Ted Gibson backstage at the Rachel Roy Spring 2012
Ted Gibson backstage at the Rachel Roy Spring 2012 presentation during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center on September 12, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

For celebrity hairstylist Ted Gibson, hair is not merely for show – it is a direct expression of life. Now having been in the industry for nearly two decades, his work has been seen on several television shows including TLC’s What Not to Wear (where he is featured as the head stylist), on high-fashion runways and on celebs such as Angelina Jolie, Rachel Roy, Joy Bryant, and Zoe Saldana. A self-proclaimed “image maker,” Gibson prides himself on bringing out the true personality of his clients once they land in his chair. With successful salons in New York and Ft. Lauderdale, the stylist, who also has his own line of multi-texture products, was recently awarded Essence magazine’s Best in Black Beauty Award. In the midst of this exciting time, Gibson sat down with theGrio to discuss his career and passion for hair — as well as his triumph as one of the most sought- after stars in his industry.

theGrio: What influenced you to get into the hair business?

Ted Gibson: A good friend of mine is a hairdresser and I said to him one New Year’s Eve, “You know, I’ve kind of thought about being a hair dresser” — I was about 22 years old, or 23. He said, “Really? Well, you should do it. You’d be really good at it.” And the next thing I know, I was in school and winning competitions and really found out that I love hair.

What about your personality made him say that?

I think my openness and my willingness. When you’re a hairdresser you have to, of course, do really good hair. But you also have to be a therapist. You know, there are so many things that I didn’t really know when I got my beauty school license. This business is a phenomenal business, in that someone has to stand on their feet all day long and do 10-12 clients in one day, and listen, and remember their kids’ names, and their husbands’ names, and where they went on vacation last… you know, it’s a big job.

We know hair is important to women — but why?

Hair is really, really personal and it affects your confidence, how you feel about yourself. It affects how you react to your husband, your children and your girlfriends. I think it can really dictate periods of a woman’s life as well.

What was your trajectory in going into celebrity hairstyling?

Angelina Jolie was my big break. I had the opportunity to fly to London and do the covers of Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire in one day with famed fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier. That’s when we had our love affair and I was with her for about seven years. In those seven years, I really felt like that’s what helped catapult my career. I really feel like I’m an image maker. I help women discover how beautiful they are. I transform my clients in a way that, possibly, they didn’t have an idea that they could. So I took Angelina from the “weird girl” to the Angelina we know today.

I’ve since worked with Thandie Newton, Gabrielle Union (I was with Gabrielle earlier this week), Janelle Monet — we’ve been working together for about four years on the coif. She actually updated that look, so you’re going to see that soon, and the great things that are coming up for her in the next few weeks.

What is the experience like at a Ted Gibson salon? Would regular, non-celebs feel comfortable?

My philosophy of hair has always been about textures of hair; it’s never been about the color of the skin. What I wanted to do when I opened my salon was to have a unique point of difference that people would be drawn to and people would understand. I wanted to create an environment that was chic, relaxed, and luxurious, but not pretentious. In that a black women can sit next to a white woman who’s sitting next to an Asian woman, sitting next to a celebrity.

You’ve seen everything from jheri curls to finger waves, from all the years in the biz. What was the most difficult technique to master?

Push waves. It’s a finger wave that’s smaller, where you would use two combs to get a look. That was in the early ’90s. You’re too young, darling, you’re too young.

So, what’s hot right now, in terms of hairstyles for black women?

I think weaves are hot and women wearing their hair natural is hot.  I think if you’re going in and getting a texturizer in your hair, or color — and you want it to have ombre — that’s hot. And you can do ombre where it’s not so severe.

You know, in the ’70s, it was about the afro or straight, straight hair. In the ’80s, it was about curly, curly hair, permanent waves and jheri curls — and everyone wore it. Now, not everyone wears one thing. That’s what I love [about this time period], it’s all about the individual.

Beards are big, too, with men.

Yes, I wish I could grow one.

[Chuckle] Now, do you do your own hair?

No, I go to the barbershop. I’ve been going to my barber for the last 13 years. I used to have locs for years, but I cut them off in the late ’90s, it was liberating. Now I just keep it short.

Why did you choose Ft. Lauderdale as the second location for your salon chain?

At that time, big name salons had 10-plus chairs and it was this huge factory. And then all of a sudden, there were these kind of boutique hotels popping up. The W Hotel was one of those first hotels to start that movement of boutique. So, we were attracted to the W, we love the W [and the idea of a boutique salon]. We also felt like our guests in the salons and who buy our products really understand. It’s a beautiful, beautiful salon and it’s in [The W Fort Lauderdale Hotel]. It’s on the first floor and the actual hotel is right on the beach. I wanted to bring the idea of celebrity and luxury and fashion to Ft. Lauderdale where I felt [people were] hungry for it.

Do you have any fave products?

I love my Beautiful Hold Hairspray. I use it on everybody. I use it on Annie Hathaway and I use it on Gabrielle Union. [For the summer] I recommend Hair Sheet Styling — it’s a great product. Especially if you have color-treated hair and are going to be at the beach, because it has the UV absorber that helps protect hair from harmful rays.

What makes your products and styling philosophy unique?

All my products are for multi-textures. I created these products to have something to use for all the different types of women that I work on. Because I always say, you can be really, really dark in skin tone and have straight hair. You can be very, very light in skin tone and have kinky hair. So for me it’s always been about textures.

Follow Danielle Kwateng on Twitter at @danispecialk