Mary Beth Janssen chats with Dwight Miller about training, discipline and taking it to the next level.
Dwight Miller is a living legend. One of the most respected American hair artists in the international community, he has just celebrated his 42nd year in the industry as an educator and artistic director for Matrix and Zotos, product developer for the Korean line AMOS and Anasazi, platform personality for the Alternative Hair Club, and with a new role: salon owner. But Dwightâs road has never been straight and easy: he talked to us from his new salon/studio in Santa Fe.
âI started in Mexican street gangs, a pachuco at 11, tattooes on my hand, switchblade in my back pocket, with Lucky Strikes rolled up in my T-shirt sleeve. I was in several car gangs and ended up in Juvenile Hall five times before being sent up [to jail] for nine months.
âWhen I got out, it wasnât long before I was back in trouble, but I told my parole officer I was going in the Marines and he took me to the recruiter.
âThe Corps saved my life. I excelled in the military police, and I was enrolled in the Los Angeles Police Academy as part of my reenlistment when I went to a beauty school with a friend. I found yet another path. A total fluke. Finding and doing something you love is the greatest gift.
âBeauty school mellowed me, took the hard edge off. But I retained the discipline from my military training. You can learn any technique intellectually, but itâs a manual skill. My teachers were finger-waving champions in the â50s. Whether a finger-wave is relevant or not, the way that I was trained to do it, again and again, is what impacted me.
âI went to Sassoonâs in the early â70s, and for one month we cut one line. And the instructors kept fixing them. I understood what I was doing, but didnât understand what was wrong. I did it over and over. There was the âIsadoraâ where you cut from the eyebrow to under the ear down to across the back. Itâs an impossible hair cut. I did hundreds of them.
âWith training, you know once you have that feeling inside. Manual skills are something that you have to do over and over again to create muscle memory. And no amount of intellectual knowledge will give you that.
âAfter 40 years, Iâm still learning. When I visited New York, I would frequently stand behind John (Sahag) and watch him cut hair like a mesmerized lunatic. He had a skill and feeling which I set out to learn.
âNow in my salon in Santa Fe, everyone comes in with dry hair and gets the Sahag dry-cutting method that tapers every strand on their head. When one of my clients was complimented on her hair and was asked where she had it done, she said, âItâs going to take longer than you can imagine, and itâs going to cost more than you want to payâbut itâs worth every minute and every dollar.â
âMy clients and I talk about everything. No holds barred with me, no rules about what we can or canât say. I have a personal relationship with every one of them. Iâm with the client for the full hour, no interruptions. I see three or four a dayâany more time would take away from my other bizâconsulting for product companies. Right now, Iâm very involved with the Sahag Company. John was a dear friend and Iâm helping so that his brilliance and spirit live on.
âI like to speak to the creative side of business. Thereâs no difference between doing a hair cut, developing a product line or coming up with marketing concepts for a company. You start at the beginning and build from there.
âIn the salon, itâs very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day. You need to find ways to get out. I think the internet is just brilliant: webinars and webcasts for education. You need to push yourself to grow.
âIâm all about finding peopleâs strengths. I donât like talking about weakness, because itâs a waste of time.
âI think Iâm a little crazy. I must have 100 pins from Harleyâs 100th anniversary. [Miller is a long-time biker.] Iâd drive 2000 miles to get a pin, but I wonât ride around the block if thereâs no pin. Itâs a goalâand striving to accomplish and move to the next level.â