salon secrets

The Colorist, An Expert Profession

July 2nd 2015

So, there’s Fred, John Nollet, David Mallett… the ace hair cutters. And Romain, Christophe Robin, Frédéric Mennetrier, Rodolphe, in Paris. Jo Hansford and Josh Wood, in London. Louis Licari and Lorri Goddard in Los Angeles. Anthony Palermo, Lena Ott, Sarah Spratt, in New York… but their penchant isn’t cutting hair… it’s coloring it. While they didn’t invent the job of coloring hair, that is practiced in salons and homes around the world, they have made it an expertise, and taken it to a whole other level.

Hair color under the spotlight

There are a few star colorists, and colorists to the stars, who are talented at promoting their expertise under the spotlight of the catwalks, and in the media. Specialists in their domain, they have shown the importance of hair color, highlighting the subtleties, the highlights, the shadows, the movement of hair. They have created mythic tints, such as Deneuve and Schiffer’s blond color. Thanks to them, hair color is no longer simply considered a last resort for camouflaging grey hair, but rather as a way to enhance features, change moods, assert personalities, showcase a look, a smile, highlight freckles…

Previously isolated at the back of hair salons, the ‘dyer’ has become a colorist, the gofer has become an esthete and magician, and the technician has become a trendsetter. “When I first started out, the cut was the most important aspect of hairdressing, with color considered a simple accessory. Today, a cut and color are of equal importance,” explains Jo Hansford, the British first lady of color. At the same time, these virtuoso hairdressers were enlisted as consultants by major brands. As a result of their experience, the products improved to create more nuanced, radiant work. Color has earned its place in the hairdressing world.

Naturally, dedicated salons have since emerged: select salons in luxury hotel suites or apartments, that have been carefully decorated. Intimacy is cultivated in these places. It takes time to discuss hair color. The hair salons of the prodigies cited above, emerged at the beginning of the 90s. This is notably the case of Christophe Robin in Paris and Jo Hansford in London. Today, they are renowned and have become increasingly well known. Jo Hansford now employs 50 people in her salon, in Mayfair. Their students have opened their own hair salons, like Cathy who previously worked for Christophe Robin, and is now the head of L’Atelier des Couleurs (the Color Workshop). All of the best hair cutters recognize the importance of skilled colorists and they don’t hesitate to hire a hairdresser that is dedicated to the art of hair color. David Mallett, for example, relies on the work of Giorgio and Rémy Faure. Nicolas Felice exclusively looks after color at the Des Garcons salon, while David concentrates on cuts. In Los Angeles, Andy Lecompte leaves the art of hair color to George Papanikolas and Christopher Pierce.

Indeed, as hair color becomes increasingly professionalized, so it becomes democratized. High-Color is no longer reserved for the red carpet and catwalks. Informed and aware, the clientele has become increasingly demanding. They are no longer content with generalist hairdressers but want specialists, specifically focused on color. This has led to the birth of color-focused salons, such as the Bar des Coloristes in Paris and the Intermèdes salons that can be found throughout province, in France.

The professionalization of a colorist

The steps towards greater expertise and specialization are underway. The Intermèdes salons in France, for example, have established a charter to guarantee the perfect color – it is a charter that, rather than focusing on technology, concentrates on listening to the client and the know-how and advice that the colorist gives to the client to ensure a personalized service. In Canada, a website, has been specifically created to focus on the profession. It explains that the profession “is more than perfect mastery of colorimetry… it is about listening, talking a particular language, about employing a sensible and emotional approach. It is also a physicochemical phenomenon.”

In the United States, a kind of advice bureau for colorists (American Board of certified hair colorists) has been created. “The aim is to identify colorists who have a higher degree of skill,” says Andre Nizetich, President. It has established a set of criteria, in order to assess the level of excellence, and professionalism of colorists. A necessary step to ensuring the “work ethic” and to “gain credibility with customers.” The sort after title of “certified colorist” can be obtained after passing an exam, which tests both the practical and theoretical knowledge of candidates.

Thorough training

Today, young hairdressers who would like to train in the art of hair color, are numerous. While some experts make the profession shine, however, “color-related training is still too brief in hairdressing schools,” says Jo Hansford. In France, it is confined to an additional training of  one year, which takes place after the ‘Certificat d’Aptitude Professionnelle de Coiffure’ (CAP), a two-year technical training course. To meet demand, brands and large hairdressing chains are organizing more and more conferences, courses, seminars and workshops for color aficionados, who aspire to have a career as brilliant as their mentors. “But the real training for a colorist is in a salon,” says Jo Hansford.

Ludovic, a colorist based in Quebec, says it takes at least 10 years of experience to become a good colorist. Frédéric Mennetrier, imagines a special school: five years of study, courses in chemistry, biology, practical work to understand the subject, but also courses on the history of color, psychology lessons, outings to art exhibitions, reading to nurture creativity. Jo Hansford also insists on the need for a psychological approach to color: “Learning to make the right diagnosis and to communicate with the client is essential,” she says.

Separating the job of a cutter and colorist is increasingly necessary if people are to gain expertise and excellence in the discipline.” It is essential that hairdressing becomes more professional, otherwise the business will die. It should no longer be a side option for girls who are failing at school,” explains Frédéric Mennetrier. “It takes passion and skill.” To those who want to specialize, Jo Hansford also advises “not to consider color as a job but a passion. You must also be prepared to never stop training – myself, I continue to learn as products evolve. ”

Impressionist, watercolorist, Fauvist, portraitist, naturalist, but also a little psychoanalyst, alchemist, biologist, the colorist is both an artist and a specialist, whose expertise, while recognized today, still need to be better communicated and more widely shared within salons.

Photos credits © Sharon Blain and © Collectif Lilith

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Photos credits © Sharon Blain and © Collectif Lilith