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Meet Session styling hero Gary Baker

After launching the UK’s first Unite Runway Ready course in January, Gary Baker, International Creative Director for Unite has now taught the course a total of four times on British soil! That sounds like success to us. We popped along to see Gary and the students in action to get a feel of what Runway Ready is really like. We even managed to tear Gary away from his students for a short while for a Q+A on life as a session stylist.

Gary Baker with Respect Editor, Ellie Scott

Talk us through your hairdressing career…

It started watching my mum who was a hairdresser she used to take me into the salon and she did some hair at home, I used to be watching the sport whilst heping her with perms and sets.

At the age of 13 I can remember looking at the back of a kid’s head and had the urge to cut it, now looking back that’s when it became apparent to me I wanted to be a hairdresser, but I hadn’t realised at the time. I left school and went to art college and 3 months in I was bored. We’d had a hairdresser come in for a careers talk at school whose advice was to get a good name behind you. I remembered this and headed to the West End. I walked into Neville Daniel, asked if they were looking for an apprentice and they interviewed me there and then; I started the next day. The training was great but very traditional which I didn’t like because I wanted to do the trendy cuts like Sassoon’s. Looking back now their training was invaluable to the longevity of my career.

At the age of 25 I got myself a salon and hated it. I went back into London and worked for Beverley Cobella, I met Jamie Stevens there and we formed a good friendship and went on to open a salon in Selfridges. I was then poached from there to run a cool salon in Scandanavia for three years – where I received lots of Wella education. When I got back to London, Adee Phelan had just opened up a salon in Covent Garden – I thought it was a great place, it had such a buzz about it. I started session again whilst I was there (I had been in and out of session since working at Neville Daniel). I then left to concentrate on session work.

Jamie then opened his Kensington salon and offered me a job. I gave him a couple of days a week and the rest I was doing session work. He had a great team and was working on X-Factor at the time. He introduced me to Olly Murs and I went on tour with Olly and lots of other bits came off the back of it. I was doing bridal as well which is a massive market that I don’t think many hairdressers are aware of. Great if you can do hair up in a classic manor.


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A post shared by Gary Baker (@garybakerunite)


How did you come to work with Unite?

I was introduced to Unite products when I was working on session and bridal and loved it. Andrew Dale (CEO of Unite) came over and asked me to do some education in the US. He kept calling me back to do more and the second year I spent more time in America then I did here (which did not go down well for my salon clients); and then at the end of that second year they said they wanted me in the US permanently. That was 10 years ago and I’ve been over there ever since.

How did you land the role as International Creative Director of Unite?

They’d never had one, Dale was always the head and wanted to step away from doing hair. I’ve always strived that I’m a versatile hairdresser. I cut, colour, put hair up, gents hair. They wanted to create a new position and offered it to me. I’m a great believer of giving everything a go, as you can always go back to what you were doing before.


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A post shared by Gary Baker (@garybakerhair)


You had an inspired idea to launch the Runway Ready course, how did it come about?

It launched in the US in 2018. I’d had the idea for a long time because people were always asking how to assist or get into session. Hairdressers were then joining fashion weeks with no experience and had no clue about the amount of pressure, which was frustrating for the lead hair stylist.

The concept is that they have to replicate what I do in 20 minutes, because that’s what happens backstage at shows. Everyone works in pairs and we are creating a team ethic. Students get experience on what working backstage is like and are guaranteed a place on the team for any Fashion Week they’d like to be part of. I will take anyone whatever their experience, it’s important to have great assisstants tooa –  at the start of their career they can pass up pins and elastics to more senior stylists enabling them to learn on the job and gain that backstage experience.

You held the first UK Runway Ready course in January, how was it?

British hairdressers are skeptical and suspicious which is fine, it’s in our nature. It was a success and some even asked for a refresher course so they can really nail their hairstyles. 


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A post shared by Gary Baker (@garybakerunite)


Tell us more about the opportunity to work backstage at Fashion Weeks?

The US students want to come to Europe and UK students want to go to New York or Miami.

I think it gives a chance for the small salons in little villages who dream of doing Fashion Week – it’s a short cut for them to have the opportunity.

You’re currently hosting the second Runway Ready course in the UK, how’s it going?

Great – the first day they feel inadequate and caught in headlights, but they gradually start talking more and work as a team. Day two is much more buzzy, they chat away and I can see their confidence coming through.

Gary Baker and the Unite team at Miami Swim Week 2022

What advice would you give to aspiring Session Stylists?

Just do it. The right moment was yesterday. Just be prepared that it’s really hard work.

Which Unite products do you use most frequently?

My hero products are 7Seconds Detangler, LePlay hairspray and Texturiza.  I also use Silky Smooth a lot too.

And your absolute favourite product?

AT THE MOMENT I would say U-Dry Fresh. I can use loads of it. It’s a dry conditioner and makes hair feel like hair again after using products.

Learn more by visiting Lacey’s Distribution.

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