Brand you

The hats. The hair! But how did the Sophia and Larisa trademark looks come about? We asked the pair about the formation of their personal brands, their approach to trends and to share some lesser known things about themselves…

Creative HEAD:  Tell us something that people might not know about you.

LL: Well how personal do you wanna get? [laughs]  Something most people don’t know about me is that growing up, my parents made me go to Russian school on Saturdays, which I hated but now I’m so thankful because now I can read, write and speak it fluently.

SH:  That’s really interesting! Why Russian school?

LL:  Because I’m Ukrainian originally, but I moved to the States when I was six. So I knew how to speak Russian, but now I know how to read it and write it and I’m completely fluent. But I hated it, oh my God! It was in LA, and I lived two hours away from LA at that point. We travelled every Saturday. My parents made me take piano lessons for four years too and I hated it, but now I wish I hadn’t stopped.

SH: People know a little about this now, but I started performing in London when I was 22. I used to work in the West End nightclubs doing aerial, doing fire, all these mad performances.

LL:  I can see you doing that!

SH:  I loved it, it was such creative freedom! One act was full of feathers and I had this big white tutu and headdress. I would just run through the crowd – that was it – just throwing these feathers around, but it was so much fun. It earned money, I didn’t have to pay for drinks…

LL:  And you could express your artistic freedom!

SH:  Yeah! But I kept it secret for years. I never told anyone because I thought people in the hairdressing world would judge me as not being serious about my career.

LL:  I think it’s really cool.

Creative HEAD:  Can you sum up your own style – personally, well as a hairdresser?

SH:  As a hairdresser, I’d say it’s a bit Robin Hood-ish – taking egos from the ones at the top and giving it to the ones at the bottom! A peoples’ hairdresser, that kinda vibe.

Style from clothes… Well, I’m not scared of colour as you might have noticed! That early Gwen Stefani stuff I really love, but then I also love this really fun, poppy, colour-blocking style. A lot of yellow.

LL: I don’t know how to answer that. I think it’s like… creative colour but with a touch of natural. I don’t do things with heavy pigment like you do, Sophia, or neons. Still vivid tones, but they have a natural-esque hue to them.

My personal style – I don’t even know if I can pinpoint it in one word! It kinda has a nice edge to it, and I always wear hats. That’s kinda my brand, people know me with my hat. It’s funny, I went to a hair show and as a test I walked through to see if anyone would recognise me without it, and I got stopped less than half as many times without my hat! But with it, I can barely move a step without someone asking for a photo. So it’s like my hats are like my iconic style – how I brand myself, how people know me.

SH: That’s what I was saying before, about why consistency is important.

LL:  Exactly. Consistency is key to branding.

SH:  I’m fractionally bored of yellow now, but… it’s gotta stay!

LL:  How long have you had it?

SH:  Three years? Four years?

LL:  You’ve had that colour for three years? Wow!

SH:  Everyone always thinks it must be a wig. When people have these vivid colours, people think you’re the type person who likes change, but I’ve been really quite consistent with it. It’s a business tactic, like keeping your hat on. Some people might look at it as just a creative, personal style, but it’s also a business tactic. Are you blonde a lot of the time, Larisa?

LL: Nooo! I change my hair a lot.

SH:  So there’s a consistency in your hat rather than your hair.

LL:  I’ve been blonde for a good minute and that’s why I like to put a bit of colour on the ends. A good minute is like two or three months with me – usually I change my hair colour every two weeks. I was bored of the blonde, so added a little bit of colour on the ends. I just need some colour.

SH:  I did get advice from someone in the industry who was so well known, and they were really young – Kim Rance. I said “How does everyone know you?” with no Instagram account or anything. And she just said it was because she’d been ginger forever. She said to me: “Just stop changing your hair.  I’m ‘the ginger one’ – even if people don’t remember my name, I’m ‘the ginger one’.” When I was in China (at the AHFA show with Creative HEAD’s Catherine Handcock), people wanted to re-book me, but they didn’t try to re-book ‘Sophia Hilton’, they tried to re-book ‘the yellow one’. And I love that. Marketing shortcut, I guess!

I remember watching adverts as a kid, we all had favourite adverts – not because of what it was selling but how it was marketed. You know when you wanna buy a product even though you know it’s just the marketing? I guess I learned to get excited by marketing – if I was with friends who picked something up just because it was in extra pink packaging or something, I used to think it was hilarious! How can you not see through that?

Creative HEAD:  How many hats do you have then, Larisa?

LL:  All my hats are custom-made by The Wise Hatter on Instagram. I have maybe 15, in every colour, and every time I pick up a hat from him I order a new one right away. It’s like an addiction! He’s got a block size of my head, like a Larisa mould, and I’ll tell him what I want – colour, width of the brim, the band – and I just pick them up and it’s perfect. But I’m running out of walls for my hats! I started wearing a hat about five years ago, and just stuck with it.

SH:  I’m always in a beret now, to be fair. I’ve got a beret in every colour as well, mainly to hide my roots. With the baby, it’s like I can have hair or make-up!

Creative HEAD:  Do you add more yellow every time you wash it?

SH:  Every time.

LL:  Really? And what do you add to it?

SH:  It’s just Crazy Color, which is really big over here.  I’ve had other companies come and want me to use them, but with the amount of vivids that I do, I can’t have a client walk in and not be able to offer them their shade any more. A huge brand wanted me to be ambassador for its new vivids line, but they only had five colours so I was like “I’m sorry but I can’t.” I’d love to – I would love the opportunity to do that – but I can’t.

Creative HEAD: Aside from your own trademarks, what would you say you’re witnessing as an emerging trend?

LL:  Well, what I see happening in the US right now – and it just started happening maybe two months ago – is dip-dye. It’s coming back, and as blocking dip-dye, like a solid line. I actually really love it and I did it in my hair; I had a yellow dip-dye going through and it looked so cool. Just on the ends, like a low, low dip-dye.

SH:  Not like a bad ombre!

LL: Nooo! Definitely not that. I’ve started seeing dips like that everywhere now, especially with like blunt bobs. Or even like a shine line in the middle. You’d think they’re easy to do but they’re very difficult to get straight.

SH: They’re also hard to maintain and to recreate. You can have stain issues – I broke off all my hair once doing a middle colour. I actually lightened it to get a shine band and then decided to go blonde at a later date, so obviously it was really hard to get it even.

LL: Oh my god, no!

Creative HEAD:  It’s trending now, but do you think people are going to slowly realise that the upkeep with bands is going be difficult?

LL:  But any trend is gonna come and go. The only ‘trend’ that’s not gonna leave is like a balayage, trying to get those type of tones. Vivids have stayed forever, and for you guys in the UK, I feel like vivids are very, very big in the salon. For us in the States, it’s big too, but there’s still more of a natural hue. Rose gold…

SH:  There are a lot more vivid artists in the States though.

LL:  Yeah, but I mean in terms of like your hair salon, Sophia. That’s all you guys really do… or at least that’s what I see!

SH: Nooo! Actually, that’s our own fault for uploading so many pictures. It’s about 50:50 vivids/balayage, as we don’t really do foils. We do, like, one set of foils a week maybe. The problem is that the vivids just always take a better picture! Literally every day I’m on the salon WhatsApp: “Give me a natural! Give me something natural!” Whereas you can snap a vivid in a bright light and it looks great.

Creative HEAD: It’s also the transformation factor isn’t it?

SH:  Yeah, but I’m constantly in battling – from a business perspective – to show that we do more of a balance. It’s my own fault really for not pushing it enough. Sometimes I’ll say to the team: “I’m not posting another picture unless it’s a natural look” and just refuse to share work for days until someone gives me one!

LL:  What trends do you see coming through?

SH:  I don’t really care for the trends moving as fast. I actually like the consistency of offering a certain product that people buy that has guaranteed tried-and-tested results. Our work at Not Another Salon is quite simple – in the UK, one of the things I have noticed people don’t like is too much going on, from a client’s perspective.

I just like to deliver consistency and be known for something… for now. We’re in the middle of slightly changing what we do, just slightly. We’re working with curls a lot at the moment. We’ve been spending so much time posting straight hair which is sleek and shiny, when actually what I never put up is that we do really beautiful curl work.

We’ve been doing a curl week, and because our work as a brand is ‘polished’, if we do our curls we have to be able to produce them with the same polish that we can produce straight looks. So I’ve been trying to teach my staff to develop the skills and technique – how can we get the powerful picture of the polished curl to the same strength of the shine that we do on smooth lengths?

LL: Oil spray! [laughs]

SH:  Ha! But it’s about getting really beautiful defined curls. So curls are something that we’re moving into, and we’re doing quite a lot more afro as well. But I like to do really steady, consistent things.

I guess I don’t dart left, right and centre with trends these days, but equally I don’t see myself as an artist. I see myself as a business person. I manufacture something that people want to buy and that’s what makes me tick. Something attainable that people can wear out of the salon, and then we have the shows where we can do something more fun. At first I was like “Ugh, I’m bored!’ and then I thought actually no. Because I might be bored, but the client is only just cottoning on to a look or finish or colour. I’m not ready to move onto the next thing because the client’s only just understanding it.

LL:  Yeah, exactly.

SH:  And it’s okay to do that! It’s horses for courses and different things work for different people; you’ve got to find what works for you, your niche.

I don’t know if you find this in your salon, Larisa, but to hit that same level consistently is a real challenge. To get all of your staff to be hitting the same level as you do, to try and keep an eye on and ensure that they can all do it. And people come with their complaints that add other difficulties – they come with their hair completely fried.

LL:  There are a lot of challenges. And also the upkeep is such a challenge. JOICO just came out with a line called Color Butters, which clients can take home – it’s a conditioner mixed with colour. They’re very pigmented though, so literally when the colour starts washing out, you can just put it back on.  So they’re a great way of keeping up with colour now.

SH: We mix our own top-up pots for clients. I’ve not been able to find a brand that can do that really easily. All the brands that try to sell in to me, they’re just not strong enough!

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