Industry News

Root Awakenings: Dwight Miller

Web Editor | July 10, 2011 | 6:16 PM
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 Dwight’s road has never been straight and easy: he talked to us from his new salon/studio in Santa Fe.

“I 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.
“When I got out, it wasn’t 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.

“The 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.

“Beauty school mellowed me, took the hard edge off. But I retained the discipline from my military training. You can learn any technique intellectually, but it’s a manual skill. My teachers were finger-waving champions in the ’50s. Whether a finger-wave is relevant or not, the way that I was trained to do it, again and again, is what impacted me.

“I went to Sassoon’s in the early ’70s, and for one month we cut one line. And the instructors kept fixing them. I understood what I was doing, but didn’t understand what was wrong. I did it over and over. There was the “Isadora” where you cut from the eyebrow to under the ear down to across the back. It’s an impossible hair cut. I did hundreds of them.

“With 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.

“After 40 years, I’m 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.

“Now 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, ‘It’s going to take longer than you can imagine, and it’s going to cost more than you want to pay—but it’s worth every minute and every dollar.’

“My clients and I talk about everything. No holds barred with me, no rules about what we can or can’t say. I have a personal relationship with every one of them. I’m with the client for the full hour, no interruptions. I see three or four a day—any more time would take away from my other biz—consulting for product companies. Right now, I’m very involved with the Sahag Company. John was a dear friend and I’m helping so that his brilliance and spirit live on.

“I like to speak to the creative side of business. There’s 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.

“In the salon, it’s 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.

“I’m all about finding people’s strengths. I don’t like talking about weakness, because it’s a waste of time.

“I think I’m a little crazy. I must have 100 pins from Harley’s 100th anniversary. [Miller is a long-time biker.] I’d drive 2000 miles to get a pin, but I won’t ride around the block if there’s no pin. It’s a goal—and striving to accomplish and move to the next level.”

Root Awakenings: Dwight Miller
Dwight Miller on his Harley.
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