One time, I cut too much hair and I made my customer cry. This was more than 10 years ago, maybe longer. It was right when I started and I really had very little experience. I thought it was a really cute haircut though. I told her, “I thought this would look great on you!” And also, “I'm sorry!” But she came back after two months. So she liked it! I still felt really bad.
Since then, I've learned how important consultations are. I'm really careful to make sure I understand what they want. Some people say talking to a hair stylist is like therapy. It can be hard to do since I'm still learning English. To be honest, I think feeling is more important. Sometimes it's easier for me to feel what they're thinking. It's almost spiritual: what length you want, what color you want. Of course, I try to understand through language, but I can feel the energy of what someone wants to change or keep. It’s like an exchange of spiritual energy.
When they come in, I think, how are they walking? How are they talking? What are they wearing? What is their attitude? That’s all a part of who they are and their energy.
I cut both men's and women's hair but I prefer women. I like to make people look sexy and cool. I prefer something with movement, and often that's easier with longer hair. I think I'm the best hair stylist in the world. If I didn't think that, I wouldn't be able to cut anyone's hair. I have to be confident because my clients have to be confident in me, too. I don't think I have a particular style—I think I can create almost anything. I just want my clients to be happy.
I think I'm the best hair stylist in the world. If I didn't think that, I wouldn't be able to cut anyone's hair.
I grew up in the countryside, near Osaka. When I was in high school, I went to a hair salon and the stylist there said to me, “You should be a hairstylist.” I don't know why he said that. Maybe because he was looking for an assistant? But I thought, “OK, well, I want to work here.” So I started working there in high school, during summer vacations. I loved it. After I graduated, they wanted me to work full-time, but I wanted to go to beauty school.
At first, my father said, “No, being a hair stylist is not a job. It's a woman's job.” This was 20 years ago. But I really liked it. Everyone that worked at the salon was really cool. It was in the countryside, but it was the best salon in the area. I started as an assistant, mostly just cleaning and sweeping. But I loved it. I loved seeing how happy customers were after their haircuts.
I went to beauty school for a year and I spent two years as an assistant, and after that became a full hair stylist in Nagoya. Then the salon asked if anyone wanted to go to Tokyo, and I said I did. I was 21. I'd been to Tokyo before, while traveling, and I loved it. This was before the internet, really. So for me, Tokyo was a place for inspiration. Everything was cooler there. I wanted to learn technique and see the fashion. I like challenging myself. I like big cities, meeting new people, and trying new things. I would maybe move back to the countryside once I'm 60. My dad and grandmother still live there. My dad is an architect. He probably wanted me to do something similar to him, but he really only cared if I liked my job. And so he's happy that I found something I love.
Japanese style is very “kawaii.” They love trends and following trends. Not a lot of people challenge that.
I lived in Tokyo for eight years. While I was there, I started hair styling for fashion editorials and met a makeup artist who wanted to open a salon in Nakameguro, which was a hip neighborhood in Tokyo, kind of like Brooklyn. So I joined him and we found a location, designed it together, and opened it. I was twenty-five or six. It was a great experience, but I wanted to study more fashion hairstyling, and the place for that is London. It's the best city to learn. So many famous hair stylists are from London: Vidal Sassoon, Toni & Guy. They're all from London. I don't know why, but I think it's just a creative city.
During my time at beauty school in Japan, we took a trip to Paris and London to see hair salons, and that's when I first fell in love with the city. I knew I wanted to go back and live there. I loved the punk scene there—the hair, the fashion. London is a little avant garde. The style there is just very cool, especially compared to Japan. Japanese style is very “kawaii.” They love trends and following trends. Not a lot of people challenge that. It's a little more conservative. People want to look gorgeous and feminine. London is cooler. People have more personal style and don’t mind looking different. I wanted to see more of that and then learn how to experiment. I always felt more adventurous and I loved British music, like Radiohead, and movies like Trainspotting. I've been obsessed with British style since high school.
Eugene Souleiman is a hairstylist there and I wanted to work for him. But I couldn't speak any English and didn't know anyone who knew him, so I couldn't contact him. I just packed my bags and moved there to study. I also went to English school. I really only knew one person when I moved. He was also a hair stylist, so I started assisting him first. Then, as I made more friends and expanded my portfolio, I started working as a fashion hairstylist.
My dream is to do an art exhibition of my hair. A hair exhibition at the MoMA.
I only ended up living in London for a year. It was very hard to get a visa. I was working too much and didn't have time to go to school, so I couldn't renew my visa. I went back to Tokyo for a year, and applied for visas elsewhere—New York and Berlin, and I got New York. I cried when I left London. It was really hard to be back in Tokyo. I wanted to live in London forever.
I moved to New York because it’s the biggest city in the world. I moved 10 years ago, to Brooklyn. I don't feel like a New Yorker yet though. I worked in a Japanese salon here for three years—they sponsored my visa—and then I went freelance. I started cutting my clients' hair in my apartment. I only had a few of them—either from the salon or through Facebook. Maybe two a week. But I started getting busier and busier, and started doing color at my apartment as well. And that's when I realized I needed to have my own salon.
I thought I'd open a small, private salon, but then I found this location. I was looking for a year. I originally was going to open a salon with two friends, a couple. We signed leases on two or three places and every time something went wrong. Eventually I thought, maybe it's better if we do this separately? So they opened their salon and I opened mine. I was checking Craigslist constantly, and then I found this space—it used to be a hair salon, so it was perfect for me. My friends helped with painting; it was very DIY. I wanted it to feel like a home—like my room. I used to cut in my room, that's why it's called Room. I brought all my own furniture from my apartment: the chairs, everything.
The first time I made something was after chopping off one of my client's hair. It was in a ponytail, and I looked at it and said, “This is like a work of art.”
My favorite designers are Margiela and Commes des Garcons. It's fun to create hairstyles with interesting clothing. I would love to work with Bjork someday. That would be my dream. She's creative and she's always changing her style. I want to collaborate with cool musicians and artists. I consider myself an artist. I do hair art, too. I make paintings with hair. The first time I made something was after chopping off one of my client's hair. It was in a ponytail, and I looked at it and said, “This is like a work of art.” So I dipped it in white paint and framed it. I do my art after work, whenever I find the time. I haven't sold my art—yet!—though I've done an exhibition here at the salon.
I've always been interested in art, ever since I was a child. I would draw things, make things. I liked being creative. My father hasn't seen this art yet. He might think it's more of a hobby. But my dream is to do an art exhibition of my hair. A hair exhibition at the MoMA.
I'm very busy though. I also launched my own line of products. I sell them in the salon. I wanted to make a salt spray. Bumble & Bumble probably makes the most popular one, but it's really strong. I also wanted something that was all natural and organic. My friend who is an aromatherapist helped me with the ingredients. I started with just three products: beach spray, hair cream with hemp seed oil, and oil. I only want to use organic products on my clients and on models, so that was important to me. I also have to work with the products on my hands all day, and don't want to feel like I have to wash them constantly. I wanted something that would feel good on my hands. The hemp cream you can use anywhere—on your skin, your nails, your hair, your lips. And the oil is made from moringa oil, so it's very light.
I occasionally smoke weed. But that's not why I made a hemp cream. It's just really good for your hair and your scalp. And once you use organic products, it's really hard to go back to chemical ones.
When I really want to relax, I go to a Korean spa. My favorite is King Spa in New Jersey. I went yesterday! There's a free shuttle bus from Koreatown. It's a really spiritual spot. They have so many crystals. There's a pyramid sauna that's all gold. When I was only working freelance and would have a quiet week, I'd take myself there, and every time I went, I would get a job. It's good energy. They wash your body and detox everything. I leave feeling re-energized. You should go! The food is amazing. You can't bring the food to the sauna, though.
There's also Spa Castle, but that one is more for amusement. It has a pool. King Spa is more traditional. I think the owner loves crystals. And energy healing. I love crystals. I think it's important to protect myself, especially in a place like New York, with so many people—random people. I try to keep good energy here and that way hopefully I only bring good energy and nice people into my salon.
Takeo Suzuki photographed by Meredith Jenks at Room, his salon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Follow him on Instagram here. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.