Robert J. Bushy goes from bashful to bold

Hairstylist is known for transformative styling

Robert J. Bushy is shy. That might not seem remarkable. A lot of people are shy. But Bushy, a Madison native, is a hair stylist. It’s not usually a profession for the withdrawn. Besides, Bushy has styled hair at big events in big cities alongside some of the most glamorous names in the business. Maybe his shyness has something to do with him not being better known locally.

“He’s a great listener,” says Madison resident Jt Covelli, a friend and hair client of Bushy’s for nearly two decades. “He’s extremely well thought of by colleagues internationally, but you don’t get a lot of chatter. He gets you talking.”

Not that Bushy, 53, is exactly unknown around Madison. He won this magazine’s Best Hair Stylist award in 1997. He spent many years as artistic director at ANiU and its predecessor, Salon 2000, and now operates his own business, Sense: A Robert Bushy Salon, on South Yellowstone Drive.

Still, many of his accolades have come from glossy magazines impressed by Bushy’s collections, photo spreads in which he’s responsible for the model, hair, clothing and photographer.

Last fall, Bushy was named a finalist in the International Hair Stylist category of the 2018 Contessa Awards, Canada’s most prestigious hairdressing competition, sponsored by Salon Magazine of Toronto. Other finalists included stylists from Australia and South Africa.Robert J. Bushy goes from bashful to bold

With Bushy, his shyness goes back a while.

“When it came down to picking a career,” Bushy says, “I was hesitant about hairdressing or fashion. I wasn’t as outgoing as I thought a hairdresser would be.”

He says he always liked doing hair. At Madison Memorial High School, he practiced on a friend.

“We’d skip school and do makeovers,” Bushy says. “It was interesting how well people responded to the change.”

It was his father who convinced Bushy – after he struggled in a computer class at Madison Area Technical College – to give hair a shot. Bushy got his hair cut at Coiffures International, a European-style shop downtown. His dad called the proprietor, Karl Lechten, a colorful character who billed himself as Karl of Germany. Lechten, who later quit hair to make suits of armor, said, “Why doesn’t Robert come in and see what it’s all about?”

Bushy went in a couple of times for tutorials from Karl – ”I really liked it,” he recalls – and enrolled at the American Beauty College on University Avenue.

Coiffures didn’t have any openings, but after a couple of short stints elsewhere, Bushy landed at a new salon called Hair Spa on Odana Road. The artistic director, Ron Bredeson, became a valued mentor.

“A really special person for me,” Bushy says. “He didn’t tell me what to do, but he coached me.”

“He’s a very artistic designer,” Bredeson says today of Bushy. “We go back a long way.”Robert J. Bushy goes from bashful to boldRobert J. Bushy goes from bashful to bold

Bredeson – who eventually opened Salon 2000 and, later, ANiU – encouraged Bushy early on to work with product companies, to see what others in the industry were doing. It put him on platforms, in front of people. He grew more confident and comfortable with the attention.

Through Bredeson, Bushy met Dwight Miller, a legend in hair design who urged Bushy to enter his collections in competitions. Miller took the young designer to big-city hair shows.

“Dwight told me to push my avant-garde side,” Bushy says. By the late 1990s, Bushy was assisting Miller at the Alternative Hair Show in London’s Royal Albert Hall.

In 2004, Bushy was nominated for a North American Hair Styling Award in the avant-garde category, a class that honors “edgy, visionary and artistic” work. By then Bredeson had opened Salon 2000, with Bushy as artistic director. Bushy would bring the latest trends and tips he picked up in his travels back to Madison.

Was he ever tempted to relocate?

“I had a couple of different opportunities,” Bushy says. “What keeps me here is my clientele and my family. I think if I was in New York or London I wouldn’t have the sort of down time I can have here. A chance to kind of regenerate.”

Bushy followed Bredeson to ANiU, but four years ago Bushy left to start his own studio, a mutual and amicable decision, both say.Robert J. Bushy goes from bashful to bold

“I found out my clientele is very, very loyal,” Bushy says.

After all these years, he still likes doing hair, still likes getting out in front of trends.

“This year we’re looking at hair that’s sort of lived in,” Bushy says. “It’s different than bed head. Lived-in hair is something you really feel comfortable in. It can be styled, but you can run your fingers through it. Waves. Different lengths.”

“He’s extremely creative,” Covelli says. “Always bringing in new ideas.”

Bushy recalls an early client (a teenage model) who allowed him to cut her hair short, then came in the next day weeping.

A year later, Bushy says, she ran into him and said, “You know, Robert, that haircut? I got so many compliments.”

Doug Moe is a Madison writer and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Read his weekly blog, “Doug Moe’s Madison,” on madisonmagazine.com.

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