Words by Seher Sikandar
Photography by Ashleigh Reddy
Vernon Scott is a fearless visionary with an emphatic disregard for approval. Though his Trinidadian parents invested in his college tuition, Vernon ultimately dropped out to pursue his path as he saw it: making a home for himself on the 2 train.
Despite a period of homelessness, he’s pushed through his darkest hours with a vigor not possessed by most and created himself the life of his dreams.
The fluidity with which Vernon approaches art has not only created a lucrative career for him as a celebrity barber and stylist, but also as an educator, creative director and photographer.
Vernon’s interest in cutting hair and fashion was sparked by his father, who both cut his hair until the age of thirteen and also was a tailor that would have their family go thrifting – before it was cool.
From thrifting Vernon learned about color, cut, textiles, and patterns; quickly developing a unique sense of style. Wasting no time, Vernon began cutting his own hair at the age of fourteen and was working at a barbershop by sixteen.
When asked about his work with names like Maxwell, Pharrell, Wale, Chrisette Michele, Ne-Yo, and Robert Glasper, he points out, “Artists give you a level of cache, but that’s not the end of the sentence. After that, it’s what do you do with it.” And doing just so happens to be what Vernon does best.
Bevel Code: Your work with Robert Glasper ended up being integral in helping take things to the next level for you.
Vernon Scott: My real jump in fashion came after my work with him. At the time, his album had gone to the top of the R&B charts. He looked unpolished. Functional at best. And he was on television. I said, ‘Bro, you can’t look like that.’ I gave him an entire dissertation on the importance of branding, marketing, his image – now being a transitional artist, and not just a jazz musician sitting behind a piano at a small club.
He asked me to give the same speech to his label, his management – and I did. But it meant nothing until they saw him on the monitor at Jimmy Fallon, and were like ‘wow, this is the best we ever seen him.’ From there the relationship grew. I did his entire EPK, we went to the Grammys, and he won R&B Album of the Year. It went viral, and things went on from there.
BC: What joy does each discipline you engage in bring to you?
Vernon Scott: They all challenge me and I am a student of each one of them until I die. They’re all separate but equal. You develop a taste and respect for each one without comparing it to something else.
For photography, it’s the only way another human being can see something the way I see it.
Then with cutting hair, I’m obsessed with it because it’s definitive. Once you cut hair there’s no going back. There are no do-overs.
I can be tired – once I’m cutting hair, I’m fine. I can be stressed out – once I’m cutting hair, I’m fine. I’ve had clients call me at 4 o’clock in the morning. I’m tired. I’m asleep. Once I stand on my feet and put a clipper in my hand, I’m alive. If I can’t cut hair, I would rather not live.
As an educator, I have the ability to directly inspire and influence people.
Styling is like having a clean palette and being able to paint the picture that you want. For me, fashion is really about expressing how you feel to the world – like the inner you.
My desire for what I want, far outweighs the fear of what I’m going to have to go through to prepare me for it.
BC: What has been the biggest learning moment in your career so far?
Vernon Scott: After getting a divorce, I made the decision to be homeless. I went on a five-year plan, and I said it was all or nothing. No distractions. No deviations. No excuses. I slept in my car. I went to the gym at about six in the morning, took a shower and worked out since I was there anyway. Then I went to the [barber] shop and worked there all day. Repeat. Repeat. I lived in my car for forty days.
I know what it is to want to give up. There’s rock bottom. And about twenty feet below, there is a crevice and a crack below that. That crevice you slip into is the defining moment of wanting to live or not wanting to live. I know what that is. That’s when you really make a decision.
I wrote this then on Twitter and I’ll never forget it: “My desire for what I want, far outweighs the fear of what I’m going to have to go through to prepare me for it.”
BC: Of your celebrity clients, who has been the most interesting to work with?
Vernon Scott: They’re all interesting. I don’t compare. They’re nuts! You want me to go through each one…they’re nuts! [laughing] You know why people can’t make it in the industry, is because it’s erratic. The premise of the industry is ‘hurry up and wait.’ Bottom line.
It’s like, ‘can you be on a flight in two hours?’ And then you get there and you are waiting for a day and a half in a hotel on standby because, ‘hey, I got to run out to a dinner. And I have a meeting…I’m going to run to the studio…I’m going to go home.’ Are you freakin’ kidding me? I could’ve come tomorrow.
I feel like the relationships that I have with clients are different from your average professional relationship. I don’t even think it’s professionalism; it’s just a high level of etiquette that can’t be taught anywhere else.
BC: How do you get ready in the morning?
Vernon Scott: I do what I want.
BC: Just whatever you feel, based on mood?
Vernon Scott: Yeah. I don’t care about matching. I don’t care about colors. I don’t care about what’s trending. I ascribe to things that are quintessential, what’s classic, what’s dope. I don’t care about what people will like. This makes me happy. [points to himself] I’ve had this shirt for 15 years, it has holes in it – and I love it.
BC: It looks comfortable! How would you describe your personal style philosophy?
Vernon Scott: I think the first premise is – and this was taught to me by my parents – it doesn’t matter what you have or how old it is, as long as it’s clean. Presentable. I think that’s a solid foundation for anything – the way you take care of your things.
And then being clean, figuratively. The way something is put together – the cut, the fit. Definitive colors. And really always being consistent with what your sense of style is, which is who you are. No matter how anyone feels.
I also like the mélange of two contrasting things. I like industrial and lux. I like super clean and grunge. I like high couture and street, like ripped up Levi’s and a Tom Ford jacket. I don’t believe in outfits, you know? Do what makes you happy. Express yourself – you don’t have to fit this mold. I also don’t believe you have to pay more than $40 for a pair of jeans.
BC: How do you work with your clients to help them express themselves through fashion?
Vernon Scott: A lot of communication. It’s a thought process over everything. We talk about things that have nothing to do with fashion, like their background, what they like, how they like to see things, what makes them uncomfortable. I tend to go with what makes you uncomfortable.
BC: How do you go about doing that?
Vernon Scott: Like, if someone tells me, ‘I would never wear a pink blazer.’ I tell them, ‘I think you should wear a pink blazer.’ That’s just me – I’m a pusher.
BC: What does your personal grooming regimen look like?
Vernon Scott: It’s extensive. Probably worse than a chick.
BC: Is it really? So tell us about it.
Vernon Scott: I can’t. [laughs] I’ve learned about amazing soaps and oils, and really just taking that time to groom and nurture – that’s really more important than what you put on.
Also, the way you smell. I think putting on something that’s not sweet smelling is a bit uncivilized.
I believe in a very high level of grooming. I feel like it relates to etiquette – both for yourself and the people you directly affect.
BC: How long do you devote each day to grooming?
Vernon Scott: Probably never ending. [laughs]
BC: Do you have any grooming secrets you are willing to share?
Vernon Scott: One thing I learned is that you should find one scent that works for you that you can create sensory association with.
For example, I’ve worked with artists and haven’t seen them until three years later. They’d hug me and say, ‘oh my God, you still smell the same.’ It’s like having your father and he wears Old Spice. It becomes a form of branding for you as an individual. And if people smell that scent anywhere else, it’ll remind them of you.
I am going to leave this earth being a testimony that the impossible is NOT. And that anything that you really want to do, you can. Absolutely anything.
BC: What’s the legacy you want to leave behind?
Vernon Scott: I am going to leave this earth being a testimony that the impossible is NOT. And that anything that you really want to do, you can. Absolutely anything.
Most people would not put themselves in adverse situations in order for them to perform at their full potential. It’s human nature – we prefer to be comfortable.
I’ve been homeless twice. Neither time was an accident. There are times I’ve worked five jobs to be able to still cut hair when cutting hair wasn’t making enough money. Right before I was traveling for clients, I was cleaning a monastery from five to eight in the morning.
Whatever it takes. And everything contributes to or prepares you for what’s coming. God IS AMAZING.