His work has been featured in publications like ELLE, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and he’s styled the tresses of fashion models and famous celebrities, including the likes of Grace Jones and Ryan Gosling (swoon!). He’s been awarded top accolades at NAHA, British Hairdressing Awards and Intercoiffure, to name a few. Damien Carney is at the top of his game in the hair world and he’s still reaching for the stars as Creative Director at Schwarzkopf Professional & Founder of Damien Carney Professional Mobile Academy.
Your work is truly breathtaking, other-wordly even. You must have some pretty great sources for inspiration and creativity. Care to share?
Oh, [laughing] Thank you, thank you. You’re so kind. I hate to give a vague answer, but I can really be inspired from anything, honestly. Sometimes just walking past storefronts near my home in London might give me a great idea for a certain texture I want to play around with, or a shape I want to create in hair. And creativity, that is a very elastic word to me, it stretches however and whenever you want. It’s only my own mind that limits what I can do.
That’s a very meta way to think about creativity, we dig it. How do you take those sparks of inspiration and put them to use?
I love to play and practice sometimes with no set agenda, like a child would play with no expectations, no rules. It’s like exercising the creative mind. The more you exercise, the more windows are opened in your mind—there’s science behind that, actually. You never know what great idea or thought will come up next.
We’ve learned that a great idea takes a great team to see it through to fruition. Does that same ideal apply to you?
Absolutely, yes. And I really try to surround myself with those that are better than me, those that I respect and that are true experts in their field. Top makeup artists, wardrobe stylists and photographers—the creme de la creme of the industry. Plus, I do like a good dose of humble pie every now and then. It’s a way of recharging myself and evaluating where do I want to do next. If I think I am the best in the room, how would I ever learn or grow? I probably wouldn’t get very far.
When it comes to your work, what are your personal standards for a finished product?
No matter what I’m working on, I always want it to be attractive, expensive and more importantly, beautiful.
I’ve always identified with the Oscar Wilde quote, “I have the simplest taste. I am always satisfied with the best!” I think that really describes how I like to work and my own expectations. But that’s all subjective. What’s beautiful to one person might not be beautiful to another. I’m a great believer in staying true to my own instincts and heart.
When I create, it’s my creation, it’s how I see beauty. It’s important that I like it and that I’m inspired, first and foremost. If others get inspired and enjoy it, then that’s great, too.
What about clients? What’s your goal when it comes to their “finished product”?
As I’ve traveled the world many times, the lesson I’ve learned is that all men and women want to feel beautiful. After all, I’ve never had anyone say to me, “Damien, please make me look 5-10 years older, unstylish, frumpy, and god forbid you make me look more attractive!” [laughing]. Something as simple as a pair of scissors or a tube of hair color can brighten and enhance anyone’s individual beauty. It’s so simple but so impactful, visually and emotionally.
Can’t argue with that. What about the rest of the world? How has your career in hair helped shape your worldview?
Hairdressing has taught me that people come from all different walks of life; everyone has something to offer and experiences to share that are humbling and inspiring—what a wonderful career. I had no idea that hairdressing would offer such a comprehensive education on life. It has taught me to be open-minded and not to judge. To shut up, listen and then contribute to the conversation. It’s taught me to go with the flow, and that is exhilarating.
You seem so calm, cool and collected. Are you always like this?
Most people wouldn’t know that I’m actually a nervous wreck! Behind the exterior there’s a boiling pot going on inside, a little bit of Jekyll and Hyde. But that’s all good, I’ve learned to channel that energy into good things. At least I hope I do most of the time!
You could have fooled me! Any final words of wisdom to share with the next generation?
Be yourself. You can be inspired by your mentors, but don’t be a carbon copy—be yourself. Be excellent at the things you love and master the skills and techniques to make yourself unique. Don’t be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of nothing. Ask yourself, “Who am I? What do I stand for? What is my culture?” This is all self-discovery and it takes time, but the effort couldn’t be more worth it.