Celebrity hairstylists Laini Reeves and David Babaii both have an A-list client roster, but little did these tress-tending masters know, they have more in common than just their muses—Laini Reeves assisted under Raymond Bessone, the man who trained Vidal Sassoon, while David Babaii leaped from the restaurant industry to the world of hair after an encouragement from his mother, who assisted Sassoon himself. Ahead, Laini and David get real about the journey to establishing themselves as the renown stylists they are today, plus the fright factor they think brings hairdressers to their knees.
LAINI: David, I’ve known you for so long and we cross paths all the time. I think we’re the only two in the industry who equally suggest each other’s clients. There’s no competition, I have great pleasure suggesting you to my clients. Your quality of work and the way you do hair is very similar to me. But I don’t really know anything about you—where you’re from, where you trained, where your ideas came from. Can you tell me a little bit about your past?
DAVID: Yeah definitely. As you said, we’re very similar in style. You’ve saved my butt a million times. You’re like the female version of me, we’ve got this weird love affair. I was born in London and I grew up in Los Angeles. My mom was Vidal Sassoon’s assistant. I never thought I’d want to be a hairstylist because I was in the restaurant and hotel industry. One day I said I’m done I don’t want to do this and my mom said to me why don’t you go become a hairdresser? I came from a really conservative family, where you have to be a doctor, a lawyer or an account, that kind of thing. So I was like what is dad going to think? My mom said well don’t worry I wear the pants in the family, you do whatever you want. So I went to Vidal Sassoon, graduated, and started my career. It’s kind of crazy how it just happened like that.
LAINI: I had no idea your mom worked for Vidal Sassoon, that’s pretty amazing! Did you have any mentors along the way?
DAVID: Yeah! My mom was more of a mentor. I was always really inspired by other peoples’ craft but I wanted to find my own identity. I remember my mom saying to me you can have so many mentors but don’t forget that in this world of hair you have to have your own identity. What about you, tell me what your story is about.
LAINI: Obviously I’m from England. I first started working for Raymond [Bessone] who actually trained Vidal Sassoon. Shortly after I realized this is what I wanted to do and took it seriously. At 17, I went to work for Trevor Sorbie in London, where I did my apprenticeship. That’s where I learned to understand that basic haircutting was the basis of what I needed to know if I wanted to be good. I trained under a really amazing hairdresser, Vivienne Mackinder, at the Trevor Sorbie academy. After that I jumped ship and went to the Toni and Guy train, where I established myself as a technical hair cutter. I was put in charge of their training program as educational director, expanded all the cutting techniques to then franchise worldwide. I helped go in and set up all the franchises and train the staff. I was doing that when I was about 26-years-old.
DAVID: Wow, wow!
LAINI: From there I move into the advanced education and started training all over the world. I’ve been to any country you can think of. Then I finally came to America and had a love affair with Los Angeles. I was still under Toni & Guy so I moved the advanced academy to Long Beach and opened five salons under their banner. From there, that’s how I met Chris McMillan and he invited me to do classes in his salon all the time but eventually I got burnt out from it. That’s when I was 30. I didn’t know anyone here or have any clients so I wanted to do something new and try session work. A guy who works at my academy introduced me to Tracey Mattingly. He said you’ve got to meet this girl, she does hair like a guy. Then I met Tracey and it went from there. Years ago Bumble and bumble came to me and asked me to come to New York to set their academy up but I turned them down because I didn’t want to leave Los Angeles. You don’t know what peoples’ history, it’s so nice to talk to you about it!
DAVID: I know! Another thing we have in common which is really crazy is you and I both started with Tracey. I assisted Chris for about three weeks, and then I got introduced to Tracey who brought me on. I didn’t know you and I had that in common, that’s so weird, we’ve known each other for so long and we’ve never talked about that!
LAINI: I know! I feel the urge to get back into education. I want to bring people back to basics and teach them really basic hairdressing. There are only three ways to cut hair and if you know those three cutting techniques you can do anything. For me, that’s the most important part of growing a solid hairdressing career.
DAVID: The funny thing is, I want to take classes! No, honestly. I always joke around and people think it’s crazy, but I would love to like shadow you one day or work together one day. There are so many things that hairdressers can learn from one another.
LAINI: Oh, absolutely!
DAVID: I know when we see each other we recommend products or ask each other our thoughts on products, but one thing that’s missing in our industry is enough togetherness. Like you said, your passion is to pass your knowledge onto aspiring hairstylists. I would consider myself an aspiring hairstylist, I still have so much to learn. How great would it be for the top of the top hairstylists to have a summit for themselves where they share their knowledge with each other. That would be so much fun. Laini, get on it!
LAINI: Yes, we’ve gotta figure it out! Or we’ll just get Jen Atkin on it.
DAVID: Haha, there you go! Get Jen to do it. But I mean, talk about the superior of master classes, can you imagine being a fly in that room?
LAINI: You know what it is as well? Just through being in class and teaching people, I’ve learned that the most experienced hairdressers can be brought to their knees very quickly only through their own fears. You mention basic haircutting or how to do a graduated bob and people just get this fear and close down. So for me to take people back to basics is really unique. The way I cut hair now, it’s all about shape and having everything really loose. No one would ever think I was one of the strongest basic haircutters back in the day.
DAVID: Right, the same thing goes for me. To be able to do constructed, architecturally strong haircuts is a pure talent but breaking your habit of not wanting it to be lose and forming the person’s face and head shape, that takes talent.
LAINI: I’m a great believer in you gotta know the rules to be able to break the rules.
DAVID: Exactly. Ooh I love that, Laini! Haha, that’s genius! #StealingThatFromYou
LAINI: Haha! Anyway, where do you see yourself in the future?
DAVID: Well, two days ago sadly I left Tracey and have gone with a new agency.
LAINI: You have?!
DAVID: I did. I’m at a brand new formed agency called Lowe and Co. I’m still doing celebrity but I’ve always wanted to do more fashion. I used to do it all the time. In the last few years, I kind of got comfortable with not wanting to travel too much. But my recent Italian Vogue covers sparked something in me, where I was like this is where I’m happy. I see myself doing more fashion stuff and pushing myself to explore great wigs, things outside of the box.
LAINI: I could see you doing shows, being up there with Guido [Palau] and Eugene [Souleiman]. You could definitely man your own team and work with a designer very easily.
DAVID: And then one day you and I open a salon!
LAINI: Can you imagine?!
DAVID: I think you and I will end up doing that one day. It’s in the stars. Haha. But what about you? I can see you doing anything.
LAINI: I’ve done the show circuit. I assisted Guido for a long time, I did that for about five years. I actually used to date Eugene.
DAVID: Omg, haha!
LAINI: I’ve been around hair a lot. I’ve taken a step back, but I need a change. I’d love to start doing education again, I know that.
DAVID: I could see you doing that for sure.
LAINI: I’m excited for you getting a new agency. I changed the agency route as well. Personally, I think agencies need to change. They’re not changing as fast as the times are.
DAVID: You know what I think is different now? The treatment of artists. It sounds so egotistical to call ourselves artists, but in our own world we are artists. We need encouragement and support to be able to bloom. So I agree with you. I’m going to go to London and New York for awhile, travel more, but I want to be able to have someone to guide me.
LAINI: Well, that’s a big change for you and I get it because you were with Tracey for so long. This is a big move.
DAVID: Yeah, 16 years. It was literally one of the hardest decisions to make. I’m seeing everybody making changes and I think it’s our strength coming through. We’re taking control of our own destiny.
LAINI: I agree. We’ll go fun now, we’ve been serious. If you could bring three items with you to a deserted island, what would they be?
DAVID: Does it have to be hair-related stuff?
LAINI: No! I would definitely take my iPhone and a charger. Hopefully there’d be a place to charge it.
DAVID: Haha, I’m definitely with you on that one! For me, anything that I can listen to Nina Simone and Jamiroquai on. I can live on that forever. And my dog.
LAINI: Mine would be more than three things because I’ve got six dogs and three horses.
DAVID: Another similarity we have! We’d bring our animals and our iPhones. For me also, pie, a good supply of banana creme pie.
LAINI: Haha! Mine would be the dogs, an iPhone, and a really good supply of Whispering Angel.
DAVID: Okay, so I want to ask you one last question. If you weren’t a hairstylist, if you could’ve done anything else, what would you have done?
LAINI: Hmm. It’s really hard, there are so many things I love. I’m a big lover of architecture and design so some form of architect. Another passion of mine is horse-riding, which I wish I started earlier and pursued professionally. What about you?!
DAVID: I’d want to be James Bond, a secret agent. Haha! Something dangerous that would keep me excited.
LAINI: I think working in LA is just as dangerous.
DAVID: Haha, that’s so true! Omg this is so much fun, I love this!
LAINI: David thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I love you!
DAVID: I love you so much. Thank you for having me!
LAINI: Alright bye!