Nicky Clarke – a cut above the rest page 2

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“It works, and it is working. It’s great. It’s like all that work I’ve done for thirty-two years is starting to pay off. And I still cut hair every day!”
The single biggest reason why Nicky still cuts regularly is that he is fascinated by the diverse nature of his clientèle.

“You really do get to meet everybody,” he says. “Ok some people would say that’s everybody who has four hundred quid in their pocket [the cost of a first-time cut by Nicky], but really, I do meet people from all walks of life, and I just love it. As much as I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of the celebrities, probably more than most, the biggest buzz from actual hairdressing actually comes from working on ordinary people. I like to work on the people whose husband, boyfriend, partner, kids, or whatever, have sent them in for a treat, or people who have decided to treat themselves.

“To those people it’s really something. They look around and they can just see the standards we set. That’s not the case everywhere: I saw a cut yesterday… I mean, I’m ashamed to say a British stylist did that! It was just appalling. It made me want to turn around and say that any of my junior people would have done it better.

“I use the analogy of the Saville Row suit. I have dozens of suits up in my wardrobe, but I really prefer the half-dozen or so that have been made for me. I have to pay more for those suits, but you really can tell the difference. The high price may be a bit annoying, but it’s a bit like that with haircuts: you can just really see the difference.

“There are people who can’t afford to come very often, but they still come when they can, maybe three times a year, just because of the difference they get from us compared to what they’d get from the other guy. And the cost of coming to me gets lower: the first time is a bit expensive, because it’s harder to work on the hair first time, but after that the cost goes down a lot. In fact, it’s a bargain!”

The business really is a family concern. Harrison has also joined the team, to Nicky’s evident delight.

“I have to say he’s been great. He’s been with us for a year now. I had thought he was originally going off to university in Edinburgh, but now, rather than just take it as a year out he’s actually said that he doesn’t really want to go. It was quite hard for someone from my generation to accept that. I felt that if you got a place at university you sort of just took it up; but I’m actually coming round to accepting it now.”

Harrison says, “I’m the only person from the school that isn’t going. And I got one of the highest marks.”

Harrison’s decision was certainly not down to poor marks. With two A grades and a B he was accepted into one of the UK’s top universities. His reasons were more to do with him already being focused on what he wants to do. That focused attitude would still be applied if he did decide later on to attend uni.
“If I was going to go it would be to get a degree, not just to have a good time or anything. I already have a good time here.”

Harrison’s role is already a varied one. He is training to become a hairdresser, but he is also working hard on the business side. With his fresh perspective, he is bringing a new approach and new ideas. He also provides a useful link between Nicky and Lesley and the younger staff, many of whom are his age.
With the business branching out to include so much, there is certainly plenty for Harrison to learn. Nicky is very pleased with the way the additional products have performed.

“We launched Hairomatherapy in 1993 and it was, and still is, a phenomenal success. We were the first of the main designers in designer hair care to go into supermarkets. At that time, of course, everybody just thought we were nuts. You have this high-end brand and what do you do? You sell them in Tesco. But it worked! And then, on the back of that, we launched Nicky Clarke Electric, which is now huge. We’re one of the biggest in the country. So we sell more men’s hair clippers than anybody by two to one. There are about six lines from our range where we are the biggest-seller in the country. It’s been a huge, huge success.

“We’re re-launching the products in February. Since ’93 when we launched the wets (shampoo and conditioners), there’re now quite a few celebrity hairdressers around, and some are actually on my doorstep! There are four hairdressers in my street… I don’t know what they are thinking. It’s not like shoe shops where people go in and browse!”

Nicky seems completely unconcerned, and even a little baffled by the thought that any of the new crop might be seen as competition per se, and many would agree. Certainly, Nicky has been the first really high-profile celebrity hairstylist since the previous generation of superstar crimpers, back in the 1960s and 1970s.

One of the first famous people to visit Nicky’s new salon in 1991 was Gianni Versace.

“The night before we opened, he just walked in through the door. He was here for Vogue’s 75th anniversary and he was staying at the Connaught. Anyway, he walked in about 1 o’clock in the morning while we were all there polishing and cleaning and stuff and he said, ‘What is this place?’, because it wasn’t very obvious straight off. So, I said it was a hairdressing salon and he thought it was fabulous.

“There were statues everywhere. You see, a friend of one of my stylists had a really upmarket, smart furniture shop in Pimlico but he didn’t have enough room to store all his stock, so he said, ‘Look, I’ll put all the stuff in here!’. So, we had about £5 million worth of furniture. He said that he’d rather show the furniture to customers in situ in central London, and if something was sold he’d simply replace it with something else. It worked out great! We opened and it looked incredible.”

It certainly impressed Versace, and Nicky did the hair for the opening of the Versace show. Who are Nicky’s current favourites from his list of famous clients?
“I think it would be unfair to name one person, because a lot of them have been around for a long time and I have real affection for them. George Michael has become a friend and Liz Hurley has been a client since we started. She wasn’t really known then, she was known mostly as Hugh’s girlfriend. But the list is endless. There are a lot of people who are my own heroes; for example, when I’m doing Bowie I have to try to not be too gushing!

Jonathan Ross is a nice guy. We went to his house once when he had a show to do and he had just taken delivery of about twenty of the new PSP games consoles. They were just out and Harrison had been trying to get one, so Jonathan just gave one to him!

Naomi Campbell doesn’t always get the best publicity, but I’ve known her since she was 16 and she’s always been lovely. She brings her mum in. The press would probably rather I said that she was bitchy, but I’ve never seen that. I’m not covering up, that’s how I find them. They’re always really nice.”

Hairdressers know all about mirrors, so perhaps it is surprising that Nicky doesn’t seem to realise that the reason his clients seem so nice may simply be that they are reflecting the way he treats them. We found Nicky and his family to be friendly, patient and very helpful. We are very grateful to them for their time and hospitality.

by Rick Cadger

Reporting team:
Angela Banh and John Doherty

Photography: Stan Thompson

© 2006

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