By Shayna Wiwierski
Tabatha Coffey is a self-described bitch.
“Do you know my definition for bitch? Brave, Intelligent, Tenacious, Creative, and Honest. So yes, I am a bitch and all of you should be bitches, too,” said Coffey to the sold-out crowd at last year’s Innovate Twenty Eleven show presented by Salon Centre.
Coffey, the colourful personality behind the hit Bravo television show Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, is an acclaimed hairstylist, business owner, speaker, and author (she released her best-selling memoir It’s Not Really About the Hair in January 2011). Before her busy life of shooting her reality show and working at the swanky Warren-Tricomi salon on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, Coffey was a regular girl with an unconventional upbringing. Her parents ran a transvestite strip club in Adelaide, Australia with one of the biggest mobsters in the country as a business partner. Later, her dad abandoned both herself and her mom after faking his own suicide.
“Our childhood and our upbringing make us the people who we are. I think for me, [regarding] some of the things that happened and the environments in which I grew up, it’s definitely a part of where that no-holds-barred honesty comes from and it’s also part of that tough love that I have,” says Coffey, who has a year-or-more waiting list at the Warren-Tricomi salon, where her haircuts start at $250.
“Having a strong mother who was very much like that; being around the nightclubs in which I grew up; having my father leave us when I was such an early age; these are the things that, at a young age, toughen you up for when you are an adult and kind of encourage you, I guess, to say what’s on your mind. And to express your need for people and what their expectations are; but these experiences – especially growing up in the clubs – also enabled me to be very open-minded, compassionate and caring, and honest.”
Coffey’s honesty made her the fan favourite on the reality television show Shear Genius where, in 2007, she competed against 11 other hairstylists for a $100,000 prize. Before her “tell it like it is” moniker on television, she worked in salons in Australia, London, the United States, and travelled the world as an international artist for Joico.
She has also trained at the legendary Vidal Sassoon academy and worked as a head colourist at the Toni & Guy salon in Windsor, England.
“They are the mecca. There are a million amazing hairdressers out there but because I started hairdressing so young, Vidal Sassoon was the person who we wanted to become; the person who we wanted that education, that precision, eye and structure, and all the things for which Sassoon stood. For me, it was a personal goal and dream to go there and be able to train and work; same with going to Toni & Guy.”
Education, she says, is important to any hairdresser, regardless if they took a class a month ago or years ago. Her tip to stylists for both those fresh in the industry and those who have been in for generations? Never stop learning.
“Hairstyling is a profession that changes; trends change, products change, new things come out, fashion changes quickly. You have to keep yourself current and up-to-date, and education is really the best way to do that.”
She also says to realize that it’s not about you; it’s about the client.
“You have to take your ego out of it. It’s not about you. The decisions that I make have to be the best decisions for the client. It’s not for me to get off on doing a haircut, to colour it; it’s about the client to feel amazing about herself. And part of my job is to be able to say ‘no, that’s going to work’ and to be honest with someone. At the end of the day, it’s about taking care of that person and taking yourself out of it; this includes talking about them, not talking about yourself; taking care of them, you know, not waffling on because you had a bad day or you had a fight with your boyfriend or something.”
Coffey’s “in your face” honesty often gets her compared to other reality “villains” like Gordon Ramsay and Simon Cowell, something that she takes as a compliment.
“Gordon’s a lovely guy, I’ve met him several times and he’s a really lovely guy. Look, about the similarities between Gordon and I, he’s incredibly passionate about what he does and he doesn’t mince words; and that’s why people have that comparison. Same thing with Simon; he says what he thinks and I do the same, that’s why people like to make similarities between us. It’s that honesty I guess, with Gordon especially, Gordon and I truly do share the passion for what we do. He loves restaurants and being a chef and I love hairdressers and being a hairdresser.”
Coffey loves being a hairdresser so much that when asked if she could be in another industry other than that profession, she’s left speechless.
“I couldn’t imagine being anything but a hairdresser, to be honest with you. It’s all I’ve ever done or wanted to do.”