One of the beauty world’s biggest rock stars, celebrity hairstylist Ted Gibson’s work regularly appears in Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Allure, with clients including Angelina Jolie, Lupita Nyong’o, and Anne Hathaway. But while you’re likely to find Gibson in his Flatiron salon rubbing shoulders with A-listers, he’s as down-to-earth as he is glamorous: Truly one of the nicest guys in the beauty industry. At this year’s Costume Institute Gala at the Met, Gibson styled Pitch Perfect 2 director and star Elizabeth Banks, creating a fierce ponytail to match her sexy turquoise Michael Kors gown. We got the inside scoop on the Met Ball, fashion risks, and why there should be an Oscar for hair from the mane man himself.
TLLC: The theme of this year’s Met Gala was “China: Through the Looking Glass.” How did you decide to interpret this? What were your inspirations?
TG: I love the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and I love a lot of Chinese films and action hero films with really strong, strong, strong women who are doing things guys can’t: Kicking guys’ butts, essentially. So the Met look with Elizabeth couldn’t be romantic hair, it couldn’t be in a topknot, it couldn’t be waves. It had to be a very strong ponytail, which I think fit very well with the theme.
TLLC: Tell us more about Elizabeth’s Met gala beauty look. How involved was she in the creation?
TG: I’ve been working with Elizabeth for years. I’ve done many covers with her, and the day before, I was with her in Philadelphia where she was doing press for Pitch Perfect 2. I think it’s always about collaboration and how to come up with and design a look. She showed me the dress on Sunday when we were in Philadelphia, and we both said immediately: “Let’s do a ponytail off of the face.” We were both on the same page from the get-go. I knew the kind of ponytail I wanted to do wasn’t an ordinary ponytail; I didn’t want to do a round base ponytail with hair around the base. I wanted to do something more architectural—almost ’90s supermodel—because her dress was very sexy and very low-cut.
TLLC: For an event like the Met where the fashion is so scrutinized, do you see the gown in advance, or do you immediately envision possibilities after learning the theme?
TG: It’s a mixture of both. I love to see the gown beforehand because I think one goes with the other. They’re giving Beyoncé a hard time about the ponytail, but I love the ponytail with her dress. If you had gone with classic Beyoncé hair with that dress, it would have been like, whatever. I think the ponytail gave it a little more quirkiness. It took it down a notch so it wasn’t so glamorous; it was really sexy and a little off, which I think is fantastic. Fashion and hair dictate each other.
TLLC: Which celebrity right now do you think is taking the best risks—that are paying off—on the red carpet?
TG: J Lo. She just about every single time hits it out of the park because she does take risks. She understands how to provoke you. They say a woman of a certain age shouldn’t, but she should! It takes a lot of confidence to come to an event where you’re going to be photographed by people and seen all over the world on every newscast. If you have a great body, why not show it off? Like Kim Kardashian coming out with the Selfish book; she’s another one who always takes risks. In our salon, we’re doing a lot of hair that takes ombre to a new level. We’re calling it splay and making it chunky, like Anne Bancroft in The Graduate. It’s a lot stronger and a lot bolder because that’s what’s happening in fashion; women are becoming stronger, bolder, and taking risks. I’m very about that.
TLLC: What were your favorite fashion and beauty looks of the night?
TG: Rihanna, of course. A lot of people hated it, but I loved it—I thought it was great. I loved Lady Gaga, too. The Met Ball is about taking it there and she always does. When I did Lupita last year, she wore the flappery green Prada and people panned it, but I thought it was great because she took the risk.
TLLC: You’ve worked with some of the biggest A-listers in the world. Is there one you haven’t yet worked with who you’re dying to?
TG: Publicists and movie execs call me to work with women who are getting ready to become a star, getting ready to become that iconic red carpet woman. Throughout my career, that’s what has happened: Angelina Jolie, Gabrielle Union, Lupita Nyong’o, Jessica Chastain. Elizabeth Banks has her first directorial debut with Pitch Perfect 2. It’s going to be a big movie for her and she has three more movies coming out this year. Yesterday, I worked with Ruth Wilson who was just nominated for a Tony. I like to work with women on the brink; it’s so much fun. I don’t need to work with Cher, even though I love Cher! It’s about working with the red carpet darlings before they become darlings.
TLLC: The Met Gala is often known as the Oscars of the East Coast. You’ve been vocal in lobbying for a special Academy Award category just for hair, and were instrumental in getting the category changed from Best Makeup to Makeup and Hairstyling. Can you tell us more about this, and do you still hope for an individual category?
TG: I’ve been a hairdresser for 25 years and, as a hairdresser, I can say we are underrated. I always say, “Hair changes everything.” When a woman is getting ready to change her job or find a new man, to go from college into the work force, she changes her hair. I use the hashtag, #Hairchangeseverything. I never hear anybody say, “I’m having a bad skin day,” but you always hear that: “I’m having a bad hair day.” When I found out that hair didn’t have a category, I thought, the Emmy’s have a category for hair, so why is it that the Oscars don’t? I decided to put together a social media initiative, and after a little bit of pressure, they included hair with makeup. But hair should have its own ballot. It’s two different ideas: You don’t want me to do your makeup! A person who’s at the top of their field, they don’t do both hair and makeup: They do hair or makeup. It’s very important that we get recognized separately. On set, the director plans hair, makeup, and wardrobe to decide the character; who is that girl, and what do we want her to look like? I think the hair in those moments really reflects and evokes a feeling, and I think that’s Oscar-worthy. I’m still lobbying for it, and I’m still working to make sure that they separate the category. I’m grateful they went ahead and put hair on the ballot, but we still have a lot of work to do.