PROMOTION TO MANAGEMENT…MARCH 1967
For the first few weeks I was like a pig in the proverbial. I was earning £20 a week & a commission, doing some clients & enjoying myself. At the same time as I started we opened our first Central London branch in the Edgware Road, near Marble Arch. We had two other salons in rather unlikely locations, one in Southsea, Hants. & one in Gants Hill, Essex.
Two things stick in my mind at that time. I did say I’d come back to my junior, Shirley. Because of her slight limp, after a busy day she’d sometimes be a bit slower running up & down the stairs than some of the other juniors. At that time we had a Dutch guy working in the salon, a brilliant hairdresser but a horrible, foul- mouthed bloke. He took great delight in abusing (verbally) Shirley at every opportunity & no matter what I did, he was such a big money taker the management weren’t going to do anything about it. Eventually she handed in her notice & left, & at that point I realised that the only thing anybody seemed to be interested in was money. Ok, we all need money, but in those days bullying was the norm & if you were perceived to be weak, you were doomed. It’s a bit different nowadays because of safeguarding, but we should all be aware that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable.
Luckily I didn’t have to put up with this vile bully for very long. As I said, we had just opened our first couple of branches & were in the process of taking over a group of salons & a School of Hairdressing from a then famous company, Richard Henry. The salons were in Knightsbridge, Chelsea, Earls Court & the school was in Baker Street. Management was a possibility in the future, so I thought, but I was still very young, only just 22 & in those days young people were rarely given those sort of opportunities until they reached their thirties.
One morning in early March ‘67, Mr. & Mrs. Fielding summoned me down to the tiny hole in the ground they called the office. I sat in between them, dreading what they may have to say. I wasn’t the best hairdresser in the world, so you can imagine what I thought was coming next.
Actually, they made me a proposal! It went something like this: “How do you fancy working Saturday afternoons”? At the time, the salon in Regent Street closed on Saturday afternoon, meaning I could meet my wife, Bonnie, & spend the rest of the day in Carnaby Street.
My response was instant! “No way thanks”, thinking they wanted to transfer me to one of the other branches to work as a stylist.
“So you don’t want to manage one of our salons”? “You didn’t say that. Of course I want to be a manager”. And that’s how my managerial career began, March 22nd 1967 at our Kings Road, Chelsea salon. At that time, this was the most exciting Street in the whole world. Fashion, hair, hippies, you name it & it appeared somewhere.
Summer ’67, short, polka-dot dresses, skin-tight jeans, Cuban heels, (stacks followed shortly after) both sexes wore anything & everything! Saturday afternoon, topless girls, massive crowds outside the Markham Arms, Punks coming up from Sloane Square fighting (outside our salon) with the Rockers coming from the Worlds End & me holding on to the door trying to stop them from destroying the shop. It was all brilliant, the best time of my life!
When I became management my career as a hairdresser changed. I was expected to be the equivalent of a Maitre de, greeting the clients as they walked in, giving them to the stylist I thought would do their hair in the most appropriate manner & of course, try to up-sell the service we provided. We also started selling wigs & hair pieces, which ultimately became the vehicle for the company to go “public” at the end of 1972.
I was a great salesman even if I say so myself, & eventually built a clientele of wig-buying clients such as Joan Collins & her circle of friends (really high profile at that time) , Esther Ranzen, Lulu & many, many others. I did this from one salon chair in the reception with all the wigs suspended from head blocks & clamps. We used to call it the “valley of death” because you had to walk through it to the salon floor & basement.
Now I need to tell you about some of the people I worked with & some of the more famous personalities who came to us in our Chelsea salon. Let’s start with the one of the things that nowadays we’d all find repulsive, but in the 60’s & 70’s summed up the majority view.
One morning, probably early 1970, I interviewed a very bright & articulate young man who wanted a job as an apprentice. As it so happened he was black, so for him to work in a salon in those days was very unusual. Anyway, Haines started with us & all was well until one morning I’ll never forget.
The salon had really posh, “upper-class” clients, you know, the archetypal English “landed gentry” type, all fur coats & no knickers, who spoke with that sort of cut glass accent like the Queen. This particular client hadn’t seen our new apprentice before. When he offered to take her coat & help her with a salon gown, she looked at him as if he’d just landed from another planet & said ”surely you’re not doing my hair”? He gave her what would become a quite famous withering look, dropped the gown in front of her & said “I have no intention of doing your hair, madam”! It’s something I’ve never forgotten & when H, as he came to be known as a couple of years later when he moved on to Sassoon, & I met a little while ago after many years I reminded him of that incident. Can you imagine it happening now? In fact the other abiding memory of H was the Mickey Mouse cuddly toy that he bought for Edward when he was born in July 1972.
Let’s go on to nicer memories & I’ll talk about some of the great people I’ve worked with. Besides H whom I referred to earlier, I employed some brilliant hairdressers. Three of them stick in my mind even today. All Australians, Gillian, Robert & Roger. Great hairdressers!
In the late 60’s & early 70’s, we had hundreds of what was then the Commonwealth’s finest, people allowed to work in the UK without any problem getting work permits. These hairdressers were trained brilliantly, their customer care was immaculate & generally they left us for dead. There were South Africans, Aussies, & we also had a guy called Eddie from Hong Kong. He went on to work for us for some years as stylist & manager before he opened his own salon.
I must mention the South Africans. There was Bernardo, who became a legend on the Kings Road for his prowess with the ladies. When he left the salon at night he had to detour around the Chelsea Drugstore to avoid the females that he’d previously had “Ladies & Gentlemens” with. His best friend was Jean, a Luxembourger who met Bernardo in South Africa & they both decided to come to London to work. He was also a ladies man. Picture the scene. I was just married & here were these two handsome, trendy guys, out on the town every night. Was I jealous? No way! I was just slightly in awe of them. The last time I saw Bernardo was at the Salon Exhibition at Excel a couple of years ago. He went back to South Africa, became a Born Again Christian & has five grown up children. Amazing!
There were also a couple of Italian hairdressers that we knew, Marco & Fausto. Marco didn’t work for us when I first knew him but he worked for two brothers who owned a salon down the road from us on the Kings Road called Joseph.
This was the same Joseph Ettegui that became the famous fashion house, establishing its’ name in the early 70’s. Eventually the clothes overtook the hairdressing which was then relegated to their basement & Marco, a brilliant hairdresser if I ever saw one, came to work for us in our Sloane Street salon before returning to Italy a couple of years later. He recommended his friend Fausto to us & he worked in our Knightsbridge salon for a time before joining Marco in Italy where they went into business together. I’m still in touch with both of them to this day.
Another special lady to mention is Elke, someone I trade tested for a position as a stylist with us back in 1971. I’m very proud to say she still works for us, coming up from the South Coast three days each week to work in our Gloucester Road, Kensington salon. The Chelsea salon was busy, open 5 1/2 days a week. We had a lot of passing trade & sold lots of wigs, mainly synthetic as they were easy to care for. Between early 1967 & 1972, Robert Fielding expanded until we had some 16 salons in the prime locations in London & the suburbs, all part of the plan to take the company to the City as a publicly quoted company.
The biggest stand-out event for Bonnie & I happened in July ’72 when Edward, our son, was born. This is the same Edward who now has quite a high profile within the industry via the Fellowship for British Hairdressing & has been instrumental in bringing our training operation up to the standard that we’ve recently achieved, being recently graded 2 (good) by OFSTED.
We also had the music industry on our doorstep. Above the salon was a music publisher & entertainment management business which ultimately became Chrysallis Records. They handled Bryan Ferry with Roxy Music, King Crimson & others. Opposite the salon was Bywater Street, where the Who used to hang out, pink Rolls Royce & all. One of the Davis brothers, either Ray or Dave of the Kinks fame, had a girlfriend who worked in the Bally shoe shop opposite the salon who’s hair we used to do regularly. Jimmy Hendrix lived just down the road & we used to see him wandering up & down the Kings Road in his own “Purple Haze”. It was exciting, that’s the only way I can describe it.
As you can tell, music was very important to me & I’ve never lost my enthusiasm for it as it’s such an integral part of what we do. Just look at the hair & make-up of the late ‘60’s & early ‘70’s. Not a million miles from where we are today, especially with the long hair/glam looks. Edward still talks about the loud music I used to play at night, especially as we always had a house-full of friends at the weekend.
Other clients we had from the music industry have just come to mind. Remember Millie Small (My Boy Lollipop), Marianne Faithfull & I just thought of the late, great Dusty Springfield who I used to shampoo. when I was apprenticed. There was also an Australian singer called Frank Ifield (I Remember You) & so many others that I’ve forgotten. What a time we had. Innocent times too. Nothing too serious or heavy. Just go to work & enjoy!
Then came the real grown-up stuff.