As told to Bee Shapiro.
Legendary hairdresser Garren shares his story with Yahoo Beauty. (Photo: Patrick Demarchelier)
The legendary Garren has had a hand in some of pop culture’s most influential cuts including Victoria Beckham’s shorn pixie and Karlie Kloss’ lob. He’s known as a makeover magician – giving his famous clients a fresh new look whenever necessary. Most recently, he shuttered his eponymous salon in NYC to focus on a haircare line he cofounded called R+Co. Here, the hair maestro talks of his humble beginnings (he’s a native son of Niagara Falls) and where his career is headed now. –Bee Shapiro
I was obsessed with hair since the age of 12. My mother wasn’t a fashion horse, but she was sophisticated enough to have Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar in the house to read about ladies and societies. I would look at both of them. They were the bibles in our house.
She would go to the beauty salon and get her hair cut and styled with a finger wave—almost like the way Queen Elizabeth did it. I told her, they’re making you look old! So I started brush it out after she came home and making it into a bouffant—what I saw (the hairstylist) Kenneth doing in the magazines. It was the ‘60s. Everything was so glamorous and I just couldn’t let it go. So by the age of 13, I started cutting my mother’s hair. I would buy these little booklets they used to have called Hair Now or Hair Do and follow the steps and miraculously it would turn out.
Pretty soon, I started doing her friends’ hair. I would do their hair on Saturdays. My mom bought me a little hooded dryer to set up (this was before the blow dryer days). Then I started doing the hair of my girlfriends in school. I had so many girlfriends. All the guys were big jocks and I was this skinny little kid. I would go house to house or they would come over on the weekend to get their hair done.
My father said, “Why don’t we do a little set up for you in the basement? We’ll do a little shampoo in the sink and you can make the appointments on the hour.” I said “Ok,” so I started doing that Thursday and Friday after school and every Saturday and Sunday. My father and mother were brilliant. You’re talking about a working class family—my father worked in an industrial plant and my mother just took care of the kids.
Karlie Kloss’ famous haircut by Garren. (Photo: Patrick Demarchelier)
In 10th grade I told the student counselor, “I want to be a hairdresser.” The look on his face was just weird. He said, “Only girls do hairdressing. Men don’t do that.” He was like, “Does your father know?” My father had to leave work to come down and talk to him. Well, my father, he actually got kind of angry, he said, “Excuse me Mr., I just want to tell you that my son is very good at what he does. He is going to be a hairdresser and if wants to take college classes on the side, that’s great. But I’m not going to push him to do something he doesn’t want to do.”
I started going to beauty school at night in Buffalo when I was 16. My sister and aunt volunteered to go with me—they all supported me. Later, my brother opened a beauty salon and had wigs. I worked there in the late ‘60s. I entered the International Beauty Show and that’s how I got my ticket to New York. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Kenneth—that was Camelot time and I was obsessed with Jackie and Marilyn whom he styled. I also loved Vidal Sassoon for his edge and Alexandre de Paris, who was the Kenneth of Europe.
Farrah Fawcett’s famous chop by Garren. (Photo: Garren)
I started working for Glemby International, first in Buffalo. I was busy! I took off. I charged $75 in 1973, which was a lot of money back then. Then I decided to leave and to go to New York. That was 1975. My partner and now husband Thom Priano both moved. Glemby owned salons in the department stores and put me in Bergdorf Goodman; Thom was at Henri Bendel. Those were the top two salons in NYC then. I was starting from scratch. At BG, the salon was really built for Suga. He was very welcoming and nice. All of a sudden there was a Vogue shoot he couldn’t do and Suga suggested me. It was with Phyllis Posnick and she liked what I did. It was with Christie Brinkley and it was five pages. Then Phyllis took me to meet Jade Hobson and Polly Mellen. I thought, “Oh my god, this is really happening!” When I met Polly, she was in the studio and she was shooting with Irving Penn. Well, my knees were just buckling! Two weeks later, she hired me for a shoot with Deborah Turbeville and five girls—all these big models including Jerry Hall. It just went on—I was working all the time.
Getting Madonna glammed up. (Photo: Steven Meisel)
One of the biggest moments though was in the late ‘70s. It was with Patrick Demarchelier, and we’re in the studio and in walks Farrah Fawcett! I was like “Oh my god, she’s the hair girl of the decade.” So many women had brought me pictures of her and said, “Cut my hair like hers.” The first day we did her hair the fluffy, curly Farrah look and it was all these gorgeous European clothes. But the second day, I blew it out and I did a side part and swept her hair and I did a straight bob. Farrah took a look and said, “I’m for it.” Well, that night she went to a launch party at Studio 54, and the next morning the pictures come out in the Post and the Daily News and there’s Farrah Fawcett with this half straight, half curly look and everyone is saying she’s got a new look. That really was my launch. I didn’t realize how big that was going to be.
I had a salon in the Plaza—that happened in ’78. I was working with Polly and Mr. Penn and Richard Avedon and Gia [Carangi]. Then I met Steven Meisel. Later, it was Linda, Christy, Naomi, Amber. With Linda, I started doing all these crazy haircuts and color changes. A big moment came when Steven called and said we’re doing Madonna. That was when we really nailed the Marilyn look she would have. Next I worked with her on her sex book. I worked with her for four years steady.
Madonna’s Old Hollywood bob on the cover of Vanity Fair. (Photo: Steven Meisel)
I’m lucky to have been able to work in this field for 40 years and be at the top of my game. That’s a long run. When Victoria Beckham, wanted to get serious, she came to me. She had a very perfect bob. I told her you don’t need all that. I told her I’d go before gamine and dye it darker—the feeling was almost Italian.
Victoria’s Beckham now-iconic bob. (Photo: Victoria Beckham)
Even recently, with Karlie Kloss’ hair, it took almost a year and a half for people to really grasp and embrace it. My slot has always been being able to transform—maybe it’s something the woman hasn’t tried before. I’m doing my dream. I’m doing what I do best.