With the announcement of the newest Contessa category, Collaboration (Co-lab)—an award designed to foster and encourage teamwork between hairstylists and/or colourists—we chatted with two Edmonton-based friends and colleagues, Michelle Oliver and Quinn Enright. Having recently partnered on a collection, they’re extremely familiar with the ins and outs of collaborating. Here are their tips.
Gather people you trust and who have different strengths.
“Quinn is an amazing colourist and my strengths are cutting and finishing, so we both focused on what we had to do and then figured out how we were going to partner those abilities and bring the looks together” – Michelle Oliver
“By separating what we were doing, we could both work on every single model together instead of doing half of the models each. It allowed us to create a really seamless and unified collection.” – Quinn Enright
Ensure that you’re organized and have good communication.
“The best way to handle challenges or differences of opinions is communication. You also can’t get stuck on your vision because it’s likely going to change a lot. Being open-minded is so important because if you’re not, you’ll miss out on so many opportunities to make something even better.” -Quinn Enright
“When things are rough, you have someone to lean on and help push you; when things are great, you have someone to celebrate with, which is amazing. Having that support system is great because you don’t have to figure it out on your own.” – Michelle Oliver
Have a positive attitude and support each other’s work.
“Having the support of someone who understands the vision as well as you do makes collaborations so enjoyable. Sometimes it’s a lot more fun to do something with someone else than alone. The energy, positivity and laughter that two people can create together is what it’s all about.” – Michelle Oliver
“Letting go of control is hard because you always have to make sure you’re both on the same page. You can’t do everything by yourself, so that’s where trust comes in.” – Quinn Enright
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Q&A with Michelle Oliver and Quinn Enright
Tell me a little bit about yourselves and how long you’ve known each other.
Michelle: I’ve been in industry 20 years this September. I’ve worked with Schwarzkopf on the education team for almost 15 years and I currently work as the education supervisor for Schwarzkopf in Western Canada. Quinn and I met when I was teaching and she was one of those stylists that when I came into her salon, she always had so many questions, she wanted to know about everything, and she always had so much passion and energy. I knew the energy I would get from her every time I would see her. I didn’t see her for a couple of years after that, and I was missing an assistant for my Contessa shoot. One of my model’s recommended her friend who was a hairstylist that just moved back to town and it turned out to be Quinn! By chance, she assisted me on the shoot and then from there I hired her as an educator for Schwarzkopf and we started working together. I would say the rest was history because we just worked really well together and really complemented each other. I think we have known each other for about 10 years now.
Quinn: I’ve been in the industry for about 17 years now. I was working in the salon and as an educator for Schwarzkopf, and I’ve recently started a new position as social media and community manager for Schwarzkopf. I’ve been on the creative side of the industry for a while, I do a lot of video shoots and a lot of creative things which I love. Michelle and I are yin and yang because we’re so different, but we complement each other so well!
How did you two decide to collaborate together? Why now?
Michelle: Quinn had been wanting to shoot for a competition for a while but never got around to it. We were talking about both shooting but I’ve never imagined collaborating with anyone before this. I think it was just a real collision of all of the trust and collaboration we have done and built before, as well as her deciding to shoot that really made us collaborate. I’ve also always wanted to take the opportunity to focus on cutting, styling and finishing because I’ve always done both the colour work and the cutting. When we talked about doing a collection together, we agreed it wouldn’t be me being the boss because I’ve been her boss in the past. We both wanted to be on the same page, with the same input and we really just wanted to pair our skills. She’s such an incredible colourist and she’s so creative, so she could focus on the colour and I could take the opportunity to focus on the styling, cutting and finishing, and then we would gel the whole creative process together.
A huge benefit of collaborating is being able to focus on and improve on just one skillset instead of having to stretch yourself.
Tell me about the collection and which looks you each created. How did you decide who was going to do what when working on your collection?
Michelle: We worked on each look completely together and to decide who did what, we really just focused on our strengths. Quinn is an amazing colourist, and my strength is cutting and finishing so we just went with that and then figured out how we were going to partner that and bring the looks together. In terms of picking the looks, one of the difficult things was that I had to make decisions about the style and the cut so that Quinn could plan the colour. That was hard because when I’m doing it myself, I don’t have to plan. I can normally run with the punches because I’m the one doing everything. When you work with a team the order is really deciding what exactly the cut and style will be, so your partner can come up with colour to suit each look. Before picking the style of hair, we picked wardrobe.
So, our order was concept first, wardrobe, cut and style and then complimenting with the colour. We discussed everything to make sure it all went with the theme and the vision we had.
Quinn: You have a built-in helper in a way because when the task you’re working on is done, while you’re waiting for your partner to do what they have to do, you can go focus on other things like wardrobe. When there is two people you can have a really balanced execution from start to finish because both people understand the vision so clearly. By separating what we were doing, we could both work on every single model together instead of doing half of the models each. That allows you to create a really seamless and unified collection.
How did you plan out the collection together?
Quinn: It helps that we’re friends and that we like hanging out, but we did a lot of collaging!
After we figured out the cut, style and colour of each look, I created these sketches where I had my friend try on all the outfits and then we drew hair on her for each of the looks. We printed those out and put those onto mood boards. We even had a mood board for poses too, so just a lot of collages.
How was the process of working on a collection with someone else different than working on one alone?
Michelle: Communication and planning are really big ones. You have to be so much clearer ahead of time because how can you collaborate when you aren’t clear on what your vision is? When things are rough you have someone to lean on and to help push you and when things are great you have someone to celebrate with which is amazing. Having that support system when things might not be going the way you planned is great because you don’t have to figure it out on your own.
What did you enjoy most about working together?
Michelle: I think the support of having someone who understands the vision as well as you do was the most enjoyable. We also laugh constantly so sometimes it’s a lot more fun to do something with someone else than alone. The energy, positivity and laughter that two people can create together, and that Quinn and I have created, is what it’s all about.
Quinn: Just the experience was so amazing. We both said that even if this collection didn’t win or nothing came of it, the experience that we had was so valuable, fun, creative and challenging, that it was worth it. If you want to grow as a person and as a stylist, collaborations are such a beautiful way to do so.
Were there any challenges that you experienced? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?
Quinn: I think the best way to handle challenges or differences of opinions is communication. You have to be in each other’s corner. You can’t let a challenge defeat you, so you have to lean on the other person. Another big thing is having fluidity in the face of a challenge. Don’t get stuck on your vision because it does change a lot and that is something to always keep in mind when collaborating with someone. Being open minded is important because if you’re closed minded, you’ll miss out on so many opportunities to make something even better than you could’ve imagined.
Did working on a collection together make it more difficult when it came to selecting which photos to enter? (eg. Not agreeing on the same photos?)
Michelle: I think in general we’re so aligned that we agreed on pretty much every photo. Picking images is one of the hardest things about a collection because if you pick the wrong shot it could be the difference between making or breaking a collection. Take the opinions of everyone who is involved because someone might see something that others have overlooked, however, I will say, if you have someone who has more experience in shooting collections or competing, realize that and use it to your advantage.
What are your tips for the planning of a collaborative collection? What is the best way to make sure each person’s ideas and suggestions don’t get overlooked?
Michelle: Have a plan, give yourself time, set meetings and dates that you’re both mentally committed to discussing the collection. Have assigned tasks and delegate everything.
What should people keep in mind when working collaboratively with someone else (or more than one person) on a photo shoot?
Quinn: I would say having trust within your team or your partner is one of the biggest things. I also think picking people with different strengths is very helpful so then each person can bring something different to the table, the process is a lot smoother that way.
Did working with someone else on a collection make things easier or more difficult?
Quinn: It’s easier but also harder because you can’t make every decision by yourself. When you’re working alone you can make all the decisions but when working with someone else, you can share the workload which makes it easier. Communication and planning wise it makes it harder because you always have to make sure you’re both on the same page. Letting go of control can be difficult too because you can’t do everything by yourself. That’s where the trust comes in, you have to know that you can count on your partner to help you and to make the best decisions for the team.
What are your top tips for stylists who are looking to collaborate with one another on a collection? Any do’s and don’ts?
- Create a team of people who have different strengths.
- Pick people who you trust.
- Have a positive attitude.
- Be respectful.
- Be committed.
- Don’t bring your ego.
- Break up the responsibility.
- Give yourself a lot of time.
What would you differently if you were to collaborate again? Any plans to work together again?
Quinn: We did three months of preparation but if anything, I would say giving ourselves more time. We didn’t have a lot of time to order stuff so starting that earlier would have been better. Also put the wardrobe together sooner because it’s really what starts everything and what gets the collection going.