The global economy may be going to hell in a handcart, but, if the UK’s ever-expanding hairdressing and haircare industry is anything to go by, it will be a handcart filled with more buttery highlights, directional fringes, celebrity-inspired crops and organically-tended locks than this small island has ever before produced.
The British spent an astonishing £5.2bn in hair salons in 2006/2007, up from £4.2bn in 2002, and, says industry body Habia, that figure is set to increase. 'Hairdressing is often described as recession-proof,' says Habia’s Mark Phillips. 'It is the last luxury to go. And some of the UK’s biggest salon chains, including Saks, Regis and Toni and Guy, are still expanding.' Saks alone has 140 salons throughout the UK, up from 90 in 2002. The company says it has no intention of slowing down and is developing plans to expand its franchise internationally in the near future.
If you add in the value of shampoos, conditioners, colourants and perms sold off supermarket shelves (in 2007 they were worth a total of £765m), you begin to understand that hairdressing and haircare have become a hugely profitable British obsession. Nor are men immune. They spent £41.6m on hair products in 2007, putting them way ahead of Spain, France and Italy. (Intriguingly, the Germans spent almost twice as much.) Meanwhile Celebrity Hairdresser of the Year Mark Hill has just launched the UK’s first men’s ceramic hair straightener, retailing at £80. 'It looks the business and it’s flying off the shelves,' says Hill.
With the industry crowning its 23rd British Hairdresser of the Year in November, the business of hair is positively bouffant. But then it is powered by an intoxicating cocktail of contemporary obsessions. To begin with, there is the drive for self-realisation. Ask most women what is the single most transformative grooming treatment they can undergo and they’ll answer, 'Colour, cut and blowdry – obviously.' Looking fairly polished is now a personal and professional requirement, the right tint can swipe years off your age, and a stylist who’ll take you from neglected long to gamine short can even help mend a broken heart.
Celebrity, too, is intrinsic to the hair trade. Was Britain’s first celebrity hairdresser Raymond Bessone, who plied his trade in the 1950s and cultivated a French accent and a camp manner to allay the fears of ladies not used to letting their hair down (quite literally) in public? Or does that honour go to Leonard, whose House of Leonard, founded in the 1960s, was the powerbase from which John Frieda and Daniel Galvin plotted their takeover of world hairdressing? In all likelihood the title should go to Vidal Sassoon, the man Mary Quant called 'the Chanel of hair', who invented the bob in 1963 and went on to live as wild a life as any rock star. In the 1980s he was the first hairdresser to launch his own line of products. Now 80, he is a multi-millionaire, having sold the Vidal Sassoon salons, academies and product lines to beauty giant Regis.
Celebrity hairdressers not only cut the hair of other, even more famous celebrities, they become internationally recognised brands whose names shift millions of pounds worth of product off the shelves of supermarkets, chemists and their own salons. One bottle of John Frieda’s Frizz Ease Hair Serum, launched in the late 1980s, is sold every 16 seconds in the UK. So it’s scarcely a surprise to learn he sold his hair products company for $450m to Japan’s Kao Corporation in 2002. While awards, TV appearances and celebrity patronage make hairdressers stars, it is their product range that makes them millionaires. ‘Salon ranges’ now form 15 per cent of the total haircare market.
Where there is celebrity, there is usually money. Not the kind ordinary punters spend in Superdrug, but the sort splurged by the rich, very rich and superrich on the look out for fresh ways to lay out revenue.
'In 1963,' says colourist to the stars Daniel Galvin, 'a tinting contract would cost you 18 guineas (that’s £285 in today’s money). You could get six retouches for that, plus your hair line recoloured in between – that’s a year’s worth of colour.' Nowadays, a full head of highlights at a smart central London salon such as Nevilles in Pont Street with top colourist Steve Curran will set you back around £220 – and in six weeks you’ll need to go back for a top up. Among Chelsea’s ladies who lunch, it is entirely normal to spend £400 on a colour and cut and throw in a simultaneous manicure and pedicure for another £80. (The explosion in personal grooming – viz the bikini wax, once a bizarre luxury item, now a painful necessity – is another spur to hair salon expansion, since many of them offer a range of additional beauty treatments on the side.)
But forget normal. How about the competition for the most expensive haircut in the world? In 2007, London hairdresser Lee Stafford set the bar at £1,000 (you were, by the way, paying for the privilege of going to his house, not having him come to you) but Stuart Phillips blew that record out of the water at the end of last year by charging property developer Beverley Lateo £8,000. Sure, the day included first-class flights from Italy, where Lateo is based but, as she said herself, 'For me, it is a small price to pay for the knowledge that I will walk away with the perfect haircut.'
Another top London colourist describes being flown first class to Saudi Arabia to tint a client’s roots and going home with £2,000 in his pocket. While celebrities, ironically, pay ordinary salon rates (no wonder – the publicity they generate is worth its weight in gold), the super-rich think nothing of flying a stylist such as Errol Douglas Club class to Mumbai for a wedding. 'It was the most incredible experience,' says Douglas. 'I had two assistants and a driver laid on and we were all given pashminas. Everyone had to wear the same colour so we were measured up by a tailor and had a fabulous suit made in six hours. The bride had four hairstyles that I created throughout the day, culminating in a do plaited and brought back on itself with real jewels – sapphires, emeralds, etc – sewn through.'