My first model night. I’ll never forget it.

We had a system whereby each apprentice was assigned to a particular stylist. I was very lucky because I worked with 2 great hairdressers when I first started, an Austrian guy called Franz & a South African called Stephen.

Both of these guys were real hairdressers, able to cope with any client, long hair or short, & both were real disciplinarians.

Lunch hour, tea breaks…’re joking! In at 8-15am & leave, if you’re lucky, around 8pm, 5 ½ days a week. In any case you wouldn’t want to spend any time in what was supposed to be the staff room. To call it disgusting is an understatement. Don’t forget, at that time smoking was normal for most people & as the salon was so busy, the stylists took every available free minute to light up. It was like a foggy day in London town! You literally couldn’t breathe in there.

Saturday was our ½ day, but we were never out of the salon before 3pm. Then it was across the road to Carnaby Street, at that time the men’s fashion centre of the world. Every penny I ever earned as a trainee was spent either in Carnaby Street or on rail fares. I still have the same passion for men’s clothes today, & know how it’s influenced me during my entire business career. My father used to say “clean collar & tie, crease in your trousers & polished shoes. No one knows if you’ve got a pound or a penny in your pocket”! Still as true today as it was then, first impressions count, especially in our industry.

My favourite “boutique” as they were then known, was John Stephen, the most famous Scottish designer of those days. His jackets & trousers were amazing & as for the shirts, well I still remember those enormous collars. I used to buy some things off the peg (ready- made to those who don’t know the expression) & have my suits tailor-made, all in either Tonic or Mohair, the materials of choice in the 60’s. I’ve got a picture of Bonnie & I on our honeymoon in Ibiza in June 1966, dressed to kill. They’d laugh at us now but then it was expected that you dressed up in the evening for dinner. I was even reprimanded by the Hotel manager for taking my jacket off during dinner as the hotel was air-conditioned. Not very well as I recall, but standards then were completely different to now.

Anyway, Monday night model nights. My first hair cut passed off without too many dramas, but you must remember that roller setting was the norm & using a blow-dryer was unheard of then. Stephen, the senior stylist who was helping me, taught me a lesson that first night that’s as relevant today as it was then.

As I was struggling to put a roller into my models’ hair, he suddenly shouted “Stop! Don’t move a muscle! Now look at your face in the mirror”! And there it was, this contorted mass of ugly flesh. I looked like a mass murderer. He then explained something I’ve never forgotten. “Remember”, he said, “What you’re doing is like being on stage”. Every move you make is being seen all around the salon, mirrors are everywhere”! I never forgot his advice. To this day I’m extremely conscious of people watching everything we do & I try to make sure the image we portray is one of calm professionalism. If only they knew! As it happens, the finished result wasn’t that bad & the feeling of relief that the first hurdle had been achieved was amazing.

My training consisted of a model night every Monday night, almost all of it concentrating on cutting & setting. Long hair was to be avoided if possible as was perming (sounds familiar?). Eventually I was sent on a perming course at Wella & after winding half the head I was awarded a certificate. As for colouring, that was a complete mystery until I started to work on the floor & realised it wasn’t something to be scared of. In, fact as the years went by I became at least competent, but foils & meche always remained a skill too far. Models were sometimes in short supply & the arguments about who got what were fairly volatile to say the least. If there was a long hair model I tried to avoid it like the plague. Still the same today in your salon, I bet!

As my cutting & styling ability grew, I was accelerated onto the salon floor after around 2½ years of my 3 year apprenticeship. More by luck than judgement the management gave me a chance one very busy evening & I never looked back from then. Then the fun really started!