Tabatha's Taking Over
If you didn’t watch Bravo’s Shear Genius last season, you missed one of the most exciting women on TV—Tabatha Coffey. Bold, unabashed and occasionally way-too-frank, Coffey was so popular with Shear Genius fans that Bravo brought her back for her own breakout reality hit, Tabitha’s Salon Takeover. In it, Coffey calls on her years of hands-on experience to help struggling salon owners turn their businesses around, but her edgy style and no-holds-barred management style doesn’t make her a welcome force at every salon. In fact, the word, “bitchy” is probably uttered on every episode.
But no worries, lesbians love the bard behind the bob. Coffey, an Aussie who has been working with hair since she was 14, is on the Joico Artistic Team working closely with International Artistic Directors Damien Carney and Sue Pemberton to create the incredible hairstyles featured in Joico advertising and trend collection imagery. She also works New York's Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, lands in magazines as diverse as Seventeen, Marie Claire and Mademoiselle, runs her own salon, Industrie Hair Gurus in Ridgewood, New Jersey and, now that she’s a Hollywood star, sees clients at the Warren-Tricomi salon in West Hollywood.
How did the salon-takeover concept come about?
I think it was just a really good fit for me, and it’s what I do, you know, I’m a hairdresser. I’ve been hairdressing for 26 years…and I think it’s a great idea because every salon is always having challenges, and the problems are always so difficult, so it always feels incredibly fresh when you walk into a new business.
What surprised you most about doing the takeover? Has it been hard to go in, and in some cases, really shatter a lot of illusions?
Every time I walk in, it’s really hard. I mean, I’m going into someone’s business—their specs are really high because their businesses aren’t doing really well. That’s why they’ve asked me to come in, and, you know, you have to tell these people a lot of hard truths that they don’t necessarily want to hear, and try to get to the bottom of what their problems are, and help them.
People either love you or hate you—is that something that you cultivate, or is that simply a by-product of you being frank?
No, it’s just me. You know, I am honest, which I don’t think is a bad thing. And…I have a week, I’m in the salon for a week with these business owners, and, as I said, a lot of them really have a lot of problems—a lot of financial problems, a lot of issues going on with their business—and they’re really desperate, so I need to go in and be really honest with them, to try and help them see what they’re doing wrong and how I can help them make it…otherwise it’s not fair to them.
So, you come back six weeks later to check in on the results. Do you think six weeks is enough time to know whether it was a good turnaround or not?
I think it shows you if people are going to really make those changes…if [they’ve] really embraced the process.
One thing was surprising was that some of the male salon owners seemed pretty sexist, like Michael wanting the girls to wear low-cut shirts and pass out flyers and Martino calling all of the women “honey” or “sweetie.” Did that surprise you or did that feel fairly typical?
Look, unfortunately, I think it’s typical with everything…I don’t appreciate going into a store or restaurant, you know, wherever it is, and having someone call me “honey” or “sweetie” or “darling,” and sometimes, I guess it is a little bit sexist, but I guess that everything can be. I just don’t find that there’s any room for it in a professional marketplace.
Did you always know you wanted to be a stylist? Were you cutting your Barbie’s hair when you were 8?
I was, actually. I was the kid that was playing with a million dolls and doing their hair and making my sister-in-law, or whoever there was, sit down and let me put makeup on them and play with their hair for hours.
So you started your career at 14 in Australia.
I knew I wanted to be a hairdresser, and my mother’s advice was, see if it’s something you really do feel passionate about, or if it’s something that you’re young, and you just think it would be fun. So I started at 14, working in salons on my school vacations, and as a Saturday girl, just going in. I couldn’t do anything except, you know, clean and sweep up, and watch the hairdressers, and I fell in love with it. Salons are these amazing little places. It was great to go in, especially being that young, and you would see women come in, week after week after week to get their blow-dries and the conferences that they’d have with the stylists, and these relationships that they’d build up, and I totally fell in love with it.
Are there more gay women than we’d imagine in the styling industry?
I think there are more gay women in every industry than we could imagine. Really, you know, it’s something I never really thought about, because it’s who I am.
Did you ever have a question about whether to be “out” on the job?
It’s never been a question for me. I’m a gay woman. I’m a hairdresser. It’s just all part and parcel. It’s who I am. To me, I’m out, I’m open. I guess you like it or you don’t like it depending on what your stance is, but I don’t think that me being gay affects my hairdressing ability, obviously, and me being a hairdresser doesn’t affect me being a gay woman. I think it’s the level of people’s comfort.
You’re also a specialist for Joico, and you get to go around the globe styling hair for that.
Right. I’m a platform artist for the company. I’ve worked with them for over 10 years. I get to travel within the U.S. and outside of the country, and I do photographic work for them, hair shows, training other hairdressers around the world.
Is there a hairdressing hotspot somewhere in the world right now?
It used to be London. London was kind of the Mecca of hairdressing, and I think in some ways, it probably still holds a soft spot in the hearts of hairdressers everywhere, because a lot of the top academies and hairdressers of the time were founded in London. So there’s still a little bit of that kind of feeling in London. But the world has become so much more open and fashion is so instant now, with the Internet and with television and marketing, we get images constantly. So that kind of Mecca of hairdressing is definitely starting to decline.
How has cutting hair changed your life? Has it?
It has. I’m really lucky, I’ve been hairdressing now for 26 years and every morning when I get up and go to work I absolutely love what I do, and not many people can say that. We all have bad days and that’s okay, that’s part of life, but I have never grown bored of it. It still gives me a thrill. I still love it when the client is really happy and walks out feeling great, looking beautiful and loves what I’ve done, and that has never ever gone away. And the fact that I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel all over the world, work with other people in my profession and even now, you know, showcase hairdressers as a true profession on television, means a lot to me.
I would never have imagined, 26 years ago, that there would be shows about hairstylists on TV.
It’s funny because hairdressers have always played a huge part in everyone’s life whether they realize it or not, and you know, years ago if you look at older celebrities, and the old Hollywood days, hairdressers were a huge part of everyone’s life, it was just that they never…took the forefront. And now, with everyone being interested in what people are wearing, and how they’re changing their hair, and what they’re doing and what they look like, hairdressers are definitely starting to evolve more. And we’re realizing that they’re interesting. It’s an interesting thing to go into a salon and I think everyone can relate to the fact they have a good hair story or a bad hair story, a good relationship with their hairdresser or a bad one. It’s very relatable.
What about you would actually shock viewers to find out?
[Laughs] That I’m really, really, really nice.
That is a good one!
No, I pretty much tell everyone—anything you want to know about me, I would pretty much tell you. But I think people look at my honesty and…the tough exterior that I have because I take what I’m doing very seriously and…I think people sometimes look at it as a little bit one-dimensional. So people would probably be shocked to know that I grow tomatoes, and I have a great garden, and I have a fluffy little dog and I can cry at a Hallmark commercial just like anybody else.
So, you’re more than your sharp edges we see on TV.