new york city
You can see Roxie Darling’s artwork on the heads of some of New York’s most creative and inspiring people. Her journey to becoming Hairstory’s head colorist has had some bumps along the way, but Roxie has forged a path that is uniquely her own.
You’re originally from New York...
I was born in Staten Island. When I was 11 my parents split up—my mom moved to the Jersey Shore and my dad moved uptown, so I split my time between them. I also lived in LA for four years when I was a teenager… I sort of ran away. I lived there between the ages of 12 to 16.
You lived in LA by yourself?
Yeah. It's a really weird thing, but also pretty fucking cool.
Insane! When I was 12, I was making videos of myself dressed as a Spice Girl.
I did that, too! So my father was a Scientologist, and when I was 12 I joined the Sea Organization, which is based in LA.
Were your parents ok with that?
Yeah. I was a very smart, very advanced child. But when my parents split, my mom didn't really know what to do with me. I was very emotional, and my dad didn’t want to suppress my personality by putting me on medication—that's what you did 20 years ago. So my dad asked if I was interested in Sea Org. I talked to someone there, and they were like, “You're going to help save the world! Do you want to come do that?” And I was like, "Fuck yeah, I want to save the world!"
How are you going to say no to that at 12 years of age?
Right! I usually don’t talk about it very much publicly. People are very quick to tell me what my experience was because of all the media that surrounds Scientology. I'm not a practicing Scientologist; I don't necessarily support or agree with their beliefs. However, at that time in my life it was something that worked for me. The way that I feel about Scientology is the way that I feel about a lot of religion. When I talk to people about my time there, the reaction can be very judgmental. I don’t want to argue with people about it. I had a very real experience. For me, it was really amazing.
I was with a bunch of other kids my age and it was like being at summer camp. We were at the church for about 20 hours a week and we would do homeschooling. In order to legally work in California without a GED you have to do 20 hours a week of school.
Did you get your GED?
I did, when I was 14.
It was cool because I never had to go to school again. I really didn't feel like I needed to go to school. At 16, I left the cult and moved back with my mother. I did end up going to high school for three months, but only for social experiences.
What was that like, going to high school after you already earned your GED in a nontraditional setting?
It was interesting because I had just come out of this four-year experience where I'd been treated like an adult and I had been around a lot of adults. I wanted to be around “typical” 16-year-olds and learn how to interact with them. I didn't like it, though. That's why I only went for three months. I was a nerd with magenta hair and most of the girls weren't very nice to me. The boys weren't nice to me, either.
I had started dyeing my friends’ hair at the same time, after watching this girl come to my house and do my mom’s hair in the kitchen. I still wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I was 16, and didn’t need to go to school. I considered going to college to study architecture for a second. But when my mom’s friend came over to do her hair, I was like, “I want to do that.” Around the same time I heard about [New York-based hair salon] Bumble and Bumble. My brother’s girlfriend at the time was getting her hair done by an apprentice in the training program there. She had amazing hair.
So I went into Bumble and Bumble to get a haircut and decided that I was eventually going to work there as a colorist. When I was 18, we moved back to Staten Island and I went to beauty school. When I entered beauty school, I knew I was going to go apply at Bumble as soon as I had a license. In my mind, Bumble and Bumble was the only job that I wanted. I didn't know about all of these other New York salons. I didn't care to find out. I had tunnel vision. Bumble’s products were great and the prestige was high. I dropped off an application and they called me back, interviewed me, and I got a job.
Was it everything that you thought it was going to be?
I think it was more than I expected. I remember on my first day, I watched somebody doing a hair painting technique that I'd never seen before. I thought to myself, "I can't wait to do that. That looks so fun. I'm going to go home and try that tonight." I'm a very visual person, I learn everything from watching and then just doing it myself.
It was awesome in the beginning. It was my first job in the city, and it was in the Meatpacking District, which is really cool. I became friends with all the people that worked there. I was 19 hanging out with 30-year-olds, going out and borrowing people's IDs.
It was very fucking cool back then. A lot of the original people who created the company and the buzz were still there. But it was also a time of change; I started in 2007 and the founder Michael Gordon had sold Bumble in 2006. I got the end of the good shit but I arrived late to the party.
Working at Bumble at that age was like going to college. It was a lot of hard work, but I also partied the whole way through. I never went to college, but in my mind that's what it would be like.
How long did you stay at Bumble?
I was there for four and a half years. I got very frustrated because it became really corporate after Estée Lauder bought the company from Michael. It was a really big change, but it’s like that AA saying: “It works if you work it.” I was young and talented, and I worked really hard. But I didn’t understand the corporate structure, the need to hit numbers, and why I couldn’t do big creative projects. When I realized that I wasn't going to grow there anymore, I met Wes, who is my creative partner now. He told me he was leaving Bumble and going to work for Michael. I said I wanted to go, too.
I was 23 and I had a really bad drug problem. I knew that if I was going to actually leave Bumble and go work for Michael, I needed to get my shit together. So I did. Over the course of a couple of months I completely stopped abusing pharmaceutical drugs. I had being doing that for eight years.
While Michael was getting ready to announce his new company, Wes and I were working at Cutler Salon in Soho. The first couple of months working at Cutler were really hard, because I had to build a whole new client base. Then my mom died, and it fucking changed my life. I had just gotten clean, and somehow I managed to channel all my energy into work.
I thank myself and my friends for that, because I have really good friends who kind of hosted my spirit in that time. We had no money then. We would buy each other bagels or pizza for lunch. After I came back from my bereavement leave, I just started working really hard because I didn't know what else to do. I was scraping it together and living on carbs and cheese. But still managing to get drunk. [Laughs]
There’s always money for that!
Somehow. That was the beginning of 2012, and I decided it was time to get myself together, to make some money and to grow my clientele. At the time, creative color was becoming big. I started working on new clients and playing around with their color for free. I really find that, in this business, if you give yourself to other people in a genuine way then you will get it back tenfold. So people started walking around with my hair color—it’s like a walking advertisement.
In 2013, Michael launched a product line called Purely Perfect, so Wes and I started doing the models’ hair. We would experiment and take pictures. That’s really where Hairstory started.
Hairstory is built upon the idea of hairdressers using great products to make good hair. How do we get good hair? How do we share good hair? How do we give good hair? The Hairstory product line itself is pretty sustainable and it's completely different than what Michael had done before.
Wes and I are the main cut-and-color team at the Hairstory Studio. Michael would shoot the models that we worked on—we used to shoot people we would see on the street. It was so collaborative. We made an Instagram account and a website, then we started to get some press and it grew from there. Michael converted two of the spare rooms into hair studios for me and Wes, so we could come work at Hairstory full time. Once we were all working in the same place, the company was really able to blossom.
It also allowed me to really experiment. Not only in my work, but in my life. I started doing a lot of yoga around the same time that I came to work at Hairstory full time. Those things go hand-in-hand, because I feel like coloring hair for me is such a practice… so it's like learning to just show up for that practice everyday.
This space has allowed me to blossom creatively, to push the boundaries of what I want to do. The product here has also been a huge factor. We have no detergents in our products, so that’s allowed me to push hair really far in terms of color and what I can do to it. Because I could do so much, I really learned what I liked to do. Very saturated but highly nuanced color, that's my favorite thing—combining really bright colors with really muddy, weird colors. That's my signature style.
A creative person needs to be surrounded by people who will build them up in order for them to find their potential. If people don't believe in them, or there are too many rules and expectations, those creatives will never find that truly interesting part of themselves. Ninety percent of the time, when you're creating you have to do it for yourself. The best art comes from being in a space that allows you to just be yourself, with no expectations and no boundaries.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
Keep your faith, do what is in your heart, and be nice to people. Because if you do what's in your heart, the right things will come for you always. And if you're a nice person, you'll get nice things. People will do nice things for you, but you have to be nice with no expectations. In any type of service industry—ultimately, hair styling has been a service industry for years—you have to take care of people in order for them to take care of you.
What does New York mean to you?
For most of my life, I wanted to leave New York because I was like, "Oh, I grew up here— whatever, it's fucking New York.” Then last year, we did a bunch of traveling outside of America, and I realized New York is actually the greatest city in the world. New York means home to me in more ways than one. Not only because I can be myself here, but because all my family is here. The history of my family is here. My family came to New York from Italy and Ireland in the ‘30s and ‘40s and started a life here. So New York is everything to me.