After 21 years in the hair industry, Toronto-based hairstylist Greg May knows a thing or two about what’s happening (or not happening) on our heads. After going to college for image consulting, he briefly toyed with the idea of becoming a police officer (he’s been studying martial arts since he was eight) but instead, tried modelling for just under a decade before he finally found his niche in hair.
He opened Greg May Hair Architects in Toronto's Yorkville neighbourhood in 2003 and launched his own product line four years later. (This fall, he launches Greg May Scissors, a line of high-end hair cutting scissors.) When he’s not in his salon, Greg can often be found on set at photo shoots or schmoozing with celebrities alongside his wife Kelly at one of the gifting lounges during TIFF.
I asked Greg to share with us some of his best hair tips and favourite products:
What’s your background? Vidal Sassoon is where I started my career in hair and what I consider to be my foundation in the business. I then trained with Jean Louis David, Aveda, Sebastian and Paul Mitchell. In 2003, I opened Greg May Hair Architects, followed by my own haircare line that includes shampoos, conditioners, wet styling products and finishing products. I have spent the last decade refining my techniques by studying Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese styles of cutting and colouring. Over the years, I’ve worked with celebrities such as Pamela Anderson, Gena Lee Nolin, Jill Hennessy and the cast of Degrassi as well as the original cast of 90210.
Who were your favourite celebrities to work with? Jill Hennessy. She was so cool and down-to earth. I couldn't go crazy with her hair because she liked it very simple, but I gave her some long, flat layers and tousled it with a few sprays of my sea salt spray. We had a really great conversation and it was just a really great time.
What made you decide to work with hair? Ultimately, it was pure admiration of my father, who was a builder as well as an artist, that helped me decide to get into hair. I’ve always been good at working with my hands and from a really young age was totally fascinated by girls, so hair just made sense.
You call yourself a hair "architect." Can you explain what that means? When I was training at Vidal Sassoon when it was considered the "Harvard of hair," Vidal believed that designing hair was very similar to architecture. Cutting and colouring techniques were inspired by the great architects like Mies van der Rohe and the whole ‘form follows function’ theory, as well as Bauhaus principles of simplicity and minimalism. My father also built houses, so this idea of building has always been part of my foundation.
What is your hair philosophy? Hair has to reflect both who you are on the inside as well as the outside. It should be sexy, but not contrived and never fixed into place.
Do you have any hair icons? I have so many! Halle Berry, Charlize Theron and David Beckham all have really great hair. I also really love all of the Victoria's Secret models.
What's your signature cut that people specifically come to you for? A lot of people come to me for a cut that I developed called ‘The Scoop’. It's a really versatile style made up of long layers that are shorter through the top and longer on the sides to frame the face. Because of the long layers, it can be styled in a number of ways—from super-sleek using a flat iron to messy and curly using a diffuser. My favourite way to style it is with bouncy, sexy waves using a round brush.
Is there a secret to finding the perfect cut or style? I don't necessarily believe in a ‘perfect’ style, but I think it's helpful to look for images of styles that you really like. Keeping in mind facial features and bone structure, these pictures will give you a sense of the kind of look you're going for, so you and your stylist can work together to achieve something similar.
If you could recommend one hair tool that we should invest in this year, what would it be? The Elchim 2001 Professional Hair Dryer. I like the shape, the weight, the power and the speed in which it dries hair. I tend to hold my dryer by the barrel and the Elchim doesn't get hot there; plus, it isn't front- or back-heavy, so it's really comfortable to use for long periods of time.
What are your top five hair products?
1. Greg May Product Be Strong Transforming Leave-In Treatment: This is great for pre-blow drying because it has keratin to help strengthen and protect hair and it gives a great shine. I love the sweet honeysuckle scent.
2. Greg May Product Work-It Hairspray: This is my salon's bestselling product. It's a humidity-resistant hairspray that is brushable, so you can spray it on and brush it out with no stickiness. Sebastian Shaper Hairspray gives the same kind of result.
3. Greg May Amped-Up Hair Powder: This is made from potato starch, tapioca starch and silica. A little goes a really long way to give instant body with a matte texture.
4. Paul Mitchell Flexible Style Sculpting Foam: This mousse smells great and is full of conditioners that give hair bendable body.
5. Compagnia del Colore Leave-In Shine Mask. This product is loaded with avocado oil and makes hair so shiny.
Which hair products are worth splurging on? There are some great brushes on the market. Cheap brushes can yank on hair and irritate the scalp. I love ceramic-based round brushes with nylon bristles for most of my styling because they are great for body and natural waves. The Paul Mitchell 413 Sculpting Brush is great for styling and untangling hair.
Denman brushes, with their rubber base, are great for smoothing out hair and reducing static.
What can you save on? You can save on bobby pins and things like wet-styling detangling combs. But to be honest, when it comes to your hair, why not invest in it? It's the one accessory that you don't take off at night.
What was your biggest hair fail? In the early '90s, when everyone was going crazy for ‘The Rachel’ haircut, I decided to try it out on a young lady who came to see me at the Holt Renfrew Salon. I used my razor to shape and thin out the sides and back of her hair in an attempt to create the hair flip like Jennifer Aniston's, but she ended up looking more like Carol Brady. In the end, I fixed it, but it taught me that just because a cut looks good one one person, it doesn't work for everyone.
What’s your best hair tip? Don't try so hard to make your hair look perfect by loading it with product. I find that the less you try, the sexier your hair ends up looking.
Do you have any advice for aspiring hairstylists? Follow your heart. Find a disciplined, passionate mentor who will guide you. And never stop learning, ever. Inspiration can be found in everything and passion really does equal success.
Do you agree with Greg’s hair philosophy?
Have you tried any of his favourite products?
Did you ever ask for ‘The Rachel’?