Hair Story: Jo Hansford

19th November 2010

Mary Linehan meets Jo Hansford: career hairdresser, Northwood resident, and Optima reader…

When you’re meeting someone recently recognised by the Queen for services to hairdressing, who is, to some extent, responsible for the desirability of some of the most beautiful women in the world, there is an undoubted frisson of excitement. Would I be rubbing shoulders with some of her celebrated clients? Would Elizabeth Hurley (not Liz, if you don’t mind) be arriving at the same time, or a supermodel maybe, or even HRH The Duchess of Cornwall (although, surely, that would be a home visit?…)?

Smart, busy and certainly very professional, the buzzing hair salon of Jo Hansford is in the heart of Mayfair. Undeniably posh, it’s also very discreet, so any peeking to see who I can name drop is a fruitless task. Despite the exclusive postcode, the whirr of hairdryers and the ambient music combined with the odd thank you or snatch of conspiratorial chatter and the smell of chemical colourants is all very familiar.

Jo is attractive and impeccably stylish. You’d expect nothing less. She is relaxed and charming and you can see instantly how she would quickly become a confidante to the many high profile women who are her clients. She’s also in feisty mood. Joan Collins has just publicly complained that today’s stars are not a patch on the Hollywood glamour pusses that she knew. She has a point, I counter. Jo begs to differ. “Joan Collins’s comment is totally unfounded. We still have classic beauties, but not in wigs and shoulder pads! Sophie Dahl, Nigella Lawson, Yasmin Le Bon, Elizabeth Hurley, for example – I should know… they’re all my clients!”

Originally Jo had her heart set on being a make-up artist. She won a coveted apprenticeship to the BBC at the tender age of 15. She was, however, too young to take it up, so the Beeb told her to come back when she was 19 and suggested hairdressing since those skills would be helpful to her in television. Jo picks up the story. “I was offered the choice of two apprenticeships: Ealing or Mayfair. Mayfair sounded more interesting to someone from Greenford, even though I had no idea where it was. The salon was huge and right next to Claridges. My boss was this terrible old queen who made me cry every day, but he was a genius and he taught me so much.”

It wasn’t an easy ride, though. “I hated hairdressing!” is one of Jo’s most surprising revelations. “It was all back-combing and rollers in those days, she explains – but then she had a change of heart: “I remember, at one point I had to go into the back room for some reason. I saw all of the colours and it was just love at first sight! I never took up the apprenticeship with the BBC! I joined Vidal Sassoon, again learning so much, before setting up on my own.”

Jo has since worked her way to the top of an extremely tough and highly competitive industry. Forget the glamour: hairdressing is no place for shirkers – long hours standing on your feet all day, clients’ demands and expectations, personality clashes with your peers, professionally jealousy. There is constant pressure to be cutting edge, inventing and reinventing, creating the next big do – not to mention keeping up with the new products. No mean feat in these high tech and litigious days.

Then there are the sexual politics. Most of the top names in hairdressing are men, so Jo is understandably proud of having helped create opportunities for women in the industry. The most influential colourist at the height of the 1990s ‘celebrity hairdresser’ phenomenon, she and Denise McAdam were the only two women amongst the boys. Jo says of the time, “We both worked incredibly hard to succeed, especially as women in a fairly ruthless, male-orientated domain and we are both still very passionate about our industry. “

It’s true, too, that Jo made a great contribution to the impact that colour technology plays in hairdressing today. Modestly, she simply says of this, “I have witnessed incredible colour product evolution since the start of my career and I’m privileged to have been consulted on the development of a number of new products with L'Oréal.” It is recognised now, though, that colour, just as much as cut, is an instant anti-ager and confidence builder [Who do you know does not have highlights? Count on those fingers!] and much of that is down to Jo’s input.

Her career highlights are personal as well as professional. When she first opened her doors some peevish industry peers predicted that she would last six months. “I started with a staff of eight. Seventeen years later, I have a staff of over 45 and a fabulous salon on the most fashionable street in Mayfair.”

Conscious of her own good fortune, she continues with some pride. “We have also created a foundation in India in association with L'Oréal. Our staff travel to India up to four times a year to teach seminars to the hairdressers there and I also travel worldwide to judge for L'Oréal.”

Even with so many more high profile women in the industry, Jo remains the queen of colour. These days, she is delighted to be keeping it in the family and is working with her daughter, who handles the company’s business affairs. “Joanna didn't want to be a creative, and her skills are definitely more on the business aspect of the salon. It would have been a lot of pressure to be following in my footsteps and I am now very thankful that she went into management, as you really need someone you can trust working behind the scenes.”

In addition to the salon there’s also an eponymous haircare range, recently developed to reflect her salon image. According to Jo, there is no easy route to bringing out your own products. And with such a high profile, understandably comes extra pressure. The process has taken three years and lots of investment to make sure that the range delivers. “Firstly, we wanted to create a product that protected coloured hair. We were also keen to ensure that the range works for everyone, as opposed to the more common brunette, blonde, red aftercare that can be found on the high street. To achieve this we have kept the products colourless which ensures that no matter what your colour, or if you fancy a change, my products will still work for you. Our mantra is that if you are going to invest in your colour, you should invest in the aftercare as well.”

So, what of the future? “Oh, to continue running a successful salon and develop my product range internationally… we have plans to expand the range in Paris and Dubai over the next year and I would also love to be in America and Australia.”

How about weekends? “I love living in Northwood as we have so much green around us – golf courses, nature reserves and parks. Joanna lives in Rickmansworth so we often get to spend Sundays together as a family, not business pals! I love gardening and my ideal way to spend an evening is sitting in my garden with a glass of red wine, surrounded by my family and my gorgeous dog Stella.” And reading Optima, of course.

Any celeb secrets? “A few years ago Elizabeth Hurley was on a secret mission to be blonde. I have a very strong relationship with my clients and they know I am quite outspoken, so if I don't think something will work I'm not afraid to say it! But, she wouldn't take no for an answer, so I went along with it and added in some lighter highlights. She realised straight away that it made her look washed out and she lost the definition of her features which didn't work in her pictures, so we quickly returned her back to a deeper brunette.”

So, there you have it. Even La Hurley gets it wrong sometimes… There’s hope for the rest of us. Especially with Jo Hansford on our side.

Jo Hansford Colour Range is available from Fenwick,
Harvey Nichols and • Prices from £14.50.

JO HANSFORD SALON 19 Mount Street, Mayfair, London, W1K 2RN.
Call 020 7495 7774.
Highlights: £150-£400. Tints: £95-£150.

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