I’m beginning to think there is wisdom in the old customs. For instance, if Ray Allington, one of the great session hairdressers of The Face era, hadn’t felt he could be brutally honest with his assistant, we’d never have had Josh Wood. ‘What he actually said to me,’ recalls Wood, with the crystal clarity of the terminally wounded, ‘was, “Have you ever thought about doing colour? because you’re crap at blow-dries.”’
Wood is the colourist de nos jours. We know this because it now costs £1,000 to get time with him. If you can get time with him. Naturally, this makes me want to hate him. My grey bits now need colour every five weeks. That’s £10k a year. Before cuts. Does it include a blow-dry? I demand. Yes, but not from Wood, which, given his history, is probably a good thing.
In person, Wood is funny, warm, self-deprecating and has an accent that even after 30-odd years in the south, is the closest to Alan Bennett’s you’ll hear in a fancy London salon. So I’m sorry, reader, I couldn’t hate him.
The fancy London salon is his. So fancy, it’s called an atelier and opens onto a Holland Park mews rather than a common or garden street. I say ‘opens’ but it’s very much closed until you ring a bell. Then you’re in the bosom of experts at the top of their game, be it colouring, cutting, waxing, brow management or, indeed, blow-drying. There’s a central atrium-like salon with lots of ferny things, Hemsley and Hemsley-ish food and, on the first floor, a private room where you get to hang with Wood, if you can get the time.
I’m still nervous. His PR emailed me in advance to ask whether I wanted orange or emerald streaks. This was a reference to the triumphant hair Wood had just masterminded at the autumn/ winter Versace show in Milan, which saw him flying out there with 34 two metre-long hairpieces, dying them electric orange, lime and acidic yellow, and attaching them to Gigi Hadid and co. It’s no exaggeration to say they helped make the show.
It’s a long way from his first job, sweeping the floor in the Leslie Frances salon in Barnsley for £15 a week. there were no tips. ‘In Yorkshire? Are you joking?’ He earned enough, however, to feed a burgeoning fashion habit. ‘tights, bodymap – the lot.’ Did he get laughed at? ‘They threw stones.’
Eventually he made his way down to Vidal Sassoon in London, which was ‘like getting into Saint martins.’ Jerry Hall was one turning point – after that, anyone who wanted to be blonde called for Wood. To be honest, blonde is why I didn’t go to him (back then he wasn’t £1,000). Of course he can do any colour – but I didn’t know that.
Which brings us to my mid-brown hair, which for some reason he refers to as mouse. At least there’s no mention of orange or lime green. Who can say why a salon becomes magnetic? A highly talented team obviously, but also an atmosphere that’s like a great dinner party, where you know you could bump into someone famous, notorious, interesting or frivolous.
The new super-rich don’t really do salons, mind you. They fly Wood to their homes in places like Azerbaijan – not just because of his technical brilliance, I think, but because of his psychological insights and all-conquering conviction. He’s the first hairdresser who’s ever made me believe I could actually be blonde. Or a redhead.
‘Anyone can,’ says Wood. ‘People build a lot of their identity around their hair colour but once they get past their preconceptions, anyone can be any colour. Obviously it has to be the right shade, and you’d have to wear more make-up. But if that’s what you’re prepared to do, then it will look fabulous… that’s why I love colour. Not many women walk into a salon and say, cut it all off. But if they trust you they’ll let you take them from brunette to blonde and that’s transformative.’ Did he transform my personality? Well, he gave me confidence – it’s such a gorgeous Italian brown. If that’s mouse, I’ll take it.