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Me and my mentors

Music maketh the man… That, and a salon owner called Robert

I am an educator, an instructor, a leader, a salon stylist, a manager, a boss, a creative director… and a few other things to boot but let’s not talk about those! However, I wouldn’t be credible in any of those roles if I hadn’t been shown the way by those who knew more than me, those who had already walked those paths, made all the mistakes, found the answers and celebrated all the successes before me – my mentors!

I consider myself very blessed; I’ve had the very good fortune to work with some of the best in our industry and that’s gone a long way to shaping who I am today. We all have people in our lives to whom we owe a debt of thanks for opening our eyes, for giving us time and showing us that we can achieve our goals and this is mine…

My story begins with a very uninspiring education at a very uninspiring comprehensive school on the semi-rural outskirts of Sheffield in the North of England. My inspiration and my salvation was – and perhaps still is – music. Laying awake listening to late-night local indie radio, I heard the intoxicating sounds of the late 70’s; first it was Bowie and Roxy Music, and eventually Punk and New Wave. Through these exotic sounds coming from my tiny, tinny radio alarm clock I found excitement, inspiration and ambition. I would hear tales of the City and the big wide world. I heard a voice that spoke to me and told me I could have more than I had, that I could see the world and find other people like me.

Cut a long story short and it turned out to be hairdressing that provided the path for me.

From the beginning I’ve always felt that I wanted to succeed, wanted to learn and better myself. My first job on a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) placed me in a city centre salon, working with some pretty cool people who lived for going out but sadly not for their work as well. My mother told her hairdresser – ‘Robert’ of Robert Taylor (now Taylor Taylor, Sheffield) what I was up to and he invited me over for a chat after work on a Tuesday night. One week later and I was like a ‘pig in sh*t’ – absolutely clueless but enjoying every moment of it. Robert took me under his wing and began showing me some of the skills he was famous for. With a little back-combing, some hairspray and a Mason & Pearson, he could make hair do incredible things: beautiful sculpted shapes that had perfect finish and balance.

Encouraged by Robert and others in the salon who would spend their weekends and evenings practicing and travelling to national competitions, I began entering junior competitions and after finding a little success I’ve never looked back since. I owe Robert a debt of thanks, not only for giving me a job but actually giving me a profession. He gave me a passion for hair and an understanding of how to achieve balance, finish hair and most of all, make a shape suit someone!

Because Robert didn’t have a strong technical base to share with me, in the salon I would make up how I imagined a shape would be constructed; it was sculpture, pure feeling and – actually – not that good!

I had my light-bulb moment after seeing a Sassoon collection in a salon magazine. Instantly I knew that was for me, that was what I wanted to be able to do. So I saved and saved and, with Robert’s help, eventually scraped enough money together to pay for a course at the world famous Vida Sassoon School in London. I should have booked a Classic course as I had very limited technical knowledge (I’m being generous to myself there) but of course, in true hairdresser style, I booked the Advanced course because I wanted what I thought was ‘the best’, rather than what I actually needed, which was Classic – naturally!

For all my failings and struggles that week, I had a mind-blowing five days. My teachers were Lance Lowe (still kicking out incredible hair in London today, Aiden Trenholme and Simon Ellis (no less, now creative head of global titan Schwarzkopf Professional). On the last day, I asked for an application form and by the time I stepped off the train back in Sheffield, the completed form was in an envelope awaiting a stamp. Fast forward four months and I was sat on a bus with a suitcase, moving to London to sleep on a mate’s floor and start a new job. At 20 years of age, it couldn’t have been more exciting!

For my training, I was placed in the original Sloane Street Salon and assigned to an Art Director and Assistant Art Director to be trained. I had to bring in two or three models per day and begin my ‘re-training’ – remember, I had no previous technical training, I had fluked my practical entrance test and had to basically train from scratch in three months Easy, right? No! – but I didn’t care, everything was possible, the worst that could happen was failure and that wasn’t an option. I wasn’t gong back to Sheffield in a hurry!

Thankfully, in that salon I came across one of the best men I’ve ever met – Stephen MacKinder! Stephen was at that time, a senior stylist. He’d been around the block and had worked for Sassoon in LA for several years before returning to London. Stephen was, and still is, one of the best haircutters I’ve ever met. He possesses incredible technical expertise and perhaps the best ‘bedside manner’ of any hairdresser ever – affable, charming and approachable. Despite being fully booked every day, Stephen took the time to show me the basics. He spotted I was a keen but clueless idiot and when the Art Directors weren’t looking, he showed me how to cut a line, graduate and layer. He regularly stayed late and arrived early to help me keep my head above water. Without Mr MacKinder, my career path could have been very different.

After qualifying and gaining knowledge and skills from the plethora of incredible people at Sassoon at that time, I moved to VS Manchester for what was supposed be a three-month secondment – I ended up staying there for ten years. And almost every moment of those ten years was incredible in some way or another. The team of stylists and creative directors during that time reads like a who’s who of hairdressing: Nick Arrojo, Debbie G, Peter Gray, Tyler Johnston, Bruce Masefield, John Vial and David Oldham (now top fashion/beauty photographer)… the list goes on and on. Every one of the huge team in that salon was intensely focused not only on improving themselves but pushing each other too. We were colleagues, friends and intense rivals all at the same time and those people are in no small part responsible for the attitude, skills and drive I have today – it was a golden time for all of us I think.

I returned to London in 1999 to take up a teaching role at the Advanced Academy’, the pinnacle of Sassoon education at that time. Once back in London and now a senior member of the creative team, I was in my element. I got to work with and next to the holy trinity of Tim [Hartley], Mark [Hayes] and Annie [Humphreys].

Each of these people of course need no introduction but it’s important to remember that their drive and commitment to their craft have, without doubt, elevated our profession and shaped its trajectory. To be around people like this makes you realise the depth of knowledge needed to really validate one’s work in a creative sense is vast – they are all true rule-breakers because they were and continue to be the rule-makers. These people showed me what I might aspire to be. These people gave me the benchmarks, gave me the opportunities and gave me the support that enabled the belief in myself – priceless.

All of the people mentioned above are my mentors and my heroes – who are yours and who calls you theirs? If you have even just one person who helped make you who you are today, I believe you are obligated to be that person for someone else.