Celeb stylists are too busy being famous to actually ‘do’ hair
There was a time when I used to socialise regularly, and I mean every night. The Nineties were an incredible decade — there was a sense of possibility, potential and positivity.
Sadly, like in the Sixties, it didn’t last, but for a short time it seemed anything could or would happen.
For my part, it was magical — I was regularly on TV and radio, had an exclusive product line, was travelling the world and owned a successful salon.
Of course, I had a pretty good work ethic, determination and passion for my craft, and that, combined with a fair chunk of good luck, meant that my life was a roller coaster of excitement, fun and adventure.
In the Nineties, all over the world, hairdressers became overnight superstars whose opinions and thoughts on everything from fashion to current affairs and even politics were sought out by the fashion media, social pages and the hard news press everywhere.
Nicky Clarke was probably not the first but definitely the most successful — before him Raymond, Vidal Sassoon and John Frieda achieved fame, but Nicky was on a different level. Not unlike the Warren Beatty character in the hit movie Shampoo, he was good-looking, cheeky, and had the look with his leather trousers, but above all he was seriously talented.
Nicky was managed brilliantly, naturally suited to TV, had an enviable celebrity clientele and a Mayfair salon. His working-class roots gave him a mild bad-boy image, but with a clientele comprising royals and rock stars, Nicky was hair royalty and for a time the king.
The Nicky effect had an impact on us all, and although it was unlikely that in Belfast or Birmingham there were many people desperate for £300 haircuts, all over the country a crop of super stylists popped up. This glamorised an industry that had become stale and antiquated. It brought new skill and a little swagger, traits that chefs would have a generation later.
These troubadours were business-minded, media-savvy entrepreneurs, but the bedrock of their success was raw, real, hard-earned talent, honed for many years in salons and colleges around the country, working (for free in many cases) for long hours and learning from great mentors and unsung teachers who never got the credit they deserved.
Of course, the celebrity hairdresser ‘thing’ didn’t last, but the industry became a better place, with staff training, client service, better salaries, great working conditions, amazing opportunities and, above all, a lifelong career that was regarded as one of the leading industries in the western world.
I was at an event recently at which I met a ‘hairstylist’ who, when I introduced myself, said: “Oh I follow you on Instagram”. Of course, I was flattered, but then he said something which completely shocked me. When I asked what area of the industry he was in, he replied: “I don’t do much hair anymore. I’m a consultant... or I think the new term is ‘influencer’.”
I laughed: “How does that work exactly?”
He replied: “Oh, I use my social media base to educate or mentor hairstylists on how to create brands that are attractive to the general public, giving them the edge on their competition by clever positioning within the marketplace or public view.
“My aim is to empower the salon owner to take control of how they are perceived within the profession, therefore enabling them to stand out from the madding crowd. I realised when I was working in a salon that my true skill was in leadership — when I spoke people listened.”
I asked him if he was a good hairdresser. He smiled: “It’s social media, buddy, we’re all amazing.”
The rise of social media has, of course, impacted greatly on our industry. Celebrity hairstylists on Instagram rarely, if ever, have salons, few have celebrity clientele and some have bought their followers. Like everything on social media, the perception is greater than the reality.
The sad thing is, the new celebrity stylist is too busy being a celebrity to do hair. In the Nineties, Nicky Clarke, Charles Worthington and Andrew Collinge enjoyed the highs of the celebrity stylist life and, when the fad passed, they continued doing what they did before they were famous — hair. I wonder where all our hair influencers, bloggers and social media superstars will be when the light dims. Paul Stafford, 671 Lisburn Road, Belfast, tel: 028 9066 2554
HOUSEHOLD NAME: Nicky Clarke