How does a highly regarded New York City hairdresser trained under style demigods end up shearing the hair of relative strangers in the backyards of Marfa, Texas—population 1,899?
For Ryann Bosetti, this transition was driven by a force that's compelled much of her unusual and illustrious career: intuition.
A believer in the power of fear-free hair sculpting and author of "hair prose" book Regarding Head Shape: Acknowledgement of the Haircut as Form, Bosetti's move elicited this headline in Vogue: "Is The Best Haircut of Your Life Waiting for You in Marfa, Texas?" More recently, creative intuition has led Bosetti to co-found The Tropics Marfa, an artists-in-residency program dedicated to "enlightened vision, radical practices and progressive methods" (along with boyfriend Alec Friedman, co-founder of Dossier Magazine and an indie darling in his own right).
Currently toggling between her project in Texas and homes in Portland, Oregon, and New York City, Bosetti talked with Ravishly about hair, art, feminism and the secret to her success (hint: It involves proverbial guns blazing).
So what inspired you to become a hairstylist?
I had just finished business school, and started working as the personal assistant to the CFO of Bumble and Bumble in New York City. It took me about three months to realize the purgatory of the air-conditioned, Monday-Friday, concrete cubicle corporate lifestyle. I actually think now that I only went to business school because of the personal aesthetic I could adopt once I became a Power Suit. Before I even knew who Grace Jones was, I think she was my career aesthetic muse. Then I started working in this world where everybody in the elevator on Monday looked suicidal and on Friday were talking about how wasted they were gonna get at the bar around the corner. Thirty years of that seemed worse than your average prison sentence.
I looked over the shoulder of my boss at our board meetings and saw my future mentor Howard McLaren, the creative VP of the company and also a hairdresser. I started following him around, and pretty soon realized that going to beauty school was the fastest way into a creative profession—and because I was working at Bumble, I would be guaranteed a stellar education and major career prospects.
I jumped corporate ship and never looked back. I was a very cocky 22-year-old so it helped that I believed in myself 500%—I probably wouldn't have made that leap had that not been the case.
You trained under some of the hairdressing greats in New York City. Tell us about your background in this style scene.
During my years at Bumble, I was under the eye of the founder, Michael Gordon, and the legend Howard McLaren; I was also at the time dating future editorial hair superstar James Pecis (a childhood friend-turned-early-20s-boyfriend). I had these power players of the industry around me who, on some level, had a personal interest in seeing me succeed at a high level with hair. They wanted me to train hard and excel, go far in the industry.
It was pure luck that I was offered a job being the CFO's personal assistant, but I used it as an opportunity to sneak in through the back door of this strange realm of hair, spot these potential mentor figures and insist that they help me make my way in the industry.
It sucks that there were no women mentors for me during that time and that I had to do a lot of bullshit ego-assuaging while I worked my way up, but I count myself as one of the millions of women who take on this challenge with proverbial guns blazing. My proverbial guns are still blazing.
What drew you to work in Marfa, Texas? An artist community of 2,000 seems like an unlikely choice for an NYC-trained stylist to set up shop.
Four years ago, I was working in a salon, having a totally idyllic, but completely unchallenged professional practice. I made the decision, on a funny whim, to put my salon life on hold for a summer and move to London to live with a good friend, clear my head, have some parties, shake out the ennui. Halfway there, waiting to connect at JFK airport, I was hit by some kind of intense revelatory bolt of lightning that it was a terrible idea to move to London and that I should stay in the country and go somewhere else. Who was sending me this lightning bolt? And where should I go?
Standing in line at the ticket counter, I frantically scoured the map of America in my mind and within 30 seconds Marfa, Texas sprung into place. I'd heard about it from many friends, but never thought I'd have the time to end up in the deep southwestern Texas desert. I immediately knew it was the right move, but strangely, only thought about it for maybe 10 seconds.
By the time it was my turn at the counter I'd made the decision to cancel my ticket to London and change it to El Paso, and two days later I found myself in a pickup truck driven by one of my now best Marfa brothers, Ross Cashiola, who'd just dropped off Lou Reed at the El Paso Airport after the Marfa Film Festival and was now returning to Marfa with me in the passenger seat.
That night I was sitting at the only bar in town and somebody asks me if I cut hair, I say yes, they said, "Great, we all need haircuts." The next day a new friend loans me a bike and I spend the next three months riding around town cutting everyone's hair in their kitchens and backyards.
I couldn't stop going and four years later decided to open a small salon there. I feel energetically invested in that region of the country for a host of esoteric reasons it would take me years to articulate.
When and why did you become director of The Tropics Marfa creative community?
I founded The Tropics Marfa with my boyfriend Alec Friedman in January of this year. We both share a calling to empower, nurture and propel humans who are brave enough to pursue artistic careers, and feel that the community of Marfa shares enough of our ideals to be the ground control for this mission. We want to affect cultural change by mobilizing and launching the efforts of our creative family members.
What's it like fostering creativity and progressive ideals in the heart of Texas?
Marfa is on the alien fringe of Texas, not in the heart. Which is probably why it's the perfect launch-pad for The Tropics. One relevant truth about art and Texas I should point out, however, is that a majority of the art foundations (particularly those focused on modern art) in America have been founded by Texan oil families. One of the only culturally redeeming consequences of discovering oil under the ground in Texas is that many years later, the great-great grandchildren of the first titans have decided to support the arts with vast chunks of their families' fortunes. It's a truth that feels/is fraught, but it's a cultural truth nonetheless.
What about compound living appeals to you?
We use the term "compound" when we describe the lifestyle of The Tropics because we're fascinated with and dedicated to the concept of building a family structure with strangers, friends, creatives, people who share our ideals and who are interested in sharing living space for limited periods of time with a symbiotic centerpiece. That being said, we deeply respect the human need for walls, boundaries and individual space, and have thusly designed the infrastructure/architecture of The Tropics to allow for separate living spaces with shared center spaces. There are rooms for writing and reading, and shared rooms for eating, drinking, talking, music. It's not a cult, it's not a commune, it is a thoughtfully rendered honeycomb intended to foster individual creative processes, and supported by a familial bonding experience.
What motivated you to start F.R.E.E (Fear/Relinquished/Evolution/Engaged)?
Many people are terrified when they sit in a hairdresser's chair and therefore give directions to their hairdresser that are grounded in efar. They had a traumatic experience (or several) and are then hyper-clenched when they talk about what kind of shape they want, what they think they can have. I respond to this so often with a mirrored fear when I cut, worrying that I'll somehow traumatize them further.
I designed this program, which gives them the chance to step out of this fear box by selecting one of a handful of predetermined but strong, classically powerful shapes, and relinquishing any further direction in articulating what they want. If they can make this leap, I will reward their trust by giving them a free haircut, a haircut that is free of charge. My mission is to promote more empowered haircut experiences for both my clients and myself.
Your book Regarding Head Shape: Acknowledgment Of The Haircut As Form describes your process of becoming a more creative, intuitive hair stylist. What was this evolutionary process like?
I had to start by hammering out these robotic, deeply geometric shapes that had no involvement with the underlying origin of the shape (the skull) and have worked intently since that mastering to understand, acknowledge and highlight the origin of the shape. The landscape of the skull dictates every aspect of the haircut and if the hairdresser can learn to intuit from this landscape on a heightened basis, the shape will always accurately depict the wearer of the shape. I dunno, I believe that all good hairdressers are psychic. My styling has changed from robot to psychic. I'm only nine years into my career so I guess it remains to be seen what the manifestations of this progression will look like.
How do you think hairstyling compares to other forms of art?
It shares many of the same requirements involving the reverence for construction in the early days of study and the devotion to deconstruction in the later days of practice. The most literal sister-medium would be sculpture. Grain of wood and rock behave similarly to grains of hair!
What advice do you have for creative young women?
Find a person who lives the life you want to lead and bug them until they talk to you. Listen to what they tell you, talk them into hiring you or get an alternative of their choosing to hire you. If these mentors are women, that is ideal, but if they aren't you can't use that as an excuse to disengage. Working for men will always be a burden, but if you can stick with it you will eventually get better at "it" than them and you will take over and help other women take over. Don't ever choose health insurance and a 401K over honoring your intuitive drive. If you follow its directives you will always win.
What's next for you?
I feel like I'm eight months pregnant with The Tropics Marfa and am getting ready for a pretty messy birth, so to be honest, all I'm thinking about for now is staying healthy, eating and sleeping right, and getting the proverbial nursery ready. I'm planning on being a heavily engaged matriarch there, so I'll probably be mono-focused on the program for at least the next five years. Ask me in 2020 . . .