By Megan Haynes
Photography by Kalynn Friesen
To think – he almost became a cop.
But Greg May arrived at Sheridan’s police college, took one look at the guys around him – decided the macho type wasn’t who he wanted to work with, and packed his bags.
Now, 20 years later, May is a staple in the Yorkville hair world. He’s worked exclusively in the area, styled the hair of the rich-and-famous at various film festivals and fashion weeks, and has his own hair-care line – a big jump from his farm boy ways of the 70s.
May arrived in Toronto when he was 16, hailing from a small farming town in the Muskoka area. He wandered the city in combat boots he had purchased cheaply from an army surplus store and worked odd jobs to pay his rent. He says it was often a struggle.
He started modelling after accompanying his then-girlfriend to one of her gigs. May had originally pursued this career to pay his way through police college, but decided the program wasn’t for him. This set off his internal struggle (that many 20 year-olds have) on deciding what career path he should take.
“I think people in high school and public school would always see me as a hair stylist – it was always there,” he says. “But I couldn’t see it. I didn’t want that. And as a small town kid in the Muskokas in the 70s and 80s, a guy – a straight guy – doesn’t do hair. “
But his whole family was very artistic, so May returned to school to study something in that vein – and ended up in the image consulting program. He found it wasn’t stable enough and didn’t let him work with his hands.
“I would find myself wandering the streets of Toronto, and every time I passed by a hair salon I would stop and look in, all puppy-dog eyed, and watch.”
On one of his gigs – towards the end of his modelling career – May was sitting in the chair at his hairedresser’s, ranting and raving about the instability of the modelling industry and his uncertain future.
“At that point, I was not aging as well as some of the other models – I wasn’t getting any jobs,” he says. “And he [the stylist] made a joke, ‘Why don’t you become a hair stylist?’ And it hit me so hard.”
The stylist eventually helped May get an assistant’s job at Holts Salon and Spa, followed by an apprenticeship at Sassoon, one of Toronto’s premier salons at the time. He later returned to Holts and worked his way up from junior stylist to creative director.
“It’s a funny story because when I started at Holt Renfrew they [the other employees] were like ‘What’s your name,’” May says. “So I said ‘Greg,’ and [the other stylist] said ‘No, no, no. No! No! We have a Greg and we have a Craig. What’s your middle name?’ And I said ‘Alan,’ and he said ‘AlaWn, Perfect!’ So for 10 years of my career I was Alawn.”
He moved to Glo Salon in the mid 90s, and then recaptured his name with a vengeance when he opened Greg May Hair Architects in 2003.
“I’m a very sentimental guy, so [cutting hair is] like me building a house on your head.”
Clients walk into the second-story salon and are greeted with rich hardwood floors and a black and silver colour scheme. And just try turning down May’s offer for sushi (it’s nearly impossible!).
He’s precise – almost OCD – about things. But this means he runs a very tight ship at the salon (and at home): stations must be spotless, scissors freshly oiled and he’ll rap his stylists on the knuckles (lightly, of course) if they call fringe “bangs”.
For him, customer service is key. And this approach has yielded overwhelming results.
May has a five-star ranking from user-generated reviews on the popular Yelp.com. He and his hair products have been featured in countless magazines and blog posts.
He has almost 1,900 followers on his two Twitter accounts (@gregmayhair and @mizutanicanada), a blog, and this summer he hopes to launch an attack-style YouTube channel, where he will pull people off the street for a frenzied cut and style.
While he ventures into the online realm, he keeps his hands firmly grounded in his clients’ hair, something he can see himself doing for the rest of his life.
“I’ve been here for 20 years,” he says. “I don’t know anything else.”