We talk to the Bleach London hairstylist about growing up emo, being a Gemini and David Bowie
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Erik Pascarelli loved being different from the other kids when he was growing up. Realising he was trans at 11 and then moving to London at 16, Erik had “bigger fish to fry” than to be caught up in what people thought of him.
Now a hairdresser at Bleach London, a salon that includes pronoun preferences on their allergy test forms, Erik first got into hair when he resorted to cutting his own after a number of bad cuts. Going to a salon, he says, was always a traumatic experience for him. Now being the other side of the chair means Erik can use his skills to empower his clients and help them feel like themselves with a haircut. “Change is so exciting and getting to be a part of other people transforming themselves is very exciting,” he says. “There's nothing more validating than knowing you've made someone feel good about themselves.”
From creating marbled rainbow looks to painting intricate designs onto freshly bleached buzz cuts, Erik is a master of his craft. Whether he’s bleaching, blow-drying or balayage-ing, hairdressing is Erik’s escape from a stationary life. Here he talks to us about growing up emo, being a Gemini and David Bowie.
Tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?
Erik Pascarelli: I lived in Leicester until I was around eight and then moved to Surrey, and later to London when I was 16. All the posh Surrey kids roasted me because of how I pronounced grass and bath, but it only encouraged me to sound even more Midlands. I loved being as different as possible and as you can imagine really prided myself on being a massive emo.
I realised I was trans at the age of 11/12, when I was just starting secondary school. My school being Catholic made that really fun. Like I said before though I quite enjoyed being different, so people making fun of me wasn't actually a massive deal because I had bigger fish to fry. I was much more angsty about being a queer teenager than about anyone bullying me for it (priorities). As with all gay emo teens I was really into art, but at the last minute before I was meant to go to university instead I decided to pursue hairdressing on a whim. Luckily my indecisiveness paid off and I ended up with a job I absolutely love, minus the 50 grand of debt.
What’s your earliest beauty related memory?
Erik Pascarelli: I started cutting my own hair when I came out as trans. Going to a salon was pretty horrendous because no matter what I asked for I ended up with a graduated bob. That's why we have a pronoun preference on our allergy test forms at Bleach. One day I went and bought the cheapest clippers I could find and got my sister to shave the back while I chopped random pieces at the front. Years of awful yet liberating haircuts and bleaches went by and before I knew it I was doing hair for any queer kid in London that could make it to my house. I honestly had no clue what I was doing, but I had enough over-confidence and a vaguely artistic eye that everyone looked okay enough to come back for more. It was only when I started actually training in hair that I respected how difficult it really is.
Why do you do it?
Erik Pascarelli: I think I'm a hairdresser for a few reasons. The first one being I'm a Gemini so I hate feeling stuck in a rut, and doing hair means I get to flit around and do so many different things. One moment I'm doing a bleach roots, then a haircut, then a balayage, then a blow dry. It never feels samey. I also assist on shoots so the environment I'm working in changes constantly, which is another reason I love being a hairdresser: change. Change is so exciting and getting to be a part of other people transforming themselves is very exciting. There's nothing more validating than knowing you've made someone feel good about themselves while you've still been creative and had fun.
How did you get into it?
Erik Pascarelli: I was filling out my UCAS application to study Fine Art Painting and just wasn't sure if I wanted to be in that much debt for an art degree. No hate to anyone that does study art, it's impressive to have that much motivation to create work when needed, but I'm just not suited to the classroom environment. Lectures go in one ear and out the other, I have to be physically doing something to learn and understand it. Which is why hair is so perfect for me personally because it's so hands on.
Describe your beauty aesthetic in 3 words.
Erik Pascarelli: Grungy, cute and spontaneous.
What’s your favourite smell and why?
Erik Pascarelli: Maybe cinnamon. It's what my grandpa's house in Texas always smells like, so I think I find it comforting.
Which fictional character do you most relate to and why?
Erik Pascarelli: That's a tough one, I've never really felt like I can relate to most characters because most of them are cis, to be honest. It was sort of an issue for me growing up actually! Two of my favourite films are Mysterious Skin and Behind the Candelabra, so I suppose I can relate to vulnerable young gay men. Or maybe I just want to.
Who is your beauty icon?
Erik Pascarelli: Feel like it's quite an obvious one, but probably David Bowie. I really love that he could so easily reinvent himself over and over. I change up my style pretty much every day, sometimes I'm super masculine skater vibes, other days I want to wear pink eyeshadow and flowy tunics. It's fun to feel like you're different characters depending on your mood, which I think is something Bowie really captured.
What does beauty mean to you?
Erik Pascarelli: Beauty means whatever makes you feel something. I think any strong emotional response to an image or a concept or a makeup look etc. is beautiful.
When do you feel most beautiful?
Erik Pascarelli: Without sounding like an egocentric maniac, probably when I step straight out of the shower. It's really nice to look at my body and think how far I've come since I was an awkward trans thirteen-year-old hating my body. It's such a personal moment where I don't feel self-conscious about what anyone else is thinking because it's just me appreciating myself for how far I've come. I used to absolutely dread looking at my body, but it's actually becoming something I really enjoy now.
Are you optimistic about the future?
Erik Pascarelli: I try to be! I just go with the flow and know that as long as you work really hard, something will always work out. Failure is one of the biggest parts of success. (Ask me after a long week though and I'll probably say something much less positive)
If you could have a new sense on top of your existing ones, what would it be?
Erik Pascarelli: I'd love to be able to read minds, but I think it would end up ruining my mental health knowing what people are thinking about me. Probably telekinesis.
It’s the year 2100. You’re the owner of the largest beauty tech company in the world, what five products or treatments will you dedicate your resources trying to invent?
Erik Pascarelli: Sustainable hair extensions! Maybe like giant scalps that grow hair so we can just cut it off to make wigs and stennies.
A wig cap that makes you feel like you aren’t actually wearing a wig. The only thing that holds me back is how hot and itchy they can feel.
Acne treatment that works without making you a hormonal mess.
Something to make your hair grow out of your head a different colour.
A primer or setting spray that makes your makeup stay on your face exactly the same as when it was applied.
You encounter a hostile alien race with an inability to see colour, while sound is their only mechanism for communication. What would you play to them to inspire them to spare you and the rest of the human race?
Erik Pascarelli: “Stairway To Heaven” played by a Symphony Orchestra. Enough said.
Would you rather Colonise Mars or build a utopia in the centre of the earth?
Erik Pascarelli: 10000% Mars. I'm obsessed with space travel and the idea of going to Mars. I watch as many of the live rocket launches up to the ISS as I can and listen to all the alien conspiracy podcasts. I think my interest in space is a form of escapism because the Earth seems to be a sinking ship at this point. All hail our Alien Overlords.