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A Talk With Phillip Wolff: MoDown, Community & The Future

A Talk With Phillip Wolff: MoDown, Community & The Future

Tell us a little about MoDown.

Phillip Wolff: Okay, so MoDown is an annual barber exhibit that started really small, and it’s grown and gotten better every year since. This is its fourth consecutive year. And now Loui, who is the founder of it, along with her partner, they own Barber Society LA, so they started this MoDown event, which basically started out as a competition exhibit. What it turned into this year for the first time was a two day event where day one was education, day two was competition. It was really a breakthrough because of the way the industry is changing and evolving. They want to break the barriers of cosmo and barber and sort of mix it.

How is the industry changing and evolving? And how does that affect them?

PW: Right, well the industry is changing because social media and the barber industry in general are getting bigger. Cosmo is getting huge. Actually cosmetology has kind of always been huge but now…

So in basic terms, hairstylist versus barber. So with the cosmo world, with the trends coming in with the super tight cuts and everything for guys, the barbers, they’ve got that on lock. Their techniques are crazy. But then when it comes to the top of the hair and using sheerer work, that’s where cosmos shine and barbers sometimes lack a little so therefore, mixing the two worlds only makes sense, you know what I mean? And a lot of barbers now want to get into women’s hair. So Loui, knowing this is happening said, “Well look, why don’t we start bringing in some cosmo education like Wolffbehr and Geometric Illusions and stuff like that and mix it into the show?” So this was the first time they ever did that, and it was really a success.

What do you think made it a success?

PW: Well, I think what made it a success is the people that showed up and also afterwards, hearing their feedback and hearing so many people pumped about learning more than just doing clipper cuts. You know what I mean? And they were very interested in getting into women’s hair and this and that, which honestly, back in the day that was not the case. They would never even think of doing that, you know what I mean?

Definitely.

PW: And what actually was interesting was I was one of the judges for day two of the competition, which there was I think about eight categories and one of the categories was the tag team competition where two people tag team on one model. They get half an hour and anything goes, like whatever they want to do. One model was actually a girl model, so they did a cool shade design on the side but she had longer hair on the top so they teased it, dressed it out, did something very dressy. So that…and she won, by the way.

Oh, nice.

PW: Yeah. So to us, we were just blown away because one of the guys in the tag team competition was one barber and one hairstylist, they were a team. And that just automatically shows right there that the interest is there, you know? It’s not just about people in the crowd, but people even competing are into that.

Even more than that, it also proves the point that these worlds are starting to collide in a good way, right?

PW: Exactly. And so any time there’s something like that, Wolffbehr wants to be a part of it and that’s why we agreed to do that. We did some stage work on day one and we actually collaborated with one of my favorite barbers, @Famos out of Winnipeg, and it was him on the left, then it was a two person team called Geometric Illusions, which is my buddy Rolando and his girlfriend Yumi, so they make up that company. And then there’s Chief and I who make up Wolffbehr, obviously. All of us were on stage doing our thing and collaborating together. It was amazing.

When you were on stage, did you have a good crowd in the room? How was it set up?

PW: Yeah, yeah. Well, actually the venue is called the Yost Theater, so it’s like a music venue. So there’s like a floor, which for a rock concert would be the mosh pit or whatever. And then there’s side seating for VIP, and then there’s a whole upstairs that is a U-shape around the stage and that was for even more VIPs. So yeah, it was full on the floor and they said for the first time ever doing it, they were pretty stoked on the turnout. We did a Q & A after, people were asking questions and then even when we got done, people kept wanting to talk about stuff. And then we had our booth.

What was the best question you got asked?

PW: Well, there was a lot of, “Well, how did you get to where you’re at?” Or, “How did you have a passion for both barbering and hairstyling?” Which back in the day the identity of a barber was a barber and that was it. And a hairstylist was a hairstylist and that’s it. But it’s like back in the day you were either a rocker or you were a rap person. But obviously now, everybody likes everything so that’s the beauty.

All those walls are going away really quickly.

PW: We want to be a part of that. We want to be a part of the evolution of this industry. That’s why we do this.

How many contestants were in the contest? You said there were eight categories, how many per category?

PW: Yeah, there were 8 categories and literally there would be up to like 12 to 15 people per category. There’s such a unique category that not a lot of people feel that great about it, but one was portraits. So basically they would carve in a portrait of a person in the back of someone’s head, which to me was the craziest thing.

Oh, wow.

PW: I honestly can’t even do that stuff. I’ve never attempted it, but these guys are just… and they don’t know who the person’s gonna be. So they actually chose Walt Disney, a portrait of Walt Disney, the guy.

Who chose it? The model chose it, or the stylist?

PW: No, no, no, he person who ran the event, Loui.

Oh, so it’s like Iron Chef – “Your mystery ingredient is Walt Disney.” And then you have to just make it work.

PW: Exactly. Then you get like 30 minutes and then you just go. But the outcomes, I was floored. At the end, I had to announce all the winners, and I was like, “Look, you guys. This was one of the toughest competitions to judge, honestly. But at the end of the day, somebody has to win, so we obviously chose someone,” but it was crazy. Here’s another thing, the student competition, to me, was the fiercest because there were about 20 students and they were all just kicking ass, and we were just like, “Jeez, this is amazing.”

So it sounds like there was a real energy there that you almost wouldn’t see at a show that wasn’t merged, right? It sounds like the people you had there were really the edge of the edge. They’re the real forefront of what’s going on. Rather than a more traditional show that’s maybe more established, but they really brought in a crowd that was hungry and looking for the next thing.

PW: Exactly. And like I said, we even talked about what would’ve happened had this event gone down the same way even three years ago. The attendance would have been horrible and it would have not been the same energy. But I think now, in today’s world because of social media and because of the way of independent education and how all that is going, it was the perfect timing.

That’s cool. Is there another MoDown event happening again next year?

PW: Oh yeah. Oh yeah, definitely.

What do you think the highlights of the show were?

PW: Yeah, well you know what? There were a ton of barbers who were well known on Instagram there, but they weren’t judging, they weren’t competing, they weren’t doing anything. They just wanted to go, and I think a lot of people showed up just to meet all the other people, as well. Yeah, just to show love, to take pictures and say, “Hey, I’m down with this guy,” or, “I’m down with this girl,” you know what I mean? I think that’s the cool thing about how it works now is yes, there are a bunch of independent brands coming out, but it’s not independent brands bashing each other, it’s independent brands going, “Look, we’re different, we’re a totally different company, different brand, but we come together. We come together because of the same movement which is all about independent education and identity as opposed to following the corporate world,” you know?

It almost feels like how you would think of the art scene in New York in the late ’60s or early ’70s. Where you have all these really great artists and they’re all supporting each other. So someone will have a gallery opening and all these other artists will come not necessarily to be seen, but more to support that person and talk to them and meet each other and hang out. It feels like a really collaborative moment in the industry right now.

PW: I agree.

Anyone you want to shout out to?

PW: I wanna shout out to Famos first of all. It was an honor just to hang with him again and to be a judge with him and to have that experience. And shout out to obviously Chief Behr, Anthony Louis Hair, and Anna Singer for just being there for the brand and helping us out. And Geometric Illusions because Wolffbehr and Geometric Illusions have been wanting to collaborate for the longest time anyway, and out of this came another event that we’re gonna come up with, but I won’t get into that yet because there’s a lot to that.

It’s coming soon, though, right?

PW: It’s coming! Yeah, we’re gonna start our own version of MoDown, but it’s gonna be mostly barbers and cosmo, but a little more in depth than even the MoDown one without the competition. It’s gonna be strictly education. It’s also gonna be sponsored by American Salon so we have backing that way, you know what I mean?

Right. Who organized MoDown? Do you know who was responsible for putting it all together?

PW: Yeah. It’s Barber Society LA. So it’s Loui and she is, gosh, her Instagram is just BarberSocietyLA and she also recently founded Go Panache.

Sounds like it was a great event. What can you attribute its success to?

PW: Yeah. I think with as much of a success it was and with as big of a crowd it had, it was still very intimate and didn’t seem overly produced, if you know what I’m saying. I think just that little feel and aspect is very cool. Instead of these big, big conventions that are like millions of dollars you put into, you know what I mean? Where you see your Paul Mitchells and all of that.

Right.

PW: So I think just that whole thing is a great feeling because you know that it was set up for the people, by the people and that’s it. No outside big names helping out or sponsoring, it was just self-done. And I think that message alone is what goes out to the crowd and helps inspire them to believe in themselves, you know what I mean?

Well, the playing field’s been leveled, right? This is what social media does – it evens things out between the big dogs and the up-and-comers. Five or six years ago, only a big brand or a conference organizer with connections to the brand could have put on a show like this.

PW: Exactly.

But now, because of social media, two guys in a barber shop can say, “We’re doing this” and actually make it happen. So it’s real, it’s legit, and there’s an authenticity to it that’s just so often missing in the space.

PW: Yes. And there’s more of a loyalty to that than any big brand out of nowhere, you know what I mean?

Well, this is where the trends start, too, right? As this independent movement begins to gather steam, you’re really going to start to see trends coming out of it and you’re really going to start to see it spawn off so much more creativity. It’s exciting that Wolffbehr has a front row seat to that and gets to really help drive it and be a part of it. That’s pretty amazing.

PW: Oh, yeah. Here’s the deal. The young coming up, and I don’t necessarily mean age, but just the younger in the industry that are coming up, they’re more hungry, they have more resources and more areas to search and learn from now. This is the most exciting time that I’ve ever been in this industry in the past 18 years.

 

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