Who am I?
Robert Lobetta has lead a truly inspiring journey, from his beginnings as a young hairdresser in the mid 70’s in what was London’s most fashionable street, The Kings Road. His is a fascinating story, full of twists and turns.
Robert has a profound respect for the art and craft of his profession, and is renowned for his unique style, eye for detail, and his compelling, thought-provoking ideas, along with his modern and daring photographic imagery.
These attributes have propelled him to become an internationally recognized Icon in the hair and beauty industry.
“I’ve never really considered myself as just a hairdresser, for me hair was an art project. I don’t consider what I do now is just hair, photography, film, or art, because I look at Life as one big Art project, and I get an opportunity to write a verse and share it with whoever will listen.”
An interview with Robert Lobetta.
Q.You started working in this industry at a young age. What was it like entering a hairdressing career in the 70’s?
A.Being a hairdresser in the 70s was almost like being a rock star, thanks to Vidal Sassoon who paved the way for us all to feel special in that era. For me it all started at a salon in the Kings Rd Chelsea, called Ricci Burns. It was definitely here where I embarked on my journey to try and become “Famous for more than 15 minutes.” What Ricci taught me was to fuse the geometry of a haircut with the Art of dressing hair. This gave me a sense of belonging, where I was now becoming part of a group of protagonists, who wanted to break all the rules of contemporary hairdressing. Ricci had a way of making me see differently, I believe when I reached the age of 19 everything changed. I felt the urge to try things with hair that had never been done before.
Q. Tell us about a critical moment in your career.
A.Back in the mid 70’s when my good friend Charles challenged me to weave hair, an undertaking that which at the time seemed impossible, but in doing so, changed how I thought about hair. Hair now became a fibrous form and I started to look at hair as a sculptor would look at clay. I could manipulate hair into any shape or form I wanted to; so I did. This was the beginning of the end of just being a hairdresser. It was like cracking open your mind, where a single moment in a lifetime, became a lifetime in a single moment. This was a revolution in hair design, which changed the landscape of hairdressing forever.
Q. Was there a particular turning point that led you to where you are today?
A.In 1985, Sebastian International gave me the opportunity to expand myself as a photographer and creative director. I learnt about graphics, and how to layout magazines, directed videos and conceptualized shows, as well as inventing products. I was able to play in the world of contemporary art, yet still keep my roots firmly entrenched in the world of hairdressing. The founders John Sebastian and Geri Cusenza had a belief in me that was probably far greater than I had in myself; their trust gave me the ability to take risks. They gave me the autonomy to do what was needed in order to help grow the company, and that was the most wonderful period in time that was to last for more than 2 decades.
Q. Everyone wants to know how to make the ‘magic picture’. You obviously need an eye for lots of aspects of a picture, but what is your formula for a great image?
A. I really don’t have a fixed formula, for me a lot depends on the mix of the team, the atmosphere, the energy, but content is always key.
My creative process when it comes to creating an image can at times be chaotic, because I am trying to find the perfect solution, which often doesn’t exist.
I am definitely drawn to intricacy within my images, and use it as an instrument to tell a story, to move the eye around and engage the viewer. I’m not saying simplistic works don’t draw us in, but when an image is full of information, you can’t help being pulled in to examine and define the story.
Q. You have amassed such an amazing career that so many in this industry are inspired by. What is the one bit of advice that you could give to aspiring creative hairdresser?
A. You are never going to please everyone, some people will love what you do, and others won’t. Listen to your instincts, and always be inspired to create something that comes from within. Try not to feel the pressure to follow others, once you learn to trust your own style, then you will find a way to make it relevant.
“Never let the noise of other peoples opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
Q. How do you balance your time and energy working between varied artistic endeavors?
I always pursue my instinctive interests, obsessions, and dreams. As opposed to becoming bored with a routine approach, I let my work evolve naturally; most of what I do is founded on the path of exploration. When photography feels stale, I go back to collage and computer generated work, when I get tired of that I start generating graphic art pieces out of words, which often leads into poetry, that occasionally makes way for film. All of these modes of working reinforce one another. The goal is to be versatile enough to always be busy, and never become bored.
Q. You have often been called a rebel, why do you think that is so?
Being a rebel is about challenging the status quo, seeing things differently, and always standing up for what you believe in. I think having a rebellious attitude causes me to invent new methodologies, new ways of seeing, and doing. The method that I work within is only useful until it leads me to a new one, and you can only get to a new method by eventually rebelling against the old one.
Q. You’ve always been interested in visual arts, particularly photography and contemporary art. Do you have any new exciting ventures you are working on?
A. I have been working on my book, and an exhibition of my contemporary art. At this moment I am creating a collection of Collage’s. When it comes to collage, my process is far more about finding, than it is about creating. I enjoy showing strange details in the image that I’m showcasing. This work is driven by the thought that there are meaningful things that can come out of preexisting imagery, and I have to find a way to isolate and re-present those within a new image. Collage can be a really fickle medium; it seems like such an easy thing to do, but so difficult to create any subtlety to it. But what I really like about collage is that it gives me the ability to work faster than any other art form, and it always puts a smile on my face.
Q. Do you feel like you have left a legacy in hairdressing? Or do you feel you will be forgotten in a hundred years to come? Does this play on your mind at all?
A. I think I have a desperate yearning for the meaning to what I have been doing these past 40 years, we all want to be recognized for our contribution. As far as leaving a legacy is concerned, I think that will be determined on the outcome of the book that I am currently working on. If the book survives a hundred years then I’ve definitely left a legacy.
Q. Do you feel lucky to have had such an extended career?
A. I’m not sure, its hard to say because it depends on how you define luck. I believe our lives are somewhat unevenly distributed, there are times I feel lucky to still be contributing to the marketplace, and other times where I cannot fathom why there are so many things that seem to trip me up, and go against me. I suppose I’ve got to an age where I’m beginning to see patterns emerge in many of the projects I’m working on, and there seems to be a significance to what I’m trying to achieve, and where I’m at with my career. So as much as I don’t believe in the supernatural force of luck, it sure feels very strange when unlikely opportunities fall out of the sky.
Q. You’ve often said, “What makes us who we are?”
Why does this interest you so much?
A. I think its because over the years I’ve watched myself grow and change so much as a person by the work I do. That I seem to be gravitating towards thinking about what makes someone who they really are. I think a lot of the work I do helps me understand myself better, the changes that occur in the many different styles I adopt, are the changes going on inside of me, each time I produce a visual, write a poem or finish a piece of art, forces me to be really honest with myself. In order for this to happen, I have to look at it from a different perspective. So what I try to do is to remove myself from what I have just done, and look at it from an outsiders point of view, which at times I find really hard, but it forces me to ask questions, why did I see what I saw in that moment in time. This helps me to understand what it is that I’m trying to achieve, I think in doing this, you learn a lot about yourself, and how you react to your own work.