was, until, Neil stepped down in January of this year.
“I like new projects – I like creating in general,” he said of the decision. “I stepped down after 11 years because Paul and I were going in different directions. We weren’t working as a duo anymore, and I believe if something’s not working – walk away.”
“So, what’s next for Neil Moodie?” Said Anna-Marie.
“I believe the best way to predict your future is to create it,” he replied. “I’ve relaunched my YouTube channel, my website relaunches in January, and I’m launching a series of podcasts – interviewing people working in the creative industry who are branching out to do other things. I’m also going to be talking about men’s mental health, after opening up about my own ongoing struggles with anxiety and depression recently,” Neil added.
“Since making that public, so many hairdressers have contacted me saying they can relate to my circumstances. Seventy-five percent of suicides are men aged under 45. I want to help.”
The evening ended with panellist sharing their one key piece of advice for those in the creative fields, before Neil presented three models that sported re-imagined versions of his favourite career looks.
“Enjoy what you do. Love what you do. Work has to be a pleasure. It’s got to be fun, or get out,” said Wendy.
Karl agreed: “Everyone has to find their own way. Don’t give a f*** about anyone else. Read books, look at everything. Have your own point of view, be open-minded. Sometimes, people will crush you – but just do the job, swallow everything up and you’ll be fine.”
“And hone your craft!” He added. “I learned from Vivienne Westwood that creativity only comes from technique, and this is why I have such a great respect for hairdressers.”
“For me, it’s simply ‘never stop learning’,” said Neil. “Don’t shut your mind down. Keep it open to new things.”
We can’t wait to see where Mr Moodie’s incredible mind takes him next.
Special thanks to the night’s kind sponsors L’Oréal Professionnel, who provided every guest with a goody bag stuffed with new products and styling must-haves.