Holli Smith

Interview by
Felix Burrichter
Photography by
Kuba Ryniewicz


Laid back lesbian
Fashion hair powerhouse
Quasi exclusive with the house of Balenciaga
Always peppy
From the Bay Area, now in NYC
Just bought a house in Upstate New York
Interviewed in Paris
Photographed in Paris
Has a dachshund
Engaged to Pony
On perms, pets and double penetration

Felix: There’s a cliché that a hairdresser, just like an interior designer, is more like a therapist? Is that true?
Holli: It really depends. Some people don’t think about it that much, but for others it’s a really heavy statement, it’s so much about identity. I like to internalize the position that the person is in, so I can intuitively ward off options and figure out what’s going to be right for them. Cutting someone’s hair from long to short is the most radical and so fun for a hairdresser. But ultimately, it’s better to find suitability and I always like people to not look like they’ve had a salon haircut.
What does a salon haircut look like?
It’s kind of stuck, so it’s harder to recreate on your own.
And you don’t do that?
I give kind of a foundation of a cut that has some traditional aspects, but after that I kind of just like shred it and make it look like it’s been grown out for a while. The longer I can make a haircut last the more options I have for the next haircut.
Where did you grow up?
In California. I grew up in Salinas and in Santa Cruz, and San Francisco. I’ve also lived a little bit in Sacramento, but mostly in the Bay Area.
And how and why did you start cutting hair?
When I was in high school I was already kinda playing with tons of products and with my hair, and with other friends’ hair, and then I found out for like people who are drop-outs, or that like get pregnant in high school, that they have this like continuing educational program called ‘ROP’ which is short for Regional Occupational Program. It’s basically like a trade-type school option. I wasn’t pregnant, nor did I drop out, but it was a grant to go to beauty school for free.
Did you already have a signature haircut in high school?
My hair is really curly, so it always got mushroomy. I’d have horrible experiences at hair salons because people didn’t know how to do curly hair. I used a ton of pomade. I even used Knox gelatin, which is what people use for Mohawks, but I used it to flatten my hair, just to make it look as wet as possible.
Based on your look today, you still do!
Yeah, I still do. (laughs) Pomade became so commercial in the 90s, and I stopped so hardcore. Then I had short hair, and then dry hair, I had mullets…my whole idea is to not have a haircut. I want to keep my big hair, and I want to keep its natural color. I already work in this industry; I really don’t want to look like a hairdresser. I want to wear zero make-up, and I like my hair grey.
When I was 16 years old, I found out my mom wasn’t blonde, but actually, she was grey. It had never even occurred to me that any of that was not natural. It’s such a commitment!
Sometimes people see one strand and they’re like, ‘I’m grey now!’ and it’s a bummer because like people just start coloring their hair because they don’t know how to deal with that. Now there’s even much younger people who are dying their hair silver or grey. It has somehow started allowing people who have premature grey.
There’s definitely a lot of color experimentation right now. Everybody wants to play with color. It kind of goes through waves: Pink wave, blue wave, the green wave…
It’s like a rite of passage in life. Getting color is old news now. Even mohawks are a child’s haircut. The reason why I use this as an example is that some radical things don’t have the same meanings anymore. It’s just kid’s stuff.

BUTT - Holli2
Holli booked Pony online for an NSA encounter and now they're happily engaged!

Is there a style you hate? Or where you are like: thank you, absolutely not?
I don’t have an issue with any style, but I do have problems with the word “mullet.” My entire career people have been like, ‘I’m gonna do a mullet story, Holli would be great for this’, or people will be asking me like, ‘we’re writing a new article on Mohawks and we’d love to hear what you think!’ and I’m always like, ‘it’s not new, it’s not fresh’. The article should really be about what we used to think of as a “mullet” has now become a bi-level cut, and it’s just a normal cut.
Oh, I love bi-level!
Yeah, there are like so many variations of it. But if someone says to me – business in the front, party in the back — I could kill myself. (laughs)
I had no idea you were pigeonholed for mullets and mohawks. If I told you now, Holli, I want to dye my hair pink. What would you say?
I think you should do it!
But you’re just not going to do it?
I prefer to do color on wigs, not on clients. Because that’s a whole other psychology, and for me that’s reserved for my cuts…
Is it because when you dye someone’s hair pink, you’re not just dealing with the texture of the hair but you’re actually dealing with the person who, for whatever reason, made that decision to get pink hair?
Exactly. It’s an energy transfer.
Is cutting hair ever sexual?
It has been. I’ve definitely have done haircuts on a lot of people that I’ve wound up hooking up with or even having relationships with, um, it’s not like a move that I try to make. It has happened that someone’s said, *seductive voice* ‘oh, you should cut my hair…’ And I’m just like, *awkward voice* ‘okay…’

Symmetry is important. Like the entry and the exit, the energy flow.

I wanted to suggest giving you “keywords” and you free associate for each. Is that okay?
Yeah, let’s do it!
Okay, so let’s start with “San Francisco.” What does San Francisco mean to you?
Discovery, drugs. Raw talent, like historically acid, crack… And music.
How important is music?
It makes me feel in a mediative space and like creative space, all my deepest feelings, and all of my sensitivity and my empath persona. The fact that I’m an empath, I’m sensitive to other people’s feelings.
Is there any music you hate? (laughs)
It’s hard, because every time I say something that I hate I usually end up liking it.
Is there something you hate in late 2021?
It’s really hard for me to like pop music. I don’t get this tween little kid thing.
Like Baby Shark or Ariana Grande?
I think Ariana Grande has a really amazing voice and actually the music she’s making, whoever is writing it for her, is really pretty amazing. I just don’t understand Justin Bieber. I can’t listen to it. I can’t foundationally try…I don’t want to spend the energy figuring out why it should be good.
Let’s hope you don’t have to do his hair.
I was pretty close recently. In the end, he had his own grooming team.
For some reason, I organized these not alphabetically, but by alliteration. I have San Francisco, next up is “Sex”.
Yeah, sex has been a super empowering thing for me. I learned about my first strengths through it. I also really let sex become a centerpiece in my mind. When I was a kid, it took over my mind pretty strongly.
When you say you were a kid, you mean like 20 something?
In San Francisco, I was pretty over sexed. Pretty naturally overly sexualized. I really liked to connect with people sexually when I was really young, but then I realized that I needed a more mature approach to it and letting go of it was really empowering. I don’t ever want to be a heavy-sided with sex, I think it’s a really powerful thing and you can get manipulated with it. It became really important for me to connect with sex again, and actually, like Pony was a sex worker and I found him on the internet, and I hired him…
That’s how you guys met?
That’s how we met in New York. I’m not ashamed of it and he’s not doing sex work anymore. He’s always been all over the place. He’s actually from Atlanta originally, but he came from the Pacific Northwest. When I met him, it was really familiar because he knew some of the people I knew, he knew the music world, and we’re about four years different in age. He just knew my background, and it just felt like home.
Did you have overlapping romances, or?
Not with him. What’s pretty amazing is that when we decided to take this more personal, committed thing, we still talked about him doing sex work, but because of COVID, he stopped doing it. I’ve always been very pro sex work. When we decided to make things more committed what was really amazing was that we already knew each other from a starting point, our taboos, things that you never really feel like you can express.
On a first date?
When you’re getting to know a person in the first year, you don’t know if you can express certain things until you’re in it.
You never know whether it’s gonna be a deal breaker for someone, or?
Absolutely, or later on you find out this person has this history and you’re just like ‘oh, my god what was that like???’, and your mind goes to places. It was not the way it was for us. Before Pony, I was in a relationship for eight years and I didn’t really want to have another, I didn’t want to hook up with anyone that I knew. I was back and forth to Paris all the time, so I started hooking up online via sex sites. It’s not that I was picking a transgender male because I want to be with a male. It’s mostly because that person understands my anatomy. He’s been on a transgender journey for the last five years. I still call myself a lesbian. Still sometimes, people are like, ‘oh, what are you straight now?’ but that’s like from my lesbian friends giving me hard time. Which is weird, but it’s like we’ve just decided that we’re a queer family.

BUTT - Holli4
Holli, who is fine with being called either "hairstylist" or "hairdresser", draws everybody in with her welcoming smile and disarming physical ease.

The next keyword is “Perm.”
I love Perms. I really love shape and I you can create shape when you add a perm. I’ve actually done a few shows with perms. Someone with straight hair never really gets to experience like things coming away from their body.
Do you do red carpet?
I’ve done some MET Balls. It’s really a different world. I’ve met a lot of celebrities, but a lot of people need you to go on press tours with them. That’s not how I work. It’s important for me to work where I’m actually doing something that’s transformative, instead of a people-pleaser hairstyle. I’ve always connected more with fashion than I have with celebrity stuff.
Is there a celebrity that you would love to do the hair? Other than Justin Bieber, of course. (laughs) Actually, would you like to do Ariana Grande? Would you like to revise the pony tail?
It’s iconic, but it’s something she did. I’d rather be the one who decided to give her the ponytail.
We got Perm, how about “Pets”?
Hugo is my dog right now, but he’s not here right now because they don’t really do emotional support dogs since COVID, airlines have changed their rules since 2021. We’re in the process of getting him a service dog medallion, where we actually have to do like maybe 120 hours of service training.
Did you grow up with pets?
Cats. Dogs. Birds. Fish. Rats. Rabbits. I have a younger brother too, and all three of us really benefitted from having animals growing up. I highly highly recommend having pets for children because it helps you take care of something. You figure out what another being needs. Sometimes it’s your first experience with life and death. It’s really an extreme connection.

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Okay, so on my list, we have Perm, Pets, and “Porn”!
My boyfriend has basically done porn, and it’s… well, fiancé, actually.
Oh, right! Congratulations! I’m only going to refer to Pony as your fiancé now.
Yeah, exactly, you should. I’m trying to say that word and it’s just so funny. Porn is really important. Of course, there’s this like obscurity of how real bodies are and how real bodies work. At a certain point, it’s an instruction manual that helps you understand what you’re interested in. I think it has been essential to allowing people to pursue all these different possibilities of what sex can be. I love it!
If I went on your PornHub, what would be your search history?
DP for sure! (laughs) I like watching double penetration because it basically just gets to the point and it’s hilarious. I also like ogre porn, like anime ogre porn. I really like the voices in it and it’s the darkness.
Is it straight or gay ogre porn?
Either/or. There are moments where it’s pretty funny to watch a vagina or an asshole get ripped open by a big monster dick! I do like penetration. That connection is exciting to watch. I watch a lot of gay men and straight porn, but I don’t really watch lesbian. It’s not very interesting, it’s not ever done well and there’s also all the performative aspects.
Do you watch porn on the phone, on the computer, or on the big flat screen?
I don’t have a big flat screen TV, but on my phone a lot and also my computer is fun. Me and Pony, we’re able to have so much fun and laugh and be serious and have super-heated moments and just like porn in the middle of it if we want. I’m having so much fun with him.
From porn… to “Paris”!
I’ve been traveling here since like 2002. After I got out of beauty school, I lucked out and got to learn from this person named Joosh. That was how I learned to cut. Then I went on this journey. Somehow, I met Guido Palau and got to join his team and so then that was like this opportunity that changed my life. So, Paris! I was coming here so much I thought maybe I should live here and learn the language.
Do you speak French now?
I won’t even try to tell you what I know. It’s such a disaster.
“Butts”! What’s your take on asses?
Oh, I love asses. What a great time to have an ass, It doesn’t need to be all Kim Kardashian, but she has done a lot to help people use their body shapes more. I’ve always had more of a butt, that’s always been my primary shape, my force, my asset. I love my asset and I love butt play.
I really like to see more skin than tattoos if I’m being honest. But I like tattoos. My boyfriend is really covered in the front.
So are you! You got your fair share.
I have tattoos, but I really like skin… I like tattoos. I got my mom and dad’s initials, LRB and SAS and this is old Latino Gangster West Coast kind of prison writing, which is kind of where I came from in Salinas. I have these ones that say Just Kiddin’ I really like stick-and-poke because your friends can do it.
You have a lot of symmetrical tattoos. Is symmetry important to you?
Symmetry is important. Like the entry and the exit, the energy flow, I don’t even know how to explain it, like it just feels right. I like to have symmetry, but then I like to put rawness in it, I like to have things more visually balanced than precision perfect.
Do you have any tattoos that you regret?
Do I have any tattoos that regret? I have twinkle toes on my toes, but I don’t really regret this though. Before I got them, I was like, ‘How is it gonna look when I’m 80?’ In the end, I don’t try to regret anything.

Originally published in BUTT 30