MB Chats To Session Stylist and Groomer Luke Benson

Modern Barber recently sat down with men’s session stylist, and past winner of BHA London Hairdresser of the Year, Luke Benson, to discuss how he found his place in the industry, the advice he has for others, and what he has planned for the future…

What interested you in a career in hairdressing?

I always knew I wanted to do something in fashion, but I didn’t want to work with clothes, and I wasn’t sure what other avenues there were. I always used to have relatively stupid haircuts at school, and one day I tried to bleach my hair myself – and it went terribly wrong. So, I went with my mum to the salon, and I liked the vibe in there – it didn’t feel like anyone was necessarily working. My mum asked me if I had ever considered it as a career, and it got me thinking.

I applied at places like John Frieda and Daniel Galvin, and got offered apprenticeships, but in London you would finish at eight, and then be expected to do your training after – and the lazy 17-year-old in me didn’t want to do that. Then I realised that the late, great Terry Calvert was in Watford, which is where I’m from. So I went there one Saturday, did a trial day, and I haven’t looked back.

 

Did you always know you wanted to be a session stylist?

Terry opened me up to the photo shoot side of things, which I didn’t think would be open to me, I thought you had to have lots of salons to be successful, that kind of thing. So, I suppose I just progressed with it, and I loved it. The more creative I got to be, the more fun I realised the industry was.

I was always relatively quick when I started and I did a lot of gents, and a lot of my mates. The first part of my training that I got signed off was barbering, so I just found myself doing a lot of mens’ hair.

I suppose winning London Hairdresser of the Year at the British Hairdressing Awards was my catalyst to go out on my own. I’m not always good at patting myself on the back, but that was a big moment.

 

What do you love about being a session stylist?

There’s just a lot more flexibility with it, there’s more of a lifestyle balance. It’s fun and every day is different – especially in the world I’m in now.

 

How did you build up your portfolio?

I worked in salon for about 13 years, then went out on my own five years ago. I did the first year on my own, basically just saying yes to everything, testing and doing shoots whenever I could. I had a brand deal with a French company after winning London Hairdresser of the Year, which gave me a bit of financial stability. Then, after that first year I signed with an agent.

 

What’s your most memorable career moment?

I did a Hugo Boss global campaign for the world cup a few years back. I was getting sent photos from friends, from the most random airports in the world, and the imagery was there. And obviously, as someone who loves football, getting to be on set for a few days with some of the world’s top footballers at the time, messing about with a football – that was a big moment. And the job made me believe in myself a bit more, because things started to snowball after that.

You might work with an art director or a photographer, or even a production assistant that’s since been promoted, and – touch wood – they come back, if you’re nice and get on with everyone. Especially with social media now, you can get hold of someone so fast, and it works as a portfolio.

 

 

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to get into session work?

I always think that when I’m on set, there’s no reason why I can’t help the photographer or assistants with moving a set or something, because it just makes for a better shoot environment.

You know, and this isn’t anything that’s meant to sound derogatory,  I think in every industry there’s people that aren’t as good as you, or as other people, but are busier because they’re either nicer or more efficient, or proactive, or get back to people on email as quick as possible – so I think that’s all worth bearing in mind. You’ve obviously got to be good at what you do and deliver the brief – if it’s male talent, and they have their go-to barber who usually does their fade, then you’ve got to be able to fade just as well. But as I said, you’ve got to be civil, because word gets around. A brand will be deciding who they want to work with; they’ll be thinking ‘Do we want the hair to be absolutely perfect, or do we want the hair to be damn near that, but also have a really nice day on set with lively people’.

Right now, I’m kind of back to brand neutral. In the past I’ve jumped into things too soon, or had promises from brands that then haven’t developed; so I suppose a negative side of session styling is the lack of job security. I’m very grateful that I’m in a position now though where I can spend time choosing what will be the right fit for me.

I’d also suggest having as many strings to your bow as possible, and assist as much as you can – be available. I know it’s easier said than done, especially if you’re employed, but it can really make the difference.

Having enough imagery is also key – especially if you want to work with an agency. You might have a book with 100 images, and they’ll cut it down to 10. What you think is unbelievable, they might say will not attract clients, so you also have to be willing to listen.

 

 

Are there any misconceptions that come with being a session stylist?

My dad takes the piss all the time, he’s like, ‘Oh you’re tired? I bet your five-day week only added up to 20 hours’ and sometimes that might be the case, but then the other week I did a music video, and the call time was 9am, and we didn’t finish till 2am the next morning – so you definitely make up for those shorter days.

I also think there are a lot of people that think session stylists can only style hair, not cut it – which obviously isn’t true.

 

Do you have any favourite hair trends from 2022?

I think that post-covid, people realised the worth or their barber, and have been valuing just going in and getting a really clean cut, and maintaining it.

I’ve been loving that guys are embracing longer hair, where maybe pre-covid they weren’t allowed to grow their hair out – perhaps they were always office based and had to be smart, whereas now they work from home more. In the same realm, I’ve seen more guys growing facial hair, which is quite cool.

 

 

 

If you could get your hands on anyone’s hair, dead or alive, who would it be?

I know it’s so stereotypical, but I would love to do David Beckham’s hair. I think I was at the right age when he was almost inspiring people to care about how you look, as a guy.

From an iconic, men’s hair perspective, it would have to be someone like Elvis. Maybe James Dean, just the really cool guys like that.

I’d love to have done Will Smith’s flat top in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

 

Do you have any trend predictions for 2023?
I think we might edge away from fades – they’ve had quite a dominant place for a while, but I feel like they’ve done their time. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but I’m not a massive fan of when it’s really short and high.

I love the ‘winter’ look on guys, which I would characterise as tame but unruly. Maybe Movember inspires them to keep growing their facial hair out, stuff like that. I love when you can see hair peeping out from the back of a beanie, but saying that, hopefully longer hair won’t turn into top knots. I’m hoping to see a return to longer clipper guards, too. I like Christian Bale’s look from American Psycho, but maybe with a modern edge, where it has a low taper at the edges, but you can still utilise some length for a more groomed look Monday to Friday.

 

What does the future hold for Luke Benson?

As I said, I’m looking to align myself with some brands again, that allow me a little creativity. I would only ever work with products that I believe in – I find it hard, from an integrity point of view, to take a deal and use products that I really wouldn’t want to use, especially if I had to try and promote it. I also think developing a relationship with a brand where I can grow, and help them grow, would be good.