In Fashion Quarterly’s spring issue, we spoke to three fashion industry protégés and the industry leaders who showed them the ropes.
The second pair we profiled was Stephen Marr and Matt Benns. Stephen established the first Stephen Marr hair salon in 1994. Matt joined the team in 2007 as a trainee stylist, and was promoted to creative director in 2014. As owner and director, Stephen continues to oversee operations at Stephen Marr’s two Auckland salons, located in Ponsonby and Newmarket. This is Stephen and Matt in their own words.
STEPHEN MARR ON MATT BENNS
When/where/how did Matt get on your radar? What impression did he make on you initially?
Matt joined Stephen Marr in 2007, a couple of years into his training. It was obvious from the get-go that he was talented and ambitious.
When did you know that Matt would play a significant role in your business?
Matt made a very natural transition from trainee to stylist, a good indication of his skill. Even in the early days he showed leadership ability – the kind that requires patience, great communication, and vision.
What are the specific qualities that made him stand out to you?
Matt has this amazing knack for executing strong, technical work that still feels and looks effortless. He has always been able to work well in a wide variety of situations, tailoring his work and energy to each one. His ability to communicate an idea to his team and inspire those around him is also very impressive.
Do you see something of yourself in Matt? If so, what?
Matt is very much his own person. He’s confident in his ability as a stylist and he is confident in backing himself, which is crucial in this industry. We have a great working rapport and we’re always bouncing ideas off each other.
In what ways are you different and what challenges and opportunities have these differences presented over the years that you’ve worked together?
We are different in the ways in which we communicate, but we recognize that and endeavour to make this difference a strength, rather than a weakness. Ironically it takes good communication to achieve this!
What are the tangible ways in which you have supported and nurtured Matt, and enabled him to grow both professionally and as a person since he started at Stephen Marr?
The company has provided Matt with ample leadership and creative opportunities, both locally and abroad. It’s great getting to work alongside him, mentoring and challenging his decision making.
In what ways has Matt supported you and enabled you to achieve your own professional goals?
Matt is an integral part of our leadership group. Each team member provides their valuable input and perspective, and each contribution plays an important role in informing and realising both individual and collective goals.
What do you think is the best advice you have ever given Matt?
Stick to your strengths, work on your weaknesses. Know when to get good advice. And listen.
What have you learnt from him?
I admire the way he will tackle any challenge.
What achievement of Matt’s are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of Matt’s vision and how he has executed his creative directorship roll. I also admire his ability to work across a wide variety of situations – working under pressure and still being able to produce the goods. He is simply unflappable!
What does the future hold for Matt?
It’s always so rewarding to watch our creative team pursue their artistic goals. I think the future will hold a lot for Matt, and he will undoubtedly make his mark internationally. He can be quiet at times, but underneath it all he is a forced to be reckoned with. I’m personally excited to watch it all unfold for him. I consider it one of the most exciting parts of my job.
MATT BENNS ON STEPHEN MARR
What did you know about Stephen before you started working for him? What was it that made you want to work for him?
I first became aware of Stephen Marr while I was walking to another job. I noticed these posters plastered along the wall – they were for Stephen Marr’s collection at the time, ‘The Flaneurs’, which was photographed by Karen Inderbitzen-Waller (whom I have since worked with countless times, and is a truly inspiring and directional woman). To this day, they are some of my favourite images. What caught my attention was the type of work – it was timeless, nonchalant, androgynous and beautiful. I knew instantly that was the type of thing I wanted to produce – influential and not over-worked.
What happened the first time you met – was Stephen everything you expected?
I met Steve during my first interview and he was way more approachable than I expected. The hair industry can be full of egos and it was refreshing coming into an environment that wasn’t like that. I left the interview feeling relatively confident.
When did things start happening for you at Stephen Marr and what was the catalyst for this?
After my first shoot with James Dobson from Jimmy D. From that moment, I knew I wanted to work as an editorial stylist outside of working in the salon.
What tools and support has Stephen given you that have enabled you to grow both professionally and as a person since you started at Stephen Marr?
I started working for Steve when I was 19 years old. I was a going through a lot at the time – figuring out who I was in terms of sexuality and identity – I’m sure everyone can relate at that age. Steve and a few other mentors saw the potential in me. They persevered, gave me encouragement and supported me both personally and professionally. They valued my thoughts on things. A salon’s a small space so you all become close and rely on each a lot, and we became family. That foundation gave me the confidence to find my own direction, and it’s how I ended up where I am today.
What is the best advice he has ever given you?
To take risks and to push yourself into uncomfortable situations. You only grow from the mistakes you make – I’ve had to learn that many times over, but I’m a better stylist for it.
What have you learnt from watching Stephen do business?
The biggest lesson has been on the importance of collaboration with those around you. Steve and I are always chatting – often with a beer in hand – about whatever it is we’re planning or what we’re into at that moment. Your ideas grow in that situation. Some people resist being generous and sharing their ideas because they fear being overtaken but if anything, sharing enhances what you do. Another lesson has been about looking to other industries for direction. I do this all the time now. Whenever I walk into an establishment, whether it’s a beauty spa, restaurant, clothing store or hotel, I break down what it is that I like, what about the service or environment makes me have an enjoyable experience. Then Steve and I will discuss it and figure out a way to adopt it within our space.
How do you think you and Stephen are alike?
I think we both share a passion for the creative and service industries and are both able to combine the two effortlessly.
How would you describe your relationship with Stephen?
Hmm…testing at times! No, I think there is a lot of respect and admiration on both sides. Therein lies the strength of the relationship.
What advice would you give to a young person seeking guidance or mentorship from someone within their chosen industry?
Always ask questions. Your mentor is someone you need to be having conversations with every now and then. Check in with them and make sure you are heading in the right direction.