Stylist to the stars

Motcomb Street hairdresser Errol Douglas talks about achieving his dream of owning a salon, the importance of teamwork, and how he wants to bring back classic 1980s hairdo, the perm.

I’m even more lucky than I realised to catch Errol Douglas for a chat at his Motcomb Street salon.

The celebrity hairdresser is about to jet off to Australia for a hairdressing show and to make preparations for his 2015 collection. He regularly travels three or four times a month, mostly long-haul. “My year is really busy,” he says, with some understatement.

Errol wasn’t born into a hairdressing dynasty – he was an east London boy with a dream. “I’m fortunate enough to have known what I wanted to do from an early age,” he says. “I love the effect of the before and after, and the impact of what hair does psychologically.”

To his parents’ amusement, he declared when he was still a child that he would eventually own a salon. Aged 11, he got his first job with his mum’s hairdresser – a woman who proved an inspiration in ways that she couldn’t have imagined. “That changed my life,” says Errol. “She kept her clients waiting, gave no service. She was the opposite of what I wanted to be.”

Errol went on to work for leading hairdressers Neville Daniel and Paul Edmonds before opening his own salon in 1998. Belgravia was always the plan. “It’s the heart of Europe,” he says. “If you come to England, you come to Knightsbridge. It’s where all the designers are, where the best brands are and Harrods, Harvey Nichols. I thought: that’s where I want to be.”

He’s quick to explain that he couldn’t have achieved what he has done alone. “Our team has been here from the very beginning – we have a very low staff turnover,” he says. He praises the team members’ individual talents, including blow-drying, colour, and bridal – an area he’s keen to build up by attending more wedding shows. The staff are also fluent in Portuguese, Italian, French, Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic and more, which is among the reasons local embassies and, particularly, international hotels, recommend them.

What really sets the salon apart, however, is that it excels across a range of ethnic hair types. This strength has led to some useful crossover skills. “We do a lot of weaves now on European hair,” says Errol. “Extensions are plaited in before being sewn in – that’s really taken off. Sewn-in fringes as well – it has all come from Afro hair.” The salon’s biggest recent growth area has been Chinese clients, who are seen by specialist Leroy Koh. Oriental hair is particularly strong, “like cutting steel needles”, he says, so it takes expertise and confidence to bend it and give it movement.

This topic leads us on to a surprising trend that the influential salon is keen to re-establish – the perm. While dodgy images of 1980s footballers and pre-sex kitten Kylie Minogue spring to mind, Errol is quick to stress that the technique has moved on, with multiple rod sizes and sophisticated use of chemicals and heat. Hair can now be set in subtle boho waves, or partly permed to add body or localised curls.

However, the Errol Douglas collection is all about colour. He shows me shots of amazing blends merging violet and maroon and a tricky leopard skin-like effect called smudging. To keep innovating, his team works closely with major fashion brands and participates in London and New York fashion weeks. Designs are adapted for the salon. “We do a watered-down version in our look books,” he says. “We make sure it’s wearable and comfortable for the client.”

The Errol Douglas collections are much talked about in the industry, and it’s no wonder. A plaque beside the door shows this is a Leading Salon of the World and there are two shelves full of awards, among them the Fellowship for British Hairdressing’s Hairdresser of the Year. I ask which gong has made Errol proudest. “It’s got to be the MBE, because that was awarded for the industry, not just for me,” he says. He received the honour in 2008 for services to education, charity and the hair industry – and training is a big part of what he does.

“I go round the world travelling and teaching different things. I could be in Singapore one day, Italy one day, then doing essential looks for Vogue – it goes across the board,” he says. He’s not precious then about giving away trade secrets? “Not at all,” he says. “That’s the next generation. I’ve got three kids and none of them are going into this industry. I’m looking for the next Errol Douglas. That’s not being big-headed but I’ve got 10 to 15 years before I have to go, and that’s it.”

They are big shoes to fill. Errol is in the enviable position of having run his hands through the hair of Brad Pitt, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and a host of other A-list stars. So is there anyone else he’d like to style? “I love Scarlett Johansson,” he says. “She’s 20-something but she seems like she’s been around a long time because she’s done so much. She just gets better.”

Some may wonder why he hasn’t been empire-building, with a chain of salons. “It’s important to give the best service,” he says. “Not a lot of salons can say they do that – they spread themselves too thin.” A Belgravia expansion could be an option, though. “It would be great to have one more floor, rather than a different salon – then it would be like a super destination salon,” he says. “We’re bursting at the seams when everybody’s here.”

In the meantime, another salon is planned for the salon’s new sister brand, EDGE (Education, Design, Guidance and Excellence). It will be aimed at a younger clientele, aged 16-30, more affordable, and based somewhere such as Farringdon or Old Street. As to how far off both developments are, “we’re in talks”, he says.

It’s a lot to fit in around all that travelling, but there is an upside to Errol’s jet-setting. “All those air miles,” he laughs. “When I fly with BA or Emirates, I feel like a king.” It’s also given him an idea. If he does get that extra floor space in Belgravia, look out for a new members’ area, with loyalty rewards for the hairdressing equivalent of frequent flyers.

Karen Hatch Photography