YOU WANNA PECIS OF ME?
He could have been a rock star but, thankfully for us, he decided to become a hairdresser. All hail the unstoppable force that is James Pecis
“When I was 16, I used to be in a band.” Looking at James Pecis (it’s pronounced peh-chis, just so you know), you would definitely be forgiven for thinking he was in a band (ponytail, tattoos, a penchant for leather jackets and skinny jeans). But of course, James, as we know him now, is one of the most gifted and celebrated hairdressers in the set of younger stylists rising up the ranks. A regular on the bookings roster of virtually every international Vogue, as well as Vanity Fair, V Magazine and Dazed & Confused, he has achieved much greatness at the age of just 35.
But it didn’t all start out that way. “My first memory of hairdressing was when I was playing in this band, The Blockbusters. We were going from town to town and while on a stop in San Francisco we were waiting for a friend to get her hair cut. I remember thinking: ‘what a cool job – you could be creative, talk and hang out with people all day’.” But James was realistic about his newfound career aspirations: “At the time, hairdressing was not respected at all as a profession, and it was considered something to do when you couldn’t do anything else. I wanted to do it regardless.”
And how right he was to decide to prove everyone wrong. Cue a move to New York, where he completed his training and started to work at Bumble and bumble under the premise that he would become a teacher for the auspicious House of Bumble. “I realised that was the way to get into the industry, but if I am totally honest, I had no desire to teach – I wanted to create,” he confesses. Bumble and bumble founder Michael Gordon saw his potential and immediately paired him up as an assistant to the celebrated stylist Jimmy Paul, which James readily cites as “a priceless education”.
With James himself now being celebrated as one of the most technical, and yet still effortless, stylists on the circuit, it’s clear to see that this exposure to the hairdressing world were essential to his growth and expertise as a stylist. As well as working alongside Jimmy Paul, he assisted the mighty Laurent Philippon as well as Max Penel, a lesser-known hairdressing name, but still one of the greats, who was best friends with supermodel Stephanie Seymour and photographer Herb Ritts. A little bit of hairdressing trivia: Penel is widely considered as the man who created the infamous Pantene girl hair adverts. “It was a completely different type of education from each. Jimmy, Laurent and Max were instrumental in helping me grow. On the technical and practical side, I learnt from them, but then it was my responsibility to take that away, practice, set etiquette and learn how to deal with the stressful elements of the job and how to develop my eye.”
On the backstage circuit, James is well known for his love of plaits (“I do love a good braid”), but it wasn’t love at first styling. “I remember my first show assisting Laurent Philippon and the look featured a tiny corn braid either side of the head. For some reason, I had used wax on the style for control. Laurent yelled at me: “You! Don’t braid!” he laughs. But he has clearly recovered from the trauma, creating iconic styles at Preen, Simone Rocha and Nanette Lepore over the seasons, and his role with BaByliss PRO sees him kept particularly busy during LFW. His tip to keeping plaits looking fresh? “I like braids that look too tricky,” he explains. “It’s fun to do a beaver tail of hair, but that doesn’t translate to it looking cool – that’s the deal with modern hairdressing. The style needs to look cool and accessible”.
When asked what he perceives his signature styling technique to be (braids aside), in true Pecis style he is decidedly modest. “I don’t know what my style is, it’s always evolving and always relevant. It’s important to me that it looks real. Even in my more theatrical looks, such as my recent BaByliss PRO shoot featured in Creative HEAD, they have to have an element that makes them look real.” This provides an interesting insight into James’s mind-set considering the now all-too-prevalent use of Photoshop, filters and hyper-reality in the publishing and mobile phone-wielding world. “We live in digital era where you can Photoshop everything, but I actually like the imperfections. So maybe my signature style is to finish a look and then pull it out a bit. It’s that little hair that sticks out which is the element that completes things for me.” And it would seem that the low-key mind-set travels through into his own hair styling: “I know it’s terrible, but I don’t even condition it! I literally don’t use any products on my hair. I am really bad like that…”
But to all the budding hairdressers out there, James has a some advice: “Practise, be humble and treat everyone in the same way.” For someone who can often travel with a team of up to 30 people during the shows, a non-inflated ego and strong sense of teamwork is essential to him. “The team thing is huge. If someone’s ego gets in the way we bump them off the team – you have to – it’s important to be a team player. If you’re weak technically, you can learn. But not everyone can have a strong and good heart”. Amen to that, James, Amen.