London Tales – London Hair
I started cutting & styling hair about fifteen years ago. I am a professional hair stylist. I began to read your stories/articles just recently and soon realised that most of the perspectives were from the chair and not from the salon floor.
I own a small salon just outside London, which is very popular with young and daring, the passer through and the some word-of-mouth clients. I began cutting hair at a barber’s shop in Alexandra Palace, London, in the early eighties. Back then we did a lot of New Romantic cuts, short back and sides until, one day a long-haired, blonde, mid-twenties young woman sat at my chair and asked for a French crop. I had cut women’s hair once or twice before but it was uncommon. I cropped this young woman’s hair and it was then that I realised this was what I wanted to specialise in. A few months later I took a job in Soho, London, at a very small hairstylist – the place is still there and is now run by a mother and daughter. It was there I realised what cutting a woman’s hair, and what one could do with inspiration.
I would like to share some of my experiences with you, which I hope you will allow me and I hope you will enjoy. I will also look to tell you about some garish past styles and contemporary styles – I have forgotten a lot of my clients’ names and the ones I do remember I will change for obvious reasons. I will give each story a day or a year in order to give you some perspective of time, year etc. Although, this does not necessarily mean that I entertained any of these clients at that one given time.
Let’s begin with last Saturday morning. We open at eight-thirty and I knew from the night before we were going to have a busy day from looking at the appointment book. My salon is a fairly wide glass-fronted unit in the High Street. It is on two levels: as you walk in we have the reception area with seating; further down, six chairs with wall to floor mirrors; up three steps, the basins; to the rear, kitchen-rest and small office area. The salon area is decorated terracotta with a wash and various black and white glazed photos three by two – hair models – some of which were styled by us. I have five staff: three stylists and two juniors – we are looking to take on another stylist. The first client entered the salon and announced that she had an appointment with Sarah, one of our stylists. This particular client had booked a consultation – which means hair colour, style, make-up, the works. This can take, at times, more than two hours.
My client was booked for twenty to nine and I watched as someone else entered the shop and asked if they could make an appointment. Jenine – one of our juniors – ran her finger down the book and told the young woman when the next appointment was available. The woman, who had what appeared to be an overgrown one-length crop, smiled and booked, she left looking at her watch. I went to the back and thumbed through a supplies catalogue. The custom in our salon is to have the client garbed and seated at the chair for the stylist to greet them. Jenine entered the small office area and said that my client was ready. I told Jenine I would be out in a minute or so.
I walked to the chair to my client. She had brown short length hair, overgrown for that style, and windswept as most clients do before a haircut. She was mid- to late twenties, average size and pretty. I greeted her as I grabbed my comb. “What would you like done?” I asked.
When a client is about to ask for a short style they usually start by mentioning the back or the sides. She began – running her fingers through the sides of her hair – “Really short at the sides, quite high, shaved at the back, fairly short at the top, textured…”
I asked when she had last had her hair cut and I ran my comb up her nape – her hair was well over an inch and a half. She said two something months since her last cut. The length on top was quite long and her sideburns were almost at jaw level. This was going to be a straightforward crop or inch crop – top scissored to finger length, cropped nape and sides. I asked if she was going to wear her hair gelled forward, up and spiky, parted? How did she want the fringe? She was going to gel her hair and leave it natural; the fringe she said she wanted cropped. I said, “Lovely, no problem,” and showed her to the basin where Sam – our second junior – took care of her and offered tea or coffee.
We have two types of hair clippers in the salon which the stylists use: the Wahl for general cutting and a small Philips for finer work and shaving. I use both – but I also use a recent addition, a Remington cordless: lightweight, which comes with six attachments. For this style I would use the latter unit with a grade 2 & 3. I attached the grade 2 and sorted two pairs of my scissors for intended use.
The young woman returned and sat at the chair. I took out the hairdryer and briskly blow-dried the back of her hair and sides. I could see that she had glanced at the clippers so I casually said, “I am going to clipper the back and sides, is that all right?”
“Yes, no problem,” she replied.
I covered her shoulders with a rubber neck cape and began to comb her hair forward at the top and down at the back and sides. I reached for the small clipper unit and switched it on. I gently tilted her head forward and from the base of the nape began to guide the unit steadily upwards. As I finished the stroke I would flick the clippers in an outward motion to avoid leaving a definite line. As I continued clipping the young woman’s nape I could see that she had a perfect hairline – so I decided to leave a natural nape and the only thing I would do would be to just go round with the smaller unit and take away the fluff at the base of her nape. I had taken the nape right up, finishing about two inches level from the crown. I had stopped just (if you imagine a line from behind the ear and up) behind the ears on both sides. It was then that I decided not to clipper the sides with a grade 3 but instead I opted to crop the sides – scissor over comb. The reason for this was that I wanted to achieve a slightly more natural, graduated look. Also with a style like this by having the sides slightly longer in length – this tends to give emphasis to the back. I was also going to crop the sides without touching the sideburns – I would come back to this a little later.
Working on the right side of the young woman’s hair I started to lift these inch or so lengths and cutting the hair close to my comb I began to work rhythmically. I asked her where she was from, where she worked – she answered that she lived two tube stops away and that she worked at the end of the High Street selling computers. I worked my way up and back towards the ear until the crop faded into the previously shaved nape. The sideburn dangled in a clump still touching her jawline – I could see her looking. I moved to her left side and began with the process again. I now worked on the top, her hair still damp. I lifted a portion with my comb and clamped the hair between my forefinger and middle finger. I cut the hair as close to my fingers as my scissors would allow. I worked from one side of the front to the crown and then I worked on the other side. This girl already had a new appearance. With the top cut almost one length all over I worked around the top, sides and back blending the longer lengths of the top to the short lower lengths. I had left her fringe pretty much alone, so I asked her again how she would like it.
“Sort of really short.”
I took another look and said, “You know what I think would really suit you?” (I began to demonstrate with my comb) “Longer, say on this side, at an angle and cropping it into this side, asymmetrical.” She squeezed a little smile and agreed. I lifted the fringe and began to snip at her hair with my scissors at a right angle toward her head. I left the longer length (left side) feathered just over an inch as she would undoubtedly brush it upwards, and scissor-over-comb softly cropped the right side of the fringe just short of the hairline. I then went over the top lifting the hair with my comb and chipping small indents through the top – giving the hair extra texture.
I now asked her what we were going to do with the sides and she explained that she did not like long sideburns or long wisps. I pointed to one of the black-and-white pictures that we have of a model with a short style. The model’s sideburns had been “flicked”, which means that the sides are cut to whatever length but the base of the sideburn is just taken off with a brisk flicking motion, cropping the hairline – a grade 1 attachment is usually used on the clippers. She said she really liked that. I took my scissors and comb, cut the sideburn and blended what hadn’t been cut to the rest of the side. I snipped the hair around her ear and did likewise through the left side. I removed the grade two attachment comb from the Remington and attached a wafer-like comb – a grade 1. The sideburns (the same length as the sides) protruded only millimetres from the hairline. I switched the unit on, tilted the young woman’s head to the left, placed the oscillating blades against her cheekbone and with the snap of my wrist flicked the hairline. I moved to the other side and did the same. Whilst I had the Remington out I removed the small attachment and in short downward strokes cleaned the fluff. I was quite pleased with the cut and asked if my client too was pleased. She tilted her head from side to side, I showed her the back with small mirror and she said, “Great, thanks.”
I applied some gel on my fingertips and worked it into her hair. I dried the hair with the dryer, pushing her hair with my fingers in several directions – to give the style some movement.
She had a very pleased look about her as she left the salon.