Ted Gibson may have just finished putting up Angelina Jolie‘s hair in a perfect French twist, but his work wasn’t over. As she prepared to receive a humanitarian award from the United Nations on Oct. 11, Jolie asked Gibson to weigh in on the rest of her look. Had she chosen the right shade of lipstick? Gibson gave a thumbs-up. And what about the shawl? Gibson shook his head no—so Jolie selected a different one. “It’s nice,” he says, “when you work with someone who really values your opinion.”
Lately that’s been happening a lot to Gibson. Over the past few months, the 40-year-old hairdresser has helped usher in on the red carpet what Vogue recently called a “lust for length,” thanks to his signature, sensually full locks, which have been spotted on everyone from Jessica Alba to Claire Danes. “It’s goddess hair,” says R&B singer Amerie. “You leave him, and suddenly you’re tossing and bouncing your head around.” Adds Jolie: “He’s fantastic.”
Of course, a Gibson trim does cost more than a trip to the local blow ‘n’ go: about $450 at the salon he opened two years ago on New York City’s Fifth Avenue. Add to that a new line of hair-care products that launched in October, and it would seem Gibson has achieved the goal he set for himself when he moved to New York City in 1997: to be “not just a black hairdresser but a hair-dresser in general,” he says. There was a time when it was a challenge getting others to see him that way: Once, Gibson says, when he was the only African-American working at an Austin, Texas, salon, a customer grudgingly tipped him 25 cents. “People always want to pigeonhole you in what makes them feel comfortable,” he says. “But it’s always been really important to me to work in multiethnic salons. One should be able to go anywhere and get a haircut, as opposed to, ‘If you’re black, you only do black hair, and if you’re white, you only do white hair.'”
In fact, if you’ve got a hairdressing stereotype, Gibson is happy to ignore it. At 6’3″ and 245 lbs., he was a football player at Ellison High School in Killeen, Texas, and went on to become a serious weightlifter, placing third in a bodybuilding competition in the 1994 Gay Olympic Games. “I was all natural, no steroids,” he says with a laugh.
He still works out three days a week and credits his driven personality to his upbringing as a “military brat.” The only child of Beatrice, who worked as a Post Exchange cashier, and Ted Sr., a retired Army sergeant, Gibson grew up on Army posts in Hawaii and Japan before the family settled in Killeen when he was 12.
Even back then (and despite his other interests), Gibson already had an unusual affinity for…hair. As a child “I would try to brush [people’s] hair, but my dad would not allow it,” he says. “He wasn’t having it—his only son? He’d say, ‘No, boy!'” But Gibson would not be deterred. In 1992, only a year after earning his cosmetology license, Gibson was recruited by Aveda to teach at their hair institute in Minneapolis, where he went on to help create some of the company’s best-known products, including the Self Control Hair-styling Stick and six items in the Pure-fume Brilliant line.
He also ended up falling in love with one of his Aveda students, Jason Backe, who today is the top colorist at the salon, which he and Gibson co-own. The pair also share an English bulldog, Madeline, and a West Village apartment. But there are at least two things that are off-limits in the relationship: each other’s hair (because at the end of the day, “we’re tired of cutting hair!” Gibson says) and celebrity gossip. “Ted’s not someone who kisses and tells,” says Backe, 36. “He
doesn’t even tell me—and he tells me everything.”
As for a current rumor—that Jolie is trying to convert boyfriend Brad Pitt into a Gibson client—”it’s not true,” Gibson says. But surely her son Maddox could use some help maintaining that Mohawk? Gibson leaves that to an expert. “I’ve met Maddox,” he says, “but Angelina always cuts his hair herself.”
Ericka Sóuter. Tiffany McGee in New York City