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Portrait by Asher Penn

Brittany Mroczek is a hair stylist and artist who’s made a name for herself care of braids, brand collabs, and her zen chairside manner. She’s worked most repeatedly with Eckhaus Latta and the photographer Rob Kulisek and also assists backstage at fashion weeks for shows such as Marc Jacobs, Dolce and Gabbana, Dior, and Hermes. She’s styled for movies and maintains an independent art practice, exhibiting objects and doing hair in galleries. I met Brittany in early August in Los Angeles, where she trimmed my growing mane such that its ends swung blunt and fulsome, framing to flatter my little face. It was the kind of cut that looked a week’s grown from the go, and that grew out just as ideal.

When we met in August, you mentioned that your brother was your first hair muse and model. Could you tell me a bit about him, your relationship, and what dos you did on him?
My brother! 6 years older, an artist, continually investigating life’s wonders and concepts with intention and curiosity. He was and still is a true inspiration. We were very close growing up and would frequently pick out one another’s outfits for school, obligatory family events, or social happenings. Sometimes we would share clothes. A part of this styling was, of course, the hair. He was a canvas for experimenting; green, red, bleached, shaved, mullet… Most of the time his was this stylized situation accompanied by suits. He wore these dada-esque suits and started a club at high school called “salon dada.”

Eckhauslatta A/W 2012. Photo: Rob Kulsiek

Did he ever cut your hair?
Yes. It was the eve of my last day of fifth grade and I had this grand idea of getting my haircut. It was really long and I wanted to get the classic long layers that Topanga from Boy Meets World had. The salon that our family had extreme loyalty to was closed and I wanted it so badly that I convinced my dad to take me to the mall. My mom tried to derail me but my heart was after those layers. It was the worst: I walked out in tears. When I got home, my brother told me that I looked like LeAnn Rimes and I burst into more tears and then he was like, “Britt, it’s okay. We can create a vision!” We cut my hair into a bob! At that point, I understood that the trend I was chasing was not the best haircut for me, but rather, that vision: the bob! Another person seeing your potential and possibility was huge.
Where did you grow up? What was it like?
I was born in Seattle and grew up in Olympia, WA. Olympia was this amazing place. I didn’t quite realize until I left – I had a pretty special upbringing. In high school, I opened a store/gallery with four Evergreen students called the Olympia Clothing Project. I had a clothing line called Owski. Then I realized that all that practice of styling and cutting my friends and family members’ hair could be a way to interact with people that were thinking outside of the box: radicals, lgbtq, professors, artists, etc. I started cutting hair in the gallery and at Arts Walk, an annual art event in Olympia. I styled fashion shows for Homo A GoGo, a queer music, film, art and activist festival. By my senior year of high school, I had enough credits to graduate early, and I decided to go to beauty school. My parents were like NO and I was like YES!

Bernard Willhelm, May 2016. Photo: Rob Kulsiek

Why didn’t your parents want you to go to beauty school?
Oh, for all the stereotypes that come along with beauty school and being a hairdresser. They are real. I remember someone putting nail polish remover in someone’s Coca-Cola – very tragic.
So your mom didn’t approve. What is she like?
She was a real beauty. A spiritual beacon of light, when in her element. Always in the garden, an avid believer in God. She was a Jehovah’s Witness, which influenced me in many ways, for better and worse. Religion is brainwashing. God can be anything. I think my mom was pretty close to God in the garden, and then there was church, which is in conflict with what spirituality actually is. I went three times a week until I realized that my spiritual path had nothing to do with conforming to a religion, but rather with committing to my interests and finding my own truths and having my own experiences. I never wanted to be categorized after breaking free.
So you didn’t find spirituality in the church?
There were moments, in church, when a profound sense of spirituality showered my blessed little eyes. There was an annual convention where 17,000 people would come together and sing. I think the way people dress for God, and the hairstyles are inspiring. The publications, though – they were poorly written, and fear-based. I would flip through them and imagine my own realities and truths in them. And then I would look at Vogue and zines that were floating around Olympia. I was always thinking about magazines as a way to spread a message!

Editorial for Isabel Wilson, 2013.

What’s a message you’d like to share?
That there is beauty in everyone – the weird, the ugly, the imprisoned, the rich, in structure, in the unraveling, in fame, in the game, in nature, in the grime of the city. There is beauty. It’s there, in you and me and everyone we know.
What’s the beauty and hair industry like? You work at a pretty elite level…
The industry is tricky. Navigating the domineering men defining beauty, while being mindful that working at a certain level, you can’t be too radical – it’s intense. One day, I’d like to open up a safe beautiful little atelier and travel the world for various jobs, where I can get paid by an ever-evolving industry that’s in dire need of change.
Where do you cut hair now?
For the last four years, I’ve seen clients out of my studio space in Williamsburg. I also travel outbound for industry work, which includes fashion weeks – London, Milan, Paris – and editorials, which can bring you anywhere. Wherever I travel, I always visit a bathhouse and get body work done. If there are hot springs, I try to make it to those too. I’m so fascinated with the ritual around caring and the different ways different cultures care for one another through touch, movement, etc. A lot can be said without using words. For example, Moroccan bathhouses lend themselves to a petting, very mother like and endearing, whereas Japanese bathhouses lend themselves to being tossed around – you feel like a beached whale that flipped flopped its way to shore! Most of my own stuff is shot in studio.

Elysia Crampton,Wonderland Magazine. Photo: Stephan Schwartzman

Yeah. Photography is really what makes the work permanent. I’ve always been interested in magazines as a platform. They reach the masses and are not exclusive. Sometimes I think about casting hairstyles as a mode of documentation…
You’ve shown in galleries as well, right?
I recently did a show in a gallery space called “slow styles in a fast styled world.” It was born out of the necessity to step back from the breakneck industry speed I‘d been working at, and showcase a body of work, while seeing clients for haircuts in a recontextualized space. I’ve hosted similar pop-up salons out of friends studio spaces or in gardens. Salons can be toxic – the drama, the chemicals, the judgement. I feel more at home when cutting hair in studios, galleries and gardens.
Do you ever catch yourself performing the role of hairdresser? Clients often expect you to act as therapist, a confident, a bff. (I used to work in salons…)
Yes, absolutely. You literally have people’s backs! Standing behind people and lending a listening ear while keeping a focused eye is very important. But it’s all confidential.
Can we get basic – what is hair?
It’s a threadlike strand growing from the skin of humans! To me, it’s a fiber that can or cannot be styled. It acts as an umbrella that everyone fits under, unless you don’t have it, which is beautiful too. I think of hair as an insulator, as well. It’s a medium. Hair is one medium that I work in. My art practice is very rooted in texture, textiles, fiber, clothing and the body, as well as my spirituality. Hair is spiritual. It’s also culture and trend. It speaks to class and to time. It’s ephemeral – I love that a style created is just a spray bottle squirt away from being deconstructed.
How do you relate to beauty trends?
I’m fascinated by trend. You see things trickle from the heads of creatives, who are taking risks – those styles get pulled from the streets and styled in the context of a magazine. You see runway styles influence popular culture. People love a trend. It’s a way of fitting in and feeling accepted by popular culture.Hair and style have always been a safe place to experiment with setting my own trends, which are usually representative of how I’m feeling or thinking about myself in relationship to the world.

Beasts of the Southern Wild, 2012.

What kind of experiments have you DIY’ed?
With body hair – I remember shaving one leg and leaving the other hairy. It was a reminder to myself of the masculine and feminine, I’ve always strived for a balance.
You mentioned texture is a big part of your practice. Could you talk about different hair textures and what they can do? How do you feel them out?
Texture is everything. It gives me, as a hairdresser, variables. With curly hair, there’s room for sculpting the hair. Whereas super fine hair, like Zoe Latta or asian hair, is really good for giving a structured haircut, think Vidal Sassoon. You have to really listen texture, what it wants to do, or what it is able to do, as opposed to what it should do. I think that’s the thing a lot of hairdressers forget – it’s not really about projecting what you want onto the client, unless it’s in the context of an editorial or fashion show – it’s listening, intuiting, and collaborating.
Let’s talk about some of your collaborations. You mentioned Zoe Latta of Eckhaus Latta. What’s a favorite project you’ve worked on together? How do you exchange ideas between yourselves?
Zoe is the type who willfully gives me the go ahead. “I’m a walking advertisement for you,” she once said, “have fun!” Once, in Providence, we collaborated on a three hour haircut while stoned. She came out looking like a Beatrix Potter character! That was before I went through extensive training. Mike is way more structured – has a vision himself and it’s more about aiding him to get to the place he wants to go, and quickly. My favorite collaboration with them was for their first collection. Girls with fishtail beards, what an idea!
Who else do you collaborate with?
I collaborate with mostly designers, artist, and photographers. Like Lauren Manoogian, Pelican Avenue, Bernard Willhelm, Rob Kulisek, Gillian Steiner, Joseph Holtzman, Lauren Davis Fisher, Kenneth Andrew Mroczek… Every haircut is a collaboration but the list above are people I’ve developed ideas with.

299 792 458 M-S, July 2016. Photo: Rob Kulsiek

How are the dynamics of your different collaborations different?
I reach out to people or people will reach out to me. Usually, we meet and brainstorm. Sometimes I’ll have a vision for a person and contact them. For example, I colored and styled Bernard Willhelm’s hair for the ad campaign for his show Bernhard Willhelm 3000: When Fashion Shows The Danger Then Fashion Is The Danger at MOCA [the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles]. That came out of being in LA, inspired by citrus and turmeric and him… closing my eyes, having a vision… I documented the idea, sent him some photos, and set a meeting, never having met before. He told me to bring my running shoes and I was like yeah, this guy is badass, the real deal! We brainstormed the idea. He mentioned having the perfect platform and then Matthias Vriens Mcgrath shot it and it went all over LA and in W magazine.
When we met, you shared some tips & tricks, like you mentioned how everyone’s individual oil is the best product for their hair. Could you elaborate on that and share more of your wisdom?
Every product line tries to emulate natural hair oil. Your body really wants the oil that it’s naturally secreting. Wash every three days, like a nice sweater – you wouldn’t wash it frequently, you would take it to the dry cleaner. Brush your hair using a synthetic and boar bristle brush. Mason and Pearson is the best brush but you can get a bootlegged one if you’re on a budget. Cold rinse for luster and shine, cold water closes the cuticle. Lemon and sunshine for natural highlighting. It’s the citric acid and enzymes of the lemon interacting with the melanin in the hair that causes it to lighten. Some hair textures lighten easier depending on the pigmentation of the hair. The hairline is good place to emphasize because it lifts quickly because the hair in fine around the hairline. Here’s a recipe -The juice from three lemons, 2 bags of chamomile tea, 1 tsp of ground cinnamon, 1 TBS almond oil, An empty spray bottle- Boil chamomile tea in one cup of water. Juice lemons. Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle and spray where you desire. Bask in the rays of the sun for 20 minutes. The sun will light your way. :)