It’s a sunny autumn morning when I arrive to interview Jules Tognini at the family salon in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. Jules is busy making himself the first of several daily coffees while the salon slowly comes to life, Miike Snow thumping energetically in the background.
“How are you doing?! Make yourself comfortable!”
Jules greets me with a massive smile and makes me feel like we go way back, in the way that all good hairstylists do. Dressed in double denim and Doc Martens, he looks every bit the edgy, new wave stylist on which he’s built his brand.
I’m here to find out what a typical day is like for the youngest of the Tognini clan and to hear how he manages to balance a 36-hour work week in the salon with competing priorities including the likes of Lil’ Off The Top, his ambassador role with Evo, and Joe Bloe – his newly launched product line with brother Kristian.
When we meet, Joe Bloe has recently launched online while Lil’ Off The Top has announced their first tour dates for 2018. In amongst the craziness, Jules still bases himself at the salon three days a week to take care of his clients, many of whom, he explains, have been with him his whole career.
“I try to stay as flexible as possible with my clients. If they need to reschedule an appointment or come in for a last minute trim, I do what I can for them. These days clients are always on their phones, so features like Online Booking make it easy to give them that flexibility.”
Much has been made of Jules’ “non-traditional” path into the hair industry, especially considering it’s in his blood. Jules has talked in depth about his apprenticeship and training under his dad, industry legend Benni Tognini, who he says “made him learn the right way,” something that he hated at the time but has since come to appreciate.
It’s this rigorous training that Jules is now imparting on hordes of hairdressers and barbers across the country with Lil’ Off The Top, the wildly successful education platform that Jules describes as “a cult that people want to be a part of.”
When talking about the idea behind Lil’ Off The Top, Jules says there was a need for something new; an education platform that wasn’t owned by a brand and wouldn’t pick and choose people based on their associations with products.
“As a hairdresser, you want to be friends with everyone. Our idea for Lil’ Off The Top was to do something fun and a little bit different, and sell people skills rather than selling them a product.”
For now, the platform is focused on students nailing the basics. The eight-module, fundamental cutting course, uniquely named Meat & Potatoes, has been well received across the country, with the tour expanding to include regional centres like Toowoomba, Wollongong and Gippsland.
With such a hectic work schedule, does Jules crave some sense of structure or is he happy to embrace the fray?
“Structure is weird. When I don’t have it, I crave it. When I do have it, I f*****g hate it. I get bored and need to change it up. I like to grow.”
This mentality goes some way to explain the entrepreneurial streak that Jules has shown throughout his time in the industry, going from project to project, always creating.
The latest venture for Jules is hair loss prevention product line Joe Bloe. Born over a couple of beers three years ago, the line is a partnership between Jules, brother Kristian and friend Trav. Jules realised that a lot of his friends and himself were starting to go a little thin on top and saw a gap in the market. After doing their market research, the group came to the conclusion that the products currently on the market for hair loss were scary, clinical and all too often marketed by test cricketers.
If existing products on the market are geared towards the older market, Joe Bloe is the exact opposite, with sleek minimal packaging aimed at a more image conscious, younger guy looking to get on the front foot and prevent hair loss before it’s all gone. While Joe Bloe is Jules’ first foray into the world of products, he’s hardly new to the game after working with cult favourite Evo for more than eight years, travelling with the brand to train stylists across the globe.
On the back of a busy year of touring, Jules’ work has been well received on the 2018 awards circuit, with his collections nabbing him a finalist spot in both the AHFAs and Hair Expo Awards.
Jules notes that he doesn’t typically find inspiration from within the industry, although he does rattle off a list of names of people – many from within the Togninis and Lil’ Off The Top family – that are doing great work. For someone with such a distinct style and point of view, I was interested to hear where Jules does draw his inspiration.
“Honestly, I love people watching. I get told that I stare a lot by my wife, so I try to wear sunglasses.”
His people watching location of choice? Airports.
“In big cities like New York, London, and even in Sydney and Melbourne, there’s such a range of people to look at. I love trying to match up hair and styles that I see on the street with what comes into my chair at the salon so I can tailor make looks for people.”
With a career going from strength to strength, and all signs pointing to an even crazier 2018, Jules must be doing something right.