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Death of the Haircut

January 01, 2020

Death of the Haircut

My primary focus for almost 40 years has been the haircut, and in that time, I’ve developed a unique method to get the very best from any hair - The Diamond Dry Cut™.

It enables a precise approach to cutting hair in its natural 3-Dimensional state, allowing the creation of unlimited shapes. This unrivalled exactness and control permits meticulous personalisation. This signature method more than anything, has kept me at the premium end of our industry, and kept clients happily returning. Over 100 clients have stayed with me for over 35 years.

Michael Van Clarke 3’’’More Inches

I started my apprenticeship in 1978, and across those decades from the 1970s, I’ve watched the ebb and flow of different industry fashions and training methods, and seen the core training around cutting slowly diluted.

For most of history the haircut was fairly irrelevant as everything centred around styling.

Some notable exceptions include; medieval aristocracy and priesthood, 1920s Bobs, 1950s gamine, 1960s Sassoon's resurrection of the Bob, the haircut icons of: the 1970s - Purdy, 1980s Princess Diana, 1990s Meg Ryan and Rachael from Friends.

Contemporary History

From the 1950s onwards, the leading hairdressers such as, Raymond (Teasy Weasy), then Vidal and Leonard initiated and rode a wave of excitement in hairdressing, with Sassoon’s revolution putting the haircut at the centre of a new monthly lifestyle routine in exchange for the weekly roller set.

Hairdressers rode this popular upswing through the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s with seemingly unstoppable attraction, as portrayed by Warren Beatty in the film Shampoo, and the celebrity hairdresser stars of 80s/90s media.

Then around the beginning of the millennium, this core service of cutting, that had clients returning reliably every month, started to decline.

The mainstream industry did not invest in the development and training of this core service beyond what Sassoon had established in the 1960s. As demand for new styles and shapes widened in the post hippy-era, the mainstream industry did not have the cutting techniques to reliably give clients the full range of possibilities. Most clients still got a blueprint for one of a limited range of haircuts the stylists had been taught, mostly Bobs or derivatives of them.

Flat Bobs became ‘deconstructed’ using thinning scissors, point cutting or razors. Shapes were promoted as being asymmetrical (lopsided) or ‘disconnected’, (connected shapes were never talked about!). But the industry was still leaning very heavily on the simple bob shapes and basic techniques that Sassoon established. The product revolution of the 1980s gave the industry more time, as poor haircuts could be scrunched, dishevelled or bed-haired, to give a new look but one that the client found very hard to repeat at home.

Long hair usually became a long A-line Bob. Layers were mocked up out of another mid-length Bob sitting on top and then chopped into to disguise the steps. Sometimes 3 stacked A-line Bobs would make up one long ‘layered?’ haircut. ‘Interesting’, but not proper layering.

Flat irons came to the rescue next in the 1990s as the extreme flattening effect could iron out distortions of poor haircuts. It seemed the need to really understand precision cutting across the 3-dimensional spectrum could still be avoided?

But surveys around the turn of the century were showing that a quarter of the market were avoiding hairdressers altogether and another quarter delaying the visit back to a hairdresser for as long as possible because of previous bad experiences. Clients started to move around more in the hope that the next stylist would deliver. Average client relationships fell to less than 4 haircuts.

Salon chains started discounting aggressively to lure clients on a merry go round of chase-the-voucher in the hope that the next stylist got it right. Real average charges began to tumble. Salon income for services flat-lined.

Desperate for income, salons built up other streams from retail, colour and beauty. Long hair services like Brazilian straighteners and hair extensions fed the trend for clients trying to avoid or delay haircuts. The exploding electrical market helped them with homecare.

Most cutting today has polarised to the extremes of simple long haircuts (often the lazy A-Line) or very short barbering. There is less and less to be found in the middle and the  capabilities across the industry are diminishing. If the money is coming in through other streams, like retail or straightening and extensions, does it matter?

The flat lining of services income over the last 15 years would suggest it does. The decline in the core service of cutting has led to a massive loss in loyalty, repeat business, professionalism, and in turn pricing power.

Some hairdressers think my haircut charges are related to our West End postcode, or they mistakenly think I do lots of TV or have a celebrity reputation. None of that is true. Clients stay loyal essentially because our cutting method gives them a quality and personalisation that they do not want to give up. Any hairdresser could learn to work with this method and charge accordingly, irrespective of what other local salons are charging. Unfortunately 99.999% hairdressers offer a bog standard haircut with no competitive advantage in this essential service. Clients then voice their frustrations by moving on.

I opened our salon in 1988 before the coffee revolution. Back then; if you wanted a coffee off the street, you had little choice. The odd pub may have had a Cona coffee jug stewing away, or the local ‘Greasy Spoon’ café would grudgingly give a take-away coffee in a polystyrene cup; an uncertain quantity of powdered coffee, tepid to hot water and a slosh of milk. The quality ranged from bland to awful and cost 40p - about the going rate in the 1980s.

Then the Seattle Coffee Company opened in the high street (later bought by Starbucks). Suddenly a coffee was £2 and they were busy. What! How could it suddenly be 5 times more? The answer of course is that the coffee was good, but more importantly it was predictably good. Before you went in you knew what you were getting and how long it would take. That certainty is massively valuable to a customer.

It’s the secret of all the big successful companies around the world. And it’s an issue hairdressers have largely failed to address and why clients are so easily poached by the next discount offer. If it’s unpredictable with your salon, why not try someone else? It’s also why charges are so painfully low. Is the work of a stylist (average UK ladies haircut £25) that impacts so much on emotional wellbeing, really worth just half a meal out, or a lipstick, or the time it takes a plumber to open their tool bag? No, but the lack of effective cutting training across two generations of hairdressers has left stylists competing mostly on price. And it’s a race to the bottom.

So something that can make the wearer look and feel wonderful for six weeks with as much daily ease, from the moment it’s cut for as long as possible, has great value to the client and naturally commands a much higher price than an impersonalised, cheap, clunky unrefined high street hatchet job.

The Diamond Dry Cut™ gives stylists a level of control and precision that opens up the whole world of shapes in hair. And an incomparable difference in quality for the client.

The limitless range of shapes that hair can hold require a sculptural precision that only comes from seeing and working hair in 3 dimensions. Almost all cutting training nowadays derives from simplistic methods of treating hair as a 2-dimensional material, which it essentially is when wet and flat dried into bobs. But restricting stylists to 2-Dimensional wet cutting is like giving a sculptor a block of stone and saying you have full artistic licence…but only within the confines of Cubism. Only a narrow range of clients will be happy and probably not forever.

Whilst limited cutting techniques save costs and training time they are no longer fit for purpose in this age of the educated client.

For what should be an incredibly skilled and valuable service, mainstream hairdressers earn a pittance across a short career span. The industry needs to rethink how it delivers cutting training as it can no longer rely on outdated methods. Precise and personalised haircuts that look better, last longer and are much easier to manage. That’s what clients crave, expect and deserve.

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