‘I stepped into a place that I never knew existed.’

Hair stylist Eugene Souleiman looks back on 40 years of scaring the mainstream.

By Tish Weinstock
Photographs by Julien Martinez Leclerc
Styling by Joe McKenna
Hair by Eugene Souleiman
Make-up by Lynsey Alexander

Eugene Souleiman. - © System Magazine

Hair stylist Eugene Souleiman looks back on 40 years of scaring the mainstream.

In 1982, Eugene Souleiman had just been kicked out of Goldsmiths and found himself at a local jobcentre. Whether it was a result of the multiple-choice questionnaire he filled out or simply because of how he looked (‘I wasn’t normal looking; I was a punk rocker, wore lots of Westwood and had nuts hair,’ he recalls), the woman who worked there suggested he would make a good hairdresser. After an apprenticeship at the rather stuffy hotel Grosvenor House, east London-born Souleiman was redirected to the more avant-garde Trevor Sorbie – a much better fit.

This tension between fitting in and breaking convention has come to define much of Souleiman’s career. ‘Vogue wouldn’t touch me,’ he says of the early days in the mid-1980s. Instead, Souleiman found his creative niche with counterculture titles like i-D and The Face, working alongside Corinne Day, Craig McDean and Pat McGrath. ‘We weren’t affluent, and we didn’t have connections, all we had was ideas,’ he says. ‘We also didn’t acknowledge what had come before, because we didn’t really like what had come before. It just wasn’t part of our culture.’

This underlying ambivalence and rejection of orthodoxy – coinciding with the arrival of grunge – caught the attention of brands like Prada and Calvin Klein in the early 1990s. ‘I remember one moment when I was sitting in the bar of the Principe di Savoia [hotel] in Milan,’ he says. ‘We were doing Prada, and I was looking at all these incredibly rich, chic people. I’d been in Woolwich only six hours earlier – it just blew my mind.’

Despite a 40-year career, Souleiman has never lost that sense of ingenuity or rebellious spirit. It determines his work and who he chooses to collaborate with, whether John Galliano at Maison Margiela, Thom Browne, Yohji Yamamoto, Junya Watanabe, the late Alexander McQueen, or younger designers and labels like Charles Jeffrey or KNWLS. He puts it down to his youthful outlook: ‘I’m quite young in a sense – my mind is very young and fresh.’ System beauty sat down with Souleiman to discuss his creative process and how his art is evolving.

Eugene Souleiman. - © System Magazine
Eugene Souleiman. - © Awek wears a dress by Valentino Haute Couture, Spring 2018. Make-up: Summer Fridays Sheer Skin Tint, Blush Balm Stick, and Lip Butter Balm., System Magazine
Eugene Souleiman. - © Julie. Make-up: Hermès Plein Air and Rose Hermès Silky Blush Powder., System Magazine
Eugene Souleiman. - © System Magazine
Eugene Souleiman. - © Marthe. Make-up: Nars Sheer Glow Foundation, Brow Perfector, and Light Reflecting Setting Powder – Pressed., System Magazine
Eugene Souleiman. - © Iva. Make-up: RMS Beauty Signature Set Palette and Re Evolve Natural Finish Foundation., System Magazine

Tish Weinstock: By constantly pushing the boundaries of what hair can do, you’ve essentially redefined the medium. The soap suds for the Margiela Artisanal Autumn/Winter 2017 show; beautiful butterflies for McQueen’s Widows of Culloden; and melted and melting candles for Charles Jeffrey’s Loverboy Spring/Summer 2022 show. What role did hair play in your formative years?

Eugene Souleiman: I used to experiment with my hair all the time. It was the done thing back then; you’d go to the chemist and buy three boxes of colour and all bleach each other’s hair. Blues, greens, purples, leopard print, stripes.

Do you have photos from that time?

Eugene Souleiman: Sadly not, I got burgled.

What a shame! You started off doing shoots for cult magazines like i-D and The Face, before luxury brands came along. How did that transition from the fringes to the establishment feel?

Eugene Souleiman: There wasn’t even a transition; it was all of a sudden. I was living in Woolwich, in a one-bedroom flat, and I had no money. I used to go to work, and just leap over the train barriers and walk from London Bridge. There was absolutely no support, but it was something I had to do. Pat [McGrath] was the same.

You mention Pat, how essential was your collaboration back then?

Eugene Souleiman: It was totally collaborative. We would be calling each other at night and be like, ‘I’ve got this idea, what do you think?’ Sometimes Pat would have an idea for the hair, and I’d have an idea for the make-up. There was a real synergy.

Today, it feels much more rigid.

Eugene Souleiman: I only really work with people who I admire, unless it’s an advertising job. I mostly work with Craig [McDean], Paolo Roversi, and really young photographers. I also work with Thom Browne, John [Galliano], Japanese designers and Belgian designers. They all have a vision. A lot of mainstream people are scared of me. People see the work and think, ‘Your work is so strong, you’re going to be a nightmare’, but I’m actually quite accommodating.

Eugene Souleiman. - © Iva. Make-up: Clé de Peau The Serum, Concealer N, The Luminizing Face Enhancer, Eyebrow Pencil & Translucent Loose Powder N., System Magazine
Eugene Souleiman. - © Julie wears a dress by Valentino Haute Couture, Autumn 2017. Make-up: Illamasqua Beyond Powder – Daze and Gel Sculpt., System Magazine
Eugene Souleiman. - © Seng wears a dress by Valentino Haute Couture, Spring 2019., System Magazine
Eugene Souleiman. - © System Magazine
Eugene Souleiman. - © Evie wears a dress by Valentino Haute Couture, Spring 2019. Make-up: Rose Inc Skin Enhance Luminous Tinted Serum and Solar Radiance Hydrating Cream Highlighter., System Magazine
Eugene Souleiman. - © Marthe. Make-up: Make Up Forever Step 1 Primer Shine Control and Reboot Luminizer., System Magazine
Eugene Souleiman. - © Evie. Skincare: A sop Damascan Rose Facial Treatment, Fabulous Face Oil, and Perfect Facial Hydrating Cream., System Magazine

Can you tell me more about your underlying creative process?

Eugene Souleiman: It comes from an idea or a conversation, which I then try to communicate visually. I love to talk, listen and learn. I’m always learning, I think you have to. I’ve been working a lot with Nick Knight recently; we’ve been doing these head sculptures for the metaverse.

Does working in the metaverse change the way you think and create? Or is it just another medium?

Eugene Souleiman: It takes me back to art school, because the process is a little more sculptural; you’re looking at things three-dimensionally. A scan is completely three-dimensional; it reproduces what you’ve done, but sometimes the algorithms can’t read it and make mistakes. But I tend to go with them.

‘I like to work at a fast pace; I’m an adrenaline junkie. I think I’m in the right, supportive environment to express myself and enjoy it.’

Eugene Souleiman

Back to the real world, what are some stand-out moments that have defined your career?

Eugene Souleiman: When I first started working with John [Galliano], it was a Narnia moment; I stepped into this place that I never knew existed. I had a moment with John in 2017. He was like, ‘I want the girl to look like she’s rushed out of the shower and thrown her clothes on, and her hair is still wet.’ And I just said to him, ‘Could it look like she forgot to wash the shampoo out?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, it really could look like that.’ So we whisked up shampoo and put suds in the girls’ hair. When you’re open and excited, and around the right people, it’s a little infectious. You have to listen to the designer, because they obviously have an idea, but they don’t want to tell you what to do. You’ve got to take them on a journey.

What do you get out of doing what you do? Has it changed over the years?

Eugene Souleiman: Emotionally, it’s the same. I like to work at a fast pace; I’m an adrenaline junkie. I think I’m in the right, supportive environment to express myself and enjoy it. There’s also something so wonderful about doing a woman’s hair so she feels strong and beautiful.

Eugene Souleiman. - © Nyague. Make-up: M.A.C Studio Face and Body Foundation and Studio Fix Sculpt and Shape Palette., System Magazine
Eugene Souleiman. - © Seng wears a dress by Valentino Haute Couture, Spring 2019. Make-up: Westman Atelier Face Trace, Lit Up highlight stick, Vital Skincare Complexion Drops, and Les Nuits Eye Pods., System Magazine
Eugene Souleiman. - © Nyague wears a dress by Valentino Haute Couture, Spring 2020. Make-up: Pat McGrath Labs Skin Fetish: Sublime Perfection Foundation and Skin Fetish: Sublime Perfection Setting Powder., System Magazine
Eugene Souleiman. - © Awek. Make-up: Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Stick Weightless Powder Foundation., System Magazine
Eugene Souleiman. - © System Magazine
Eugene Souleiman. - © Seng. Make-up: RMS Beauty Re Evolve Natural Finish Foundation and Living Luminizer., System Magazine

A lot of hair stylists and make-up artists are creating their own brands. Does that interest you at all?

Eugene Souleiman: I’m actually working on one and it feels like a natural progression. I’m very into science and chemistry and I’d like to marry that with my skill set and my ideas.

That sounds exciting. Do you ever think back to being at the jobcentre and to the woman who said you should be a hairdresser?

Eugene Souleiman: I do actually. I think it was the best bit of advice I’ve ever been given, although I didn’t know it at the time. It’s always good to listen to people, because maybe they will have a little more insight than you do.

Taken from System beauty No. 1 – purchase the full issue here.

Models: Anine at The Platform; Awek at Titanium; Julie at The Platform; Marthe at IMM; Nyague at Milk Management;
Seng at The Squad; Evie at Premier Models; Iva at Weiner Models. Nails: Kim Treacy at Stella Creative Artists using Gelish. Production: Mini Title. Casting: Midland. Set design: Afra Zamara. Videographer: Eoin Greally. Hair assistants: Massimo Di Stefano, Carlo Avena, Anastasiia Gryniuka, Ryu Tomoyose.