Monday, 3 October 2011

... been a hair model

One of the many advantages of having long hair (apart from the fact that men love it – just ask a stripper) is that it’s actually surprisingly low-maintenance. Wash it every few days, run a brush through it, shake it out (or put it up) and Bob’s your follicular uncle. Not for us long-locked ladies the endless snipping and trimming of those with more money than barnet: which is why I almost never go to the hairdresser’s – there being scissors in the kitchen – and have not had a professional cut since I was about 12. Why spend my hard-earned cash on haircuts (goes my reasoning) if I’m not going to come out looking dramatically different? In a good way, that is ...

So it was a rare and peculiar pleasure for me to get a proper, professional seeing-to, hair-wise, last week, when I volunteered to be a hair model for a final year student called James at the Toni & Guy training academy in Holborn. James had cunningly advertised his services on Freecycle – generally the place where elderly and unwanted fridges, hoovers and IKEA furniture go to die – and got a pretty good response. But (I learned, as he snapped away at my split ends), the final assessment of the three-year course involved doing ten haircuts on a range of people with different kinds of hair (male, female, curly, straight) and he needed a long do to complete the set. So – hurrah! I was in.

Shown upstairs to the crowded and swish training studio, I saw human guineapigs of all ages and both genders sitting in the chairs, swaddled in those nylon overalls that remind me uncomfortably of hospital gowns. Most of the trainees were extremely young and hip, about two-thirds were male, and everyone had … well, obviously, amazing hair. Stalking the floor like a big game hunter, or perhaps the Ray Mears of the hair world, was a greying, pumped-up Kiwi guy whom I will call the Hair Whisperer (since we were never formally introduced).

This was obviously the principal examiner/guru, as he wandered over to each trainee-model pair and asked searching questions or made gentle suggestions regarding the best cut. It was fascinating to watch him in action; even with my head thrown back over the special sink as James massaged honey-scented shampoo into my scalp (now that was nice) I caught snatches of mysterious hairdressing phrases like “you want to connect” (not in the EM Forster sense, I guessed). It made me feel as if I were part of some strange and secret club – seeing the (extremely big) business of hairdressing from the inside – or at least taking a peek through the door that separates the doers from the impeccably “done”.
My hair, before (face not model's own)

I've got long, fine, basically straight hair – there's a bit of a wave to it when I've had it up for a while, but nothing special, and while I wanted to keep the length, I also wanted it to look a bit more interesting for my looming author photo, which is a necessary part of having a book published and tends to be a black & white head & shoulders shot, from what I've seen browsing through the inside covers of various paperbacks. There's no point spending a lot of money on edgy clothes and shoes for your author pic, because a) they'd be hilariously passé pretty soon (author photos are, notoriously, rarely updated) and b) nobody gets to see anything below your collarbone. So hair (and make-up, I suppose) it had to be. James obligingly bounded up with a picture of a stunning model with frisky, wavy, flicky long hair and stated his intention of making me look like that. I heartily agreed that that was a good idea, and he set to with the scissors.

The Hair Whisperer came on his rounds and offered James a couple of pieces of advice: the first was that a young hairdresser always needs to be prepared for the eventuality that some people cut their own hair (guilty) and will have to work around that; the second was that it was OK to ask me to stand up for some of the cutting, as it's a lot easier than crouching on the floor to reach the extra-long bits. This was all delivered with an encouraging smile and a generous dose of sensitivity and bonhomie, and as a teacher myself it was a pleasure to watch someone so self-assured and excellent at communicating getting his point across, subtly but clearly. While there's plenty more to the hairdressing profession than a scrub and a snip, there are obviously far more challenges than I'd realised to teaching hairdressing too – and I was privileged to watch a master in action. I'll be surprised if this guy doesn't get his own reality show soon; he certainly deserves one.

It's been mooted that the cash-rich, time-poor women of today, whose round of self-maintenance includes regular appointments with the manicurist, facialist and hairdresser, are not so much paying for beautiful hair, skin and nails – though that's a bonus, of course, in any social or business environment (again, just ask a stripper) – as for the intimacy of being touched. Little kids nearly always have their hair washed and cut by their mothers, and it's certainly an atavistic comfort to lean back in a chair and have someone massage your scalp; but I did get slightly more than I bargained for in this case as James's crotch repeatedly bumped against my shoulder as he focused on sorting out my fringe. Had he been heterosexual this probably would have been awkward, but so intensely was he concentrating on his work, I was the only one to notice the incidental frottage. I expect groin awareness is something else they train into you during the first few weeks on the job.
My hair, after (face courtesy of Kate Beckinsale)

Wayward genitals aside, though, the $64,000 dollar question, after all the pampering and preening, is of course whether I got a good haircut out of it? I don't think I'm easily pleased, and have been known to sulk, glower and resort to hats and/or plaits after a disappointing encounter with the scissors (usually my own home cuts) but this one seemed to impress both the Whisperer and James, and I've got to say I spent a lot more time than usual checking myself out in shop windows on the way home: artist's impression below.

Would I do it again? Hell yeah. I might even put myself on display for James's final assessment (free wash and blow dry included) – because, after all, I'm worth it. And having good hair in my publicity photo for the next ten years is, as the ads say, priceless.

1 comment:

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