We’re strong believers that to keep standards high in the hairdressing industry, we must respect the past and embrace the future. Harold Leighton, an icon in the industry as both a hairdresser and innovator, is an example of just that. Having styled Britain’s top models, countless Hollywood stars, and worked with the cream of Britain’s hairdressers – among them Vidal Sassoon, Leslie Green and Trevor Sorbie – Harold started photographing creative greats, from Charles Worthington to Picasso himself. Today, we talk to Harold about his wonderful career, and the future of hairdressing.
Tell us about the first time you stepped foot in a salon in 1947
WOW! Strange. I had never been in a salon before, other than having a haircut in Portobello Road. In my first week, I remember being told how to make shampoo and to pass pins. My mother’s uncle Bulbus, a very well known hairdresser from the thirties who had won many high-end hair contests, passed away that week, and no one had publicly written or spoken about him. I remember being in a cubical in my uncle’s salon…I worked for a year thinking that I want to be remembered, and I have worked hard to achieve that in my lifetime.
Describe a typical day in your life when you were at Romaines amongst the group of rising stars in hairdressing
We were led by Leslie Green who drove us to perfection! When we would shampoo a client he would expect the client to praise the shampooist; when we did models we would work to be praised by the model and our workmates. On a day when Leslie was training us for a contest, we would have to explain our design, why we had used what we had and how we achieved the style. At first, that wasn’t easy, but with time we grew to understand where he was coming from. When I first started working as an apprentice in Romaines, Vidal and Gerard were more senior, so our workload differed very much. But we grew together as “The ‘Three Musketeers” because we were almost always working together, alongside others from the team of about 12.
Tell us who most influenced you in your career
Vidal. He was very creative and his work was expressive and adventurous. We worked together for some 10 years in both Romaines and Dumas.
What stands out for you when you look back at your career in hairdressing?
Winning hair contests, competing with other young people, creating friendships, our four bosses Len Stein, Albert Simons, Maurice Gross and Frank Blashkie, maturing as people, learning to take criticism, understanding the importance of give and take, and importantly, being humble.
How important do you think it is to be a progressive hairdresser, embracing new technology?
Very, very important, as important as being a creative hairdresser. You need to in order to understand the work that youth create!
Who do you see working in the industry now, who’s work is informed by that of the great hairdressers of the past decade?
The legendary hairstylist Paul Mitchell asked me to watch over his son, Angus. I’ve had to do this in my head as I haven’t seen him in person since he has grown up, but I’m so pleased to see that he has fulfilled his destiny in hairdressing, and as a Father. London is very strong for hairdressing at this time – in my opinion stronger than the USA – and I watch many hairdressers in the capital: Eugene Souleiman, Robert Cromeans, Anthony Mascolo, Trevor Sorbie, Vivienne MacKinder, Nicky French, Robert Lobetta, and HOB.
Where would you like to see the hairdressing industry in five years time?
I would like to see innovation in tools, so that hairdressers have something new to create with. I pride myself on the tools I’ve developed for the hairdressing industry: the Stylar, Curvar & Brushar from Leighton. Now, working to develop them and bringing them into 2018 like the Apple phone, I’d love to see a perming tool, like the Conair curling device, that gives the straight-haired ladies some help, and lasting ability to blow-out styles.
Tell us why you choose Instagram as a platform to share your work now
When we (me and Maxine – my darling wife, the love of my life) met Ian Berkowitz, our business lawyer, we learnt how business has changed from the sixties through to the millennium; that technology has changed our way of thinking and working. Then Alfonzo Silva, a media broker and technology whizz became the fourth member of our new business partnership, and since then we have been growing into and learning this new way of business life. It doesn’t come easy for me as I am not technical, I’m a creative. But I am trying to learn something new every day.
All images above can be seen in Harold Leighton’s book, From Salon to Celebrity, published by Seven Publications.