Charlotte may not look like a classic science nerd from the movies, but beneath her black t-shirt and tousled blonde locks, she has the heart of a true scientist. No matter how many complex combinations of colours and ingredients she mixes together, the end result is always perfectly coloured hair and her clients love it. That’s why she has a reputation as a colour alchemist.
Meeting the Colour Alchemist
“I love the science of it”, she explains when we get a chance to sit and chat. Charlotte is popular with her clients, so finding time to discuss her approach can be difficult. Charlotte has been interested in hairdressing since she was 11 and been in salons since starting as a Saturday Girl aged 13. She went straight into hairdressing immediately after her A Levels.Why start working with hair?
“Because I’ve got the worst hair in the world!”
Curly hair is one of the hardest types of hair to work with and when she finally found a hairdresser who knew exactly how to work with it, Charlotte immediately needed to know how it was done and even ended up working for that hairdresser. Charlotte has always been interested in hair, but what about her friends? “They’re all hairdressers!” she laughs.
Every Client is Unique
Every hairdresser at The Cutting Garden is aware that hair is as individual as a person’s fingerprint, and requires a customised approach. Charlotte explains that her approach involves firstly looking at the client’s personal style. Their clothing and accessory choices, how they wear them, and then their hair, followed by a conversation with the client.
Even when you yourself may think they look great, 9 times out of 10 there is something that they don’t like or would like to improve about themselves, so listening is crucial. Being a hair stylist often requires being a confidante also. From there, the diagnosis can be made. Is she like a doctor, then?
“More like a therapist” she laughs.
The Science Bit
Charlotte explains that to create artistic effects, such as balayage, with hair you have to understand the science of hairdressing. Because everybody’s hair is unique, a stylist such as her must understand the structure of hair and the effects of different chemicals upon it. “When you don’t understand the science, that’s when it goes wrong” she explains. You simply cannot treat grey, black or blonde hair all the same way. She makes it a point of principle to know what has been used on a client’s hair previously before applying any products.
Just like the alchemists of old, Charlotte works with gold. She specialises in blonde hair. “All my clients are blonde,” she says. “Every single one apart from two”. Blonde hair is one of the hardest to get right, she explains, so clients tend to be loyal to a stylist that manages it. Some of her clients have been with her since she was 16, which is a testimony to her skill.
Part of the reason for her remarkably loyal client list is down to her insistence on absolute honesty with them. If a client should not have blonde highlights because of their hair structure, she will firmly (but politely) tell them. “I don’t lie to them at all,” she adds “there’s no point”. Sometimes having perfect hair can be costly, so her clients value her total honesty.
Fast Fashion, Instagram and Love Island
Charlotte has seen some changes in styles and tastes since she started working with colour. “When I started it was all Kelly Clarkson stripey highlights, then red and black and extreme, but now it’s way more natural.
When you look around the streets these days you see so many different styles, it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s on trend or not. Styles change frequently and keep stylists constantly on their toes. This is something that Charlotte embraces. She tells me that one of the best things about her profession is the high churn rate of new fashions replacing old.
Charlotte explains that the trend for fast fashion has permeated the hair industry. She blames the fast turnover of styles on popular media. Instagram and Love Island are responsible for inspiring new styles and frequent changes. “Instagram is so big now and people will find anything online. It changes all the time, and they want the next thing. People could have been blonde for years and then suddenly decide to go dark all because they’ve seen someone on TV or online has got it.”
Fashions used to have distinct cycles; now people simply can’t keep up at all. But some things come back around, for example going blonde in the summer and dark in the winter. Charlotte’s advice for people who want to try to keep up?
“Look after your hair so you can keep changing it.”
Hair health is even more important these days with fashions. Developments such as Olaplex help a lot, but so does a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Charlotte’s Top 3 Tips for Maintaining Hair Health
Firstly: Regular Olaplex treatments will nourish your hair
Secondly: Don’t over-wash your hair, retain the natural goodness
Finally: Have your hair cut regularly
What is The Future for Hair Styles?
Styles will probably get bigger, she thinks. She explains that previously when supermodels such as Elle Macpherson all had natural balayages, they eventually transitioned into bigger hair. Charlotte expects that trends will be likely to follow the same pattern again. So get ready for massive hair, folks. You heard it here first.
Working at The Cutting Garden
Charlotte has worked in a number of salons. Originally based here in Devon, Charlotte worked in London at Bedhead, and is now back, and is in Plymouth to stay. How does working at The Cutting Garden compare? Her answer was instant:
“It’s more of a family than I have ever worked in before. People genuinely care about each other and they’re not competitive. I’ve worked in places before where if you had more clients than someone else it became a personal issue. Whereas here they’re genuinely happy for you.” She adds: “I’ve never worked somewhere as friendly as this before.”
As she spoke I was reminded that I’d heard similar things from other members of the team too on other occasions. It’s a rare thing to find such a happy and supportive collection of stylists, colourists, assistants and apprentices. The Cutting Garden has been at the heart of Plymouth’s hairdressing community for 35 years.
It takes a unique approach to last that long in business these days, particularly in such a competitive industry. Perhaps their secret is this sense of mutual support and connection that makes the salon seem like a family.
Charlotte seems to agree: “You can see why it’s been around for 35 years and why the stylists never leave.”
What is in the Future for Charlotte?
Charlotte is thoroughly enjoying being part of the Cutting Garden family but eventually she would like to teach the science of hairdressing. “That’s always been my plan since I was 16” she explains. It would mean heading to university to complete a degree studying the science that she loves so much. She loves working in the salon but also feels the call to study further. She is definitely seen as one of the salon’s alchemists, mixing ingredients that almost always seem to magically work. Charlotte is an intuitive chemist, she knows what will work, but doesn’t always know why. She always understands what she’s doing but doesn’t always know how she knows what will work. So going back to study would complete that circle and help her transform from alchemist to true chemist.
It’s Always About The Client
Charlotte doesn’t hesitate when I ask her what her personal mission is as a hairdresser. “To make people confident.”
Sometimes new clients are too shy to even talk to the stylist and since our hair is so vital to our personal confidence, Charlotte values how she can help them feel good. “It’s always about the client”, says Charlotte with a smile. Then adds “I genuinely love making people happy.”
The ancient alchemists are reputed to have spent their lives trying to turn lead into gold. There is no actual evidence that any of them succeeded. Today, creating confident, happy people seems like a much more genuine alchemy.