THE OUTNET’S Head of Content, Claudia Mahoney, got to spend some time with session stylist, master of color, and her personal hair savior, Nicola Clarke. In case you missed their live interview, we made sure to save some of the best bits…
Claudia: Welcome Nicola Clarke to In Conversation with THE OUTNET.
Superstar hairdresser to the superstars, would you agree or do you find that an awkward description?
Nicola: I don’t know, no. It is what it is. I work with a lot of very successful people in the industry. I work with so many people that are so amazing at their jobs and they are sort of recognized for that, people don’t like being called a celebrity, do they?
Claudia: I think because you’re so understated and comfortable with yourself, you make people feel really comfortable when they’re with you. Do you recognize that?
Nicola: Maybe. I suppose I come from a really working-class background and I’ve been in the hair industry since I was 13 years old. when you’ve worked for the companies that I’ve worked for they kind of teach you how to be around people and I suppose yeah, I’ve been doing it for so long now that it’s just second nature.
Claudia: So, you’ve been called the Queen of blonde before, but you know, you’re not exclusive. However, ‘Kates’ seem to feature heavily in your client list from Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, Kate Moss, Kate Beckinsale but she’s brunette right? So…
Nicola: It’s really funny actually, when I met Kate Beckinsale, or when I got the call to do Kate’s hair, and I was like, this is ridiculous. Seriously? Another Kate. And she said to me ‘well, at least I’m a brunette.’ Yeah, I think over the years you get put in a box depending on what celebrity you’re doing. So, because I worked with Gwyneth and Madonna and I suppose Kate Moss were the sort of three over the last 20 years that I’ve been working with mainly in that world. So, when journalists write about you, they write about you as ‘the blonde expert.’
Claudia: So, I wanted to ask you something in the beginning about how you actually started in hairdressing. You said you started at 14 working on like the shop floor as a sort of Saturday girl, is that how it all began?
Nicola: Yeah. I mean I knew from the very beginning that I was never going to be working in an office. I mean, I couldn’t WAIT to get out of school. But I thought, if I learnt a skill, I could travel the world. So, I just hounded my local hair salon and just absolutely loved it. That was kind of what was a step into it. Just to get me out of the area that I was living in in Essex and to get me into town.
Claudia: And did you have a mentor or someone at the time who really helped you?
Nicola: I’ve been really lucky actually, throughout my whole career. I, at the age of 14, marched my mum up to London and we went and saw different hair salons and I went to see this guy at The Berkeley Hotel it was called Robert at The Berkeley. And it was really swishy, and he was, and still to this day, one of my best friends, he’s just amazing. And the people that we were working with at that time I was with Elaine Stritch and Fay Wray like the first heroine from _King Kong _and I did Kirk Douglas’ nails, I was 16. It was, it was just another world and I absolutely loved it.
Claudia: And then, obviously, you famously worked with John Frieda for a really long time but you also have a relationship with Sam McKnight. So, two huge icons of the hairdressing world and what has that taught you, what has that given you?
Nicola: Um, I think… well John is one of kindest, most generous people that I’ve ever met in hairdressing.
Claudia: And a silver fox!
Nicola: And a legend and really handsome. Sam, I think took me into like high fashion and just to be able to deal with different situations and be in those massive moments like you’re called to set, and you’ve got to change Kate Moss’ hair from blonde to brunette for Versace.
Claudia: So, what’s the sort of biggest moment or show or shoot that you think sticks out in your memory that you’ve been on?
Nicola: I suppose working with Madonna. Because…
Claudia: What’s that like?!?
Nicola: I was never a HUGE fan; I was a bit of a grungy teenager back in the day…
Claudia: Was she terrifying when you first met her?
Nicola: No, actually, it was really funny. I think because I wasn’t, and I don’t mean I wasn’t a huge fan, but I wasn’t really into her music when I was growing up, I just needed to be really professional. When I turned up, she walked down the stairs, I went to her house, but I didn’t know at the time it was for her wedding. So, it was just a regular appointment for me, and she walked down the stairs and she was like ‘hi, I’m Madonna,’ and I was like ‘hi, I’m Nicola Clarke.’ And that was it! We just kind of hit it off really and I’ve always been really honest with her, she wanted me to color her eyebrows, and we’re talking like 20 years ago.
Claudia: Those eyebrows are iconic!
Nicola: Yeah, and in the US colorists did hair and eyebrows, but we never did that here. And she said to me ‘I need my eyebrows coloring,’ and I said, ‘I don’t do eyebrows, I’m not a beauty therapist.’ And she was like ‘you do color don’t you?’ We kind of wrestled with this ‘no, I’m not doing it,’ ‘yes, you are,’ ‘no, I’m not,’ for about five minutes and I gave in and I was like ‘well, if it doesn’t turn out ok, you’re going to have to sort it out with someone else.’ So, I think from then onwards, because I challenged her…
Claudia: She had a respect for you.
Nicola: Yeah, she’s always been, she’s been fantastic. She’s actually probably, one of the easiest people that I work with, because I know her and she’s… I know that she doesn’t talk rubbish. You know?
Claudia: You, literally, are at the pinnacle of your career, but in all of the areas of hairdressing, session, celebrity, fashion, salon owner. So, if you had to look back at starting in this career, what advice would you give to yourself?
Nicola: I remember at school, thinking to myself, I just wanna be known by my peers. I want to be able to be respected by my peers. I didn’t want to be famous; I suppose it’s very different now because everybody has their own platform but the main thing for me was as long as the people that I respect have respect for me, then I must be doing well. So, I would tell myself the same.
Claudia: I’m so grateful to you for giving me your time, when you’re trying to get the salon back up..
Nicola: Yeah, I’ve been looking forward to this video with you so much, it’s been absolutely brilliant. Actually, you know, doing my hair, putting my face on, wearing a dress…
Claudia: It’s been such a pleasure and such a treat to see you. Thank you!