He’s one of the most influential hairstylists working today, but Orlando Pita would rather not be in the spotlight. Lesa Hannah manages to pin him down.
If you’re a beauty editor backstage at a fashion show and you want to interview Orlando Pita about the hair, you soon learn the following: If there isn’t a publicist to facilitate a chat, you’ll have to take matters into your own hands and approach him. Once you have him, be quick and to the point. Do not film him without his approval; if you raise your Flip camera unannounced during the interview, he will stop talking. Finally, for the love of God, do not ask how the real woman can recreate the look at home; his frustration with the question will be immediately apparent.
Feeling like you must delicately navigate around getting a sound bite from Pita can be intimidating, but the creator of looks for the runways of Oscar de la Renta, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent makes no apologies for the fact that cameras make him uncomfortable. Or that his priority backstage is getting the hair done right, not speaking to the media. “If I’m doing an interview, I will walk away from it and go help somebody do hair, because it may be 20 minutes before the show and we have 15 more girls to do,” he says matter-of-factly over the phone from his home in Manhattan. While he doesn’t resent having to answer questions, he explains that when he started working at the collections, no one was backstage reporting. Instead, beauty editors would call for a recap once the season had wrapped. “It was in the early ’90s that you started seeing cameras backstage,” he says. “I was working with [Jean Paul] Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld back then, and they love the camera. They taught me that I had to do this.” As for why he’ll never give the instructions on how to replicate a look: “Most of the things I do, I try to do so a woman can’t do it at home, so I still have a job.”
Pita’s first job had nothing to do with hair; it was on Wall Street, where he was a redemption clerk, cashing stocks and bonds. While he had an interest in hairdressing—he hated the cuts he got as a kid so he attempted to teach himself, practising on the heads of friends and family—he considered it a hobby. “I wasn’t licensed. It wasn’t something that I thought I could do.” That is, until the day his brother, working as a photographer’s assistant, called with an opportunity. The hairdresser booked for a shoot had cancelled with no notice, and the client needed a replacement. Pita stepped in and styled the hair for an eight-page shoot for a trade magazine called Sportswear International. Shortly thereafter, he secured an agent.
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