Jason Backe – Hair color expert, CEO Ted Gibson Salon
An incredibly fun person, colorist Jason Backe. Catch Ted Gibson live on E! today for the Grammys!“The industry sometimes gets a bum rap of being superficial or being fake or being fluffy. But its really, from my perspective, incredibly powerful to boost your self confidence, to change the way you feel about yourself (through color) “
Jason Backe is color expert, CEO and half of the team that is Ted Gibson Salon, both at home and at the office. As co-owner of the salon with the most expensive haircut in the US, how do they deliver? Massclusivity is the key.
You have a pretty exciting career right now, several successful salons, and this all started in Minnesota, right?
JB: It did. I grew up in Northern Minnesota, by Duluth, in a town call Cloquet. I lived in Minneapolis for six years before I moved to New York. I went to the Aveda Institute back when it was called Horst Education Center, and I worked at the John English Salon for two years before I moved to New York. My life partner, business partner, best friend – all of that together – was one of my teachers in beauty school, Ted Gibson. Aveda wanted Ted to move to New York and that’s kind of how I ended up coming. I always envisioned my big move was going to be from Cloquet to Minneapolis. I never really thought I’d ever move to New York, he just asked and asked and asked and asked and finally I was “Ok, I’ll move to New York. But only for a year.” That was 12 years ago.
Initially was there a stumbling block?
Growing up I never thought I wanted to be in the beauty industry. I always thought I wanted to do PR or Communications or something like that. I went to college, different schools, for four years, changing my major all of the time. I never felt successful in that learning style, wasn’t good at taking the books home and studying. So I took a couple of years off and I traveled with a non-profit company, spent time in Europe and the US. When I settled down in Minneapolis again, I decided that I wanted to try something that was a little more hands-on learning. I either wanted to be a chef, or, I had a friend named Adam who was a hair dresser and he seemed to have a really fabulous life. I thought I could be a good hair dresser.
To be a chef, to go to a good school, I would have had to move and I had just settled in Minneapolis. So I decided, the best beauty school in the country was Aveda, and I decided to go to beauty school. The day that I walked in through the front doors I thought “This is where I want to be, this is amazing,” I fell in love with it right away.
It’s funny because my sister, a couple of years ago, made me a photo album. She’s a huge scrapbooker and she made me a whole photo album of my life. In it are these pictures of me, dressing her hair for prom, or her girlfriend’s hair for prom, or family friends for weddings. Even of me as a little kid, perming her hair. I was probably 9 years old, in our mom and dad’s kitchen. Looking back retrospectively, I’ve been involved my whole life, but I never thought of it as a career until I went to beauty school.
How did the salons come about?
Ted and I started talking about a salon when we were in Minneapolis. We’d looked at locations, picked out a name. When we came to New York, it was still a conversation we were always having. Ted ended up working for Aveda for 6 years at the store on Broadway. I did testing for them, education. I did as much as I could do without getting into management or getting into some kind of leadership, other than being a trainer for them. I reached a point where I was ready to leave the company and I was having a conversation with Ted. Either I would go to another company or we would branch out on our own.
Ted Gibson is the new stylist on TLC’s What Not To Wear
Ted had just started working with Angelina Jolie. She was his first really big celebrity client. She had just taken the blood off of around her neck (laughs), so she was still that “weird” girl nobody understood. She wasn’t the Angie we know today. It was a great time for him to meet up with her and it changed his career in that it became the perfect time to open up a salon. His name was already well known in the fashion & beauty industry in New York. It all made sense; perfect timing for my career, great timing for his career.
That’s how we opened our first salon. And at first we wanted a live/work space where we could say it was our apartment but really it was a salon, and people would feel like they were coming over to our house. Then we thought, “If we’re really trying to do this, let’s try to make an impact in New York City and compete with the big guns.” We were really inspired by the W Hotels. They had just started and were still sort of boutique-y feeling. There was a big trend toward boutique hotels that was happening all over. In New York at the time, all of the famous salons had, like, 50 chairs. Frederic Fekkai was in the Chanel building and had three floors in the Chanel building. The big, higher end salons were huge hair factories, and we were inspired by the boutique movement.
We found a space that was really open, and lofty, and decided to do twelve chairs in a really open space. Just make it really chic and comfortable and high end – but you know, I’m from Minnesota. I didn’t want it to be pretentious; I didn’t want it to be stuffy. When the girls came in, I wanted them to feel comfortable and pretty. That was the way we started the whole project. Oh, I have a guest whose color is processing, I’ve gotta look at her highlights. (muffled, looks great, have Jen check to see if it needs a gloss and then give her an amazing blow out)
I love it, right in the middle of all of the action. What color are we doing?
That is Janet, she is a single process, level 8 blond with highlights on top so she looks really beachy and fabulous.
So you open this really new concept in New York. And it takes off…immediately?
We really got great press off the bat. We’re an interesting combination, being husbands, and work partners, and Ted’s celebrity career was really taking off. We got a lot of press right away and we had this little group of people opening up at the same time, and we all kind of got the same press together. It’s been fun to grow up together.
After all this time, how is it going back home, so to speak, to Minnesota?
I love it. My mom and my dad, sister and my grandma all still live in Cloquet. My sister and her husband have three kids and they live five houses down from my mom and dad. I like to go there 4, 5, 6 times a year so that I can hang out with the kids, see the family. It’s a great respite from NYC. They don’t care what jeans I have on. It’s great for my ego too because I go to Northern Minnesota and I feel like the greatest, fittest 40 year old in the world. I come back to New York and it’s O yeah, I’m just regular. But it’s a great balance for me to be with my family and hang out. Not have anything to do with fashion. Beauty. Work. Of course I still have my laptop and Blackberry, so I can stay in touch, but I love to go back. And I love to be able to do local media stuff when I’m in Minneapolis, or stop by John English Salon to visit the owners (although they’re never there when I’m there, I’ve run into them a couple of times). You know, it is just fun to go home and hang out.
Speaking about local media, you recently did a piece on going red.
It was fabulous! These women were completely transformed by what you did.
It wasn’t that they just got pretty, they looked like completely different people.
Thank you! I think that’s one of the things that I love about this industry. The industry I think, overall, sometimes gets a bum rap of being superficial or being fake or being fluffy. But its really, from my perspective, incredibly powerful to boost your self confidence, to change the way you feel about yourself, to celebrate a promotion or get through a breakup. You know, dump that man, change your haircolor. It’s really amazing how something as simple as changing your haircolor really transforms someone in ways that are unexpected.
Did you intend to go into color?
Growing up in Minnesota, everyone does everything (in my experience). In the salon I worked at, everyone did cut and color. Rarely were people specialized. I don’t know how it is now, but then, 15 years ago, everyone did everything. When I went to New York and worked at Aveda, they didn’t specialize, so I did everything. I was an educator for Haircutting and I did a lot of haircolor. A chunk of my professional profile was about haircutting and hairdressing.
When Ted and I went into business together, he doesn’t do any type of color and had already become known as the “hairdresser” so it made sense, if our salon was going to specialize, that I did color. It’s interesting because I always thought of it as not rocket science, not that complicated, all the same – you know, you’re working with hair depending on what you’re doing – and I felt I did a great job at both. Until I really started to focus on one thing, not being divided. That’s when my career really took off. Really when I focused all of my creativity and all of my energy into one end of the craft is when I really started to understand color in a new one.
I was Color Director at Clairol until last week. It was a highlight of my career, so great to work with that brand. The things I learned were things that I kind of knew – the power of hair color, and what it can do. But I was really snotty about being a salon hairdresser and expressing the belief that you should only color your hair at the salon and not at home. My relationship with Clairol really opened up my eyes to what amazing home products there are, and what amazing results you can get.
The makeovers that you were talking about that I did for Twin Cities Live were all with at home hair color. Every single step. So the truth is, you can get amazing results with product at home, or you can get amazing results with product at the salon. I really had a fantastic time at Clairol and cherish what I got to do, but ultimately it got really complicated for me to be exclusive to one brand with all of the opportunities that come with being part of Ted Gibson. It was amazing and I loved it and I’m ready for the next thing around the corner.
It’s a really fun time for me professionally, for Ted professionally, for the Ted Gibson brand. We’re experiencing what Ted and I call “Tremendous Velocity” where we’re just being as open as we can to as many opportunities as we can to share as much information as we can. To build this brand, we want to be able to take beauty and bring it to the women at home. Take that celebrity cache and bring it to the women at home. Bring it to my mom and my sister in Northern Minnesota, so that they can make the connection to the excitement of what we’re doing. Which is part of the reason we launched the Ted Gibson brand at the Target stores.
Let’s talk about that, because that’s a very accessible road to go down (for a high end line).
We’ll you know I’m from Minnesota and I love Target stores. When we wanted to launch the product, we knew we wanted to launch prestige and work our way to mass. So we started at Henri Bendel. Then we went to Saks. Then we went to Sephora. And then we went to Target. Target, I think, is really our customer. Our girls that come to the salon and spend $1500, hop in their Maserati or their Range Rover or whatever it is they’re driving, and stop at Target on the way home. The woman that colors her hair at home, the woman who spends a million dollars at the salon, the woman that never thinks about coloring her hair: All of these women love Target. For us it’s like the ideal place to bring Ted Gibson to the people.
I agree! Tell me about the products you’ll be carrying there. Tell me your favorites.
At Target we have 8 SKUs. We have about 25 in the line, but 8 at Target. My favorite is the Clarity Color Shampoo and Conditioner. Those are amazing for color treated hair. They have a color-protecting complex that actually helps the cuticle stay closed so you keep the color longer. It’s got a UV absorber that helps to protect your hair color from fading in the sun, and in addition to all of the magic it does, it just smells good. (laughs)
I also love the Beautiful Hold hairspray. It’s a new approach to hairspray because it doesn’t leave your hair crunchy or stiff. It just gives it really fabulous memory, so you can still run your fingers through your hair and it bounces back into the curl that was there or the smoothness that was there. It’s awesome.
In terms of trends, what do you see happening right now?
If you’re talking about a hairstyle, the thing we’re seeing most now is the grown out bob.
Sorry one second.. mixed with 873..87.
We’re getting all of your secrets here.
You’re getting all of my secrets! Do you know the blogger/web goddess extraordinaire Julia Allison?
Ok, she’s here right now and we’re coloring her hair.
Tell her hi – we were all talking about her hair before I got online with you. What is she doing?
Yes, is she just touching up?
We’re just touching up the new growth and tinting her brows. She is so amazing. She is someone that sits in my chair and we can talk for hours.
She does have the gift of gab!
OMG, yes. Ok, so for trends – longish, it’s not really a bob, it’s not really longish either, it’s sort of clavicle length. I think that’s really chic and really modern right now. I think if you’re wearing your hair past, you know, even touching your bra strap, it’s way too long for right now. Long hair should be below your shoulders but above your bust line so it sort of falls in the middle, is where trend is at right now. I think if I see people with those super long extensions, I think it almost looks dated and old. It doesn’t look fresh to me. Bangs are still really hot, whether they are side swept or crescent shaped around your brows. Either one of those can be really modern right now.
Hair color, we’re seeing not a lot of gold. Staying away from the gold and seeing more neutral, more sand, that kind of stuff. And there’s never been a better time to be a red head, which is why it was so exciting to do those reds for the media in Minneapolis. Since red carpet season last winter, we’ve never seen more redheads on red carpets, on fashion campaigns. I’m sure we’ll see a lot of red for Fashion Week. So if you’re thinking of making a statement with your hair, red is the way to go.
Sure. There are a couple of generalizations that help. The lighter your complexion, the more copper you can handle, more orange. The darker your eyes, the more you want to stay away from copper and go towards auburn and ruby shades. If you can follow that, you’re good.
What should people do with their eyebrows when coloring hair at home?
Wait until you are done, when it is shampooed out and blow-dried to see how the whole thing works. If you need to tweak them a little bit, you take a little bit of the color that you just put on your hair and you put it on your brows for two minutes and you take it off. But you only leave it on for a couple of minutes because you don’t want it to be matchy-matchy. You just want to take that edge off so that everything is believable. 2-3 minutes. You can always reapply if you want it to be more vibrant or brighter.
A haircut experience with Ted Gibson runs almost $1000, (although you can book with other talented stylists) but he’s also the new celebrity hairstylist for TLC’s What Not To Wear? Check him out on the show, or feel inspired and see him in the salon yourself.
You can also book time for a great color with Jason Backe at one of three Ted Gibson Salons, contact:
New York City: 212.633.6333
Washington DC: 9/10/09 every month (two weeks)
Florida, Ft Lauderdale (inside W Hotel):