When Matty Conrad uploaded a stellar picture of an impeccable men’s haircut with a perfectly styled mustache, we immediately had to know more. He might already be one of our favorite interviews of the season. As he opened up to us, you can get a sense about who he is, not just as a barber but as a person; he tells us about what it is like to be a barber in today’s world, what it was like to get there, and who he really is behind all the “Insta-fame”. As you read his answers you can feel his character shining through and we’re sure you’ll fall in love with his style just as much as we were left swooning over getting to know him.
Can you tell us a little more about you and your styling background? What drew you to hair styling?
I have been doing hair for over 20 years. I was a style deficit kid from a family that scored a -3 on the style scale. It was tragic. I grew up with a bunch of lopsided home haircuts and hand me downs from a brother almost 10 years older than me. Basically the first 18 years of my life were one big long awkward phase.
When I was 18 I was working in a restaurant as a bus boy and at night all of these people would come by after work and drink and have a good time. They were well dressed, they were stylish, they were cool…these people were hairdressers. This style deficit kid wanted to be just like them. So I went to hair school (I still remember the look on my dads face when I told him that I wanted to do hair for a living).
I fell in love with the art form and the culture. I was always creative and good with my hands so it was a great fit that way… but I didn’t know anything about style so I just copied what everyone else was doing. That worked out pretty well because I got really busy, but I never really felt like I knew enough about what I was doing. So I started working for different companies to get as much free training as I could. About 10 years later I owned 2 salons, had a staff of 30 and a successful stage artist career travelling all over the world. But as things grew I realized that I was still just trying to fit myself into the mold of hairdresser or what I thought that was supposed to look like. Basically I looked like Rufio from the movie Hook.
Then my Grandfather died. We weren’t incredibly close when he was alive but I remember sitting at his funeral and listening to all the things that were being said about him, and about the kind of man he was. Then my dad read out his high school yearbook quote… “I will never let anyone be more of a gentleman than I.” For some reason that resonated very deeply with me. It made me start thinking about life, about legacy, and about our place in it all.
I took a long hard look at my life and let myself be honest for the first time… I realized that even though I was really good at hair there were things about it I hated, I HATED BLOWDRYING. You have no idea how liberating it was to say that. I hated colour… it took too long… the list went on and on. Now I’m not saying that those things are bad and I’m not saying that people shouldn’t love doing those things. What I am saying is that for ME and for my personality they are not things I enjoy. What I DID enjoy was technical haircutting. I loved classic men’s haircuts… loved old stuff. LOVED it.
One day about 8 years ago I realized that I was actually a barber. Keep in mind at the time barbering wasn’t cool. It wasn’t guys with beards and tattoos that rode motorbikes, but it was like discovering MYSELF. Since then I’ve never felt so much like I am living the most authentic life I possibly can. I no longer feel like i am trying to fit into a crowd or pretend to be something I am not. I made it my mission to try and bring pride and dignity back to the barbershop. There were only a few others around the world doing it at the time but now there are so many it’s hard to count them. Somehow along the way I have been fortunate to befriend and work along side some of the best in the industry and have been called a pioneer, icon, and an influencer. Truth be told, I am just a barber, and I’ve never been happier.
What is your favorite technique to use?
Clipper over comb, definitely. It’s like conducting a symphony with a pair of clippers and when you are flowing properly, nothing feels better.
What has been your biggest defining moment in your career?
You know, that’s a funny thing. I have been on some of the biggest stages in the industry. I currently have the “who’s who” of hairstyling on my speed dial and I have worked for some of the biggest companies, but for me the most important moments in my career have happened behind the chair and have very little to do with technical expertise.
This year I spent over an hour and a half talking to a much older gentleman who is one of my favourite clients. He had just lost his wife; he was deeply saddened and lonely and needed a friend more than anything. As I cut his hair, I watched the confidence flood into this awkward style-deficit kid that was just like I was, who had turned into the high school heartthrob right before his friends eyes. And I cut the hair of a homeless man with @Markbustos on the streets of Chicago and heard a story I will never forget… THOSE ARE REAL BARBERING MOMENTS. The stage and Insta fame are fine, but that’s just not what defines me.
This week I am posting some of my favourite haircuts from the past year... this look was an impromptu demo at the end of one of my classes at the @skppro ASK academy in Toronto. My buddy had dropped by to say hey and I talked him into letting me give home a classic faded contour so I could show my class what it looked like in real life. Now before you start pulling it apart... I am not the best fader on the planet... I'm not even the best one in my shop... but something about this composition works for me... #menhairstyle #barber #bestof2017 #contour #classic #hardpart #fade
Is there a specific area you often find yourself looking to for inspiration?
History. I love old photos and I find myself constantly looking for the future in a place where it has already been. Nothing comes back exactly the same as it was… but influences are undeniable.
What is the one product/tool that you can’t live without?
I refuse to let myself have only one. I preach mastery of all your tools. Every tool and product serves a specific purpose and you need to become an expert, not just at knowing what they do but also in how to use them properly. It’s one of the larger problems I see in the industry today.
How did you dream up new styles?
I don’t really think I do anything “new”. I put my own spin on classics for the most part. I don’t think there is a lot left undone when It comes to hair to be honest. The most important thing these days is developing a recognizable style. When somebody looks at a picture and can say, “It looks just like one of yours”. That is kind of a nice feeling.
This week I am posting some of my favourite haircuts from the past year... this look was inspired my ww2 fighter pilots.. I was intrigued by how they would always look so well groomed pre-flight with their hair flicked back or combed into a wave but when they were returning their hair was yourself and matted from being under a leather helmet... I found both forms appealing for different reasons so I created the 1942 haircut to be worn both ways #barber #menshaircut #1942
How do you use styling to enhance your cuts?
I think styling is becoming critically important to the success of men’s stylists and barbers these days. It’s typically an area where Barbers are quite weak. For me styling is always an integral part of every hairstyle. It doesn’t matter if the hair is 1 inch long or 1 foot long. The most important part though is teaching my client how to recreate the look THEMSELVES, it is not much good to them if I am the only one who can make their hair look good.
What is the next big thing for Men’s Grooming?
Texture and length. Not necessarily “long” but a little more effortless looking and a bit less wet looking from heavy products. Due to this, there will be a resurgence of natural and matte finishes.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
If I could pick one, it would be to be able to consume my own body weight in tacos. If I have to pick the one I most likely already have…. Hmmm…...Does workaholic count?
In the midst of the New Year's Eve madness I took a few minutes to radically change up the look of my good friend and creative partner in crime @ianlocke . I am usually a fairly technical cutter but the top on this was cut totally freeform with a razor! Check out my IG Story to watch him lose almost 3 feet of hair and watch for the full length step by step video coming soon #makeover #texture #menshaircut #barber #barbering #mensstyle
Who were your mentors along the way and how have they shaped your career?
One of the greatest mentors I have had in this industry is Kathy Simon… before I met her I don’t think I knew how to cut hair at all. Her Mekka system is brilliant and is the only way I am able to think about the architecture of hair now.
What hair/color trends can we look forward to this Spring?
Men’s hair color trends are still a bit on the fringe right now but lets face it, that silver grey bleach job is almost everywhere. Come festival season, I think we are gonna see a bit more of it.