Interior photography by Kat Parker/Red Rabbit Photography
Coco Chanel once said that, “a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life” – but in the case of one young apprentice, it was the man holding the scissors who sparked something quite remarkable. Jaye Edwards, the colour artist behind many of Australia’s famous tousled-yet-meticulous manes, doesn’t do “hairdressery hair” – and he doesn’t run a typical hair salon.
“I don’t like things to look too polished, but I still want them to be polished at the same time,” says Jaye who, at 23, constructed Edwards and Co from the floorboards up. But to call this sprawling Sydney loft (and its sister space in Melbourne) a ‘salon’ at all feels intrinsically wrong.
Here you won’t find a fluorescent-lit, synthetically furnished line-up scented with the funk of singed follicles, or a sad-looking stack of decade-old magazines. Instead, a sun-drenched urban oasis bursts into life as freelance hair and beauty artists arrive, coffees in hand, each running their own business from the shared creative lair.
“It’s happening a hell of a lot more now,” says Jaye of this communal scenario, as his two cavoodles, Rex and Cash, pad around our feet.
“But the biggest difference for us is I still encourage a team environment. Freelancers don’t come in here and just do their clients and go… I encourage everyone to work together. So a freelancer might pay me a fee to be here, but they’re still going to have to clean up and help and interact with other people… I want them to have the freedom and the flexibility, but also to be part of a team.”
A growing team at that, with 34 members working across both sites, including Byron Turnbull (who’s tended to the locks of Jennifer Hawkins and Kate Hudson), Remington Schulz (Ruby Rose and Jimmy Barnes) and make-up artist Fiona Hay (Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman).
“I feel like people who are here want to be here. People aren’t here just because they have a job. I have been in a situation where I’ve had a job just because I’ve needed a job, and it sucks, basically. I don’t want my staff to feel like that.”
Growing up in Young, a small town in the south-west of New South Wales, the man who is said to produce the ‘perfect blonde’ and ‘best brunette’ had no aspirations of working with hair at all. It was only on moving to Sydney at 16 that Jaye took on the trade out of desperation.
“I had no qualifications and it seemed like a logical choice to get an apprenticeship,” recalls Jaye, so he started out assisting at what was then Paddington’s Global Hair – wholly despising the first three years of it. “In the fourth year, when I started to meet people who I wouldn’t have met otherwise, is when I actually started to like it – [people that] have built something from nothing, which for me is really inspiring.”
The first was Australian model Lara Worthington, who personally requested that Jaye do her hair – and she wasn’t disappointed – following Jaye to the chair he came to rent at Torquil Murray in Surry Hills; a salon he was asked to buy into.
“It fell through, so I lost about AU$40,000,” says Jaye, but rather than despair, he reacted with a bold decision: “I’m just going to do my own place. Take all their staff, and close them down,” he grins. “I literally exhausted every avenue of money I could and went looking for a space. This was the first place that I saw and I was like, ‘This is it, we’re doing it.’”
It was a very different scene two years ago, taking three months to transform into the warehouse-style studio that stands today.
“It was probably the worst period of my life,” confesses Jaye, “but also the best period of my life. The day it opened I think I cried all day. In between clients.”
And despite insisting he “had no idea” what he was doing, Jaye’s eye clearly lends itself to interiors. He’s carried a raw timber and whitewashed aesthetic across both Edwards and Co spaces, each with wall paintings of whimsical, wide-eyed figures by Melbourne artist Brian W Connolly at their heart.
Not only does the space draw a fittingly creative clientele, it adapts to all manner of purposes – from educational hub to product launch pad, music video set and even the backdrop for a retail commercial.
This month, 20 salons from across Australia have been invited to gather at the Sydney site in an effort to quash the hair industry’s “’90s mentality, where it’s compete, compete, compete”.
“The view with [this event] is to start the conversation of people wanting to collaborate more. I think it’s so important these days. The only way we can get better is if we share information.”
Looking forward, while balancing the “big personalities” of his freelance family is a daily challenge, Jaye, now 26, is poised to expand.
“I want to open another one in Sydney,” he says. “The plan was never to be an overcrowded, busy salon.” He also has his sights set on the Gold Coast, hoping to attract Byron Bay’s growing pool of artists and entrepreneurs, but, despite his success, warns fellow self-starters to “be prepared to lose it all”.
“I started with nothing and I put everything on the line to build this… I’m still in a relative amount of debt – and if it all went under then I’d be kind of screwed, but that’s part of it. That’s what makes me want more.”
This is an excerpt from Issue 27 of The Collective, on sale now. Grab a copy to read the full story.