July 2024

Fur Goodness Sake

Words: Laila Sakini Images: Frank Valvo

The long-standing shortage of skilled hairdressers in Australia prompted many a budding stylist from near and far to pick up the scissors and live out the dream, so standing out has never been so important. No longer is it kosher to simply offer cuts, colours and blow-waves, today hairdressers need to go beyond the standard technical skills, and address the fashion, cultural, health, and environmental realms that the trade and its clients intersect with. The FUR Hairdressing enterprise continues to turn heads for embracing the latter. Through the development of its own misfit identity and alternative discourse FUR has established itself as an industry leader, albeit its anti-industry tendencies. The driving force behind this style troupe is FUR founder, owner, and senior stylist Frank Valvo. The off-beat innovator, noted for his ability to banter and beautify hand-in-hand, has been particularly busy of late. In 2010 alone he opened a third salon, launched the very first FUR line of botanical based shampoo and conditioner, and shot a controversial set of images exploring ‘chroming’. Laila Sakini was lucky enough to tie Frank down for a quick yak to try and discover how he has managed to do it all.

Laila Sakini: How did you get into hairdressing? I know your brother and sister are both hairdressers, is that what influenced you to start in the trade?

Frank Valvo: I think what happened, I was studying computer science, and I think I just thought, ‘God this is hard work. If I’m gonna do that I might as well get a job and [hairdressing] looked pretty good and be social.’ I thought it would be fun too.

LS: You’ve worked behind the scenes on numerous fashion shoots and films including the 1979 cult classic Mad Max. Why haven’t you pursued a job in any of these areas?

FV: Because I hate standing round doing nothing and I don’t like celebrities!

LS: Ha! On the topic of celebrities, where did the Fur slogan “hairdressers to the star fuckers” come from? What does it mean?

FV: Oh we just thought, that you know, most people are so celebrity brainwashed they just love it. It’s amazing when you talk to people, how much they’re into the whole celebrity thing, and so we just thought, all these people are just star fuckers!

LS: Being in the industry for over 30 years you would have seen a lot of hair fads come and go. What have been some of your favourites?

FV: I guess a lot of the geometric cutting I really liked from the ’80s and ’90s, and then a lot of freehand cutting that sort of blended into the two. That was after I’d been to London and saw this guy that was crazy and very inspiring, he was some Irish dude named Frank believe it or not. It was at one of the Sassoon schools.

LS: What about on a day-to-day basis? Is it the individual personality of the client that influences your direction?

FV: Yeah for sure. As soon as they walk in you have an instinct or you just see something on them believe it or not. And more times than not it’s right and you’re on the same wavelength. You can sort of tell by the way they’re dressing…

LS: In keeping with the hairdresser stereotype, do you ever feel like your might be playing a larger role your clients lives? Father figure? Counsellor? Confidant?

FV: Sometimes you do but you can’t cross the line and it’s really hard. It’s like a lot of hairdressers think they’re psychologists, they wanted to introduce psychology in hairdressing, but a little knowledge is a dangerous thing I say.

LS: So in the ’90s you opened up the first Fur salon in Prahran, then in 2006 you opened Fur City, and this year you opened up shop in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Although you have clearly expanded the business each salon still retains an individual design, décor and feel. One is clean and white, the other is like a disco with basketball flooring on the walls, and the third has giant macramé pot plant holders in the window. Is this to resist becoming a cookie cutter chain type salon?

FV: We just wanted each one differently, each one has it’s own personality, and that’s what I like, each one is different. And we like to keep em small as well really. In a weird way not having 10 staff is probably economically not the best thing, that’s just what we really want to do.

LS: Speaking of economics, you recently launched Fur’s debut hair care range consisting of an economically and environmentally friendly shampoo and conditioner. Economically friendly because the bottles can be refilled for a reduced cost and environmentally friendly because of the reduced waste, the range also omits sulphate and many chemicals… What philosophy is behind all this do-gooding?

FV: The sulphate free sort of speaks for its self, people have been getting more and more allergies to it, and in actual fact it just tends to wreck the hair a bit more. This is just a lot more gentle, more natural. With the refills, it was like when we were kids if you went to get Chinese takeaway you had to take your own container, and then take it home in that. So it’s the same sort of thing, so it’s sort of saving rubbish and paper everywhere, and it’s just better.

LS: The photo shoots you produce for fur promo’s etc are notoriously provocative and pay little or no attention to trends and often social etiquette. More recently your latest shoot explores the aesthetical beauty in the art of chroming. Describe the intention behind this theme?

FV: It’s a personal thing in the sense that, I remember walking into a hamburger shop in Lygon Street, and there were these two girls that were about 13 or 14, I think I was about 12 at the time. And I just saw them huffing away in a bag and I didn’t know what they were doing. And I’ve been fascinated by it ever since, as tragic as it is, I don’t know why I laugh when I see a chromer. So I’m not encouraging people to do it…

LS: You are very involved with the music, art and fashion scenes in Melbourne, and can often be found at gigs and art openings by new and upcoming artists/musicians etc, why is supporting these various youth movements so important to you?

FV: It’s the future. The future is the young, once you start dismissing it, you’re lost, you’re gone.

LS: You have been credited as being an iconoclast of style, even being dubbed one of the 25 best-dressed men in Melbourne in 2002. Who’s one of your style icon’s of 2010?

FV: The scouts, the shorts with the big long socks all the way to the top.

LS: Any plans for the future?

FV: Who knows we’re always doing something!

LS: Anything you want to add?

FV: I smell good!

You can find Frank and his team at any one of the three FUR Hairdressing salons:
107 Greville Street in Prahran- 9529 8226
City Square in Melbourne (Cnr Swanston & Collins St)- 9639 2909
236 Brunswick Street in Fitzroy- 9419 9387

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