Gen Itoh is the Creative Director and one of the most seasoned members of the TIGI core team. Born in New York, Gen moved to the UK with the aim to learn English, hairdressing and surfing! Having succeeded in conquering all the skills, he was offered a place with Anthony Mascolo’s team and worked alongside Marco Lafrate in the Mayfair salon. For several years after he joined the TIGI Creative Team, Gen worked in the London Academy and on TIGI seminars, campaign shoots and TIGI global shows. In 2014, TIGI opened Bed Head Hair Space, a place to share creativity, push ideas and showcase Bed Head products. Gen is director of this conceptual salon, located at Boxpark, in Shoreditch, East London and now splits his time between leading the salon team, teaching in the Academy and working on global seminars and shows. In a recent interaction with HAIR, he spoke about how he continuously moves his work forward by developing new ideas from emerging trends to ensure his clients are on the right track to achieving their dream style.
Please enlighten us about your journey in the hair industry.
I was just a spoilt teenage kid of 17 years when I moved to England. I couldn’t speak English and didn’t know what to do. I went to the country side in West Coast of England to learn surfing, my favourite hobby back in Japan. I also studied a diploma course at a local hairdressing college for two years before I moved back to London to stay with my parents. In London, I met this Japanese guy Toni, who was the owner of Toni&Guy, and we became good friends. Through him I met Anthony Mascolo, the founder of Toni&Guy, and also Kenji Saiga, who was at the helm and told me all about hairdressing. I really got interested and started working for Toni&Guy at the age of 20. From there, I made my way as the Artistic Director of Mayfair Salon, London, and was lucky to directly communicate with Anthony. When Anthony and Toni separated, they had a contract they couldn’t take anyone from Toni&Guy. Three years later, Anthony approached me for his brand TIGI and I joined him. Since 11 years, I’m working with the creative team of TIGI in UK. Last month, I moved from London to Japan, as the TIGI Creative Director for Asia Pacific .
What was the key driving force to become a hairstylist?
The key driving force was Anthony. I always wanted to be like him. He’s so powerful. He’s just a very special man. I can’t copy what he does, so I thought at least I can work for him directly. That was the kind of goal or motivation for my career. My inspiration has always been to be next to him. Of course, now were like friends and share a good relationship. He lets me do the difficult cuts or precision cuts and he’s always there to guide me.
Tell us about your artistic and aesthetic education?
I didn’t really undergo any aesthetic education: My skill lies in the hands-on experience I gathered while working and that led me to become the director.
Who do you look upto as your ideal in the industry?
I look upto both Anthony and Kenji Saiga. He was the one who brought Toni&Guy from UK to Japan – a big move in our culture. He made a huge empire in Japan and made the local hairdressers become experts. I have big respect for him. Unfortunately, he passed away.
Do you also create looks on celebs?
I’ve worked with a few celebs. One guy was from the Slipknot band, that a heavy metal hard core band. I’ve also worked with Margaret Houwow, the designer, who also designs for the Queen.
Can you share your thoughts about hairdressing in today’s world?
Hairdressing has tremendously changed in the last 10 years. It established as a respectable profession back in the 70s. With subsequent generations of good hairdressers, we can see a lot happening in the industry – shoots, shows, salons. Everyday there are new products and newer technology, which is a great inspiration. It’s a huge revolution.
What according to you is the biggest challenge in the industry?
The biggest challenge is keep creating something new. In terms of cuts and techniques in hair, I don’t think anything new left. So we’re focusing on styling which is technology related. We’re looking at doing something we wouldn’t do in the past in terms of textures, density, styles, etc.
Besides, TIGI does not have the same strong recognition in Asia as in US or Europe where it’s been around for 30 years. For me, this is the next challenge. I want to bring TIGI back to Japan and include Asian people as much as I can.
What hair tips would you recommend for the season?
For this season, it’s ponytail. The weather is humid and the hair frequently touches water and becomes frizzy and limp. It’s best to leave it curly with heavy cream-based products such as mousse. I would also suggest applying a normal conditioner as a leave-in conditioner. But its consistency should be thick (not oily) to keep the hair in place. Also, it can be used only on thick hair, not on fine hair. It’s one of the best tricks for curly hair, it looks completely natural.
What are the best cuts and styles trending currently?
The style that is trending currently is definitely long bob. You see that everywhere you go, be it any region. It suits everyone, looks natural and is easy to maintain. You can simply blowdry it or make a ponytail.
As a veteran, can you share some tips to maintain hair?
Everyone here in India has pretty much thick, nice hair. What’s important is the usage of products in the right way. Hairdressers need to educate the consumers. They need to tell what products to use, when to use them.
What are the must-have hair products/tools in the vanity kit?
There are some star products that I would recommend. First is Bed Head shine spray that gives light shine and stays for a long time; it can be used on all hair types. The second one is the styling mist product; it’s a mist that you can use before blow dry to give you great hair and shine. It gives a grip to hair and is not too sticky so a majority of people like it. The third one is the copyright haircare range; it’s more nourishing and a bit more toned down in terms of hold. It’s good for people who do chemical treatments as it prevents or fixes chemical damage. It works well on Indian hair but you cannot be shy on its application. It’s easy to use and smells nice.
What has been your biggest hairdressing moment?
There are a few hairdressing career moments that are very special to me. One of those was a photo shoot we did at TIGI for Anthony’s magazine called Infringe. We shot at this place in Tokyo where there were lights everywhere. It was raining and the streets were reflecting light. So the whole thing ended up really beautiful.
What do you wish to introduce in your profile on the basis of your rich past experience.
I want to find talented hairdressers in the Asian Pacific countries and get them together as a team. It’s a long term process but I’ve started it already. I can see there are a lot of hungry people out there waiting to do something big in hair. I want to educate them and create a platform for them. That is my next mission.