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Dutch by birth and Catalan by adoption, Paul Gehring can give his courses in seven languages and is one of the most acclaimed trainers in the whole of Europe.
Born in a small Dutch town near the German border, Paul Gehring has spent more than half his life on the Maresme coast to the north of Barcelona. A real ‘Made in Europe’ product, Gehring is a real fan of training and can give his successful courses in up to seven different languages. Between one of his trips, we met in a charming Japanese tavern in downtown Barcelona, just before he packed his bags again to head off to Germany.
In the beginning, you chose Barcelona. Why was that?
Well, I was working in a prestigious salon in the German city of Düsseldorf. It was back in the 1980s when I was young and saw my life passing away through the salon’s window, located in one of the most famous streets of the city.
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I felt as though I was in a gilded cage and felt the need to escape. So one of my friends was going out with a Catalan girl at the time and asked me ‘Paul, why don’t you come to Barcelona?’ I was earning a very good salary and my boss was concerned: ‘Don’t tell me you are going to give up your salary in German marks for Spanish pesetas’. But I left everything, packed my bags and just left… Eventually ending up getting married (and divorced) to my friend’s girlfriend!
How did you start off your career in Catalonia?
In the beginning I didn’t know anyone and at first I settled in Calella, a beautiful town on the Barcelona coast visited by thousands of tourists every year. I was reading the newspaper one day and I saw an interview with Lluís Llongueras that said ‘from his summer house in Arenys de Mar’. Arenys is very near Calella, so I decided to go and see him. It was quite funny, I just walked from street to street asking people ‘excuse me, do you know where Llongueras lives?’… Until I eventually found his house and rang the doorbell. Lluís agreed to see me and I wanted to show him a video I had with me of my work as a trainer in Germany. I don’t know whether he liked it very much, but he told me ‘the music is very good’ (laughs)… And that was the beginning of our long professional relationship that lasted for years.
What was the best thing about your time at Llongueras?
They prepared me to become a teacher in his Institute. I learnt a lot and travelled around Spain as a trainer, visiting this wonderful country. It was a really great time in my life. I also spent a year in Italy working as a Llongueras trainer. Since the day we met in Arenys, I have never worked in a salon again. My vocation was – and still is – training.
“Hairdressing which satisfies the real client is what I am interested in”
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To the sound of drums
“I can’t work without music”, claims Paul Gehring, who could not have evolved as a person or a professional without the music that has been constantly accompanying him. “Some people always listen to the same music as when they were young, they are closed off to new things, claiming that the things from the past ‘were really good’… However I personally use music to evolve: I always want to hear new things, just like I also want to find new restaurants, new places, new books… This is the only way to keep up to date and not be trapped in your own past.”
How does Paul Gehring see hairdressing?
I think hairdressing must make sense and making sense means always thinking about the end customer, about their needs and expectations. I have attended a lot of events, contests and training sessions where they presented hairdressing for hairdressers, without considering whether or not this is something useful in the real world and that is something that really does not interest me at all. It doesn’t work for me.
What is the hairdressing model you use for your training sessions?
I aim for real hairdressing, what you see on the street, and to achieve this I precisely study customers’ needs and expectations and offer them suitable solutions to create growth in salon business. This is why we not only refer to features, facial appearance, colour ranges in our courses… But we also re-educate customers and take them beyond their expectations. We achieve this by promoting good communication and working on reinforcement of empathy between people.
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Never before has such emphasis been placed on the importance of training in this sector.
That’s right, nowadays training is more important than ever. However it is still not enough. Hairdressers are usually closed off within four walls and it is hard for us to go out and look for new things, take courses, training sessions, attend seminars… find help, and all this should be done a lot more. The Internet, for example, is a very powerful tool and all the possibilities it offers have still not been fully exploited. I mean videos for example, they are a very valuable format that I personally use a lot and there are thousands in the Internet that can provide us with information and knowledge… And they are just a click away.
Where do you find your inspiration when creating your new collections?
There was a time when we followed very much the work of designers on the catwalks of London, Milan or New York. Nowadays however we focus more and more on what is happening in the streets of large cities… in the same way as designers do. We are lucky enough to travel a lot: Milan, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, Amsterdam… These are cities where you can find out what is happening in fashion in the street and where you can discover trends that will have a worldwide impact.
“We must open our minds and learn to view the client in a different way”
What are the most important aspects for your courses?
Taste. Teaching people to detect what works to enhance customers’ appearance and offer a top rank service above and beyond any technical considerations. Don’t misunderstand me; technique is all well and good… But it is certainly overvalued. What customers need is that their hairdresser has good taste and knows how to make the best of their personal beauty, at the same time with their gestures, abilities and attitude during the service hairdressers should make the person in their hands the most important person in the world for the time they are together.
But how do you teach something like that?
Opening up people’s minds and teaching them to see our customers in a different way. In this respect, something that helps us a great deal, for example in a course that we call ‘Best Age’, is to work with real customers instead of models: mature women with real faults and fears for whom we provide real solutions. It is a course that is very successful and we are sharing the before and after results on Facebook with an incredible following. Something else we do, above all with hairdressers from northern Europe, is to bring them to Barcelona to learn to let go and work on their gestures. They are very creative training sessions to which we invite chefs or flamenco ‘bailaores’ who teach them to move in a different way. Body language is a crucial factor in a hairdressing salon!
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You know very well the real situation in Europe, what do you think Spanish people can learn from northern countries?
Generally speaking, I think they are more aware of the importance of running a salon under the right conditions: with good design, with the best comforts for customers, additional services, etc. And most hairdressers here should pay greater attention to these aspects.
Travelling thousands of miles year after year, giving courses around the world. How do you keep going?
Quite honestly, not very well! (Laughs). It’s strange; in a society where people are becoming larger and larger… Aircraft seats are becoming smaller and smaller and narrower and narrower! Actually working almost every weekend away from home, it is difficult for me to take care of myself. After a long working day, one can choose to go jogging or have a glass of wine… And I must confess that lately I have been choosing a glass of wine… Or even two! (Laughs)