ep18 – Michelle O’Connor

This week on Chris Baran’s Headcases, I sit down with Michelle O’Connor: educator, 5-time NAHA winner, and Artistic Director for Matrix. Michelle is a leading voice for diversity and inclusion in the beauty industry.

  • Learn how Michelle got started in the industry after years of being a ballet dancer
  • Michelle told to her parents that she was going to be a hairstylist, and vowed she would not be mediocre
  • Hear how Michelle believes that we all are put here to serve
  • “You need to really evaluate what you are passionate about. If you are really passionate about something, it isn’t work. It’s a pleasure. It’s a joy.”

Complete Transcript

Chris Baran 0:00
How great would it be to get up close and personal with the beauty industry heroes? We love and admire and to ask them how did you learn to do what you do? I’m Chris Barron, a hairstylist and educator for 40 plus years, and I’m inviting all our heroes to chat and share the secrets of their success

Well, welcome to this week’s episode of Chris Baran’s Headcases and I have to tell you, I’m a pretty big admirer of this week’s guest on I want to just give you a few of her credentials that she has here. She’s Freelance Stylist, she’s been one with Victoria’s Secret as obviously no secret anymore. Also with J Crew. She’s been with New York Fashion Week with Ben lead stylist. She’s done music videos editorial session work. She had been the Matrix global artistic director, Creative Director for the salon. By InStyle with JC Penney, education roles have been with Mizani, Dyson Kerastase as well. New one is that she’s with Alta Pro Beauty the beauty teams and along with all of that got her a winner of NAHA five times in texture, avant garde editorial styling and finishing. My good friend, Michelle O’Connor. Now let’s get into this week’s headcase. Well, Michelle, first of all, we had a little conversation the other day, and I said it, then I’m going to say it just so everybody else knows when I’m here, is I’m a little bit awestruck right now. Because we know one another from passing in the dark at shows and saying hi we weave if I recall correctly, I think we were even on a shoot together. That, you know, like the seemed like 100 years ago, but I’ll leave that alone. But part of it is I always see your work. I know that with your work that I see not in the magazines, but when I you know I’m an NAHA freak. So when I see your name up there, and I am always going thank God, I’m not in the same category that you’re in, because I know I might as well just forget about it. A little nervous here. That’s bear with me.

Michelle O’Connor 2:22
I think the same of you. I think the same of you. You’re an icon in my mind.

Chris Baran 2:28
Thank you, you know, so for those of you listening, we had a little Chip and Dale moment, you know, oh, no, you’re better than me I out of the way. And most people Michelle won’t even know who Chippendale was anyway, so I think we’re aging ourselves. Listen, Michelle, I I want to know a little bit about just establishing you because people don’t know you. And I don’t know who that would be. But I think it’s always interesting to know where we came from. So like, it’s always interesting. I’m some of my teachers always said are the people I know, I always said, Well, there’s two kinds of hairdressers, the ones that just you know it from square one and the ones that just kind of fell into it. I was the ladder. What were you like, were you did you fall into it? Was it something you always wanted to do? Was there other things pre hairdressing for you?

Michelle O’Connor 3:17
Wow, definitely. I don’t think I fell into it. But I feel like I would go into that category I eased into it. It was something that in my previous life, I was a ballet dancer. And I had trained my entire life since the time I was a little girl. And so there was such a fascination with not only the form and of dance, but also just the characters. You know, when you think about these beautiful ballets like Nutcracker and Swan Lake. And you know, Giselle, you think of all of these costumes and characters and transformations. And it’s almost this sort of ethereal sort of way of expressing yourself. So it is an art form. Of course, we recognize it as that and, you know, hairdressing is also an art form, and it’s also a form of expression. So that translation between transformation, changing into characters, hair, makeup theatrics, that all sort of lended itself to me transitioning into the hair world.

Chris Baran 4:21
You know, I am, I mean, literally, anytime that I hear that people that they’ve always got this great backstory, you know, about, you know, you and being a ballerina, and, and, you know, aspirations of going on to be a professional ballerina. And if you see me dance, you know, that I would never fit into that category. But the, you know, everybody has these great backstories and then, you know, for me, I just, my mother was a hairdresser. I knew I couldn’t get fired, you know, so I kind of fell into it.

Michelle O’Connor 4:53
And that’s legacy. That’s legacy, though. Yeah, but

Chris Baran 4:56
you know, I think it took me like I’ve said it’s been 50 Five years, I think 5455 years in the business, I really can probably only count 50 of them because my first four were kind of a disaster. Just party my brains out all of that stuff until

Michelle O’Connor 5:11
that was your seasoning. That was your seasoning? Well, it was really wasn’t.

Chris Baran 5:15
And I’ve told the story far too many times just about a client that came in and said, don’t cut my hair because I’m going to Montreal to get a good haircut and that that changed my life. But yeah, that was the thing that kind of shifted my career because I noticed kind of, I’ll keep a PG the poop or get off the pot with my career. And that, but then I got hooked on education. You know, I want to go back because there’s you were also influenced, Was there somebody in your family that influenced you and your style, because I’ve always loved your style, because it’s so beautiful and so feminine. And you can push boundaries, but it’s still absolutely beautiful work. You said that you have somebody in your family that

Michelle O’Connor 6:00
I do. It’s my it’s my aunt, my mom’s sister.

Chris Baran 6:03
And what’s her name? Her

Michelle O’Connor 6:05
name is her name is Florence. What it was, her name is Florence

Chris Baran 6:11
Florence. Yes,

Michelle O’Connor 6:13
she was a dressmaker. And I used to be at the bottom in between her legs of the sewing machine. And in those days, you would press on it, it was called the presser foot of the sewing machine. It’s not this high tech world of sewing machines that we know today it was like in those days, you would press on the pedal, and that would make the stitches go so I would be down there accuracy, watching what was going on as well as digging in her scraps basket basket that held all of the fabric she had cut off. And I was just enameled and amazed with textiles, the touch the feel of it, silk, denim, all of the things that started out as just this plain sheet, and ended up being beautiful garments. And so I think that left a lasting impression. I’ve always been very intrigued and I have a love affair with fashion. I feel like hair, makeup and fashion are very much a trifecta, they go together. And so it left an indelible print on how I approach my work. I love things to very much look aspirational. I like it to look like you know, something that could be photographed. And I that dancers sort of doing things until it’s air quotes stage ready or perfect is sort of what I approach with my work in terms of nothing is ready until it’s stage ready, no hair is is done or beautiful enough to either walk out of the salon or to be photographed until it’s as close to perfect as I can get it.

Chris Baran 7:51
Love it. I love it the just had a thought there on on your anything. We chatted about this just the other day that when I listened to you about where you were going to go I am curious because there’s always a thing about our parents. And I it’s one thing that always comes to I think every hairdresser, you hear stories about when they went to their folks and said for whatever aspiration they want. And I think my mom was just glad I was gonna get the hell out of the house and have a job. But the the going to your and my mom was a hairdresser. So she was elated when I said here, but the reality is not all parents work because they have a different concept of what hairdressing is the amount of earning that you do have in this profession as opposed to others. What was it like when I’m trying to imagine now this ballerina who is aspirations and could go on to be professional, and then goes to mom and dad and says, Hey, I’m gonna be a hairdresser. What was what was that experience like for you?

Michelle O’Connor 8:59
Um, my family was very unimpressed with that choice. They were loving and supportive, but it was kind of with a little bit of side I it just in their mind fit every stereotype for the default profession, something that you do, because there’s nothing else that you want to or can do. And so they just wanted something that they felt like was more for me and so, in, in sort of gravitating towards careers that we think are more such as becoming a doctor, becoming a lawyer, becoming an engineer, these are the things becoming a business woman, you know, these are the things that your family your parents want you to strive for. So in that moment, and whatever confidence I had as that, you know, 20 something year old, I knew enough to at least stand up for myself and say, I will not be mediocre in this All

Chris Baran 10:00
right. Yeah. So, you know, and what was there when they were done with it? What else can Okay, good, we give you permission, you’re good to go. But was there still things you had to prove as you went along through there?

Michelle O’Connor 10:14
Um, I think I put blinders on after that. I think I really, um, it’s kind of like this space. And again, I liken it to being a dancer when you are in the throes of rehearsing something. You’re, you’re in this other world almost, where you’re just kind of very intense and very disciplined. And so I just kind of, I put blinders on and I got into the space of I’ve got to make it through hair school, and I’ve got to find one of the best salons in my area that I can find. I have to go the route of, you know, apprenticing and seeing what else this profession has to offer. Because I know that it’s like infinite.

Chris Baran 10:56
You know, and pardon my giggling right now. Because this this image came into my brain. I remember from my school, you know, I went to school and Marvell Beauty School in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan had to climb I think three or four flights of stairs, Brickfield chairs and we had these amazing teachers out there that I really loved, especially the MS. McPherson who was the she called The Baby Class. But you know, for me, it was, you know, go home on the weekend party come back. It’s not like I had people that were going I wasn’t what you’d call the model student. That was in beauty school because I number one, I was just being there. So I get a job. Number two is I was in the half of the class that made the top half possible if you know what I mean. So I I’m having this vision of Miss Michelle, coming into the school, professional Ballet mindset discipline. Yeah. You know, probably competitive. I would imagine being a five time winner. I don’t know where that would come from. But I’m trying to imagine you in that school right now. So tell us a bit what was what was it like when you went to the school because you probably had that gradient Have you probably had, God knows could have had Chris Barron sitting in there, you know, floating little boats out of a made out of endpapers. And the barbicide bottle. And then there’s you, I can only imagine clamoring for the student, tell me a little bit about what was that like in school for you?

Michelle O’Connor 12:30
You’re definitely taking me back. I remember. I hate for it to sound like a toot of my horn. But I was definitely the top of the class, I think, a couple of things was was was lending itself to that. And it was just just the background of, of having had my hands in hair. Indirectly, I have a lot of girl cousins, I was the one that would make people over, like, they’d be like, okay, Michelle can do your makeup, Michelle can do your hair like I was that person. So there wasn’t an actual sort of dexterity that I already had in my fingers. And one of the unique things about my family is that we are very racially diverse. And so because of that, we have a lot of different hair textures, all within one family, cousins, grandparents, siblings. And so I got to have my hands in a lot of different kinds of hair from straight all the way to the most tightly coiled pattern. And so it really broadened what I was able to do. Once I got to hair school, it was sort of like there already, it just needed to be cultivated.

Chris Baran 13:41
That’s amazing. Because I and again, because I’m going I’m thinking of Mrs. McPherson in your in the class, and she has customers in front row, but what was used you don’t really you didn’t really have appointments, they would they would book occasionally, but then a client would come in, and then they would look throughout the room and they would go okay, you’re best suited for that. Okay. And they would give it to somebody and then they get I can remember them. This person would come in for color, and I was sucked at color and color, a color client and she would go down like we would start to be lined up not physically lined up, but she’d go down the line. She’d go, okay, that person, that person, Chris No, and she would go down the line of nodes that she’d probably go Michelle, Michelle, you should have Michelle

Michelle O’Connor 14:29
I remember those days when you were working on the clients that would come in to the the beauty school color chemistry. Oh my gosh, it was terrifying. So I completely understand wrapping perms all of that. Oh my gosh. Absolutely.

Chris Baran 14:44
Oh, yeah. You know, it’s like how know how we made through some of that stuff. I will never know but thank God for the teachers and for any of the teachers are listening out there. God bless you for that. You know,

Michelle O’Connor 14:56
and thank God for the you know, the hair schools that are doing So, you know, your basic sort of, I didn’t go to a fancy schmancy hair school, it was just like a technical school. And I looked at, you know, some of these hairdressers coming out of these big institutions and you know, that are costing as much as like, you know, college tuition. And I’m like, that’s wonderful. I was like, it’s that wasn’t my experience.

Chris Baran 15:20
Yeah, I want to fast forward, I’m gonna take you okay, we’re out of school, that you went through the process? Where did you like when you started off? What was it like when you started off in a salon? And you you got into the salon, where did you go? What was the effect that the salon had on you? And I want to tie this into? How what effect from that salon experience eventually got you into going? I want to I want to teach people to did you teach in the school? I mean, teaching the salon eventually, or what was that experience? Like?

Michelle O’Connor 15:56
There’s, there’s a couple moving parts to that question. So one of them being when I graduated hair school, I as an individual, really found myself at a crossroads and being a woman of color, but having you know, parents that are racially diverse. I have on my mom’s side, my grandfather is from Shanghai, China. My mom’s dad was Scottish. My father’s father is half Irish. There’s, of course, African descent all via the Caribbean. So I have cousins that are completely Asian cousins that are completely Scottish cousins that look every which way. And so because being the child of immigrant parents race is very, it’s it’s really different outside of the United States. And so one of one of the mottos for the island of Jamaica is out of many one people. And so you really, there’s very little separation in terms of this is a white person, this is a black person, this is an Asian person, because you’re sharing a culture, you’re sharing the same kind of food, you’re sharing the same kind of music, you’re shit, you share your culture, so race becomes less significant. So coming out of hair school, I probably unlike maybe a lot of other people where it’s a very easy decision. I did not know where I was going to go because the salon business really had itself separated into white salons and black salons. Yeah, very much. Yeah, I knew I wanted to have very prestigious training. I knew I wanted to apprentice I knew I needed to learn a whole lot more. But I knew I also wanted to learn more about Afro textured hair, tightly coiled hair. So my first stop at the ending of hair school was at a natural haircare salon in Fort Lauderdale. And in this salon they were the preeminent salon that was doing at the time. This was the early 2000s We had big mega stars like Lauryn Hill was on out and on the charts at that time, she was wearing locks. You had the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, they were wearing braids and beads. And so these people were frequenting this type of this salon. And so I was there for about six to nine months. And I it occurred to me that I there was a whole side of the business that I wasn’t learning. I wasn’t learning how to do highlights. I wasn’t learning how to do precision cutting, I wasn’t learning how to really become an expert in color. Because I was twisting and braiding. And I was like just really only doing deposit only matching the natural color. And I said to myself, I’m missing a part of the education that I desire to have. And so I left that salon and I walked into one of the top white salons in Fort Lauderdale and they were doing all of the news anchors, they were doing photo shoots. They were they were doing so much in terms of being involved not only as a salon and having a huge presence as a salon, but they were, you know, doing the Miami Dolphin cheerleaders like they were they were doing a lot of high profile clients as well. So I apprenticed there for about a year. And when I interviewed with the owner, one of the questions he asked me was and just very, very bluntly, he said you want to do Caucasian hair, and I said I want to do all hair. And he hired me and so that legacy of just even what you see me advocating for today. I started my career on that tune. I started that way and the culmination of what we see happening in the industry where there’s been a recognition of like The desire to bring all the beauty worlds together, that has been my mission for 20 years. And so learning in that salon and really becoming a student of the craft in its entirety, is what lends itself to 15 years later, Michelle being able to win, NAHA, Michelle being able to be in spaces that don’t recognize her color, necessarily, but just recognize her talent.

Chris Baran 20:29
You know, it’s just, it’s wild, you know, because I’ve heard you hear just say just a short bit ago about in the year 2000. And you were talking about you knew all these things, except you didn’t, you know, you weren’t, you didn’t feel proficient in cutting etc. And so you went somewhere to learn that, and I’ve heard this that they say, kind of the hair history repeats itself every 20 years. And I find it interesting right now, and like to hear your thought on, I have my view on it. But if you went through, like in the 80s 90s, big haircut, you know, it, you know, it, we went from precision cutting to, you know, people cutting their hair, but really, their people aren’t cutting their hair. Now. They’re, you know, I know, the salons that I go to they’re, they’re terrified. Some of them are terrified of cutting short hair. With that in mind, what tell me what you see, what do you see out in the industry right now when it comes to cutting versus coloring versus long hair versus blah, blah, blah? What do you what do you notice? See,

Michelle O’Connor 21:41
there, there was a time in our business where, you know, we were very big on compartmentalizing, just a areas of expertise. And within that you could really hone a skill and become, you know, an expert, and you would be the person that would just solely focus on that. I think there’s a combination of things, I think information has become so accessible to us. And it’s a, it’s a blessing. And it’s also a detriment, because there’s a lot to our profession that has ended up like on YouTube. So you have people that are I like to call it YouTube University, where they’re going on YouTube, and they’re doing what they think is being demonstrated, and they’re attempting to do this, you know, on their own. And we’ve had to really step up our own sort of practices in terms of making sure that we’re still ahead of the consumer, because I don’t really see a lot of professions that are teaching consumers how to do what they do. And so you don’t see a doctor going on YouTube and saying, This is how you take out a spleen. Yeah, you know, where we’re out there saying, this is exactly how you do this. And so I get a little nervous sometimes about, you know, rumblings of de professionalizing you know, our industry where it’s like, oh, do they really need a license, do they? Because you absolutely, unequivocally do if you want to have something that is at on a professional level, and you want your hair to actually be still standing on your head. So I am a huge proponent for people that are advocating for, you know, professionalism, things like the PBA any entity that opts to keep our profession elevated, I am all about it. Yeah,

Chris Baran 23:39
no, I agree. 100% and I, and I encourage people, if they’re not part of PBA, they should make sure that they’re part of it, even if because part of what they do, and I don’t want to get too far down this rabbit hole. But I think while we’re there, let’s best serve them by saying the more hairdressers can get involved in that, the more they can help us to keep the license that people do need to get there. So not for that, but I agree with you 1,000% And what you just said, Now, I want to take you from I want to go into the what sparked education, I know that was kind of the second part and I have a way of other questions coming out at the same time. You How did you get from from hairdresser behind the chair you know, successful to whatever degree of success you had and then you went on to become an air become an educator, what was what was the catalyst what happened to make beer

Michelle O’Connor 24:39
go into that. So, as I as I stated, you know, the the mission, whether I knew was a mission at that point or not was to say I will not be mediocre in this. Once I started working in the predominantly white salon, I realized that now there was The elements of hairdressing that I wasn’t getting any more I wasn’t I didn’t have any black clients. I didn’t. So I said, Okay, how am I going to do this because we’re still living in a very separate type of industry. And so I don’t want to leave here. I’m happy here. I’m happy of the work that I’m doing. I’m seeing my strides my improvement, what can I do? I so I sought out to, I sought out the Mizani brand. And I, I contacted them I had a portfolio. And alongside of me seeking out education, I was doing some some minor things in the world of like, photo shoots campaigns, and this was via the salon. So I was getting a taste of some things in that world. And I had a portfolio as a result of that. So in those days, your portfolio was your bulk of things that you have done. It’s not like today when people just look on your Instagram. And I sent out my portfolio. And I picked Madani because they were the brand that was affiliated with L’Oreal that was had a focus on black haircare. And so I knew that this would round out everything that I was doing. And so I decided to go with them, it worked out successfully. I was given a lot of opportunities, I was put in front of a lot of different individuals, I just met so many people, not only from the brand masani itself, but even just the other brands like red can matrix, I made some great friendships, you know, there were things that you know, we cross paths on. And so that allowed me to cross paths with with Nick Stenson. And he, so he and I go way back, and we’ve just been rockin and rollin ever since. And so it’s just it opened up this sort of desire to get better at doing what I was doing. And I knew that when you have to teach something, you learn what you’re doing at such a deeper level. That it’s, it’s it’s, it’s silly to not become an educator because I was learning so much in the process. And I wasn’t and I didn’t go into it saying, Oh, I really, I really have this big heart. And I want to give back. That wasn’t the initial sort of thought process that was a byproduct. That was a byproduct. And once I got a taste of that, how what you share with someone could feel someone could change their life, I was like, I thought I was doing someone a favor. And they actually have been feeding my soul. Because in essence, we are all put here to serve. Right? And it’s just in what capacity are you serving? So the server is actually the one getting the gift?

Chris Baran 28:09
You know, you’re you hit it right on the head there is. I mean, we’ve all seen educators that we love and adore. And we’ve all seen educators that you know, we’re just about them. And I think that you you hit on the key word there you said servant leader, is that that just means you help other people’s first and one of the rules on anybody come to become a leader. You know, we you and I have titles and wonderful that it’s nice to have the title but people will follow because they have to if if they’ve just have it’s just a title. But when you make a difference in somebody’s life, they follow you because they want to follow you. And I think that’s the big key difference is that whether you’re excuse me on on stage, you know, teaching and sharing with 1000s of people or whether you’re in the salon teaching your apprentice teaching your your associate the stylist next door, but hey, can I just share something with you and like you said, the moment that you teach it and you probably have to teach it a few times to get it right down. That to get it right the first the last time you do it. You truly become an influence in their life and that’s what really does help to change people. So I want I only

Michelle O’Connor 29:27
I have, I am only a good or half decent or whatever you want to call me hairdresser because I’m an educator. I wasn’t an educator, I would not have the skill level that I have.

Chris Baran 29:43
And go bingo. You can tell where I go on the weekends

you talked about you talked about Nick who you know Nick. I love that man because he if you want To talk about somebody that is self less, and somebody that has changed people’s lives and careers by instead of him doing stuff, he gets other people to do it. You know, and and you see him as bigger if he helps you, you see him as bigger than anybody else, or people would put them out and he did the work himself. Is there other people I know Nick has changed your life, other people in our industry that helped to change your life?

Michelle O’Connor 30:26
Oh, my gosh, absolutely. Amman was a huge influence on me as well, you. You spoke with him on one of your podcasts. I have a whole host of people that have impacted me and not even knowing like Sharon Blaine, is someone that’s impacted my career. I absolutely am a huge lover of the art of traditional hairdressing. And I feel like it should never die. Nick French. You know, I love there’s some Damien Carney. There’s so many that I’ve looked to as the same hearts in the eyes, awestruck people of just excellence, just pure, pure excellence. You know, I look at some of the current ones today, like, you guys have Rachel Redd, I love her. You know, you are one of them. You know, it’s just Lindsey on your team as well. Like, there’s, there’s a whole host of people that have, I’ve taken bits and pieces from them, and made my own little quilt out of just just my love and my admiration of who they are as artists.

Chris Baran 31:40
Yeah, you know, I think you hit a key point there is that, you know, for anybody that wants to get what it ought to strive to do what Michelle does, it’s not just, you’ve got to be yourself. But you learn from so many other masters that love the way the way you put that as a quilt is if you can take all of that put together, including what you do and your knowledge. That’s really what makes you a part of who you do. And that’s what draws people to you when you’re out there. And that’s what makes you successful. And whether it’s on your own an influencer or a working for manufacturers, or whatever it is, that’s what will draw people because those are the kinds of people that they that they look for. So you’ve been on the road now, how many years has it been that you’ve been traveling on the road, etc. When did you start

Michelle O’Connor 32:34
probably five years, five years into my career. So I became a hairdresser in 2020. So this year marks 22 years. And so about about five years in, so that would make a 17. Seventeen years, and I and I’ve done it with a family. I’ve done it with I have one son, he’s, he’s in college, in New York. And I had a tremendous network. I talked about having, you know, immigrant parents, as well as my, my entire family, I’m a first generation American. And so we have a very close knit relationship, it was kind of like we all have to stick together in order for us to thrive. And so they were my community that that old a dodge that it takes a village, they were my village. So we had all the aunts, cousins, taking turns, you know, they would come over, they would bring meals, they, they would come to my house when I would have to travel so that my son wouldn’t have to go anywhere. They would come and they would like, you know, make sure his uniforms were ready. Like it just they are the reason why I’ve been able to as a woman in this business, because we all know that there’s a lot more barriers for women trying to chase the dream that they are the only reason why I’ve been able to do it.

Chris Baran 34:03
Ya know, and that’s, that’s, that’s critical in a part in our in our lives, etc. The the if you I want to talk about two things, firstly, is that when you’re on the road, I don’t know it was like for you, but I can remember my first time page full of room being nervous, blah, blah, blah. And by the end of it, nobody left in the room. You know, wishing that last person would leave so I could just leave the stage early. But was there times in in you know, everybody sees you now? And they see packed room standing ovation at the end. And but what was it like at the beginning? Was there times when you went a whim gee, this is this is different. What’s What were some of the weirdest times that road stories that you had?

Michelle O’Connor 34:52
Yeah, I think for a lot of the early days, like you almost feel like impostor syndrome. Like you’re You’re like, oh my gosh, are is the audience gonna like call me out on something that I may not be sure of like, because in those days, you’re still learning, you’re still building and don’t get me wrong, you’re forever learner continuous learner, however, you don’t have your footing, you don’t have your 100% confidence in terms of the material you’re reciting. And you’re just hoping that one, you do a good job, you’re hoping that you say the right things, you’re hoping that people are engaged that people like you. And so there’s a lot of that nervousness that goes along with it, and also paying dues. You know, like, there were a lot of things that I did as an artist when I saw, you know, if I wasn’t given an opportunity to come to a show, I would still go to the show. And I would go backstage, and I would ask the brand, if they needed any extra hands. I was there, I happen to be there anyway. And so please, let me know if you need any extra help if there’s any body that needs help with prepping. So there was a humility that went along with wanting more and I was willing to sweep hair, wash hair, what work for free, like there was just a willingness to do all of those things so that I could be around great people that I could learn from.

Chris Baran 36:21
You know, it’s that that’s, I think, what gives you the mindset to go on further, when you you’re willing, you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get there. We have a little parallel I can remember and this was a I’m gonna say a couple years before the year 2000. This is when when Anthony Mascolo and the TG team would travel, and they were doing a lot of tours throughout the states and Canada. And I remember at that time being in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan had my first salon, and I, I really I didn’t have any aspiration to become a an educator, I just wanted to learn. And Joan Harrison, God rest her soul was the the editor of of a magazine and here magazine in Canada, and also was the person that was organizing those tours. And I remember knowing that the the Tony & Guy team at that time was coming to Canada, coming to Saskatoon and I said, Listen, I’ll do whatever if you need me then pick them up at the airport, I’ll pick them up at the airport. If you want me to work backstage or work backstage, I’ll do shampoos, I’ll do whatever. And I think I can’t remember if it was ever happened with with Anthony, but I remember it was. It was either Daniel Galvin or his brother was working with them at the time. And he came in to do a seminar. And I told I said, Joel, I’ll pick you guys up, I’ll take you to the hotel, I’ll do whatever. And I had, I think that it was like the 1972 van customized was used to be a racing van. Big tube wires off of the back. And I remember and you know, green shag carpet on the inside, only two bucket seats in the front. I was styling, I was styling and and I remember carrying their luggage out to the van and I brought the van right out to the front. And I remember I mean even at that time the front wasn’t painted yet it was still kind of this primer read off of the thing before we had the bodywork and the murals put on etc. And I remember pulling them up to the curb, they’re sitting on the corner corner, they’re sitting on the curb, I pull up in the van and slide open the door, they see the green carpet and their eyes kind of just wide open and they stared and they go on what the hell did I get myself into? But I’ll tell you that was the best thing that I ever did. And from there, I said, Look, I’ll even travel on my own to get there. So for people that are listening, watching, you know, it’s not about just doing due diligence is where is your mindset? And what are you willing to do in order to really help your career and that’s what will manifest the whole thing. I

Michelle O’Connor 39:11
thought you know what, Chris, like, you, you want it to do it. And the thing about it is I you realize that when there’s a willingness and there’s a desire to just learn, go the extra mile that you are in your calling that you weren’t in the space that you’re supposed to be because I look at showing up at shows as I was going to be there anyway, I want it to go I want it to take classes if this is drudgery for you, or it feels like a task or it feels like a chore. Then I sincerely feel like you know people have to really evaluate what they’re passionate about because when you are just inherently passionate about something, it isn’t work. It’s your pleasure, it’s your joy.

Chris Baran 40:01
Yeah, I think you know, it’s interesting because I’ve talked to a lot of salon owners in the last couple of years and, and right now, especially since what world went and what we went in the last couple of years, we don’t need to go down that rabbit hole. But I find everybody’s always talking about how people have changed. And they they’re different now, and they just want more quality time. And they want, they weren’t talking about that less, working less hours, etc. Now, first of all, I’m not saying that’s wrong, please, for anybody listening, watching, don’t, don’t take anything, I’m wrong here, I think that what’s happened is, is people have a different mindset, but there’s still things that that you can do, without throwing yourself into, you know, working 80 hours a week, trying to get your dreams to come true, but you can rash and you can rash in those hours, and still do those things and get and get the benefits of them. Because there’s things that that just by you know, even just taking an hour’s practice for a week, even if you’re going to watch, watch YouTube, watch, do too great. But that doesn’t do anything for you unless you get a somebody down in front of you and do a step along with it. So if you’re gonna watch somebody, watch a video on on on YouTube, but then get a mannequin down. And just even if you’re doing a few sections, just so you understand what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s different. And would you learn, then, I

Michelle O’Connor 41:28
mean, we, we learned how to adapt during the pandemic, and, and really, treasure and value online education, and it’s here to stay, and there’s definitely a place for it. But it really can’t even hold a candle to doing something in person, it really just can’t. human connection is one of the most beautiful connections and and just all it’s beyond just learning. It’s, it’s it’s really about connecting. And I know that we had to do what we had to do. And we will have very much a hybrid situation where we still have access to learn things, and I agree with you, you’re really not going to learn by just you know, sitting in a chair and watching what someone’s doing on a screen, you’ve got to get your hands dirty.

Chris Baran 42:18
And go, bingo i Here’s the analogy that I loved. And I, I can’t remember who I to give credit to for but I remember there’s you can’t sit and watch somebody type on a keyboard, you can’t listen to lessons on how to type on a keyboard without getting your fingers on the keyboard. And it’s the same thing right here, you’ve got, you know, the and I’m afraid I’m going to go down a rabbit hole here. So I’m just going to say then we can move on. But I think that we have such a messed up society. When you’re ranked really high by doing things well, your rank lower if you make mistakes. But yet, the only way we learn is by making mistakes. So is that not screwed up? Or what? You know. So, you know, I always say what are you doing to allow yourself and put yourself in a safe environment at a safe time to make mistakes. So when you go out and put your big boy and your big girl panties on, and you go out in the real world where you’re going to be judged. So you’ve made the mistakes beforehand. And now you can go out there and you can have a higher level of success. So people see your wins. You know, I think that’s critical.

Michelle O’Connor 43:30
I agree. I agree. I think we have to get comfortable with letting people see us. I’m not all perfectly polished and put together and I I still take classes I still show up in you know, artists classes all the time. And from the people that may recognize me, in the class to the instructor, sometimes there’s this sort of what are you doing here, and I’m just kind of like, you really shouldn’t be asking me what I’m doing here. I’m here because you know, I, I want to learn and I value you as someone that I want to learn from. And I will be a student just like everybody else sitting in the class being a student and it does take some swallowing of pride, some humility to actually force yourself to be a forever learner. If you stop learning, you stop living and so that the minute you no longer think there’s something more for you to learn. That is your that is the beginning of the end for you for your human life. And so you should always be a lifelong and a student learner and I I work really hard at trying to to do that and I still do clients and The Salon, I never ever stopped doing clients in salon, no matter when the opportunity presented itself to completely leave the salon behind. I never left the salon behind, it just didn’t feel right. It’s much less it is much, much less than it was at the beginning of my career much, much less because I be falling on the floor, out of exhaustion. However, I love it. I love seeing those clients, I love being able to still keep my hands in hair and keep my speed, being able to have again, that human connection with people whose lives I’m a witness to. And I think there’s just a couple of things. If you keep in place throughout your career, you will continue to you know, have that longevity and not feel like okay, it’s my time’s up, it’s time for me to you know, move on over like you should continuously be looking for ways to reinvent and become better a better version of yourself.

Chris Baran 46:08
Yeah. The, you know, I just I think that do you find that? Being in the salon and all the whether it’s two or 1020 clients a day? Whether it’s, you know, once a week, twice a week, or all week long? Do you find a being a and I’m taking a wild stab at here. And I think that anybody who’s a five time NAHA winner, you’ve done more than five shoots? You know, I think everybody always sees us as the people that won now NAHA, but they don’t see all the times that that you didn’t win. You didn’t win? And but how does the being in the salon Altet? What does that do for your freshness? What does that do for when you put a collection I want to talk a little bit about about where your mind goes, when you’re putting a collection together.

Michelle O’Connor 46:58
Gosh, my mind goes to a lot of places. It’s it literally. If it looked like something it would be a carwash. It is just a lot of things happening at once I grab on a lot of my my personal aesthetic, which again, like we talked about dance, silhouette lines, only those things are being created with the body. I you know, like any other artists, I look for different mediums of art form, I look at you know landscape, I look at, you know, literal artwork, I look at photography, I look at all of these things, in and outside of the realm of hair itself. And I also look at culture, culture is a very important thing to me. And so I grab on just small little things, from cultures from various cultures that I can sort of add and have influence in collections. I always love for there to be a very feminine aesthetic, I can’t run away from that. I think ballet is probably one of the most gentle, delicate type of forms that you can learn. And so I think there’s always a little bit of a feminine delicate nature with a hint of masculinity to it. I do. And

Chris Baran 48:37
so I mean, so I dumped on you there, and I’m sorry, but I what I just want people to get from you is and I’m going to take you back when you’re talking about lines. And and you said the line and form what does what are you also talking about that insofar as the way that you might position a model during the shoot day? Are you involved?

Michelle O’Connor 48:58
Absolutely, yes.

Chris Baran 49:03
Yeah, there’s one thing that I noticed is, is some people just do it, they just intend doing a shot on hair. They’re so focused on hair, that they don’t really realize that it’s not always the most important thing in your shot. But you can you can ever model with amazing hair. But if they just sitting there like a lump and they there’s no emotion in that models eyes base in their projection, then it’s a wash. What do you do? How do you how do you help to give the model that?

Michelle O’Connor 49:39
So one of the things that I always knew, and this is from touching back to that dance background is that dance is a form of art that you express without words. And so the mark of a good dancer beyond technique is the expressiveness. I remember training As a young girl and critiquing your dance teacher of critiquing you, one of the columns would be expressive. This nother column would be musicality. Another column would be lines. Another column would be extensions. Just, I remember just how this was, how this was quantified as good or bad. And so when I look at a photo, and especially getting into the NAHA mindset, that photo has to make me feel something. And I know if the photo makes me feel something, when I leave the studio that day, so it’s, and I’ve said this over and over again and asked him stop you in your tracks. And it’s not because all the hair so exquisite and amazing. Yes, that that may very well be true. However, what is her body saying? What are her eyes saying? Because if that hair is phenomenal, but her eyes are dead, that’s not a winner. It has to become it is it is the, the, the closest thing we have to and a lot of people use this and say it’s the closest thing to what we have in our world that would be considered like an Oscar. And so it would, it would it’s a huge recognition. And what are you recognizing, you’re recognizing the beauty of photography, and lighting and makeup, it’s a story and it has to make you feel something. And if it doesn’t make you feel something, I don’t care how beautiful the hair is, it’s dead and it’s dull. Right?

Chris Baran 51:47
You know, there’s kind of two points that I’m you’re gonna hear it in my voice here right away that I was watching the view. First of all, if you watch in any view, which I doubt if you ever watch this podcast, but still love your work, but interesting left, they had these little shots that came up, and then they had pictures of hair that came up and everybody you could tell, you know, none of them hairdressers, but I’ll give, they’re going to give their opinion of where they’re at. And they had pictures of avant garde haircuts, obviously, on wigs, and make these inane comments about it when some hairdresser put their time and their energy into this and, and I just thought how demeaning. And that’s now so my point this is not I don’t want to go down that road of what they said. But it’s just that with avant garde, most people do not understand like, if you’re not if you’re outside of our industry, yes. They don’t understand avant garde hair, and they don’t understand what it stands for, and just the pure creativity behind it. And I know that you’ve won avant garde, at NAHA. So I told me a little bit about where your mind goes, what define more what avant garde is, and what you when you go into an avant garde, shoot, what do you look for?

Michelle O’Connor 53:11
I think I don’t even approach it necessarily, methodically, I actually do it a little unconventionally, whereas I start creating, I start building the hair, I start building the looks, and then I then I decide on the category. So I don’t decide on category and then build to fit the category, I build the looks and put it where I feel it belongs. And so that’s much less stressful for me, I feel much less boxed in that way. And I’m able to just really be expressive and create as I see fit. And if it goes into the realm of feeling like it’s no longer wearable or mainstream, then by process of elimination, it then goes into avant garde. Yeah, I think it’s just letting, letting the boundaries of it go. And, you know, I Yeah, I hear what you’re saying about, you know, the outside world really doesn’t understand what avant garde hair is, almost in the same way that you know, the fashion world when they have some designers that create couture clothing, how it’s very abstract, it’s very out there, but there’s a respect that is, is that is required of that industry. And we all know that that’s not going to be you know, on the lady that works at the bank. However, it is the highest form that that art can exist in. And when you have it existing in that level, it’s influencing so There is a food chain in the hair world that I believe people don’t understand. And that’s all the things that you see that are considered mainstream have some type of dots that you could connect back to an avant garde aesthetic.

Chris Baran 55:15
Yeah. I always say this one is that the biggest thing was when and I’ve talked about this another one. So if you’re listening, and you’ve watched, if you listen to the other one, it’s gonna be the same, because it’s true. But when McQueen, he started with skulls, yes, absurd demand. Yeah, I mean, I’m sure your your grandma has knickers that have skulls on them. And it’s just everyday fashion. And it’s no longer that, that image that you have. So for, you know, to me, when I see everything that’s avant garde, I see it being able to be watered down, even if it’s this extreme shape. What did that shape really watered down? And what would that if it was in a class that more of a classic hair cutter is shaped that you would create out of curl or whatever. And I think that’s where people on the outside, if you look at our world that everybody goes by amonkar they go, Oh, my God, that’s unbelievable. That’s unbelievable, because they know how hard that is to create. So you do it

Michelle O’Connor 56:19
so well. Oh, my gosh, I remember passing by the Redken room, and you were building this look with these likes, sticks. And it was like, out of this world. And it stopped me in my tracks. And is someone going to you know, wear that on the New York City subway? No, but is there some element that might trickle its way down into mainstream society? Absolutely. Absolutely. And they will not know where it came from? Yeah,

Chris Baran 56:55
I agree. And it’s to me is, I think there’s so many mediums that you can do avant. garde work with, you know, yes. Could be here. No, doesn’t have to be here, you could create something with something I’ll never forget, I think was one of the things that I was we were doing to some shows in South Africa. And I’m trying to be really clever. And remember the name of the salon. That that did this advert. And I actually cut out the advert. If I can still find it. I’m going to I’m going to make sure that I posted on here, but it was, I believe the name of the song was Yazoo. And they had these amazing looking model, but they took a mop head, you know, the white stringy mops? Yeah. And they got a fringe. And yes, their ad was more negative towards the hair. Meaning, you know, your hair won’t look like this when you leave. Implying you won’t get a mop haircut when you come to our salon. Yeah, but I looked at that, and I went, that’s an amazing idea. What could you create from that? And so I think that you can take other mediums and do amazing stuff with it. If you just let your creativity and your mind wander and not stop. You’ve got to stop with what will people think and just do. Because if you can push it as far as you can go, I mean, you might I’ve done hundreds of pieces where I looked at it after and I went well, this is just absolutely total caca. I would never do this, but I

Michelle O’Connor 58:33
will not see the light of day.

Chris Baran 58:34
Nobody’s gonna say it but me. But the reality is, is something from that, that I’ll do next time that will work out. So absolutely.

Michelle O’Connor 58:42
Or maybe it’s just an element from it, or one small detail from it. I 100%. agree with you wholeheartedly. I love it. There’s there’s a there’s a space, a significant space for avant garde hair in our profession, Pro as well as consumer.

Chris Baran 59:03
If I’m gonna, I’m shifting it again, and just kind of fun. I know, we’ve monopolized a lot of your time. But if you I always think of this to me as I know what mine is, but if I had a wish for our industry, and I have that I’ll just one wish. And they said for the whole industry, not for you. But if you can have that wish for that industry, what would it be? And then so my question to you is that if you had one wish, and Chris the genie could pop out and said I would give you grant you one wish and it can be everything for the betterment of your industry. What would that be? What would your wish be?

Michelle O’Connor 59:47
I think it’s very clear for me, that one wish has and continues to be that we exist in an industry that looks at the fabric of hair as is a fabric and separates it less, and that we keep our profession elevated. And we take our craft as having the responsibility of making sure that we know how to do all have the things that are required that our license gives us license to do. And that is, no matter what type of hair someone has on their head, we should have the wherewithal and the education to be able to manipulate it and put it in a capacity that brings out client joy and happiness. And that is my overarching dream wish goal, I want us all to really just take take ownership of this this profession and not run away and and say, you know, I can’t or I don’t know how or you know, that’s intimidating to me and to just kind of learn and if you don’t know, just learn, learn. Everyone can learn. There’s there’s no such thing is my fingers can’t do that.

Chris Baran 1:01:14
Right. Right. Yeah. Okay, question. Successful people always like, it’s a term I’ve coined is that we say go, yeah, it’s out there, you know, get off your assets will say, because I think that is everything that we have. And but I know we have to get off of our backside in order to do stuff. But there’s some things that people just don’t let go of that holds them back from getting what they really want. If you had to put it down into one word, or one quick sentence, what was the thing that you think that people just need to let go of, in order to get success?

Michelle O’Connor 1:01:59
i It’s fear, and fear would be my word. And my sentence would be do it afraid. Just do it afraid.

Chris Baran 1:02:13
Oh my god. I’m a Chihuahua. I know where I have no hair on my body. But you said that and immediately my erector Pillai muscles just for you know what that is anybody who stood up and said that I want you to say that again. Say that one more time. That last sentence.

Michelle O’Connor 1:02:34
Okay. Do it afraid?

Chris Baran 1:02:41
That is, I’ll just go like this. And then leave

Michelle O’Connor 1:02:52
Yeah, you’re never I mean, people say oh, what do you have to be fair? You are you are going to be fearful. That’s a human reaction emotion. Just okay. Okay. We’ve established that you’re afraid you’re scared? Do it afraid? Do it afraid?

Chris Baran 1:03:07
That’s gonna go I will adopt that on that. I will always forever give me credit on that. But listen, you are probably one of the classiest ladies I know. And it was a pleasure having you on the podcast.

Michelle O’Connor 1:03:18
Thank you so much, Chris, for having me. Thank you so much for having me. This was so fun.

Chris Baran 1:03:26
It was the least I can do. And as my good friend Chris moody always says he says and it’s the least I could do and never let it be said that I didn’t do the least. So it was a pleasure having you God bless you. And I just I’m

Michelle O’Connor 1:03:47
very good. Chris. You you enjoy. Well. I’ll see you. I’ll see you on the I’ll see you on the what do you call it? What do we call it the circuit road wherever the hell

Chris Baran 1:03:57
we are. out there but listen for listening. You know just what is your your handle? What’s your your Instagram title just so that people can get a hold of you have watched your work? See your work? What is it?

Michelle O’Connor 1:04:12
Absolutely. It’s @ Michelle O’Connor Beauty

Chris Baran 1:04:16
at Michelle O’Connor beauty and that you are okay everybody. Thank you guys, for all of you listening etc. Thank you very much, Michelle. Thank you. Absolutely appreciate you.

Michelle O’Connor 1:04:25
All right. Take care, Chris. Cheers.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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