All images courtesy of Howard McLaren

The recent London Fashion Week was especially memorable to me thanks to a mere 15 minutes with the Vice President and Senior Artistic Director of Bumble and bumble, Howard McLaren. To be honest, I was a bag of nerves beforehand (my hair! My HAIR! No matter how you rock up you just feel as if they’re going to think ‘Dear me…’), pondering what to ask this ultimate hair legend. Doing beauty interviews is nothing new to me, but for some reason the thought of meeting Howard McLaren, the name I have seen in every magazine growing up made me a tad nervous. I wanted to make it more of casual conversation, one that felt like chatting to a friend. Serendipity intervened, bumping into him outside Somerset House as he’s having a cigarette break from the Mark Fast show; he was spending the day working with his friend Neil Moodie, another hair legend! Black rimmed glasses, a casual tweed suit jacket, blue jeans, a deep Scottish accent, the force behind the brand since it evolved; this man knows everyone and anyone.  Of course I’d written a long list of questions, but with an hour of his time usually costing hundreds of pounds, I knew I had to keep this on point!

Volt Café: What is one key hair value working with Bumble has taught you?
Howard McLaren: To make people truly look and feel good, taking into consideration the photographer, the model and the entire concept. Whichever style you do, ultimately you have to make the person look good no matter how dramatic the look. As artists we train our eyes more than we train our technique, so thinking about the whole image is a value I have learned throughout the years.
VC: From the start of your career what would you say has really changed in terms of how women wear their hair today, what specific transition have you seen personally?
HM: Since the 60’s and throughout the different eras that we went through, the hair cut was always the most important element of hair, now we have moved into a generation where being playful and experimental with how our hair is styled is more of interest to today’s women. If you were a secretary in those days you looked like a secretary, if you were a doctor you looked liked a doctor. Moving forward from those days no-one wants to be put in a box any more. Everything has become more individual, there’s more freedom of expression and individuality, rules are being broken. People have become much more savvy about how they want to look and women do more research on how they ideally want to look, everything has become more accessible.
VC: Being the most important man Bumble has, how involved are you with the brand and The House of Bumble?
HM: Obviously I built the roots and the value of the brand, so my involvement is continuously seeing what works for Bumble. You can’t take everything, you have to be selective and specific and take pieces that encourage the brand. It’s important to stay current, you see a trend for texture therefore it’s important to take this to the lab and create this in form of a product. Using it backstage is just as important to see how it works and how it fits into the Bumble family. I still do master classes at The House of Bumble and coach the guys on hair, so I am very hands-on involved with the brand.
VC: Being in this industry since the early 70’s, and creating the Bumble brand, what keeps you motivated and inspired?
HM: Street culture, I love street culture. Bumble actually stopped using agency models for a while, it’s more challenging working with non models and real people, it’s the transformation of ordinary people and how happy it makes them to get a free hair cut and their image being the face of a Bumble campaign. Their reaction reminds me how much I love what I do. Working with the youth, cutting their hair, seeing how they respond to different hair styles and how they envision hair to be in the future, – you’ll be surprised what you can learn from kids and youth culture. We actually give away free hair cuts at The House of Bumble specifically for this reason, the reaction from a free hair cut and how they feel afterwards is inspiring. The curiosity of what is going to happen next in hair, how to adapt to change also inspires me. I watch a lot of film, which I take great reference from, great websites keep me motivated too.
VC: What advice is key for up and coming session stylists?
HM: To make a good hair dresser you need to listen to your client, we all want to be creative and cut away, but listening to your client is the key. People know about hair and their own hair, they have lived with their hair longer than you have probably done hair, and most of the times you can learn something from them. I met this one lady from Seattle that I’d never forget, she could do her own hair better than any session stylist! So we asked her to do a documentary and style her own hair for a week, every session stylist was gobsmacked at the result and she didn’t even have an iota of experience working in beauty or doing hair.
VC: Finally, what trends are you noticing this season?
HM: There’s a lot of ‘scaffolding’ this season, hair is being layered and layered, but still keeping hair looking like hair and not too worked on. You’re not seeing product this season, we are seeing texture, there’s a trend for matt hair, we are over them days of high gloss and shines. Everything is being pulled back and less exaggerated than usual.

House of Bumble is a 6 floor tall building in the heart of Manhattan where the world of Bumble lives. Everything Bumble happens here, this building not only contains their salon but also the Bumble School, the Bumble Tea House, the Bumble Photo Studio and their own hair styling classroom.

Words by Maryam Asadi


bumble and bumble, Howard McLaren, mark fast, Somerset House,