A few weeks ago, I spent the evening with Jason Backe, Clairol Color Director. We watched the Grammy arrivals and discussed hair color trends…and in the midst of an interview, Jason convinced me to go darker. I had such a ball with Jason that it hurt me to leave. I could have gossiped with him all day and night. Jason is fantastically charming and possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of hair color. So if you color your hair – or you’re thinking about making a shade change, the following interview is a MUST READ. Enjoy!
When did your interest in hair color begin?
“I’ve been coloring hair pretty much for my entire life. I did everything when I was a kid – from putting Kool Aid in my sister’s hair to using Clorox to try and get her hair to be blonder; it got it blonde but it broke. So I’ve been coloring hair for my whole life. I would play with at-home hair color with my mom and do single-process application on her. But when I got a little older – after high school and into college – I really didn’t play with beauty stuff at all. I didn’t really get back into it until I’d been in college for four years and I had switched my major like twenty-seven times (and switched schools three times). I just never felt successful in that learning style; no matter how hard I would try, it always seemed that I was just getting C’s. So I decided to do something a little more hands-on, that would inspire the more creative part of myself. And that’s when I went to beauty school.”
What was your biggest break as a professional hair colorist?
“My first feeling that I had achieved something was when I was in Allure’s directory, the first time. Every time I’ve been in Allure’s directory has been amazing…such a huge compliment. But the first time felt like I had really arrived as a New York City hair colorist. Other breaks include starting to color celebrities – that was really great. But my hugest victory is my role as spokesperson for Clairol. I feel so proud to have that on my resume. It’s one thing to work for a brand where you feel like you’re selling snake oil – and it’s another thing to work for a brand that I really identify with. I love working with Clairol; it’s amazing that I can give my professional experience to women at home so that they can feel sexy, confident and special – just like the girls that see me in the salon do.”
What is your main philosophy about hair color?
“I like hair color to help women express themselves. So if she is breaking up and needs a ‘break over,’ I think that hair color is a great way to give that to her. If she wants to celebrate a new career move or a promotion, hair color is a great way to do that. For me, a client’s hair color isn’t about me demonstrating how creative I am. The way that I’m creative is being able to listen to what women are telling me, hear what they like and don’t like, and then use all of my resources and skills to bring out the prettiest them that I can.”
What do you love most about your job?
“I love making the girls look pretty. I think it’s the most amazing thing when a woman steps off of the elevator into the salon and she is feeling and looking tired… and I can put a little sparkle into her life that makes her feel good.”
Who are your favorite celebrities to work on?
“I think that I attract the kind of girls that I’m like. I’m just a regular kind of guy, so I attract girls that are just regular kind of girls. I love working with Annie Hathaway. She’s just a good person. She’s got a great family, she’s a real down-to-earth person, and she’s got good common sense.”
“I love Lake Bell because she’s the quintessential New York girl to me. She’s creative and takes chances, she doesn’t care what people think, and she’s funny. And I love Elettra Wiedemann Rossellini. She doesn’t have to say a word…she just walks into a room and she’s devastating. And, at the same time, she’s one of the smartest people that I know. I mean, what was God thinking giving all of that to one girl? She’s so well-rounded and so of the world, that she’s comfortable to be around.”
What tips do you have for women choosing a hair color shade?
“The first thing is to trust your intuition because you know what looks pretty on you. The second rule is to think about what kind of maintenance you want to have. Because the farther you stray from your natural hair color, the more maintenance you’re going to have. If you’re the kind of girl who wants to color her hair every two weeks, then go crazy. If you’re the kind of girl who wants to color her hair every eight to twelve weeks, don’t go so crazy. If you’re the kind of girl who’s coloring your hair at home, the rule is to stay within 2 levels of your natural color; so two levels lighter or two levels darker. That way, you’ll be sure to stay within the range for successful, salon-looking haircolor.”
What hair color products and tools can you not live without?
“I can’t live without bleach because I think that bleach is the greatest tool that a colorist has, because it’s so versatile in what it can do. I also think that of any tool or product, it’s one of the most widely misused so it can cause the most damage – which is why it gets such a bad rep.”
Can anyone be a blonde?
“Yes. There are general guidelines for going blonde. If you have a lot of pink in your complexion, it’s better to be a cool blonde. If you have a medium complexion with brown eyes, you can pull off a really golden blonde. Then again, if you have an olive or darker complexion, it’s better to go back to the cool or neutral blonde. But I think that anyone can be a blonde.”
“I color this model’s hair…her name is Rila. She is the BAE – blondest Asian ever, and it’s devastating. It’s so beautiful on her. I think of Mary J. Blige who is also a devastating blonde. I think of Claudia Schiffer, who is very fair and she’s a gorgeous blonde. So I think that finding the right shade is the key. I always use Lindsay Lohan as a great example. I didn’t turn her blonde, but I watched the whole process. And, at first, it wasn’t pretty. But by the time she was on the cover of Vanity Fair, it was gorgeous.”
Any other hair color tips?
“If you color your hair at home, save the side of the package with the hair color name on it…and then you can write notes on it. Things like ‘I wish I would have chosen something with more gold’ or ‘next time, choose something that’s less red.’ And keep that, so the next you go to the store to buy haircolor, you have some sort of reference of what you did last time. That’s why I don’t understand colorist in the salon who don’t keep a record. It’s like every time a client comes in, it’s like the first time. I don’t understand it. But I’m a Capricorn, so I can’t help it.”
What’s next for you?
“I love teaching and sharing information, so I hope what’s next for me is that my role with Clairol will continue to grow in that direction. I would love to be in more venues with more regular women – and be able to share insider tips with them. Whether that’s through the Internet, appearances in different cities, or television commercial…I think I would be great for commercials. Those are the things that I’m thinking about next.”