Bringing craft hairdressing to Jersey
Hairdressing is in Damian’s blood. His grandfather, who he declares his hero, was a barber, opening his own shop when he left the Air Force after the war. “He opened the shop without any qualifications, I think he thought it was something easy to do, something he could do without training,” Damian tells me. “Once he had saved enough money, he bought the shop next door and turned it into a Post Office/ Newsagent that my gran worked in. He only bought it so he could see her more often as he worked from 5 in the morning until 9, 10 o’clock at night when the last client left.”
Damian always wanted to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, he recalls how his brother and sister would sit under the counter in the shop next door, waiting for their gran to affectionately throw sweets down to them, whilst he would sit in the barbers with his grandfather and talk to the clients.
I’m intrigued as to how Damian ended up working as a hairdresser rather than a barber. “I used to get my hair cut in a salon by a girl called Nicky and I mentioned that I was interested in working with hair, I got home from the appointment and the boss, Bernard Roper, had already rung me to offer me a Saturday job – so, at age 15, I took it. I had only ever thought about cutting hair, I hadn’t considered colours, perms, and styling.”
Once Damian had finished school, he remained at the salon as an assistant. “I did my last GCSE on a Monday and started in the salon on the Tuesday, I didn’t have a break at all. It wasn’t the coolest salon in Plymouth, but it was the most consistent. Bernard was fully booked 6 weeks in advance every week, and he wasn’t even a great hairdresser - he would tell you that himself though! The thing Bernard drilled into me was to be consistent in everything that you do, the way you cut hair, the way you clean the salon etc. if you’re consistent you will do well.
"Bernard was a really cool guy, I used to stay behind and watch him cash up the till, I would ask him how much we had taken, how much was his, and he used to tell me. I had a great relationship with him, he was like a second dad to me in many ways.”
After completing his training, Damian worked at the salon as a hairdresser, but only for a short time.
“I was a real hairdressing geek – every week I used to get the ‘Hairdresser’s Journal’ and read it cover to cover so I knew exactly what was going on in the industry. I knew who the best hairdressers were and who the celebrity hairdressers who were more ‘famous for being famous’ were. I had made my mind up that Trevor Sorbie was the best hairdresser in the industry, so when I read that there was an assistant’s position available in the London salon, I rang the number and asked for an interview.
“When I hadn’t heard the next day, I rang the salon again and spoke to a woman named Sally Brookes (the current ‘Hairdresser of the Year’), and she told me to go in for an interview on the Monday. I then listened to the answerphone and Kevin Sweeney, the salon manager, had offered me an interview on the Wednesday but I just thought sod it, I’ll go on the Monday anyway. When my mum came home, I told her that I had a job interview in London, but I’d never left Plymouth before, so she came with me on the train. I remember her saying to me ‘what are you going to do if you get the job?’ and me replying, ‘I’m not going to get the job’. In my mind I just thought there are going to be so many people applying, it’s not going to happen – I thought I might get to see Trevor Sorbie working, I get to go to the salon, it will just be an amazing experience.”
Damian was interviewed by Sally Brookes and Kevin Sweeney. Because Damian’s dad was a priest, the answerphone message said, ‘St Peter’s Vicarage’, something Kevin had picked up on being a Scottish Catholic himself. He spoke to Damian about religion while Sally quizzed him on his skills. At the end of the interview, they offered Damian the job – he was to start the following week.
“I had originally told Bernard that I was sick, so I had to go back and explain that I wasn’t sick I had gone for an interview in London! He was happy for me and thanked me for my honesty. He was always my go-to in my professional life as well as certain aspects of my private life, so it was really sad leaving him, but we kept in contact.”
The next chapter
Why take an assistant position after qualifying as a hairdresser? “I knew I wasn’t going to be good enough. The standard that I had learnt at college was so low, NVQ is across the board standard, anyone who works in a salon can achieve an NVQ. The standard when you work for someone like Trevor Sorbie is extreme. You have to work 7 days a week to qualify. Every 3 months you are tested, if you fail once you can re-present, but if you fail twice, you’re out the door. It would either be Pauline McLaughlin, the Art Director, or Trevor himself who would look at your work. You’d have to present to the whole salon too, it was scary.”
"I knew that if I carried on for much longer, it would kill me."
Damian left Trevor Sorbie after 2 years and moved with Pauline when she opened her own salon, MacGregor McLaughlin. “The salon was on the Kings Road by what used to be SEX (Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s shop selling edgy rock ‘n’ roll fashion). It was a very cool salon and the clientele was cool. Trevor Sorbie's was cool, but the clientele at MacGregor McLaughlin's was cooler. It was the rebels - you had the likes of Noel and Liam Gallagher, Robbie Williams after Take That, a lot of actors and comedians - all rebels.
“It was a really creative salon. At Trevor Sorbie's it was very regiment, everything was done the Trevor way, but at MacGregor McLaughlin's everyone was self-employed. There are lots of hairdressers that are creative but don't have solid foundations, but when you meet people that have had really great training and then become creative you get something really special. That's what MacGregor McLaughlin was, it was a very special salon. Pauline remains my hairdressing inspiration after all these years, I still speak to her on a weekly basis.”
Damian stayed with Pauline for 3 years before leaving London, citing that the lifestyle was too much. “I was working and partying constantly. When you work at those kinds of salons you have to attend parties to keep up your appearance. I knew that if I carried on for much longer, it would kill me.”
After MacGregor McLaughlin, Damian moved to Swindon to take a position with Toni and Guy. From here, he travelled the world improving various salons, from the UK all the way to Canada and New York. (When Damian took over the salon in Bath it was doing around 50k a month, within 6 months the turnover had more than doubled to 120k a month.) Damian then moved to Jersey and opened his own salon.
“During the summer of 2017, my wife and I purchased our own salon, Blunt Hairdressing, before splitting 4 months later. My wife funded the business and I think she almost wanted it more than I did - she’s in finance so I think the idea of owning her own business appealed to her. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful to her and happy I have the business.
“Initially, going from being married, having a home and a fairly easy life, to going from living with friends was really difficult, having said that, business is great now. There’s another hairdresser who works with me, and a few others who are interested in joining, so we are expanding.”
At the time of speaking to Damian, he was working 20 hours a day on the salon refit. “I’m doing a lot of it myself as I want the salon to represent me and everything I stand for. The salon look is in line with my philosophy on hairdressing, it’s the idea of respecting those that worked before you, that’s really important to me. We’re changing the colours and adding a lot of wood, it’s all about craftsmanship.”
After working in various salons around the world, Damian must find Jersey quite odd? “It takes a little longer for fashion to hit in Jersey but when it does it really explodes, it's like the balayage, everywhere you looked last year girls had the same hairstyle. I think that's the problem with Jersey, there's kind of like this uniform, it's very hard for people to move out of their comfort zones. I have a core group of clients that allow me to do whatever I want to their hair, they are very adventurous and don't mind being different. A lot of those people have become friends because of the way I am, I’m a bit different too. I couldn't imagine being in a salon and doing balayage one after the other and GHD curls, that to me isn't hairdressing, that's what you see on YouTube. You obviously get clients who don't want to change and it's important as a hairdresser to respect that.”
"When you've been taught the knowledge and you've had the experience, I think it's very important to share that."
Damian wants everybody to feel welcome in his salon and that’s reflected in the prices. “We're not as expensive as other salons, we keep our prices down because we just want everybody to have a really great haircut. I see people that have fairly normal jobs and people that are billionaires, I have a great mix of clients.
“I approach every client as a new client, it doesn't matter how long they've been coming to me. The consultation at the start is very important to find out what they didn't like with their last haircut - even if you gave it to them.
“The mirrors aren’t important, the chairs aren't important, I could cut hair sitting on a stool - as long as I have my scissors and my comb, I can do that haircut, the thing that is important is the clients. It's about value for money, good haircuts and understanding their needs. A lot of hairdressers are taught to cut hair in a particular way, so the next thing I want to do is to start running training from the salon, hairdressers can come in and learn. When you've been taught the knowledge and you've had the experience, I think it's very important to share that, I’m not quite at the end of my career but in 10 years I'm going to be, and I want to share the craft of hairdressing.”
I’ve kept Damian away from the salon for almost an hour, so I let him leave and get back to his pride and joy.
Blunt Hairdressing is located on Colomberie Parade. You can book an appointment by contacting Damian on 01534 617872