Best Hair Day Ever: My Visit to the TIGI Academy

In the competitive world of hair, the stakes are high, the shears are sharp, and the best stylists are always in training. To find out what goes on behind the scenes, I visited the TIGI Academy in Manhattan, where the brand spreads its Catwalk gospel to students from as faraway as France and Taiwan. I wanted to see: Did I have what it took to survive a crash course in advanced hair styling?

10 am: Introduction

Heath Grout, the academy’s Creative Director, greets the seven stylists who have assembled for today’s class on how to recreate the latest runway looks. “Androgyny is huge right now,” Grout says. Duly noted.

10:30 am: Presentation

Four models walk on stage with immaculately disheveled styles ranging from a blonde undercut (a style that’s shorter beneath and longer on top) to a black faux mullet with brown ombré highlights. Academy Educator Adrianna Papaleo says that this season is all about texture. Matte and dry are in; supershiny is out. “Frizz can be flattering when it’s controlled.” (Mental note: Whenever rainy-day frizz takes over, assure myself it's on trend.)

11 am: Cut/Color Demonstrations

The students get face charts to take notes as three new models receive cuts and color treatments. Papaleo demonstrates a long cut with “shattered, blended layers.” When cutting the front sections, she keeps hair at a low elevation (i.e., close to the face) in order to create a strong line. Meanwhile, Academy Educator Christopher Catanese walks us through a curly “mod mop.” Next to him, Technical Director Ricky Kandasamy dyes a model’s hair a custom-mixed coppery red color that reminds me of David Bowie circa 1975.

12 pm: Style

TIGI teaches its students to mix and match styling products in order to achieve innovative textures. Papaleo makes piecey waves with the Catwalk Session Series Transforming Dry Shampoo and Finishing Spray. Catanese mists the Session Series Salt Spray into his model’s hair before blow-drying in order to create a billowy cloud of curls.

2 pm: Lunch Break

In their day-to-day jobs, stylists only take 5-10 minutes to eat between appointments, so an hour-long lunch break is a luxury.

3 pm: Hands-On Workshop

It’s time to get to work. Each student picks a style from the earlier demonstration to recreate on a mannequin. Catanese jokes about the pros and cons of using mannequins: “They may not tip very well, but they never complain either.”

3:15 pm: Student Cuts

The students mount the freshly washed mannequin heads on tripods and start snipping away under the guidance of the teachers. I shadow Papaleo and watch her adjust students’ hand positions, since she believes that being conscious of ergonomics is key. Jammed wrists can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, so she shows stylists how to hold their wrists straight.

5 pm:

The cuts are wrapping up. Most students chose a short style, and piles of shorn brunette hair sit on the floor. Surely, I think, if these mannequins were real women they would be gasping with disbelief at having so much hair chopped off. Then I remember Catanese’s earlier lesson: “It’s not about what you cut off, it’s about what you leave on.” Spoken like a true hair pro.

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