Robert Lobetta is arguably one of the biggest remaining icons in the professional beauty world. He is a classic mad creative genius, constantly fidgeting and fluttering from topic to topic, interjecting himself to tell “just one little quick story.”
We managed to carve out a few moments in London, during the Wella International Trendvision event, for an interview. During which, Robert tells us how he has found success in not only hairdressing, but also photography, and each of those journeys began with failure.
On his humble beginnings in hairdressing:
Robert trained at Sassoon, after being urged by a friend while he was studying art. After completing his education and beginning work in a salon, he moved to a shop next door to a Vivienne Westwood boutique in London. It was the very beginning of what would become the punk movement, and he had a long-time loyal client come in and request something very strange—she asked him to cut short little pieces at random places.
“I just started cutting and cutting, taking these pieces with no real rhyme or reason and cutting them very close to the head,” Robert shared. “All the while I’m thinking to myself that this is a huge mistake and wondering what the hell I was thinking.”
Afterwards, convinced that he had failed miserably, Robert quit hairdressing all together, and moved out of the country to teach tennis*. Three months later, he came back to his old job at the hair salon and learned that his “disastrous look” had been instrumental in ushering in the new punk-aesthetic.
*Little known fact: Robert Lobetta is a highly trained and skilled tennis player. He was convinced that he would go pro, and luckily for the professional beauty world, he failed.
On his determination to be a photographer:
“I remember the first photo shoot I ever worked on,” he added. “She was an Irish singer—I can’t remember her name, but I knew the photographer, David Bailey— and he invited me to come and work on the shoot.”
Robert looked at his model and decided to work with her natural curls, teasing and forming them bigger and bigger until she had a perfect cloud of hair surrounding her face. The photographer peeked his head in to see if Robert had finished working yet.
“I’ll never forget the look on his face as he said ‘Robert! What the fuck have you done to her hair!?!?!’ I was so confused, because I thought she looked lovely.”
David Bailey then took Robert to the set, and showed him how the lighting was set up to light the singer from either side. He placed the model in the set and told Robert to pull her hair back, showing how the lighting had been specifically placed to highlight her best facial features.
He then told Robert to let go, and he saw how the enormous cloud of hair that he had created, blocked all of that carefully considered lighting and cast the singer’s entire face in a shadow.
“From then on I began to see light everywhere. I noticed how the light shone through leaves in the park and knew at that instant that I wanted to be a photographer.”
Robert learned everything that he could, bought all of the equipment needed, and worked for years to develop a portfolio. He shopped that portfolio around to some of the biggest agents and was rejected, over and over and over again.
“You see I had developed a certain identity. They wanted me to do the hair, not take the pictures.”
Eventually, after years of shooting, refining and perfecting his process, Robert was finally recognized as a talented and well-respected photographer.
While Robert Lobetta may be one of the most accomplished hairdressers of our time, he is firmly convinced that all of his success was born out of repeated failures.
“Of course I make mistakes. I make really ugly things all of the time. I just have the luxury of no one ever seeing them.”