Handing down the craft of hairdressing from one generation to the next is a tradition with deep roots in styling and barbering families. And to celebrate Father’s Day, what better tribute can a haircare company make than to highlight the opportunities that a hairdressing career can offer – and sustain not just families, but the communities that surround them? If doing hair runs in the blood, all the better.
Some perhaps familiar names in the hairdressing profession trace the foundation of their careers to their dads. Joshua Galvin – one of the new breed of hairdressers in the 1960s who made his name in the Revlon salon in New York as a personal hairdresser to Judy Garland and Julie Andrews – came from four generations of hair craft. His grandfather was a master wig maker, his father a master barber who Galvin worked with on Saturdays. His daughter attended a college of fashion and is reputedly a talented hairdresser.
Charles Booth – the owner of 3 salons called La Coupe in the 1970s in Montreal, Toronto, and New York and creator of La Coupe Products – was brought up while living above a hairdressing salon where he worked as a kid sweeping the floor and cleaning perm rods; his mother and uncle owned a chain of salons up and down England, and his grandfather was a barber.
Trevor Sorbie – a salon and product entrepreneur with a chain of 7 salons who has been lavishly decorated with accolades including an honor by Queen Elizabeth – started his hairdressing journey as a high school dropout working in a barbershop run by his father.
We spoke with veteran hairdresser Chris Hunt, owner of Puretotnes Salon in Totnes, England. His father was a ‘ladies’ hairdresser,’ and his mother, an aunt, and a cousin were all in the hair business. (Of his 3 daughters, none have yet to express an interest in continuing the family trade.) His hairdressing career began in his teens in the ’80s and ’90s at his father’s side. Here are some highlights of our conversation.
Tell us about your parents, and what it was like growing up in a salon environment.
“I was a ‘Saturday’ boy when I was about 10 or 11, which means helping out around the salon until you can reach the basin and can start shampooing clients. I used to do that for my father. My school shut down when I was 15, and my father took me under his wing to work in the salon full time. Then he sent me to the Vidal Sassoon Academy in London to finish my education. He said, ‘Look, you've been with us for so long, you’ve got to see something else and learn some new things. And it looks better than purely keeping it in the family.’
He was a hard taskmaster, but I look back now, and I think it’s made me who I am. He sent me on the right path.”
Had you decided for yourself that hairdressing was the career you were going to embark on?
“Well, for my 14th birthday I wanted a pair of scissors – not a tracksuit, or a pair of trainers… ‘A pair of scissors dad, that’s what I would like!” He used to save copies of Hairdressers’ Journal for me, which is our publication over here. I had a big stack in my wardrobe; I was a bit of a nerd for those magazines. He also used to take me up to Manchester to see the big hair shows.
Later in life, I found out that my auntie had a salon. I also had an uncle and a cousin who used to work for Wella. I had another cousin who used to be a hairdresser. So, we’ve got lots of members of the family and I'm just so pleased that he showed me the trade.”
Do you find that hairdressing is a generally respected profession? There are plenty of stories of young people saying, ‘Dad, I want to be a hairdresser,’ and it not being what Dad dreamt for his kid.
“Over time we’ve seen a lot more programs on television about hairdressers and the background and all the different opportunities and avenues one can take. You're right that years ago it was, it was considered a cop-out – if you didn't know what to do at school, just go to the local tech. But nowadays, parents see celebrity hairdressers, the cars they drive, the nice clothes, material things.
And obviously, there’s the creative side of it. Whether session or salon styling, it’s more evident now, and people realize there are so many different facets to our industry. It has really raised the bar for us, which is great.”
What advice would you give to an aspiring hairdresser?
“If somebody asks me, I say, "Look, at the end of the day, my advice is to go to London, or a major city, and try and get an apprenticeship. You need a very good foundation. Once you have that foundation, move around and learn different experiences. Try different salons. Find the way you want to work.
My brother thought about it after he had gone to college and dropped out; he sat there with my mother and me and said, ‘Well, mom used to be a hairdresser. Dad is a hairdresser…’ and he looks at me and I said, ‘Hairdressing is not an afterthought. You need to find what you need to find, but believe me, this isn't it.’ Thank goodness he found what he was looking for, and it's certainly not hairdressing.”
What were the most important things your father passed on to you professionally?
“When I used to work in his shop, I had to work twice as hard as everybody else to prove that I never had advantages working there. He very rarely said that he liked anything. But when he did it meant a lot because, at the time, I thought that he was being extremely tough on me, but it’s done me good because it made me try harder.
What he really taught me was how to deal with people. No matter who walked into the shop, he would always say, ‘good morning’ and ‘goodbye’ – and call them by their name. Whether they were his clients or not, he knew everybody’s name.
Dealing with people is really half the battle. You could be the best cutter in the world, but if you can't deal with people, well – crumbs – you're only going to be half as busy!”