The Hairstylist Whose Work Is in the Same Museum as Picasso
He’s also behind some of the most iconic Kate Moss images of the ’90s.
If you look up the word “lovely” in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Neil Moodie and the following description: British hairstylist who has worked with literally everyone, including Corinne Day and Kate Moss [ed note: iconic!!!!!], and has the most fantastic line of hair products, and is also the kindest, smartest, most wonderful person to be around.
Moodie is truly terrific, and we left our shoot with him at his London salon, Windle + Moodie, utterly charmed. Master hairstylists, it seems, fall into either one of two camps: those who believe hair and fashion are the most serious businesses in the world and would snap your head off for asking them a question (no matter how polite you are); and those who don’t, and would be more likely to offer you a hug and a cup of tea, and then hand over a key ring of hair-color swatches for you to happily shake around until you feel better. Moodie is just such a character—the exact opposite of what his last name implies.
While we could go on (and on) about how much fun we had with him, that’s not the point. The point is how insanely talented he is, and the stories he has (like the one time he convinced an airport that was shut down by a blizzard to let him on the very last flight so he could make it to a shoot with Gisele…) and how he made it big without ever really seeming to intend to. If ever there was a model for the nice guy finishing first, this would be it.
Here’s how he did it.
How he started doing hair to piss off his teachers:
“I left school when I was 16. I was so desperate to get out of school—I hated it. I actually wanted to be a journalist, and my career advisor was like, ‘OK, let’s speak to your English teacher.’ She and I didn’t really see eye to eye. When my career advisor said, ‘Neil wants to be a journalist,’ she was like, ‘No way will Neil ever make a journalist.’ I was furious with school, and I was just like, ‘What can I do that will just piss everyone off?’ My parents wanted me to carry on in education, and I was like, ‘I want to be a hairstylist!’ Of course everyone was like, ‘You can’t do that.’ My father especially was like, ‘No way,’ and I was like, ‘No, that’s what I want to do.’ It was the ’80s—we were all like, coloring our hair and going crazy. I just thought, ‘That seems like fun.’ It was kind of by accident.”
On working with Corinne Day:
“Corinne and I had a mutual friend who was living with her at the time. I had actually stopped cutting hair in the salon because I was a bit bored. I went to live in Italy for a little while, and when I came back, I still wanted to do hairdressing, but I didn’t want to work on so many clients in a day. I thought, ‘Where can I do less clients?’ I thought I could be [a] color technician, so I became a color technician for two years at Toni & Guy in Kensington in London. I randomly started to get asked to color models. Then Corinne approached me and said, ‘Will you color my hair?’
“Because I used to sit and spend hours coloring her hair at home, we just got chatting and became friends. And then one day she called me and said, ‘Neil, I found this brand-new model, and I want to color her hair for a shoot for The Face magazine. She’s mousy brown, I want to make her blonde but with roots, and I want to make her quite punky.’ She sent her in, and I colored her hair for her. Two days before the shoot happened, the hairstylist who was doing the shoot canceled, and Corinne called me and said, ‘I don‘t have a hairstylist—do you want to do the hair?’ It was on the weekend, and I said, ‘Well, I can’t call in sick from the salon.’ She said, ‘Go on, just do it, it’ll be fine,’ and so I kind of did it, unbeknownst of what was going to happen from that.”
How that shoot launched his career:
“We did the shoot, and three months later it came out—it was published in The Face as a twelve-page shoot. We did one picture where I sprayed the end of the girl’s hair pink, and Corinne got her flipping her head back and forth, so it looked like she had this huge, giant mohawk with pink ends, blonde, and then dark roots.That picture launched my career, basically.
“A week after The Face came out, I was at the salon, and the receptionist said, ‘Neil, there’s a phone call for you, it’s somebody from Italian Vogue.’ I was a bit like, ‘I’m busy!’ I just thought it was a friend messing around. Then she went up and came back and said, ‘No, this woman really wants to talk to you.’ I actually answered the phone and said, ‘Who the fuck is this?’ This little Italian voice came out of the phone going, ‘Hello, I’m the bookings editor at Italian Vogue, and we saw your pink mohawk in The Face magazine. We want you to come to Milan next week and do a shoot for Italian Vogue!’ [laughs]. Of course I was like, ‘OK!’ [laughs]. I had no idea that was going to happen! They allowed me to go to Italy, and I did Italian Vogue with Stella Tennant. It was Stella’s fourth shoot ever at the time. It’s funny because we became friends from that.
“Then Corinne basically said to me, ‘I really enjoyed working with you—would you like to work with me on a more regular basis?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to, but I feel quite inexperienced, and I’ve been really chucked into the deep end.’ She was like, ‘Yeah, but you’ve got good style, and we like the same things,’ and I said, ‘OK, so what’s the job?’ And she said, ‘I’m shooting the Miu Miu campaign.’ [laughs]. And I was like, ‘What’s that?’ [laughs]”
How Corinne helped train his eye:
“I’m inspired by so many things. Working with Corinne, she was my mentor, really, because I didn’t assist anybody. She taught me a lot about what to look for, how to be inspired, how to behave on set, that kind of thing. Corinne and I used to sit and look at books for hours on end, really random things. It wouldn’t just be fashion. She was really into art photography, but she was also like, ‘You need to go see exhibitions.’
“Corinne was a great believer that there were always great things on the street. People just walking around, kids... Youth culture was her big thing. She actually said to me, ‘Carry a camera, Neil, because you will see things. If you can, take a big snap of it.’ So I used to have a little snap camera. I used to go up to people with mad hairdos and things like that. At first I’d be a bit embarrassed, but I realized that people who do their hair like that want to be noticed. They quite like it when you ask them if you can take their picture. Now, with social media, everyone loves having their picture taken. But I realized people liked being approached.”
The story behind *that* Gisele cover:
“I’ve worked with Gisele a ton, and actually I did her first-ever shoot in London. She came to London to shoot The Face magazine with Liz Collins. I remember she literally had no English vocabulary whatsoever, and I think we were the first British people she ever met. From then on, every time I saw her, she was like, ‘Oh god, you were so nice to me, and you looked after me.’ We kind of became friends. She started requesting me for Victoria’s Secret, because she had signed a big contract. I did quite a few other editorials with her, and we did quite a lot of traveling together.
“What happened with that cover was, it was just literally a cover shoot and nothing else—I think we did two pictures for inside [the magazine]. I was in New York, and everyone else was in L.A. I was the only one flying in, and I think my flight was at 7:00 PM from JFK. I left my apartment, and this huge snowstorm started to fall, to the point where I got stuck on the freeway in the car. I remember at one point we got out of the car and were the digging snow out! By the time we actually got to the airport, I had missed my flight. I remember going to American Airlines and saying, ‘Guys, I have to get to L.A., you don’t understand,’ because I had the bookings editor calling me. I was like, ‘Leave it with me, I’ll get there, I promise you.’ I managed to get on, somehow, the last flight out that left JFK to Texas [laughs]. I arrived in Austin at, like, three in the morning and got a connecting flight. I landed in L.A. at, like, 5:00 AM, and then I was on set at eight. I sort of ended up with this tag at British Vogue, I was like the intrepid traveler hairdresser. I was known for that for like, two years. [Laughs]”
The story behind these Kate Moss images:
“Those pictures of Kate Moss were shot for the National Portrait Gallery. I remember [Corinne and I] went to Kate’s house to shoot it. British Vogue published the series of nine, but it was actually the National Portrait Gallery that commissioned the shoot. They do it every now and again, they get an iconic, prolific photographer to do some portraits for them, and they become a permanent fixture in the gallery. I love those pictures so much because it’s work in the National Portrait Gallery forever, which is amazing, really. Picasso is in there! [laughs] To be part of that feels quite special. My Vogue covers always felt very special. I remember getting my first Vogue cover and being so proud of that. My very, very first one was German Vogue with Guinevere van Seenus.”
How the product line started:
“I never imagined in a million years two things: that I would have a salon with my name over it, and I would ever have a product line. To this day, I still don’t really aspire to have a salon. I don’t work here! I don’t actually come and do a column of clients. I met Paul because I used to have a contract with Aveda. That ended, and my agent at the time in London was looking for a sponsor. She said, ‘Neil, let me call Windle, he’s really interested in fashion.’ I came to meet Paul, and he was like, ‘I’ve been following your work, I like what you do, would you like to be involved in Windle?’
“I remember having a conversation with him one day, because he had a ceramic Windle straightening iron, and I said, ‘Why don’t you do more electrical stuff?’ He was like, ‘You know, Neil, I have so many other things going on, it’s too much to do that as well.’ I said, ‘Well, what about if someone helped you?’ He said, ‘Would you be interested?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I think there’s scope to develop that into something.’ That’s how the electrical brand was born. That was dipping our toe in the water to see if people would bite, and it went quite well.
“Then Paul invited me in to do the salon, and I was like, ‘As long as I don’t have to work in it. I left that ten years ago, and I don’t want to go back.’ That’s how we worked it, and it sort of went from there. It took four years to develop, two years longer than we planned. That was because we went right back to the beginning with all the formulas. We said, ‘Let’s get two chemists. One for the care side, and one for the styling side, and we’ll start from the beginning,’ and that’s what we did, instead of just having a generic brand that we put our name on. We worked really hard, and all the guys here helped us.
“All the care side was the hardest, mainly because Paul wanted a good brand in the salon. It was hard to get that right, because we wanted no silicone, no parabens. We put tea in one shampoo because tea is actually an antioxidant, and it encourages healthy hair growth, so when we found that out, we put it in all of them. And it’s certainly been a great story because we’re British—tea, blah, blah. [laughs]”