James Pecis on his inspirations, creative process and thoughts on how the fashion industry can do better with sustainability.
From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to make-up and nail artists, in our Spotlight series, we profile the creatives tearing up the rulebook in their respective industries.
Born and raised in Northern California, hairstylist James Pecis spent his youth outdoors in nature and his teenage years playing in punk bands and reading skater magazine Thrasher – his “bible” at the time. It was after music took him to San Francisco that Pecis began hairdressing, a career that ultimately led him to New York and London to assist for the likes of Jimmy Paul and Laurent Philippon before breaking out on his own. Since then Pecis has become a fashion staple with a portfolio that reads like a who’s who of the industry: Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, Kendall, Gigi, Kaia, Adwoa. He gave Alexander McQueen a buzz cut and styled Michele Lamy’s jet black locks, as well as the entire Beckham family for the cover of British Vogue.
A regular backstage at shows, as well as behind the scenes at editorials and campaigns, last season alone Pecis headed up hair for designers including Marine Serre, Simone Rocha, Issey Miyake, Hermes, Etro, Antonio Marras, and Richard Quinn. While known for being a deft hand at a braid, it’s Pecis’s versatility which has led to his rise up the ranks as part of the young new guard. From natural flowing locks, to structured up-dos, undone mohawks to intricate braids, Pecis does it all, and always retains his signature beautiful and glossy organic style. When he’s not doing hair or formulating new products as part of his role as global ambassador for Oribe, Pecis can be found surfing – a passion which inspired his proudest achievement: a limited edition photography book entitled NOODLED which pairs images of the ocean with stripped back, black and white portraits of hairstyles, the proceeds of which go to ocean preservation charity Mission Blue.
We caught up with Pecis to find out more about his inspirations, creative process and thoughts on how the fashion industry can do better with sustainability.
Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?
James Pecis: I had to walk a mile to the bus stop in the morning and I remember changing my clothes in the bushes because my dad would not allow me to wear certain things. It was funny to be a small kid and being aware of fashion. I remember wanting to get black leather pants but the only place that sold them was SEARS in the women’s section. I got them but they just didn’t look right with the female mumsie cut. From experience, though, I learned that I could get tighter pants in the women’s section than the men’s which was great.
Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?
James Pecis: I was heavily influenced by the bands I would go see play. Bands like Fugazi and 7 Seconds. I would also get a subscription to Thrasher magazine for Christmas from my mom which was handy because it was hard to find since people thought it was an inappropriate magazine and banned it from many stores. Thrasher was my bible of being a teenage boy. I would reread them over and over. I was obsessed with Head Bangers Ball which was on at midnight on MTV. I would stay up late after everyone went to bed and dream to be in a metal band.
Why are you a hairstylist?
James Pecis: It is the best job in the world. I can be creative, hang out with people, every day is different, I am my own boss, and I can make a living. There is nothing else I would want to do.
How did you actually get into it? Where did you hone your craft?
James Pecis: I started in San Francisco and apprenticed at a salon to learn my foundations. I eventually moved to NYC and was teaching for Bumble and Bumble while trying to get into assisting for editorial. I assisted many people before becoming a first for Jimmy Paul, a job which I stayed in for a couple of years and really saw what the industry was all about. Then I went on to be Laurent Philippon's first assistant before going out on my own. I moved to London to push myself creatively and find my own identity after years of assisting. There is no school or university you can go to for session styling. You need to assist. It’s an old fashioned way of learning but it has great rewards for those who have the drive and patience to go through. I was not born with a comb in my hand and I would not say any of it was a natural skill, but I love the challenge and I was driven to learn.
Tell us a bit about your creative process.
James Pecis: There are two parts to my creative process. The first is to be prepared: prepared with your skills, prepared with your ideas, prepared with your research, prepared with health. The second part is knowing how to jam, be resourceful, and be adaptable. I used to play music and I realized some people are great studio musicians who can read and play anything you put in front of them, but they just don't know how to jam with a group. They don't know how to feel the moment and adapt. Session styling is the same. You can plan things out for weeks but only when the girl is in front of you and you see the face, the styling, the set, the light, can you really adapt and make something special.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
James Pecis: I never know how to answer this question. I work from the heart and evolve In the moment.
What’s the most significant thing you’ve learnt over the course of your career?
James Pecis: Trust yourself, follow your heart, bring your own water bottle.
When working on editorial shoots or runway shows, how much of the process is a collaboration and how much comes from you?
James Pecis: Every situation is completely different. That is what makes everyday in this job so much fun. Sometimes I am shown a collection and told the story behind it and then I am left to translate and find what is right for the hair. Other times they may have a strong point of view and need me to execute it. My job is to bring something to the table in both cases. It is always a collaboration with the whole team. The make-up, the clothes, the model, the mood. I absorb as much as possible in those moments and give my interpretation and ideas.
What should a hairstyle bring to a look or fashion image?
James Pecis: Hair can change everything. You can make bad clothes look good in an image if the hair is good, but bad hair on good clothes still just looks bad.
How do you use hair to convey emotions or moods?
James Pecis: The hair is one element in the whole package. You can read the clothing and the model and use the hair to elaborate on the fantasy. You can change the emotion with a stroke of you comb.
What are the projects that you’re most proud of?
James Pecis: I did a limited edition book called NOODLED with creative director Kimberley Norcott for the charity Mission Blue. We cast amazing kids and Paul Wetherell shot them and the pictures were pair up with photos of the sea by Ben Budgen. It was such a fun project and all the proceeds went to preserve the ocean. It was fulfilling to use my skills to benefit something much bigger than myself; the ocean.
All proceeds of NOODLED go to help ocean preservation. Why is this cause so important to you?
James Pecis: I picked Mission Blue because the ocean preservation spoke loudest to me. I am involved with other types of charities as well but the ocean is connected to everything. No blue and green, no you and me. Charitychecker.org is a great resource to check on the statistics of any charity before you get involved.
Do you think the beauty and fashion industries need to take more responsibility for their environmental footprint?
James Pecis: The beauty industry needs to be more responsible for their sourcing, production, distribution, packaging, and taking care of what is left behind. It is not just their moral obligation to do so but also the demand of the next generation. If they stand by and do nothing, their sales will fall and others will pass them by. Remember to vote with your money. Don’t support companies which don’t align with your morals.
I hope to work on eliminating the amount of waste on photo shoots and back stage at shows. I have taken new steps this season backstage working towards that and will be making a big push next season.
How do you think the industry has evolved since you first started out?
James Pecis: The best change since I started is the doors that have been opened to include everyone. From more successful women hairdressers to production companies taking environmental steps to change the way we do photo shoots, to seeing more girls of colour on the runway. We have a long way to go but we are finally moving forward and not standing still.
How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the evolution of technology?
James Pecis: We live in a world where people use Photoshop on their phone to alter their appearance for the dating apps they use. We have grown to tolerate and accept that the world we live in is a fallacy of reality. We know the images we look at are not real yet we quickly accept. The next wave coming is the fascination with reality and imperfections. Scars, crooked noses, big ears, body manipulations, individualities.
What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?
James Pecis: Hard work, patience, and kindness. It is a competitive landscape, so find what makes you different from the other 10,000 people wanting to do it and make that set you apart.
What is the future of beauty?
James Pecis: The future of beauty is appearance manipulation, tribes, non-gender specific, clean, sustainable, reduced packaging, company transparency, inclusive, and fun.
What are you currently working on?
James Pecis: I always have too many projects on. I have a new product launching with Oribe called Tre Set which I think will be a backstage necessity.
Who would you like to shine a spotlight on next?
James Pecis: This last year my first assistant of many years Sarah Jo Palmer has gone off on her own and is doing very well. Her talent and creativity make her one to watch and I’m very excited to see what she does next.