November 14, 2023
Whether you’ve been hairdressing professionally for some time, or are just starting out with hair styling as a career, the leaders in the field are your natural role models. They started out at the bottom, just as everyone does, and they’ve all got their own fascinating stories to tell.
This blog showcases some of the most famous hairdressers and successful hair styling entrepreneurs the world has ever seen. We’ve picked out a selection of legends and pioneers past and present, from both sides of the Atlantic, giving you inspiration and insight on what’s needed to stand out and reach the very top of your profession.
The reclining shampoo chair is one of the key pieces of salon furniture that you use every day and probably don’t give much thought to. But it was invented by Martha Matilda Harper, one of the very first female entrepreneurs in the hairdressing industry. Born in Canada, she worked as a servant from an early age but gained a recipe for a hair tonic from one of her employers after he died.
In 1888, she used her life savings to open her own hair parlour in New York state, with the tonic at its core, but focusing on customer services and an enjoyable experience for all. So successful was her salon that more than 500 others bearing her name opened on a franchise basis, forming one of the world’s first modern salon chains.
Madam C. J. Walker is widely regarded as the first self-made female millionaire in America. This fact is even more astounding given that she did so as an African-American in an era when the U.S. was still divided on racial lines in many walks of life.
Madam Walker built her success on the recognition that the characteristics of black people’s hair can differ significantly from other races, and many hair products on the market at the time could be harmful to African-Americans. She created different product formulations that were kinder to those characteristics, and went on to establish her own salon, factory and beauty school. Through the ‘Walker System’, nearly 20,000 women learned how to condition the scalp, promote better hair growth, and become hairdressing businesswomen in their own right.
If you’ve seen a photo of a famous actress from the 1950s and 60s, there’s a fair chance that you’ll be looking at a hairstyle devised by Vidal Sassoon. Having grown up in poverty in Shepherd’s Bush in London, he started as an apprentice hairdresser on the recommendation of his mother, and quickly developed a reputation for innovation.
The short, angular haircuts he provided from his London salon, which opened in 1954, became famous around the world, and he eventually moved to Los Angeles to become a stylist to the stars. Sassoon died in 2012 at the age of 84, but his legacy lives on through an extensive range of haircare products and accessories.
One of the most sought-after places at which to get a hairdressing appointment in London is at Charles Worthington’s luxurious facility in Covent Garden – and it’s easy to understand why. Along with his team of stylists, he’s been delivering eye-catching hair for models, musicians, film stars and TV personalities alike since the late 1980s. Jodie Kidd, Kim Cattrall and Diana Ross are just three of a long line of celebrities who have turned to Worthington for their styling, and his creativity has helped earn him an MBE. His team are also regularly used as the stylists in residence for the annual BAFTA awards.
Next time you work with a client who has particularly curly or frizzy hair, have a look at the label on the bottle of the product you use. More than likely, you’ll be using the Frizz-Ease that John Frieda invented, or one created off the back of it. He started out working at his father’s salon in London, and he quickly started moving in celebrity circles, being married to the singer Lulu for 14 years. He moved to New York in the late 1980s, and it was there that Frizz-Ease, developed in collaboration with Gail Federici, really took off. More than three decades later, his products are used all over the world, and he’s still working with A-listers today.
If you were to draw up a list of the most influential and popular hair stylists today, then there’s no doubt that Jen Atkin will be right up towards the top of it. Raised in a Mormon community in Utah, she moved to Los Angeles when she was 19 to follow her dreams for a hair and fashion career. Much of her success has been built by her pioneering use of Instagram (where she has 5.3 million followers at the time of writing) to showcase her creations and designs. This has helped her connect with leading stars and models such as Chrissy Teigen and the Kardashians, and become a major source of hair inspiration all over the world.
Nicky Clarke is one of the most famous British hair stylists of modern times, and much like Vidal Sassoon before him, his is a real rags-to-riches story. Raised in a London council flat, he started his hair styling career when he was just 16 and built a strong reputation throughout the 1970s and 80s, including a salon partnership with John Frieda. He overcame a heroin addiction to eventually set up his own styling enterprise, which led to him becoming a TV celebrity himself and a regular fixture on various shows. His salon was badly hit by COVID-related restrictions and had to close in 2022, but his four decades of service to the industry have stood the test of time.
Many of today’s top stylists have come to prominence through appearances on TV reality shows, and Los Angeles-based Ted Gibson is a perfect example of that. If you watch What Not To Wear, then it’s his designs that you’ll be looking at!
His father was an army sergeant, which meant Texas-born Ted grew up on army bases all over the world, and he started out by going to barber school and then studying cosmetology. Working in New York as a stylist, he quickly gained a reputation for great work, as well as for discretion with the celebrity clients that he works with. Angelina Jolie and Anne Hathaway are just two of Ted’s satisfied customers, so it’s no wonder that he charges up to $2000 for a treatment today.
If you’ve ever wondered who the world’s very first celebrity stylist was, then the answer is to be found in one of the most stylish cities on the planet: Paris.
Antoine de Paris was actually the name of his salon in the French capital: he was born in Poland under the name Antoni Cierplikowski. Many of his styles in the early years of the 20th century proved to be trend-setters in the city, and he became trusted by some of the most famous women of the time: Coco Chanel, Greta Garbo, Brigitte Bardot, Eleanor Roosevelt, and many more.
After the First World War, his bob cuts blazed a trail among wealthier young women of the time, and he opened a fashionable salon at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York in 1924. And one of his crowning glories (no pun intended!) came in 1937, when he supervised 400 coiffures in a single night ahead of the coronation of King George VI.
Every famous hairdresser listed here – and a whole lot more all over the world – have had to work hard to get to where they are today. As well as enjoying a lot of success, many will likely have had to overcome setbacks that you won’t necessarily read about in the media. Bouncing back from disappointment or times of difficulty is one of the most important parts of becoming successful in any line of business, and having good insurance cover in place is a major part of that.
At Protectivity, we provide wide-ranging hairdressing insurance cover for ambitious stylists just like you. If you accidentally injure someone during a styling or treatment; damage their property, or are sued for negligence, we can make sure you aren’t out of pocket. If you run a salon where you employ other people, we can also provide you with employer’s insurance, which is an important legal requirement.
Our hairdressing insurance starts at just a few pounds a month, making it a sound and affordable investment into your future career. Take a closer look at our policies today to find out more.
N.B: This blog has been created as general information and should not be taken as advice. Make sure you have the correct level of insurance for your requirements and always review policy documentation.