When Kevin Murphy stopped by the Little Red Dot recently, we were fortunate enough to meet with the visionary hairstylist turned unwitting hair brand owner. Murphy opened his own Kevin.Murphy Academy in 2015 in Singapore and is set to distribute his weightless, intuitive haircare and styling products — dubbed skincare for your hair — in the region. Formerly a session hairstylist for Kylie Minogue and various high fashion magazines, Murphy was happy to share more about the genesis and concept behind his brand, as well as to beguile us with stories of his (styling) past.
Tell us about the Kevin Murphy brand
I was a session hairdresser. And I grew up in the late 80's and early 90's where it was all about dead straight, ironed, flat hair. The products were all catering to that look and I wanted to create volume and texture. I was given a lot of products to test and was really excited to use them — this was in the beginning of the grunge era — but every time I would use the products on the hair, it would be greasy by lunch. I was working for Vogue and big publications at the time, and I was kind of hauled in to the editor's office because the hair would look good in the morning but it would go limp by the late afternoon, especially for outdoor shoots.
When I called the companies up later to find out why, they would tell me I could only use a little bit of product at the very ends of the hair, but I found with these limitations that I couldn't change the characteristic of the hair and create the big shapes that were in fashion at the time. I started mixing old-fashioned setting lotions and body lotions and was getting better results than with traditional haircare products. My biochemist friend told me that skincare products had smaller molecules and could be absorbed into the hair easier, as they were designed to penetrate rather than sit atop the skin or hair. And that's when we started adapting skincare ingredients into haircare products. I first made the line for myself and my photo shoots. We used to mix up products at the back of my salon — my assistant used to just stick his hand into a vat and mix it up — and there was such a big demand from the clients that we realised we had to manufacture them professionally.
The packaging for Kevin.Murphy was also nicer than the traditional, ugly packaging or garish colours used in most salon products. A friend was working in Space NK and she showed her boss our products, and they were one of the first places to stock us followed by stores like Barneys and Joyce. Then it just grew into this incredible thing that I couldn't control... and I had to get business partners. We had to move on from the guy mixing it with his arms!
What makes Kevin.Murphy products different from the ones on the market?
We wanted our haircare to feel weightless like skincare. Most haircare at the time, could only be used in small amounts, but I wanted to be liberal with my product, though I didn't want it to be visible. I wanted these products to have a natural feel when used, just like you don't want your makeup to be obvious when you wear it.
Over the years, consumers have begun to realise that they can change their hair with a hair product. In the past, there wasn't a lot of choice in hair brands. The biggest trend was going from very ironed and flat hair to a more natural texture. Hair trends move very slowly compared to fashion trends. Like your current hair length [a lob] would have been a very bad length in the 90's [laughs].
What are some star products from Kevin.Murphy?
The biggest star is the Doo.Over. It's the most innovative one to date, as it combines a dry shampoo and a hairspray. It takes the attributes of a dry shampoo, but it allows you to mould hair at the same time. The Doo.Over has less powder and more control.
Keep it in the office for an instant do-over. You can mould hair and give it more volume. With dry shampoo on dark hair, it can look a bit grey, but this one has very little powder in it, so it uses the powder to make the gaps between the hair greater so hair is less flat. It also creates more movement in the hair and is great for limp tresses and humid environments. In Singapore, our oils and shine sprays will not be as relevant here, but a product that closes the cuticles down would be.
What would be your prescription for wavy and fine hair like mine?
Try the Plumping.Wash and Plumping.Rinse to give more density per square inch. I would then prescribe Body.Mass as a strengthening treatment. For styling, I would prescribe the Hair.Resort texturiser for a beachy look and then for maintainence the Powder.Puff and Doo.Over. It's more about texturising and volumising for your hair.
How about a prescription for the thick, straight hair that many women in Singapore have?
For thick straight hair, I would go with more volumising products like the Anti.Gravity Spray to get a bit of bend to the hair and give it some workeability. For styling, again I would use Powder.Puff to add a bit of texture. You sprinkle it and it when it breaks, the little spheres also break open and the powder dries the spheres — it's like you're putting product in and then instantly blow-drying your hair. Put it in the roots to puff up the flat parts, especially near the crown.
What is most important in hot weather is to close the cuticle, as when the cuticle is open it causes frizzines. Try a leave-in conditioner like Un.Tangled or Staying.Alive (for fine hair) to lock down hair and create a shiny surface.
Tell us about a new product that you love.
Re.Store, a rinse-out, cleansing treatment that takes the place of both shampoo and conditioner. Frequent washing tends to dry the hair out. This washes and treats hair at the same time, and it works for coarse and wiry hair that needs to be softened. It also cuts shower time in half and gives hair that lived-in look.
Tell us about your time as a session hairstylist for stars like Kylie Minogue
It was a lot of fun, and then a lot of pressure. Kylie was very organised and planned things in advance for shoots, she wouldn't just rock up. I would do a lot of work on mannequin heads first and show these different styles to her and we would discuss it from there. She was very good to work with, as she knows how important her image is.
For most of the celebrities, it can be really scary. They have no privacy — it's like they're a king or queen. There are always like eight people around them first thing in the morning. The pressure on them is immense and their little me-time is tiny, so they can get stressed. You have to be on it and you can never be late! I was late with Elle Macpherson once and it took me a long time to get over that hurdle. They're not highly strung, but the people around them are, because these stars are being paid a fortune to be at events, and to be there on time.
How does it feel creating styles that will later be copied?
You don't think that someone is going to copy you, but you think someone is going to watch closely, so you bring your best. I used to travel with four suitcases to create every hair possibility imaginable. Everything has to be completely flawless from every angle, and you're only as good as your last hairstyle. You have to be very mindful that each celebrity and model has a very small window of time. If someone looks 'wrong', you will be fired straightaway as there are a hundred people waiting behind you. You're sweating a lot and you always wear black!
Kevin.Murphy is sold only in salons. For salon listings, please click here