The couple who are a cut above
Hairdressers Alan and Alex Keville struggled during the recession, but a strong connection got them through, says Andrea Smith
ALAN Keville says that while he always felt his wife Alex Reid was the “girl of my dreams”, the litmus test came when she rowed in with unwavering support when the hair salon they opened in Dublin during the recession struggled to thrive.
“Like any relationship, it was a lustful, can’t-keep-your-hands-offone-another thing at the beginning, but the turning point for me was when we opened in Dublin,” he says. “I had been on stage in hair shows all over the world and came to Dublin thinking we were great, but we completely fell on our faces. We opened just off Grafton Street with massive overheads, and put €150k of our own money into the fit-out, but we only had two clients a day for the first two years and it was such a tough time.”
As he recalls the stress, Alan becomes visibly emotional and says it was Alex who kept him going. They were overdrawn on their business account, personal accounts and credit cards, but faced the difficulties together.
“Alex said that money meant nothing and it was just about the two of us,” he says. “She said we’d get through it together and we did and it has been amazing.”
Part of getting through it meant working from 7am to 9pm six days per week, and the salon began to thrive as the economy recovered and is now a huge success. It has just moved to a bigger home on the top floor of Powerscourt town centre, and has branches in Naas and Wexford that are also doing great. Their ethos is to remain current and cutting-edge while providing a welcoming, unpretentious atmosphere for customers.
When Alan first met Alex at a hair competition in the RDS in 2009, he was slightly miffed that she didn’t remember him from the year before. Alex had won on that occasion at a competition in Cork, and Alan was on the judging panel.
“I thought, ‘My God, she’s gorgeous’,” he says. “I could remember what her hair was like, the dress she wore and her shoes, but she hadn’t a clue who I was when we met again.”
In her defence, Alex was too focused on the competition to notice anyone else. “I was only 21 and was more worried about not mumbling and winning the competition than trying to flirt with the judges,” she laughs. “I watched the show and Alan was on the stage and I thought he was very attractive. I was more attracted to his skills though because I’m a real ‘ hair nerd’ and he’s so good at hairdressing.”
Alex (31) grew up just outside Manchester and her dad John — “the smartest person” — is from Northern Ireland while her “very supportive” mum Cheryl is English. Her parents separated when she was 12 and her mum decided to move to Bere Island when Alex was 15. She loved it there, and at 17 she moved to Cork city to train as a hairdresser at Ikon Hair Design. Her mum now lives in Eyeries on the Beara Peninsula.
Wanting to further her skills, Alex went regularly to London to train at Mahogany, and Alan (42) looked after training at franchises worldwide for this company, in tandem with running his own salon, Alan Keville for Hair, in Wexford.
‘It was a can’t-keepyour-hands-off-oneanother thing at the beginning’
He chose to open it in Wexford as Dublin was too expensive and his parents Marian and Brendan had moved there from Tallaght, where Alan grew up. He left school when he finished his Junior Cert, and had two choices at that time. The first was to do a plumbing apprenticeship, and the second was to become a hairdresser, as his aunts Sandra, Jacinta, Joan and uncle Edwin have a salon, Keville Hair Care in Rathfarnham.
“I tried plumbing and it was horrendous, as I was outdoors digging trenches in the rain,” he laughs. “Then I went to try hairdressing, and although the money was shocking, it was indoors and full of girls, so happy days.”
After completing his apprenticeship, Alan worked for Peter Mark, Toni & Guy and Zoo, and then opened his salon in Wexford. When they first met, Alan couldn’t understand a word of Alex’s Manchester-crossed-with-cork accent. They didn’t start dating initially as they were both at the tail end of other romances, but upon learning that Alex planned to go to London, Alan invited her to join him at the salon he intended to open in Dublin. In the meantime, she went to work with him in Wexford, which is where their romance blossomed in 2010 as both were single by then.
Alan and Alex were married on New Year’s Eve 2017 and they have a treasured daughter, Addison, who turns four next month. While Alan goes between the three salons, Alex is based at the Dublin one, and Alan says that she’s extremely talented and clients adore her warm, chatty manner. Alan’s mum Marian comes up and minds Addison from Wednesday to Saturday every week and they’d be lost without her. Actually, all four grandparents are fabulous, they say.
Sunday is their family day, so they bring Addison out for breakfast and go to the People’s Park to buy fudge. Alan is also part of the RNLI lifesaving team in Dun Laoghaire and helms both boats there. He got involved because his dad Brendan is area officer for the coastguard in Wexford at Curracloe. It’s very rewarding, he says, although there are some very sad and challenging aspects too, of course.
“Alan is super-focused so he makes things happen, no matter what the obstacles are,” says Alex. “I’m so passionate about my own job and he is such a brilliant hairdresser that he inspires me every day. He’s also a very kind person and puts other people before himself. He’s untidy around the house but he’s not bad to look at, in fairness.”
Alan Keville and Alex Reid run hair salons in Dublin, Naas and Wexford. Photo: Steve Humphreys