In one particularly iconic scene in Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s title character declares: “Hair is everything!”
She’s quite right. Look at all the gays who bleached their hair blonde during lockdown; in certain quarters of the UK, we’re sure peroxide was selling out faster than loo-roll.
The bond between hairdresser and client is special (even when they f*** up your barnet), but celebrity stylist Louis Byrne takes this relationship to a new level with his campaign ‘I Can, I Am and I Will,’ which is all about celebrating who you are.
From calling in favours with friends to street castings, Louis asks contributors to come in, be styled, pose for a portrait picture and share their stories of how they have learned to be loudly and proudly themselves.
Heavily inspired by the LGBTQ community, ICIAIW features trans activist Lara Brash, film-maker Jess Kohl, artist Santiago Joa Quin, dancer Andre Wilson and nightlife’s royal supreme, Princess Julia.
In an interview with Attitude, Louis reveals how his own personal struggles fuelled the project, his plans to open a salon in Soho and the most hair-raising moments of his career thus far. One word: bitty...
What inspired you to start the ‘I Can, I Am and I Will’ campaign in the first place?
ICIAIW came from a dark, negative space in my life, a time full of bad decisions, shame, fear and regret. It was my way of looking inward and regaining control… and showcasing incredible people and sharing their message of positivity and love, out of adversity. The process of sitting for the portraits was a great experience; we connect and have a great time shooting beautiful images… and we talk about real issues, [from] breast cancer and suicide [to] sexuality, equality and race. It’s all about empowerment.
What does the campaign involve, and what would you say your overriding goal is?
The movement connects wellbeing and creativity with the power of positivity. It is about encouraging people to own their identity and be proud of who and what they are. Everyone has a different [story] but shares the same message: I Can… I Am... I Will...
Can you tell us about some of the LGBTQ people who are involved?
They are all people I either knew or street cast: trans activist Lara Brash, award-winning film-maker Jess Kohl, artist Santiago Joa Quin, London’s subculture and nightlife royal Princess Julia, and dancer Andre Wilson.
There is a special bond between hair stylists and their clients. Did anyone share a story that has really stayed with you?
My ICIAIW [with] Ben West [a mental health campaigner] was a really cleansing emotional experience. We spoke about the loss of our brothers; Ben’s brother had killed himself and mine died in a car accident. I noticed Ben on Instagram and the great work he has done, so I asked If he would like to take part. He agreed and came to London just before we locked down. It was important for me to talk with Ben [because] we had shared loss... It’s important for men to show [that you can have an] open honest conversation on emotional subjects.
It would be rude not to ask about your own story. What kind of journey have you been on as an LGBTQ person? What obstacles have you had to overcome?
My journey has been interesting… I was picked on at school before I even knew I was [gay], and I was in a relationship with a girl up to the death of my brother, which led to my coming out and moving to London. Obviously, I carried a lot of baggage and negativity with me, which I had no idea how to deal with.
So, I went on a journey of self-discovery. It was important for me to understand why I was feeling or behaving in certain ways, [and] to understand my mind and body. I was governed by fear for a lot of my early life and had seen that really can destroy lives. Now, I live a very different way of life.
I’m fit and healthy, and [I feel] I have a valid opinion. It took me a long time to feel proud of myself but I definitely now am. ICIAIW is my way of expressing myself and trading in kind.
What are your plans to open an LGBTQ salon in Soho? And why do you think a space like this is needed?
You can be anything you want to be in Soho, it has always been that way. [The salon] would promote positive identity, and [provide] a space that is full of creativity where we can continue to shoot ICIAIW portraits, a place where we can visually display the collaborations of positivity and love, an inclusive space where you feel charged and empowered.
Santiago Joa Quin
You’re a celebrity hair stylist. Who is your favourite client and why?
My two main ladies at the minute are Emma Willis and Vicky McClure. I love working with people that allow me to have an opinion.
Sure you won’t answer this question, but what the hell… who was your least favourite?
Sometimes you’re not on the same page and that’s cool…
What is the worst haircut you’ve ever had?
A black-and-white skunk stripe mohawk!
What is the most jaw-dropping thing that has happened to you whilst you’ve been cutting someone’s hair? Give us a real hair-raiser.
I’ve been in a situation where someone started breast feeding their six-year-old – bitty! I once helped Karl Lagerfeld up when he fell down some stairs on a job, and I’ve also had a male celebrity ask me to cut their hair naked.