Man of the World
8am at Fish in the Hilton on a grey, rainy Monday morning. I pick Snowden Hill the moment I see him at reception - it’s the cravat and the fab blazer, which I later learn are Alexander McQueen.
Imagery Julie Roulston/Sony NEX
The international session stylist is in town to headline the new Hair-X event, which will take place at the Hilton this coming long weekend. Snowden’s family live in the Hawkes Bay and he returns from his London home of 17 years to visit them, more or less annually. He confesses to that weird “i don’t quite know where home is any more” feeling, although he tells me he always heads straight for the fridge in the Hawkes Bay, which we agree is telling.
In the ‘80s a Waipawa hairdresser - complete with big fringe and bangles and smoking while she cut his hair - suggested a career in hairdressing to Snowden, who was then interested only in showjumping and dressage. Just 16, he moved to Auckland and commenced an apprenticeship at Parnell’s Sposito, where he worked for seven years. “But I felt like a big fish in a small pond, that there was something more” he tells, and at 23 he travelled alone to London and went to work at acclaimed salon Nicky Clarke in Mayfair.
At that time Guido Palau was affiliated to Nicky Clarke, and Snowden met Guido just three months into his time in the UK. “It was a life changer” Snowden says. Guido came to Nicky Clarke to run tryouts for his international session team. He needed seven stylists from the 20 who applied and Snowden believes Guido saw something in him, even though he was initially a relatively inexperienced member of the team.
His first show was Versace in Milan, and 17 years later Snowden is the longest serving member of Guido’s team. “I’ve seen others dropped when they are no longer performing. You can’t be a one trick pony! For example, you can’t be great only at straightening hair, when the next season rolls in and it's all about grunge.”
In addition to the international fashion circuit, Snowden has a super-A-list group of celebrities for whom he’s the preferred stylist. We’re talking Naomi Campbell and Gisele Bundchen; Gwyneth Paltrow, the Duchess of York and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, Sting and his wife Trudy - to name just a few. He had the great honour of cutting Elizabeth Taylor’s hair throughout the last year of her life, at the Sultan of Brunei’s suite at the London’s Dorchester Hotel. “She was a little run down” Snowden tells “but she made you feel amazing, she alway put you first.”
He says that of everyone he works on, Gisele has the dream hair. “It’s smooth, it bounces - you tell it to go left and it goes left!” He puts it down to both good genes and good health - “although she does like chocolate.”
Of the vast list of designers Snowden has worked with, it’s Alexander McQueen he names instantly when I ask him which is his favourite. “We worked with Lee from virtually his first shows, and from then there were only three seasons we missed.” Snowden says that Sarah Burton has always been Alexander McQueen’s backbone, and his celebrity clients are loving that she has moved the label away from its ‘rawness' - “they used to be restricted to buying a couple of pieces, now they can buy the whole lot.”
On the trends front, Snowden notes that of the 39 shows he has done as part of Guido’s team this season, 80% of them were ponytail based. “At Valentino we rolled the pony into a tight chic bun” he says. "At Versace it was a slick, tight pony at the crown, to which we added extensions and cut very bluntly. It doesn’t matter whether it’s at the crown, the top of the head or the nape - the shape can be anywhere, but its concentrated in one place. " He still does a day a week in the salon at ‘Real’ in Chelsea, and there he’s seeing a lot of balliage with the colour applied from the mid-lengths, down.
When I ask Snowden his advice to readers he pitches it a little wider than I expected: “Live your dream” - said with passion and a flash of his incredibly white teeth. I’ll leave you with something less aspirational and more practical - Snowden believes there is a product to solve every hair problem these days. “The great thing about hair is you can train it” he says - and that you can win back some time in your busy life, by finding the right one.