After 16 cycles of America’s Next Top Model, judge Nigel Barker decided to let his hair down. The noted fashion photographer sat down with Wetpaint to talk about his new look, Fashion Week, modeling, and more.
How are you handling the public reaction to your new hair style?
It’s been funny. It’s one of those weird things. Obviously, people are so used to seeing me with a shaved head. I kind of [started to grow my hair out] for a couple of reasons. I didn’t really think too much of it, and then once you get into the public eye, people take a couple of pictures of you. Then, sort of a storm came up. Literally, people were constantly coming up to me at Fashion Week: “Oh my God! Your hair! You’ve got hair!” I thought it was amusing, and then I saw this poll [on Wetpaint], and I’m like, “This is so interesting.” It’s made such an impression on people. So, here we are!
At Fashion Week, Miss J actually referred to you as completely unrecognizable!
Which I slapped him for afterwards! I’m like, “You are such a bitch, Miss J!” – just cause I’ve taken the limelight off his changing hairdos for a split second. I mean, it’s a joke. You know, he looked at me, he’s [gave] me that evil eye. The irony of it is that, yeah for sure there are a bunch of people who don’t recognize you, which actually I kind of relished a little bit. It was rather nice. There’s also a bunch of people who it doesn’t make any difference to at all. Actually, it also is almost like a… not a challenge, but a process meeting people. Realizing how certain people are very aware of things like your hairstyle and the way you’re dressed, and other people absolutely have no idea. In fact, it was mostly women that noted the fact that I had hair. They’re like, “Oh my goodness, you’ve got hair!” Many of my male friends, who I’ve known for years, would just come up to me, start talking and not say anything. Then, all of a sudden [they] would say, “You look slightly different, have you lost some weight?” and I’m like, “Well, not really, but I’ve got hair.” And they’re like, “Oh yeah! That’s so funny!” They had been talking for 10 minutes and never noticed.
Why did you decide to grow your hair out?
[There are] a couple of reasons. The main reason, and it’s very simple, is that I’ve got two kids. One of them is a little girl called Jasmine. She’s two-and-a-half, and pretty much the first expression out of her mouth, when she could string more than a couple of words together, was “Dada no hair!” She would always tap me on my head – she’d be on my shoulders, and she’d rub my shaved head and say, “Dada no hair! Dada no hair!” She has, on the other hand, extraordinary, beautiful curly locks all over her head. I said to her, “Well no Jas, Dada does have hair. I just shave my head.” She’d laugh and giggle and go, “Dada no hair!” Just this morning, when she woke up, she was in the bed playing with my hair and was like, “Dada... nice hair!” I looked at her and was like, “You have no idea the storm I’m in because of me growing my hair out to prove it to you, honey.” Whether I keep it or not, I don’t know. I doubt in the long run I will because I find that it’s just one more thing I need to do.
Why do you prefer shaving your head?
I used to have lots of long hair, and as a model I did many shampoo commercials and hair commercials, and I was known for having quite a thick head of hair. When I started getting into photography, one of the first things I did was shave all my hair off, really to say, “Look, I’m not about that side of my vanity.” I love to get up and go. I love to have a very clean and simple look, and I don’t have to bother. Of course now, I have to think about hair product and people coming up to me and talking about my hair. I’m like, you know what, I’ve got really important things to do. I don’t need this. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll keep it until next season of America’s Next Top Model and see what Tyra and the folks say there. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get a makeover too!
How important do you think hair is to an individual’s identity and aesthetic?
Well, I think it is important. Despite how often we take things like [hair] for granted, this is a specific example of you change something just slightly… this is only six weeks growth I have on my head. I decided to not shave my head after I finished shooting Cycle 16 of Top Model. That was in December. It’s February and this is what I have, and already people are like, “Oh my God, you look completely unrecognizable” or “Oh, you look so much younger!” It’s interesting, especially with men cause men are obviously considered to be – you know when they get older, they’re balding or what have you. If you have a full head of hair, that’s a good thing. There’s a whole bunch of people who were like, “I didn’t even know you could grow hair. I thought you were bald!” That’s the same reason my daughter thought I was bald. It's interesting that people put a lot of emphasis on the way you look. It’s a big deal for people. Going gray is another thing. Now, all of a sudden, you can see I have loads of gray hairs. I look younger cause I have a full head of hair, but at the same time I’ve got gray hair, so [I] look a little bit older. It’s funny. You don’t think about it too much when you don’t have any, until all of a sudden you grow it back and people talk about it a lot. I know Tyra’s hair is constantly being talked about. Miss J is constantly playing with his hair style – that’s part of his whole shtick. Jay Manuel has silver hair. So, obviously, this is something which people pay a lot of attention to.
During Fashion Week, you mentioned that it would be great to see different body shapes on the runway.
What do you believe are the first steps the fashion industry needs to take in order to promote diversity?
First of all, it’s definitely a hard step for [designers] to show a whole slew of different shapes, and I’ll tell you the reason. Sometimes people get quite confused with what runway shows are all about. Ultimately, a lot of these young designers don’t have the money to make a slew of samples in a variety of shapes and sizes, which is one of the things. That’s why it’s nice to at least see a slew of different skin tones on there. All too often it was just one look, one shade, and mostly white girls who were super skinny on the runway. Back in the day, runway shows were really all about selling clothes and showing a collection, mostly to editors and buyers. Now, certainly in the past few years, the past five particularly, runway shows have become this huge showcase that’s open to the public and photographs are everywhere. Everyone is trying to get into the shows, and it’s a very public affair. The old school way of doing a fashion show just for this small, exclusive bunch of people is no longer the case. That’s really just maybe the front row, but even the front row these days is sort of celebrities and not actually people who are buying or taking note of what’s being designed. Some of the bigger designers who sell and market their clothes to everybody, and sell their clothes in all kinds of shapes and sizes, if they really want to be smart – and I think that’s really what it is – it’s not so much [about] taking a risk. I think whatever designers can afford to make their collection in a variety of shapes and sizes for that very first sample that goes out on the runway, I think they would be received enormously well. I think the press all over the world would talk about it. I’m shocked that no designer has picked up on it. Oh my goodness! If I was a designer, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’d be like, “This is great press. It shows that I’m a really good designer because it’s not just that I’m designing for someone who looks like a clothes hanger. I can actually design clothes that will look good on a whole slew of shapes and sizes, and here you go to prove it.” I think that would be an enormous accolade for any designer.
Are there any model habits that bother you?
(laughs) I definitely think the vanity of it all sometimes can get you down. I think it can be a little much when people are just totally consumed with their looks, which I think is all too often the case. It’s a shame. It maybe seems ironic because I live and work in the fashion business, but that’s partly the reason. Anyone who knows me and knows what I do, knows that I’m involved in a multitude of different ventures, many of them humanitarian and I see all walks of life. I love the fashion business, but I do find that all too often we’re too consumed with the way we look.
You've been known to do quite a bit of charity work. What drives you to get personally involved with a particular cause?
When you have the opportunity to make a difference, you should. I certainly find it very rewarding. [It’s] the opportunity to make a difference in my life and in other people’s lives, and to be a role model to my children and potentially to Top Model viewers. You only have one life. My motto has always been, “If you live it right, then hopefully one should be enough.” When you realize how much you have to give and how easy it is to give, I feel one should be jumping at every opportunity to do so. People often say, “Oh, I haven’t got time” or “I haven’t got money,” but there’s always time to do the right thing. Even if it’s just being civil to one another, you’d be surprised how nice that can be and what a difference you can make in the world. All too often we ignore everyone and just think of ourselves. All too often the simple things are lost.
With Cycle 16 set to premiere on Wednesday, February 23, 2011 what other projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on a new film that I’m directing. It’s a documentary about a day in the life of a child in Haiti. We go out in March to start filming there. It’s my second documentary in Haiti. I did one called Haiti: Hunger & Hope in 2008. This will be a very different story altogether, a much simpler, smaller story, but a beautiful story about a [young] girl. The idea is – instead of looking at the big picture, which everyone is always doing, especially with Haiti – to look at a small story and show what it’s like just to live a day in Haiti. From getting up and doing the simple things in life, people can really see what a young girl has to go through – how difficult it is, but at the same time how similar she is to you and me. That’s the story there. I love telling stories. I’m a photographer and an image maker. Having the ability to shine a light on an issue and use my trade, so to speak, to make a difference is important.
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