Pro Talk: George Northwood
“My Nan was a hairdresser and she used to have these old ladies around her house and she would be doing their hair for them. I remember smelling the perm lotion and I saw her chatting and socializing with these women and making them feel and look better. She became my inspiration and I thought it was a really fun job because to me, it was just about hanging out, chatting, and catching up. My Mum also used to have a lady come around the house every week or so to do her hair and I was fascinated by that from a young age. I used to have a loft at my parent’s house and I would play salon. All the kids would come and I would put rollers in their hair and try to perm it. Mid to late 80s, everyone had a perm so I was obsessed with trying to make hair curly.
I went to drama school for two years after graduation because I didn’t want to do hair, thinking it’s not normal for a boy to want to do hairdressing. I was beginning to be very aware of what other people might think because I was grew up in quite a small town. Drama school was great because I found confidence in myself. Alongside of that, I worked at a restaurant bar part-time to pay for school and when I finished drama school, I took on management responsibilities at the restaurant. One of the staff at the bar was a lecturer at a hairdressing college and I still very much wanted to learn about hair. She offered one-on-one training at her home and instantly, she told me I was a natural. Everything she was showing me, I was picking up very quickly. I thought to myself, I need to find a job at a salon.
I was out drinking in Bristol and I met a friend of a friend and we started chatting about how I wanted to work at a salon and go to hairdressing college. She told me to come by her salon called McQueen’s at the time. She said that she’d never trained someone so quickly and known they would be a success. She offered me a job on the spot. I had no experience, except a few one-on-one training sessions, and had just enrolled in hairdressing college which I attended once a week. To be honest, hairdressing school doesn’t teach you that much. They teach you the basics but you learn in the salon. The great thing about learning hairdressing in Bristol was that she threw me into the deep end. She gave me clients straight away and I learned about colors as well. After a couple of years there, I wanted to move to London. My sister, a colorist, had been working at a salon in London and she gave me a rundown of a few good salons.
My sister went to hairdressing school and was working at a salon called Michael Van Clark. I went about hairdressing a little differently but the profession is all in the family. I was offered a job at Daniel Hersheson, which is a big, amazing salon in Mayfair, and I went in and met them. They gave me a fast-tracked training program being a stylist, because I was already qualified from my prior experience. My starting title was as a Junior Stylist and I went back to shampooing hair. They re-trained and I built a London clientele and took on some managerial responsibilities. Part of the gig as a new stylist, you looked after the new models and new faces on the floor. One of which was the lovely Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and the other was Alexa Chung. They were 17 and 19, and I was 25, at the time. I met these girls as models and started doing their hair. Rosie moved off to New York after awhile, Alexa just landed the T4 gig, which is a weekend show for teenagers here in London.
I remember Alexa coming in with this long hair and telling me she wanted really messy, f-ed up hair but no one would do it for her. So I shredded her hair and chopped it right up. I realize now, that I’ve never been scared to do things. I just did what the client asked me to do and Alexa loved it. Alexa doesn’t deliberately try and set trends, she just does. The haircut that I’m known for is sexy and undone, basically you leave me and the whole time you’re away it looks beautiful, you don’t need to have blow dries, you don’t need to style it too much, it just sits and hangs. It couldn’t be further from the Vidal Sassoon way of working. It’s very freehand; I work visually, not technically. I move with the shape of the face. I do so many bobs a week – that’s the look – but what’s really exciting is that you’re creating something new and fresh and it’s not about a high maintenance haircut. It’s not about harsh lines, it’s about soft hair that moves and is natural. I hang out with a lot of girls and I feel like I have a good sense of what girls want and what they like. I’m really into fashion and I’m really into style and I feel like I work with girls like Rosie and Alexa and we create what we feel is right together. I work with them on trends and I keep a close eye on the shows.
Alexa said at the time – she must have been 19 – that no one else will ever cut her hair again! Around the same time, editors started to refer clients to me and as a result, I began popping up on people’s radar in London. My clientele started to really grow and then I started to do this guest spot for Shu Uemura when they launched their hair care line at Harvey Nichols. On the back end of that, I gained exposure to all of the top journalists, worked with an amazing hair care brand, created stories around hair, and in the meantime, both Alexa and Rosie’s careers were growing.
Alexa was doing a cover shoot for Company Magazine and she invited me along to do her hair. Then we did ES Magazine, Stella Magazine, and she was getting all of these requests for magazine shoots and she would request that I be the hairdresser on site. I was on these shoots at the talent’s request but at the same time, I was meeting photographers and booking agents too. In the last year, I did hair for Rosie and Alexa for UK Elle Magazine, which was amazing. The three of us have grown together, which is really nice. Most recently, Rosie and I did the Marks & Spencer campaign and with Alexa, I’ve been with her all through Fashion Week.
After 8 years at Hersheson, I really wanted to brand myself and I wanted to become my own person. I met Josh [Wood] through a mutual friend and we got along really well. He has this concept for a salon [Josh Wood Atelier; Notting Hill, London] where we’re all freelancers and we’re all self-employed, we come and go as we please, and with this idea, I have creative freedom and I can be a brand on my own, within a brand. I’m doing more freelance work, such as photo shoots, and when I’m in the country I’m at Josh’s and when I’m not, it’s because I’ve been booked for another job. In London, most celebrities and well known profiles will come into the atelier. These salons are geared for that clientele and we’re also very discreet. On the other hand, I do make home visits as well. What’s great with the atelier is that I’ve met a lot of interesting people such as Elizabeth Saltzman, Gwyneth Paltrow’s stylist, who then connected me with Gwyneth. I was really honored to work with her on the Goop Project, teaching people how to blow dry their own hair. I feel like I have a really amazing clientele and they each bring something so different as well.
Right now I’m freelancing, I’m my own boss and I love it. Who knows what’s next? I want to tap into the LA clientele in the states, maybe New York as well. I’d love to do red carpet, an Oscar season, a MET Ball season, and ideally, I’d like to split my time between here and there. London is my home and it runs in my veins. I’m very much based here and I’d like to take a little bit of London to America and vice versa.” –
– Celebrity hair stylist, George Northwood
*top 3 images by Beauty Banter; bottom 3 images courtesy of George Northwood, hair styled by George Northwood