Backstage life: interview with Massimo Morello

Let's explore the backstage life of Massimo Morello.

Massimo Morello’s natural habitat is backstage. He is the leading hairdresser of the biggest fashion weeks and a pillar of the KEVIN.MURPHY family. We first saw him up close and personal in Berlin, but last time he was in Budapest we had the chance to talk to him. An interview follows.

You grew up in a family of hairdressers? Which members of your family were/are hairdressers?

My grandfather was the beginner. He was a barber, and he was a hairdresser for men. So, he was mainly focusing on that. And the second one was my dad. He was, and he still is a hairdresser for female, he was more like into that area. And my mom was working with him, as well, back in the days. And then – growing up – I basically decided to be a hairdresser.

Did your dad want you to be a hairdresser?

He never told me, like that, you know, “I want to be a hairdresser”. So, I said, OK, I’m gonna follow that path. And then my brother started that path as well. Yeah, basically everybody, apart from my grandmother. She was looking after all of us.

So, my grandfather, in a very traditional Italian way, he had the salon, the Barber shop in our house. So, there was it in the house, literally. There was a kitchen over there. And then the next room was the salon. It was very typical Italian back in the days, like everybody ran the business in their house. My dad opened the first salon like 300 meters from there, across the road. And that was the first salon from my dad himself. I work with my dad for eight years. And then this is a long story.

I must have moved to New York in 2001, but then the twin tower accident happened. You remember, like the 9/11. Well, I didn’t move there. So that was, you know, a turning point. And I said, OK, what am I doing now? I said, I’m gonna open a salon here in Italy. So, I was 20 years old, and I opened one, and one year later I opened another one. So, I opened two salons in Italy, and I kept it for another four years. And then I decided to move to Sydney, and I left everything behind, and I went to Australia, and I stayed there for eight years.

Massimo Morello

Are you the first in your family to become world famous as a hairdresser?

Well, world famous is a big word. I thank for that. I travel a lot, that’s for sure. My dad used to travel, like, not as much as me, but he used to go around mainly Italy and, you know, little places of Europe. He was part of our creative team from a brand called Framesi.

He was doing stage work. He was working in the salon also and doing that. So, my dad started that. But he didn’t push as much as I did. So, I would say that my dad started and then I picked it up from him. And I take it to the next level.

How and when did you get to know the KEVIN.MURPHY brand?

It happened in Sydney. So, the story is that I was working in a salon as a manager. I was managing a salon. And one of the things that I had to do was like to decide which one was a product that we were using. And it’s good to know, that in Sydney, everything that is Italian is exotic. So, I was working with Alfaparf at that time. And from where I was working to my apartment, I was riding my Vespa and going back and forth in Taylor Square in Sydney that time, in 2008. And I saw an Academy, and there was a brand of KEVIN.MURPHY. There was not only KEVIN.MURPHY, I saw many other brands: Revlon, Fudge, etc. It was a distributor.

And I had seen this image I still remember now: purple background and a girl like the freckles and this flying hair like a copper flying. It was amazing.

So, I’m basically knocked on the door and said Hi. ‘I’m Italian and work here in Sydney, and what is this KEVIN.MURPHY? Is that a brand?’ It is said, yeah, it’s an Australian brand, is newly born because it was like 3 years old. And I said: how can I know something more about this? They answered me: come here on Monday and somebody will explain to you the brand. And welcoming me there was Nathan Gorman, who is right now our headmaster. Nathan Gorman is my mentor. He was the one that showed me the brand and really made me love the brand straight away. So that was how I got in touch with KEVIN.MURPHY after that day. When Nathan explained to me the product, and philosophy of KEVIN.MURPHY, I thought that I want to work with this brand and this guy. It all started like this.

What did you like about the brand?

What caught my eye was the shape of the bottle and then the smell of the product. Then I started to work on it, and I was blown away because the texture of the hair, the fact that it didn’t get oily, didn’t get like heavy. That was probably the first impression. And then what was around the brand. I’m talking about 2010 and the first QR codes that I’ve seen in my life. I saw it printed on a KEVIN.MURPHY box and they told me about this QR code and like iPhones came out like a few years earlier. So that was like something pioneer. And then I saw that Kevin was stitching the hair, and I was impressed. I though I use only Bobby pins, but this is very cool.

Never seen that before. And then the images, there was these cool rockabilly guys with tattoos and I’m like, this is a cool brand overall. And finally, the fact that it was very environmentally friendly because now everybody talks about it. But like, 10 years ago, nobody was talking about, like, sulphate free, paraben free, tried to be environmentally conscious. The bottles. I found out that the shape of the bottles is not just because it looks cool, but it’s because it holds more volume, so you use less plastic. But I’d say overall I was blown away and I said that’s what I told you before that.

How did your carreer start at KEVIN.MURPHY brand?

Yeah. So, after that moment I started to the path to be an educator. So, I became a KEY. Our educator in KEVIN.MURPHY is called KEY. I did the training a little bit in Australia and a little bit in Italy. But I got certified as a KEY in Palma de Majorca after the 3-day training with Felicity. I went through the three days of education with Felicity, and after that I was a KEY. That was probably, 3-4 months after that I met the brand in Australia. Then I was planning to move back to Europe because my wife had a business in Italy, so she needed to go back. So, I came back for a little while, so I did my initial key training in Palma de Majorca and then after that, probably after two months I went to Sweden, where we did the first TRAIN.ME course.

This course is like something that we do every year, where we gather all our educators from each country: EMEA, NA, APAC. So once a year, we collect them all, we lock them in the room, and we show them the new collection. And then they go home, and they teach all the rest of the people, all the rest of the educators, what they’ve seen. So, the very first one, it was happening in Sweden, and I was invited to be there. We were like only 20 people, so we were there from 17 countries. That was the beginning of KEVIN.MURPHY and that’s where I got my GOLD.KEY. After this there was a show in Salon International in London, and we all got invited to work in the backstage. I first met there with Kevin.

And how did you become part of the KEVIN.MURPHY family?

Then I worked a lot. And they asked me if I wanna become a STYLE.MASTER which is basically didn’t exist in Europe those days. This position is a role basically you are working for the brand instead working for the distributor. I was very happy, obviously. And I was scared because I said OK, but I was thinking, what if I can’t do that? And they said “You are a good man”. So I became STYLE.MASTER.

What is it like working with Kevin?

I learn a totally new way of working. The key point of Kevin is that every time when he is working is calm. The way he’s touching the hair with gentleness, is a nice way. I was really surprised. It was very eye opening for me until today.

Working with Kevin that was a technical skill that I have learnt, and I started to see the hair with an editorial eye. Because when you are in the salon, working with clients is very specific, comparing it with the conditions when you do editorial job: you construct everything. You can put everything on the next level. There is something that you must see. He knows specific way to touch the hair. He is an artist. However, he is very shy and talented. I think He had a vision to fashion, which had nobody else. I feel privileged because I am part of his circle.

I mean I can see him, the real him and his true personality, because we are a very small group in that sense. We are probably 10 people that we really know Kevin, meaning that we are in the same room.

When we do big shows, Kevin does the show and then he just goes backstage, and he stays there. He doesn’t go out to meet with everybody. Otherwise, it’s impossible for him to walk around because people stop him and take photos, which is good, but at the same time when there are 2000 people around, it’s not easy. So, it’s basically unfair for him to stay with us, but he stays with us backstage. It means that we don’t treat him as Kevin, like we did in the beginning. I was intimidated, too, like everybody.

When you start working with somebody like Kevin, you feel like, “Oh my God, this is the guy.” Now we think of Kevin like another guy of us, and that’s he likes that when he does a hairstyle, he asks our opinion and tell me, you know oh, do you like this? What do you think about that? And he’s more than happy, if you say Kevin that’s not looking good, that looks, the front is OK, but the back, it doesn’t look good, or I would do this and that, he’s happy about that. So, but he feels that he’s protected in that way with us, we know him well so.

I understand that you are constantly travelling for your work, as you work at shows and fashion weeks. It’s probably hard to imagine this world for someone who is a salon hairdresser. Can you please tell us about the fashion world? What is the purpose of your work?

The fashion world is very small. I’m into this business because it allows me to be creative. It allows me to do, like you know, hairstyles that in salon you don’t do. So that’s why and most of it I like the fashion weeks better than the photo shoot because the Fashion Week doesn’t have Photoshop. Everything is pure. What do you do with your hand is like, that is true, so it’s pure. So that is why I fell into the fashion world and why I like it. Don’t forget that I come from a small village, I’m really from a village in the countryside. So, like, you know, if you really want to, if you push, you can achieve everything that you want, but you need, you need sacrifice, of course.

So, I’ll do three things in my job. First, I do a lot of fashion weeks. So, either I am present and doing the direction of the show or sometime if I’m not present, I’m organizing the backstage. I’m organizing the communication with the designers, deciding the hairstyles more likely. So that is part of my job first. Second, I do show like Budapest Hair Show on stage. I represent and promote the brand, show the hair side that I did on a Fashion Week. Last but not least, I teach classes.

Which is your favourite?

Backstage, with models. Because backstage, I mean, I hope that this is not going to go against me, but like, you know, if I have to choose between celebrities and Fashion Week with models, I will always go with the models because that is what I like to do the most. I love the backstage. I love to do like quick and effective hairstyles. I love like the pressure. So, I like when it’s everything is calm, but I like when it’s everything is buzzing. So that’s my brain really go into maximum speed. I’m like OK, I need to find a solution. So, a problem solver finds a solution and need to be quick and need to be done properly. That is what I like.

Please tell us about the last few months. Where have you been this season and where are you going next?

Where have I been the last three months? I can’t tell you because I’ve been in so many places, so I can’t tell you. I’d rather tell you about September. The Budapest Hair Show was my fourth show in this month. Before here I was in Paris Fashion Week. Before Paris, I was at the Venice Film Festival looking after Georgina Rose Chapman, the fashion designer. Her boyfriend is Adrian Brody the actor. He’s one of the characters in Blonde, produced by Brad Pitt, which he was there as well. So, we were all like in the same place in Venice. Before that I was doing a show in Sicily, actually. Before that I was doing a show in Holland. So that is my September. After this interview, I will go to Dublin, I’m teaching a backstage class. After that I’m going home for a week or something less than a week, and then I’m going to Marbella for a big show.

Does all this work lights you up or exhaust you?

Do you think I’m tired? I mean you saw the show. Did I look tired? Jokes aside, all this work lights me up. But inspiration for me mostly comes from home, in my office, quiet.

That shows are not places to be creative, but places to deliver.

How much freedom do you have to create? For example, did you have to report that the show went on in Hungary?

I report to Johanna (Johanna Nathanaelsdotter Normark Director of Education for Europe) and more likely we have a de-brief more like in a friendly chat rather than a report.

What did you show in Hungary? Why did you bring them this?

Because when you do show like that, you don’t have much time, so you need something quick and nothing better than a hair that you did backstage, because backstage you must be quick. So, I showed them a variety of loop from Tallinn, from Erky, from Barcelona Fashion Week, from Melbourne Fashion Week, from Copenhagen Fashion Week.

All the hair we showed at fashion shows the last year or over the six months. When I prepare a presentation for hairdressers, I always wonder what I’d like to see in the audience? I’d rather see a big Eiffel Tower on her head, or a hairstyle that the hairdresser can do in the salon the next day. When the clients come in and the hairdresser shows them what they’ve learned from the show. that’s why I have created hairstyles that can be done in 10 minutes with a little practice.

I understand that the Erki Fashion Show is your heart’s desire. Tell us about it, what is it about and why is it your favourite?

Tallinn, Estonia, is where this exhibition is. So, it’s a small country. There are designer schools, so people who want to design clothes, do it and they have their graduation every year. So, everybody who graduates now, they do their own show. They do this show and they’re free to do whatever they want because from there they must start trading, they must do so well that they can create the show there. They can do crazy things, which I really like.

The 2021 show had 20 shows in one day. I like that they are open, can be creative because they are newbies and willing to take suggestions. So, when I see the collection, I say like oh you know what these hairs that will be so good for this collection and. Most of the time they say yes, I like that. So, I like it because it’s not pretentious. He’s like very open minded, very creative and a lot of work. So that is my favourite. That is my favourite show and I’m pretty sure that it will be my favourite show for the year to come.

Your life is a bit more complicated than that of the salon-only hairdresser. How do you live it?

If you are a salon-only hairdresser, you have the certain time every night when you go and you can organise and plan your life. For me is unknown this life, but I can’t blame my life, this is my choice. I can’t like you know doing what I want on the weekend because I’m, I work all the time on the weekend. We get the glory after the shows. We get like, you know, so many cool places. And we do so many cool things. We meet a lot of interesting people. But there is a price to pay.

My daughter is 9-year-old, and my wife has a business in Italy. So they’re not traveling with me that much. Only sometimes. But like, the first time that I came here in Budapest, my wife was here with me.

You have got a book; its name is Beauty English book. What is it about, who is it for and who do you recommend it to?

There is a story that happened to me because when I moved to Sydney, my English was not very good. So, I went to the English school there, but they couldn’t teach me how to communicate with my clients. When I started working in the salon, I found out that I couldn’t communicate with them, and I didn’t know the hairdresser terms.

So, I can collect these terms and I published this Italian-English vocabulary for hairdressers.

Massimo Morello and Dorka Hansagi

Dorka Hansagi,

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