Anthony Turner is the hairstylist celebrating and championing subcultures. Its that love for those misfit communities that helps him create his subversive characters that will forever resonate with those who feel they dont fit in.
I briefly met Anthony Turner 15 years ago at a club night called Family in Shoreditch, where we struck up a conversation about hair. Anthony suggested I come help him with shows during Fashion Week and join the salon he worked at as I was looking for a change. I had no understanding of the hair session world but felt drawn to his warm and sincere personality. A few weeks before the salon's trade test I broke my hand and was unable to attend, thus ending that opportunity. Fast forward 15 years to our interview and he still is that same kind soul he was, but with legendary status in the world of session hairstyling. During this interview, I discovered that Anthony's talents extend much further than just hair, as you will soon find out. His beautifully macabre illustrations are a reflection of restless creativity which results in the elegantly twisted worlds he conjures up for his fashion stories that could only have been imagined by him.
MH: I grew up in quite a rural area and I used to draw to escape my mundane surroundings. It was a love affair: drawing and skateboarding, and both of those things shaped how I looked at hair. You’re originally from Staffordshire, correct?
AT: Yeah, from a small little mining town in Staffordshire that nobody knows, called Cannock. It used to be quite a thriving little town but then of course Margaret Thatcher came along in the eighties. It never recovered since she shut the mines down.
MH: Were there any different scenes around the area as you were growing up?
AT: There were, because in a small town you have to push the idea of belonging to a different group of people. So you had your townie kids, indie kids, goth kids, and brit pop, too. We’re talking the late 90s and early 2000s, so emo was a huge thing as well. I never knew which one I fit into, I was never that clued up. But as I grew older, I started listening to music: it’s through music that you often find your tribe. A friend of mine gave me a Portishead CD and I loved the whole melancholy of it, the woe is me. I really started to pick it apart and ask, what else is there in this genre of depressing music… That led me to The Cure, and Depeche Mode, and The Smiths.
MH: Did that discovery and journey through music influence your dress sense and self-expression?
AT: Definitely, I mean I painted my bedroom black…
MH: You can’t get any more goth than that, really!
AT: I’d wear 70s black velvet jackets and shirts with bows, more kind of New Romantic goth, the vampire-y look. On the flipside, I used to read music magazines like Mixmag and Muzik which taught me about the club scene as well. This was the era of the super clubs in the 00s, I was also obsessed with all these Gatecrasher kids and cybergoths! I used to tell my mum that I was going to stay at a friend’s house and then catch the train to Birmingham, get fully dressed on the train, make-up, everything. I even shaved my eyebrows off at one point to go out! I’ve got quite thick brows as well, so you can imagine me without any. It didn’t go down too well!
MH: Those eyes! That’s all you would see! I completely understand, when I first moved to London I was going to Boombox, Ponystep, Golf Sale: all those places that allowed me to experiment with the fashion side of my identity. The scene that inspired you to do the book Mortal Remains is clearly very close to your heart. I know that you cast the people very carefully. Is that a project you’re going to continue working on with Sarah [ Piantadosi ] ?
AT: I hope so. You see, Mortal Remains was always meant to be an umbrella term for anything we wanted to do as long as we’re celebrating and championing subcultures, kids that really felt like they didn’t fit in anywhere, a bit like me. Mortal Remains is a safe space for all of those people and I think I'd definitely like to do something else with it.
MH: I think it’s definitely going to be a series that people reference for a long time. You do these really beautiful illustrations – going back to growing up, were you into anime and graphic novels?
AT: No, not at the beginning. I started drawing because of my nan: she was a cleaner, and to keep me quiet while she cleaned an office, she would take some paper from the printer and tell me to sit at one of the desks and draw. I was always drawing monsters and weird things and dark things, it was a bit of a problem with my family. I think the teachers at school even called my mum in at one point! They were worried. It wasn’t that I was drawing anything overly graphic, it’s just that I was always drawing monsters. They tried to stop me, which says a lot about the teachers at the time. Instead of nurturing it they just tried to put a plug on it.
MH: They didn’t see the talent!
AT: Not at all. Of course me being me, I didn’t stop. When I got a little bit older and read Roald Dahl, I started to understand the notion of dark humour and got really inspired by it. Later, I picked up on Edward Gory and Tim Burton. Then it snowballed into other artists like Ray Caesar and James Jean.
MH: Do you think reading all of those books and illustrators shaped the way you look at hair?
AT: Absolutely. I tend to put on my kooky little characters the hair that I enjoy doing anyway. It’s always a bit limp and stuck to the face, something zombie-esque about it… No matter what I do, I always try to pop in a small element of that.
MH: Say you were preparing for a hair-focused project, would you illustrate the characters you want to develop?
MH: I figured you would do that! They’re so considered and detailed in your illustrations, they’re almost alive. Did you do that with Bimini’s story for our new issue?
AT: I did. With a hair story like the one I’ve just done for Altered States, I sketch it out to see the proportions and see where I’m going, instead of writing a list. I have a studio where I’ll stick the pictures up on a board to know exactly what I need to do.
MH: It’s like a blueprint for the madness!
AT: Yeah, that’s it!
MH: The work you do is very much shape-focused, dark and romantic, and incorporates these contrasts between soft textures and graphic shapes. I really loved this season’s show where you worked on We11 Done, taking these amazing elements from Mortal Remains, like exaggerated lengths, or elongating texture through the nape. You also incorporated all of that into Raf Simons Autumn/Winter 2021, but in a slightly different twist. The shapes were slightly more on the graphic end, heavier, but it still had that balance.
AT: For Raf, it was hair that I’d never done before. It was really different for me to introduce pops of colour. Something that still had an oddness to it, but felt so refined and so resolved that it could almost be couture hair. A kind of futuristic couture, which I really enjoyed doing.
MH: Do you find that working on shows gives you the chance to experiment with ideas more than working on editorials?
AT: Yeah, on editorials you have a lot more time to nurture an idea. On a normal show, you only get a couple of hours with a designer and you have to think on your feet. Still, it’s nice that when you’ve got so many models in a show, you can begin to see them as a gang. I can almost look at them as my friends growing up. Individuality is something I’m very passionate about. Although there’s a thread of continuity, there’s still something that sets each person apart. If a girl’s got a great haircut, I never want to stack a load of extensions in it to make it look like the next girl who’s got long hair.
MH: You’re really into horror films, I bumped into you in the street and you had that Texas Chainsaw Massacre hoodie on.
MH: The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, might I add! Does horror or occult cinema play a big part in inspiring your hair work?
AT: Horror movies have always inspired me. I always find a safe space within the darkness. Most people find it terrifying and very uncomfortable, but for me it's very safe. One thing I picked up on very young, especially in those 70s and 80s horror movies, was that the monsters were my heroes. Because the people they’d usually get rid of were like the popular kids at school, the jocks or the cheerleaders. I was bullied and had a pretty rough time of it at school, so for me the monsters were always my heroes!
MH: I always liked that about it. It was always the self-righteous WASP-y types who got taken out first. I’ve always loved watching a slasher film where you can deduce which cast member is going to be topped off first.
AT: For sure, definitely. I really enjoy the fact that people think I'm a bit of a weirdo for enjoying the darkness and the horror and all the rest of it. When I’m allowed to do a story of my own like I was with you guys, it definitely seeps through in the art direction. With your shoot, one thing I was really interested in was no fingernails! I went through this obsession: the subtlety of having no fingernails and the way that comes across in the picture. But even when it’s me on a regular shoot, I still try and sneak it in somewhere: having the hair just a bit stuck down, so it still has that creepy element to it.
MH: You can really see it, those finer details. That one thing, like no fingernails, changes the perception of the whole environment. The viewer says “I recognise that but I also don’t”. What inspired you to work with Bimini on this particular project with us?
AT: Obviously Bimini is from RuPaul’s Drag Race UK – I’m obsessed with drag, and I think that goes back to being part of the club scene when I was younger. I was inspired by their tenacity, derived from the Leigh Boweries and the Divines. I think that drag is courageous and brave, it takes a lot of guts. With Bimini, now that they’re signed to Next, I wanted to really use them as a model, not necessarily as a drag artist, respectfully. I wanted to showcase their beauty as well as their genius drag.
MH: It's really nice as well that you have the make-up artist Lynsey Alexander on the team!
AT: Lynsey’s my sister! I first met her because to earn a bit of extra money we used to do the hair and makeup for the call cards for sex workers. I really wish we’d have kept them! That was over 17 years ago. We’ve grown up together in the industry: she assisted Lucia Pieroni and I assisted Guido [Palau], and now we’re working together as individuals. She’s very naughty and makes me laugh very inappropriately on set!
MH: I can’t speak more highly of her, she’s amazing. Do you think it’s important to build those relationships early in your career?
AT: Of course! A lot of the time when I’m not sure about the hair I’m doing, I ask Lynsey what she thinks. She’ll do the same with me too, and that’s a very creative process in itself, to have the confidence to call each other over and ask for each other’s opinion. She’s also good at telling me to shut my mouth! When I panic, she’s the one who gives me a slap and tells me to calm down! She’ll be like “Shut up! It’s great!”. She’s really good at that.
MH: I can just hear her doing that now! I wanted to talk about your mens’ work. I remember seeing a lot of the work you’ve done with Willy [Vanderperre], specifically for the earlier issues of DUST. There was one image in particular that I always think about. The model was Henry [Kitcher], he’s got a high collar on with a safety pin, and he looks like a priest. There’s something very beautiful but also very ominous about the way the photo is taken.
AT: Willy is very good at that.
MH: I feel like when the two of you work together you bring out this almost religious element, it provokes emotion. Is this something that you and Willy have wanted to make present?
AT: I don’t think it happens consciously. Willy and I are very similar in the sense that we both understand the darkness. Me and Willie and Olivier Rizzo can sit and talk about horror movies until the cows come home! I react to whatever Willy is taking a picture of and whatever Olivier is styling, and a lot of the time there is that religious undertone, and references to Flemish painting. Perhaps, controversially, it’s got something to do with our hate of religion as well. To try and flip it somehow, and make it feel uneasy.
MH: I grew up Catholic, so I also have a real issue with organised religion. Did you grow up in a religious household?
AT: : No, but I was brought up in a Catholic school and I was always made to go to church. I’m a very spiritual person, I read a lot about Wicca, paganism, the druids, and how the Catholic Church basically just stole everything from them. I’m really interested in those early religions and the feminine energy in Wicca.
MH: Yeah, my partner Hannah [ Elwell ] is very into Wicca. She’s got the white sage and multiple other things to channel good energy into our lives. Lastly, I want to ask you something with regard to films, and it’s your top five horror films.
AT: Oh my god, okay. Definitely number one is The Shining. The Witch is number two. House of the Devil. Um, Carrie. And Hereditary. Especially House of the Devil. It’s not very well known, but if you want to be terrified, it’s one of the scariest horror movies ever. It will shock you, it’s horrible, it’s brilliant.