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Articles > Reclaiming the Passion
December 30, 2016

Reclaiming the Passion

By Jackie Summers

 

Ammon Carver is having one of the best—if not THE best—years of his life. He was a finalist in the Men’s, Texture and Master Stylist categories of this year’s North American Hairstyling Awards. During the evening, his Ammon Carver Studio team won the NAHA for its powerful collection of bold, graphic, black and white images. Five minutes later, the legendary Antoinette Beenders announced his name as the winner of the Master Hairstylist Award. And, if that wasn’t enough, the following week he was selected as a finalist in the Editorial and Men’s categories of the behindthechair.com #ONESHOT Hair Awards.

 

His unique salon/studio hybrid in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood is on fire—there are now nine stylists caring for the cool and artistic members of the Chelsea community, and the place bustles seven days a week. The photo studio in the back of the salon is a constant hive of creative activity. As co-creative director for L’ANZA Healing Haircare, Ammon’s in constant demand, jumping on a plane nearly every weekend to share his friendly and inclusive style of education with colleagues around the world, or working with the L’ANZA creative team on initiatives to propel the brand forward. And then there’s the philanthropy. True to his belief that our profession is about more than “winning awards and doing beautiful hair,” he frequently frees up time in his insane schedule to share his talents at homeless shelters or fundraisers or create upstyles for special needs kids. He’s in constant motion, he’s rarely home, he hardly ever has a day off. And he’s never been happier. Even more important, he’s never felt more like his authentic self.

 

“It’s funny,” he says candidly. “For a long time, I was working so hard to be the best, coolest, strongest hairdresser and educator, racing around to learn and be at the top of my game. More and more, I was drifting away from the passion that drew me to the profession initally. Then, with L’ANZA, I found a company that reconnected me to my mission of serving a higher purpose. And when I was able to put together my salon team, it all came together. Not a day goes by that they don’t inspire me creatively and emotionally.”

 

The AC Brand
Ambitious stylists and educators today can take several roads to success. They can go the traditional route of aligning with a manufacturer and becoming the voice and face of a product brand. They can achieve success in the salon world, catering to a loyal, high- profile clientele. They might attract attention photographically—through social media or in print. They may make a name for themselves with heartfelt gestures of philanthropic outreach. Or they may create their own educational intitiatives, offering customized programs. Ammon Carver has found a way to weave together all of the above to form his unique Ammon Carver brand.

 


Every artist can name the people who have, and continue to, impact their creative growth, from day one. For Ammon, the list is eclectic. “[Aveda Creative Director] Antoinette Beenders for sure,” he begins.

 

What is the Ammon Carver brand? In a nutshell, it’s healthy, accessible, sophisticated beauty for clients Ammon refers to as “energy seekers.” He explains, “They want the best, they know what a good haircut or color looks like and they’re willing to pay for it. But they’re not interested in gold-plated coffee cups. They’re cool and down to earth. I come from a large family in Utah, and we didn’t have much. As I’ve evolved in my career, I’ve come to appreciate quality, but it has to be practical. I believe in luxury with a purpose—nothing frivolous or extraneous. And above all, it has to be fun—there is nothing glamorous about anything or anyone that takes itself too seriously! That reflects the values of the Ammon Carver client.”

 

Ammon Carver Studio 
One of the most significant ways in which the brand manifests is the Ammon Carver Studio in New York. When he first moved to the city from Utah, Ammon worked for two top salons—first Warren Tricomi, then Mizu. As he built his New York clientele, he also had time to think about what his own ideal salon would look like.

 

“I sat down with my manager, Aida [Angotti], to brainstorm,” he remembers. “They say do what you love so I thought really hard about what I love. I love doing creative, collaborative photo shoots. I was a Matrix artist at the time and I loved traveling and educating. I love connecting with clients. I also knew that packing a salon with as many stations and stylists as possible, and being cuffed to that, felt like a life sentence.”

 


The salon team offers healthy, accessible, sophisticated beauty
for clients Ammon refers to as “energy seekers.”

 

So Ammon went exploring until he found the perfect real estate. It’s a second-story space on Chelsea’s West 17th Street with huge windows overlooking the cafes and coffee shops and stores on the chic and sunny block below. In his mind, he saw that the front could accommodate four open styling stations. In the center of the shotgun-style space, opposite a large brick wall, there was room for shampoo bowls, a dispensary and a small kitchen. The back was large enough to install a small photo studio. As he sketched out the space, Ammon decided against putting up walls or doors. “I didn’t think my salon clients would mind pushing aside wardrobe racks or watching models get dressed if there was a photo shoot going on,” he laughs. “I knew they would like being part of the energy and creativity around them.”

 

With the vision in place, it was time to get to work. “The day I got the keys to the studio, I opened the door and I immediately reverted back to that 23-year-old kid from Utah,” he remembers. “It was a mess. It needed to be built out. I thought, ‘What do I do now? Can I do this? What do I know about building and running a salon?’ But Aida was right behind me, she saw the fear and she said, ‘Babe, there’s nowhere to go but in this direction. It’s scary, but we’re going to kill this.’”

 

It turned out that hammering and nailing the place together was easy. As every salon owner knows, the hardest part of a salon start-up is staffing. Unlike most high-end New York salons, the Ammon Carver Studio would be a commission-based model with employees. But Ammon wasn’t envisioning a traditional, nine-to-five set up. He knew the artists he wanted to employ would probably need to work flexible hours to accommodate clients like actors and models and bartenders with unconventional schedules. He didn’t want to tether his team to the place—if they didn’t have clients scheduled, he wanted them to be able to be out pursuing other interests and work. He himself would be doing the same thing as an educator. That meant everyone had to be self-motivating, independent and responsible, able to manage their own schedules and trustworthy enough to have keys to the front door. So he put the word out that he was hiring and…nobody showed up.

 


Nailing together a new salon is easy. Staffing it is hard, and at first,
chairs filled slowly, but now Ammon feels he has a stellar team in place.

 

“Staffing started so slowly,” Ammon says. “I didn’t anticipate that. I thought if I opened the doors, they would come. Tovah, who assisted me at Warren Tricomi, came right away. Then it stopped. Then a few more came. Then finally, two or three months later, was the tipping point. I had been paying Mark Bustos to cut my hair because I thought he was awesome and I wanted to convince him to work for me. But as I got to know him, I learned about the passion he had for his #BeAwesomeToSomebody movement and I thought, ‘OK dude, I’m glad to have met you and you need to go and do your own thing.’ But one day, Mark walked in my salon with his best friend, a guy named Manny Rolon. This guy looks so tough—like he could kill somebody—but he’s the kindest person. He’s also into giving back, so he joined us and we started doing charitable events and that attracted more and more people. Today Manny is my creative director and MVP. Another stylist, Cristin Armstrong, is our director of philanthropy. She makes sure we do something to give back every month. She’s the best human being I ever met in my life. “Today, we have a group of amazing team members, and every one of them brings something special that has contributed to the growth of the studio.”

 

Collaborative Leadership
A completely unexpected by-product of the Ammon Carver Studio has been the discovery of a side of himself that he didn’t anticipate. “I didn’t realize how much mentoring I would do, and enjoy,” he says. “But that’s how it has turned out. I want the people who work for us to pursue their interests, whether that’s developing photographic portfolios, producing shoots or organizing philanthropic projects.”

 

To that end, Ammon sits down with his team members each month to check in and see how he can help them grow. That’s what led to appointing Manny as Ammon Carver Studio creative director. In this role, he is responsible for conceptualizing, casting and running a shoot for the salon once a month. The work is then posted to social media, presented to magazines for consideration and of course, inserted into individual stylists’ portfolios.

 

As the salon has grown, so has the photo studio. It is rented out frequently, and contributes substantially to the business’s bottom line. It also has created a talent pool of photographers, models and makeup artists who like the Ammon Carver team and are willing to work within the salon’s budgets. As a result, Ammon is able to engage all of his stylists in photo projects frequently, and that’s why winning the NAHA Salon Team award was so special.

 


With two NAHA wins, Ammon’s paying it forward—with a class
designed to teach other stylists how to create a photographic collection.

 

“I’ve gone from being the kid at Christmas to being the dad,” Ammon reveals. “So that night in Vegas, I was so determined that it had to be a magical evening. I had gifts for everyone on the team—little necklaces for all of us to wear. I said, ‘Win or lose, attach the memory of tonight to these necklaces and never forget how this feels.’ I was so emotional. I was nominated many times and I never cared if I won or lost. But it was different with the team. We were so excited in the salon and we went into the event with so much excitement and energy. It’s been a huge shift.”

 

Another thrill for Ammon has been his BTC #ONESHOT Hair Awards experience. He has been a finalist two years in a row, and he cites the competition’s special qualities. “This event is blowing up,” he comments. “It has a lot of credibility. It’s great to see everyone’s work immediately. You don’t have to shoot, then wait months for anyone to see your work. You can share it on social media right away. And after this year’s nomination, I immediately felt the ripple effect of people recognizing the work, and felt the pride of emerging as a finalist among the hundreds of thousands of competitors.”

 

Aida, Ammon’s business and salon manager, is a petite, joyful woman who serves as the loving mama of the salon. On any given day, she could be cooing over a client’s toddler, calling a plumber to repair the hot water heater, checking in on the progress of a photo shoot and tapping away on her computer—all at the same time and always with a smile. Ammon and Aida have worked together for 12 years—they met at Warren Tricomi when she was running a talent agency and they clicked instantly. She has watched her friend grow as a leader and mentor, and every day her admiration for his skills multiplies. “Ammon is notorious for sending text messages out of nowhere,” she reveals, “to an employee, a peer, to me, even to a family member or friend. He tells us how grateful and thankful he is to have us in his life. Even with his busy schedule, the fact that he finds time to do this is amazing. With all of his success, he never loses sight of who he is and the people around him.”

 

Collaborative Learning
After 11 years as a Matrix educator, and ultimately as a Matrix Artistic Director, Ammon received a call from David Berglass, the CEO of L’ANZA, inviting him to join Matt Swinney and Leah Freeman on the company’s creative team. Although he was happy being part of Matrix, Ammon decided to hear David out. “I realized this was a small brand with a unique opportunity,” Ammon recalls. “And I was seduced by the company’s philosophy of talking to hairdressers about the impact they make beyond doing hair. I really wanted to be part of this big movement. I felt so attached to what we talked about. It was hard to leave Matrix—I grew up there. But I knew I needed to be brave in order to move ahead and grow and meet new challenges.”

 

His decision turned out to be better than he imagined. “Working with Matt and Leah—it’s the best. We push each other, we never let each other slack. Matt has the best visual taste of anyone I’ve ever worked with. And I’ve never worked with a more knowledgeable colorist than Leah Freeman. I can’t sing the praises of those two enough.”

 


L’ANZA’s power trio: Leah Freeman, Matt Swinney and Ammon.

 

Today, as part of Team L’ANZA, his instinct to mentor also informs his approach to education—whether he’s doing shows or classes for L’ANZA, or conducting programs like the upcoming Crafting a Collection session at the Ammon Carver Studio in which attendees will create a small photographic collection under the guidance of Ammon and other mentors. “I used to show up and try to wow people with a bunch of cool techniques,” he explains. “Now I don’t worry about dazzling them as much. I would rather connect with my students and show them what they’re capable of doing. I want to talk about how they can become better stylists, and better human beings.”

 

And teaching just may be in his blood. Ammon comes from a family of educators—his parents were both schoolteachers. “My dad taught religion—which could have been the most boring class in school,” he laughs. “But he was an out-of-the-box teacher—he liked to stir things up, surprise the kids, so they actually looked forward to his class. I always keep that in mind. I want to mix things up, make sure everyone is laughing and having a good time. I hope my students think I’m approachable and likeable and that what I teach is easy to understand and easy to implement. We want to share what’s on-trend, but we also want to be sure we show them how to make the trends wearable for the salon.” 

 

More Than Bubbles in a Bottle
A significant part of what Ammon sees as the hairdresser’s higher purpose is giving back. For the Ammon Carver team, that means stepping up wherever or whenever the call comes. “My stylists have really changed and reconnected my perspective about this, and L’ANZA is always ready to help a cause that heals people or the planet,” Ammon comments. The next philanthropic project on the AC agenda is a big one. Cristin is involved with a group called Hear the Hungry, a non-profit organization dedicated to redefining hunger through social action and awareness. The group attempts to empower victims of hunger and develop ties that help elevate them back into mainstream society. When Cristin approached Ammon and asked him to get involved in a Hear the Hungry trip to Mumbai, he didn’t hesitate for a second. What’s more, he reached out to influential friends like Matt Swinney and Salon By InStyle and Matrix Creative Director Nick Stenson. At this point, 10 stylists have committed to traveling to India in early January, and the Ammon Carver Studio has scheduled a cut-a-thon to raise money for the trip in October. “This is how we start to make a bigger impact with the skills we have,” Ammon declares. “This is how we show our profession is about more than bubbles in a bottle.”

 


Ammon believes it’s important to teach the latest trends, and also to
show students how to bring those trends into the salon.

 

Fit For Anything 
On the surface, Ammon Carver is all-American good looks and friendly warmth. “For the past 12 years, Ammon has been the same person all day, every day, to everyone,” Aida confirms. “I always know who I’m getting.” But dig deeper, beneath that easy-going, model-perfect exterior and you’ll find…well you’ll find absolutely nothing scandalous or salacious. Ammon’s only vice, if you could call it that, is his addiction to the gym, and unlike most addictions, this one serves him well. “When I was a teenager, I became body-conscious and went to the gym for vanity,” he admits. “But as I got older and busier, I realized it was a healthy habit that made it easier to manage stress and deal with whatever came my way. It helps me handle every situation with grace. I work out first thing in the morning and it’s almost like meditation. I can wrap my head around the day.”

 

Ammon is also beginning to see his fitness routine as part of his mission to help other hairdressers. “We obviously work in the beauty industry,” he points out. “So the more we take care of our hair, skin and bodies—the healthier we are—the more credibility we have. You wouldn’t hire a trainer who is overweight! I find I’m already influencing the teams I work with—more and more of them are limiting themselves to a few drinks after work, going to bed early, getting up early and going to the gym. When we’re working together, Matt and I head to the gym first thing. We finish our workouts awake, positive and ready to attack the day. We believe we’re setting a good example, and it’s a cool way to impact hairdressers.”

 

Muses and Mentors
Every artist can name the people who have, and continue to, impact their creative growth, from day one. For Ammon, the list is eclectic. “[Aveda Creative Director] Antoinette Beenders for sure,” he begins. “The hair shows that have blown me away have always been hers. After she presented me with my Master Stylist award, all I could think about was how much I wanted a picture with her. When I asked, she said, ‘Are you kidding? You just won this award. I want a picture with YOU!’”

 

He cites the iconic Anthony Mascolo of TIGI as another influence— “He has so much charisma onstage and can connect and inspire hairdressers.” And of course Nick Stenson, who happens to be his best friend. “It’s important to be inspired by people who are making smart decisions and understand how the hair industry works,” he explains. “Nick is killing it creatively and in business.”

 

A current muse happens to be one of his favorite models. Her name is Jennifer Daniels and she appears in many of his collections. “Jen has amazing hair,” Ammon explains, “but there’s so much more. She’s a fashion designer and her boyfriend is a photographer. She really understands how to pose her body to show off the hair, and between shots, we actually exchange ideas. She’s designing a collection made of sustainable fabrics for our program at the BTC COLOR, Cut & Style Show. She’ll be wearing her own designs. She inspires me with her talent.”

 


Jennifer Daniels is one of Ammon’s favorite models and
a perennial muse. “She’s also a fashion designer,” says Ammon.
“She’s always bringing great ideas to our shoots.”

 

In consultation with his mentors, manager and muse, Ammon is formulating intriguing plans for the future. “I could see the Ammon Carver Studio concept in L.A.,” he hints, “with more of a focus on celebrity than editorial. Down the line I would like to dabble in products—maybe tools. I believe firmly there’s a gap in the bridging of beauty and fitness. The woman who sacrifices her fitness because she doesn’t want to sacrifice her hair. I want to think about tools that can support her active lifestyle.”

 

Regardless of where the future takes him, Ammon is certain of one thing. He’ll never lose sight of the importance of surrounding himself with like-minded artists who believe in the healing power of hair—creatively, financially and philanthropically. Because in the end, that’s what really matters.

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