CHAPTER 5:

JOB-HUNTING AS A STYLIST…..MID 1964

Where do I start? Here I am, engaged to be married & no money, no job & a radius contract that excludes me from working within 1 mile of Regent Street. That takes care of the entire West End, the only area I wanted to work in. I did go for an interview at a salon in Marble Arch, but as soon as they knew I had a radius clause in my contract of employment (such as it was), they politely turned me away. Such was the reputation of the Robert Fielding name.

It just so happened that someone I worked with at Robert Fielding had left us some weeks earlier & went back to work for a 2 salon group where he’d been trained called Leon Sandler. They had a posh salon in South Kensington & a budget salon in Knightsbridge above a parade of shops. Guess where I finished up? That’s it, the budget shop! After 2 weeks of absolute hell I decided it wasn’t for me. In my opinion I was far too good to sell my services that cheaply. I repeat, in my opinion! Not necessarily fact.

What next? I couldn’t work in the West End, so the next stop for me was a salon in Harrow, somewhere close to where I lived, & owned by a fairly well-known hairdresser who had 2 salons in the town. I knew of the salon’s reputation as the best around & also knew one of their top stylists who worked there. He was supposedly earning a fortune & was one of the reasons hairdressing seemed to be such a great career option when I left school. Once again, smoke & mirrors!

This only lasted for 6 weeks. How I lasted that long was a miracle! The difference in the standard of hairdressing & service that I was used to was like chalk & cheese. Having said that, lots of good quality hairdressers went through their hands & went on to become successful salon owners. Not for me, though.

Around this time, mid 1964, I was still friendly with some of the people I worked with at Robert Fielding. Two or three of them had left around the same time I did & they all finished up working in a salon in Edgware, Middx. I bumped into a guy called David Blair one afternoon who told me about this busy salon that was being built up with staff from salons all over the centre of London.

Eventually I went for a trade test & started working there whilst the salon was being extended & re-furbished. Chaos, but very busy & buzzy! All the staff had West End experience & it was one of the first salons that took Central London thinking to the Suburbs; & how successful it was, even allowing for the on-going building works that seemed to go on forever.

Believe it or not, it was the first place I ever saw a blow-dryer being used as we do to this day. Round brush & torture the hair straight! I called it a “tug & burn dry”. The salon was busy all day & we worked amongst builders’ rubble, light bulbs hanging from wires suspended from the ceiling & mirrors & tables that kept being shifted around.

It was a very laid-back & friendly kind of working environment & most of us socialised in the evenings & weekends. One night we were at someone’s house (remember, this was 1964, I was engaged to be married whilst most of the others were a bit older & already married) when another valuable lesson was learned. We were sitting around drinking & chatting when one of my colleague’s husbands made a remark that’s stayed with me my whole life. After a bit of a heated discussion, I can’t remember what about, he said the famous words “you’re quite intelligent for a hairdresser”! I never forgot that.

In my opinion some of the cleverest & most intelligent people around are involved with the Industry. Some of us may not have formal qualifications but run great businesses & have employed & trained hundreds of people. Why we’re denigrated like this I don’t know? Maybe it’s because we seem to enjoy ourselves most days of our working life & look like we don’t have a care in the world. If only they knew!

I stayed working in that salon for around 18 months, but I still missed Central London. Sometimes you need a bit of luck & a kick up the backside to take you to the next level. I’ll explain what I mean. By some reason of fate, one of the girls I was working with decided to answer an advert she saw in the Hairdressers Journal for a Tinter/Permer at the Robert Fielding salon in Regent Street. She mentioned it to me in confidence because she knew I was getting restless.

It was now September 1966 & I’d recently got married, still had no money & we were living in rented accommodation. I casually asked Linda, the colourist, to remember me to Mr. Fielding & ask whether they had any vacancies for a hairdresser. Me! The following day she marched into the salon, looked me in the eye & said something like “I wouldn’t work there if they paid me a million pounds. It’s like a lunatic asylum. Oh, by the way, they said to phone them to have a chat”.

The rest of the story is to be continued.

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