In honor of Black History Month, The Tease will be bringing Black excellence to the forefront with inspiring stories from Black tastemakers, innovators, and creatives in the hair industry who are changing the game and inspiring others to do the same. Their impact, power, and creativity in the hair industry is undeniable and we celebrate them!
Vernon Scott doesn’t just do hair, he knows hair. The Brooklyn-born barber and natural hair stylist has spent the last 30 years sharing his expertise and artistry with the hair, music, and fashion industry.
Responsible for some of the most head-turning looks in Hollywood, Scott’s talents have earned him an enviable list of clients including Cynthia Erivo, Danai Gurira, Pharrell, Zayn Malik, and Idris Elba. From Gurira’s jaw-dropping African-inspired buzzcut design at the 2018 Oscars to his trademark sharp and sculpted cuts, the hair maven has continued to push the limits and make waves with his craft.
The Tease caught up with Scott to talk about working with celebrity clients, how he stays motivated in his career, and his upcoming book.
The Tease: What motivated you to become a barber and how did you really get started?
Vernon Scott: I got started out of circumstance. So, my dad was cutting my hair. I got to high school and it was not working out. I started butchering my own hair and then, I had a friend that cut his own hair as well, so we would just compete. It would be like, “Alright, I’m going to cut my hair tonight and you cut your hair tonight and tomorrow, we’re going to ask everybody who’s haircut looks better.” That was at age 14. By age 16, I was in the barbershop. At age 18, I dropped out of college and I just wanted to pursue cutting hair.
You’ve accomplished so much in your career, working with celebrity clients such as Maxwell, Zayn Malik, Pharrell, and Danai Gurira. What has kept you pushing and continuing to work hard in such a fickle industry?
Scott: First of all, God is amazing because even hearing this stuff is like, “Oh shoot. You’re talking about me!” So, just to scale it down, I’ve never had a manager. I’ve never had an agent. I’ve never had a publicist. It’s literally me and God. That’s not hype.
You really just have to want whatever it is that you want so bad that you’re willing to do, within ethical reason, whatever it takes to be prepared for what it is that you say that you want. Your responsibility is to be prepared. So, for me, I knew what I wanted at 19. I played drums my whole life, but cutting hair was my passion. People always ask me the question, “How do you choose what your passion is, especially when you’re talented at different things?” You choose the one thing that after you’ve mastered and become successful, can facilitate all other things.
With me choosing this at 19, I realized that with playing drums the highest that I could go was who I played for. I didn’t like those odds. That’s a cap for me. So, I said if I pursue cutting hair, it will take me much further and put me in the same arena of being around music. My “in” in the industry is because I know every musician. That’s where my start really in the industry came from. I was a fan of Robert Glasper’s music. I used to go to all the shows —standing out in the freezing cold in the middle of Jazz clubs. This was the early 2000s. I started working with him and then he brought me into a rehearsal to cut his hair when he was going out on tour with Maxwell in 2009. And then, it just kept going from there.
How do you handle the pressure of styling such high-profile people?
Scott: For me, the reason why celebrities like me is because I’m a regular person and they’re regular people to me. Forget the hype and all of those things. I usually don’t even know anything about the hype and their careers and all of that stuff. I usually Google the client when I’m in the car, to be honest. And with them, I’m not like starstruck or anything like that. It’s just cool. I really want to fulfill what my purpose is being there and just play my part.
I’ve never taken a picture with a celebrity. I’ve never requested one. I don’t ask for favors and that’s what makes them comfortable as well. This is why I have friendships even after working with a client that I no longer work with anymore. The thing about working with celebrities or high-profile individuals, it’s really about your professionalism, your etiquette, and your character first, and your talent, after. So, your talent can get you in the room, but it’s not going to keep you there.
In Hollywood, there’s been a huge conversation surrounding the need for hairstylists and barbers who can work on Black hair and various textures. From your perspective being a Black barber, where does the real issue lie?
Scott: The reason why they’re identifying the shortage in Black stylists is because we don’t have the accreditation necessary to be in those rooms. It’s a specific thing to be in the union. For me, I don’t have a cosmetology license. I’m a barber who then grew and evolved and now, I’m a short hair stylist. So, I’m actually a licensed natural hair stylist, but to be on set you have to have a cosmetology license. You also have to have a certain amount of hours doing commercial work or set work, have letters of recommendations, submit paperwork, and all these things. It’s not just, you apply and get in. It’s a serious investment in itself. And then when you get in, now you have to put in another level of work. It’s not a walk in the park. It is bigger than how good you can do hair. There’s not a shortage of talent. There’s a shortage of eligible talented people to work in these capacities. There’s billions of talented people that work with Black hair. That’s not the problem.
How have you been navigating the on-going coronavirus pandemic?
Scott: In 2020, the world got introduced to what an entrepreneur and creative goes through on an everyday basis. The playing field was evened. That’s what happened. It wasn’t shocking. It wasn’t rattling to me — it’s everyday life. Now the part of the actual disease is what’s hurtful. It’s daunting. It’s scary. It gives you anxiety and all these different things.
So, when you separate the emotions from business, it’s like, “Okay, this is what’s going on. How do we navigate it? How do we work around it? We still have to produce results.” That’s my approach and execution.
What are you looking forward to doing next in your career?
Scott: Right now, what’s next for me is completion of my book. The title of the book is God is Amazing, So How Could You Not Be. It’s a book about self-actualization and self-awareness. It’s all the things that I learned throughout this process and all things that I had to tell myself. It’s for us, by us. My projected goal is to complete it by the top of the second quarter. It’s a blessing to be able to do it. We’re in a day and age where I don’t have to see approval for my book in order for it to be worthy of being published. I’m self-publishing it myself.
Can you tease a few lines from the book?
Scott: Alright, here’s your tease: “What would you attempt, if you knew you couldn’t fail? When was the moment —who was the person that convinced you, you couldn’t do anything you set your mind to? There are two fundamental things God gave us at birth — a genius level of talent or gift and the power of choice. Likewise, we were all born with a purpose to fulfill and our talents are our responsibility to protect and perfect —to facilitate that goal. By true definition, having a purpose is a goal that benefits others and positively impacts humanity.”
What advice do you have for other Black creatives who want to make an impact in the hair industry?
Scott: Passion, consistency, discipline, and a lot of faith in God is the recipe for success. No matter what you apply it to, you’ll be successful.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
To see more of Scott’s work, be sure to follow him @byvernonscott on Instagram.