From salon regulars and assisting at Fashion Week to styling stars and leading her own projects, session stylist Anna Cofone shares what you need to know before changing lanes
For some, the coveted job of session styling is a dream role, and one many hairstylists may intend to pursue. However, there is a wealth of knowledge to be equipped with before taking the plunge. To bust some myths and discuss her route into the session world, we caught up with Most Wanted 2022 Independent Stylist Anna Cofone.
CH: What do you wish you knew before taking the plunge from salon to session?
AC: I wish I had been more diligent with filming moments like BTS and taking more images – especially now that our world has become much more focussed on what we put out on social media. I often think back to some incredible moments, both with artists and on fashion shoots, beauty stories and fashion shows where I’d love to go and watch them back now.
CH: Is that for lack of capturing those moments or was it not that big of a thing at that time?
AC: It just wasn’t that big of a thing! And, when I had my big break in session, working with Lana Del Rey, we were really private with how much we filmed. We didn’t really take our phones out backstage with her, and I still don’t now.
CH: Do you think there is enough content captured now by other people documenting backstage, even if it doesn’t come directly from you?
AC: Yeah, for sure! But when I think back to really funny moments with teams that I work with regularly, no one else would have that!
CH: How does the experience differ from the salon environment?
AC: I think that because I studied performing arts and I’d had an incredible year on the back of winning the L’Oreal Talent Spotting competition in 2001, and being named ‘One to Watch’ by Vogue, I knew what to expect when I took the plunge to go into the session world. I’m naturally a very thought process driven person and meticulous in my organisation, so I think that helped to bridge that gap. In a salon you’ve got a receptionist to take the bookings, or it’s being done online and there’re assistants to sweep up. To this day I’ll tidy up my area or I’ll make a tea or coffee for the model on shoots; I think having a natural sense of awareness carried me into the session world.
CH: For those stylists in salons today, who have been raised in a different generation, what should they be aware of beforehand?
AC: It’s really, really important not to leave the salon until you’ve fully mastered your craft. It’s so difficult when you try to become fully immersed in the session world, there’s a lot of downtime, so if you can keep yourself afloat by still being able to do haircuts, blow-dries, colour and still earn a living, that will really help! It’s what carried me through three years of assisting work, I still had my regular clients.
CH: …and once you’re in it?
AC: Once you’ve taken the plunge and you’re freelance, aspiring to be a session stylist, just know that you need patience! Just doing three, four, five, even ten shoots, doesn’t mean that you’re then a session hairstylist. You should be assisting as many people as you can, assisting at the shows for at least four to six seasons, if not more. That’s where you learn the skills. What is very tricky, as a result of social media and the new generation, is the myth that you can become something within a much shorter space of time. Despite having a really strong presence online or being brilliant at creating content, what will stand the test of time and give you a long-term career in the session world is taking your time. Learn and absorb as much as you can from established session hairstylists.
CH: Do you think we’ll see a change in the landscape when the new generation reaches that level, if those stylists haven’t come from that core foundation?
AC: Yeah, and I think that’s a really, really good point. I think there’s a risk that you might burn out, and quite quickly. Aside from learning the skills of how to create hair looks in short periods of time, on all textures of hair, there’s also developing your people skills. Sometimes on set there can be up to 15 other people that have come from the client side, so you need to also be confident in your ability to describe what you’re going to do and offer solutions. If the hair look you have done is not what they were expecting, how do you maintain a positive dynamic on set when a client might not be happy with what you’ve done? I’ve been doing this over 20 years and still, to this day, I’m learning things about how to deal with people, what to say and what not to say.
CH: How have you dealt with those situations of unexpected feedback?
AC: You’ve got to never take feedback personally. Whether it’s editorial or an advertising job, we’re booked to bring someone’s vision to live, and so having the ability to not take criticism, opinions or concerns personally is really the only way. What I’ve learned over time is knowing what questions to ask before I start working on the hair – the questions that are going to help inform what you do. How do you want to look? How do you want to feel? Have you seen something you like that you’d love me to recreate with your hair type/face shape?
CH: How does the consultation process vary from the salon when there are more voices influencing a look on set?
AC: It’s a good point. As well as a discussion and asking the right questions, there also has to be imagery support, for example mood boards and the prospective model. Then, as the hairstylist, I’m asked what I see working within this brief on this model with the hair that she has, and it’s my job then to collate images and present and talk them through with the client. Have very honest conversations, share imagery and see what they like and don’t like. Where possible, this might mean an input from me on what I think would work. Having said that, this is when knowing how to read the room is really important, and that only comes with time and age, but having an awareness of egos and when it is right to say, ‘I think this could look good.’ Irrespective of how much you believe in something, it might just not be right to say so.
CH: So how do you know, is there an answer?
AC: That’s why you’ve just got to be patient, and don’t believe you can just become a session hairstylist overnight. Know that to do this job, it requires craftsmanship, people skills and a real strong sense of self-awareness and awareness of other people. It’s all about time.