Nicola Clarke’s client list speaks for itself. She tends to the hair of Madonna, Cate Blanchett, Kate Moss and Kate Winslet, and is their go-to hairdresser for big events and magazine covers. Well-versed in the art of the subtle highlight, Nicola worked her magic on my hair. I left with a barnet that glimmered and looked far more healthy without any sign of telltale stripes.
If you expected a hairdresser of her renown to be supercilious (as I, embarrassingly, did), you’d be superbly wrong – I suspect A-listers don’t only call Nicola for her hair know-how but also for her enormously warm and funny company. Perhaps it goes to illustrate that the higher up the echelons one is, the less place there is for snootiness.
Case in point: I asked Cate Blanchett about Clarke and she said: “Nicola is quite simply a legend. Not only is she without a doubt the best colourist in the business, but she is wickedly funny, down to earth and a dear, dear pal.”
Here are the tidbits she shared, and the answers to the questions you asked me to ask…
ML: What makes a good colourist?
NC: I think it is really important to listen. Experience obviously helps, but primarily I’d say listening to the brief and understanding what a client wants is key.
ML: How can someone best communicate what they want from their colour?
NC: I usually start by finding out what a client doesn’t want. From there it is easy to eliminate. Images help as descriptions, especially when it comes to reds, can vary massively from one interpretation of ‘deep red’ to another. It is always worth telling a colourist what you will be doing in the next six months as changing hair colours can be a big process and if you want to, say, be back to your blonde for an important occasion, it may not be possible.
ML: When a client asks for something you think won’t suit them, or can’t be achieved properly, do you speak up?
NC: I wouldn’t go ahead and whack colours on someone’s head without a conversation about what they can realistically achieve. I did Lily Cole’s hair dark for a film in Canada and afterwards, she wanted to be blonder again. It took me a day and a half to get the colour out of her hair and, yet, photos before and after mean that women can think it is an easy process. It takes a fair amount of time and effort to make those kinds of changes, plus you need to accept that you may have to take six inches off after a big change. Communication, again, is key.
ML: Do you prefer to colour hair to make it look naturally good or plough your energy into achieving more zany looks?
NC: I wouldn’t push a trend on someone who didn’t want it and certainly like making the best of someone but, then, it is also really fun to work on shows and push boundaries and my own knowledge. Working with wigs, for example, is a very different art to real hair. I am fortunate to enjoy all the aspects of my job.
ML: Who of your celebrity clients makes your job easy?
NC: Madonna is a really good client. She has no qualms about cutting off hair to keep the condition and isn’t at all precious. She understands that if you over-style hair to that extent, you need to give hair some care on down days. She uses a wide-toothed comb and doesn’t blow dry unless she’s working. She is smart about taking care of herself.
ML: You colour three very famous Kate’s. What kind of clients are Winslet, Blanchett and Moss?
NC: They are all lovely and either come to the salon or I visit them where they are. They have children and so do I, so sometimes we get them together if it is an impromptu session, which is always nice. In terms of hair, I will often tie in a highlight with red carpet appearance so they’re camera-ready. I did this with Blanchett recently during her tenure in a play. Kate Moss holidays often so quite often my job involves taking her colour down a bit after sun exposure.
ML: What are your favourite London haunts?
NC: Well, I have an eight-month-old and live in King’s Cross so end up spending a lot of time in Coram Fields and Regent’s Park. I really like the Mount Street Deli for good organic food, but it is in dangerously close proximity to Christian Louboutin!
ML: What is your favourite spa?
NC: I always see Catherine in Spa Illuminata. She is great and will text me to remind me to come in. I don’t say much but just go and trust her to give me the facial or massage I need.
ML: Who is your hair icon?
NC: Debbie Harry.
ML: Who is your beauty icon?
NC: I like Annie Morton, especially in the Juergen Teller shots. I used to see her when I assisted Sam McKnight and she is just beautiful.
ML: What is in your make-up bag?
ML: What won’t you step on a plane without?
NC: I have a cashmere blanket I love, it is thicker and bigger than a pashmina and I always bring it along on flights.
ML: How do you relax?
NC: I slouch in front of the television and just like to switch off.
Here are the answers to your questions //
‘How do you stop red from fading?’
NC: Shampoo for coloured hair is a good way to start when at home but it is so important with red to keep it out the sun altogether. Even if you use a UV protection it will fade, so invest in a good sunhat.
‘Should I match hair colour to eyebrows?’
NC: I tend not to worry so much if someone’s brows are darker than their hair. I don’t think that looks at all bad, but if it bothers you, ask a salon if your colourist will match them when you are in.
‘I have light brown hair with blonde highlights. When I have my roots done it picks up different colours so I have horizontal lines down my hair. What can I do?’
NC: Take a note of the colour and make sure they’re applying the same colour each time you visit for the exact same amount of time.
‘How do I stop my blonde hair from looking brassy?’
NC: Try a blue shampoo. John Frieda make one which is very home-friendly so you won’t go a crazy colour. Aveda also do a good more concentrated one. When your roots start coming through the root colour is often flatter and darker so, by contrast, can make the rest look brassy. Try toning roots down between colour sessions with dry shampoo so you don’t need to dye too often.
‘How often should I need to dye my hair if I have blonde highlights?’
NC: You should only need a full head two or three times a year. In between, I’d suggest every six to eight weeks, with just a hairline, parting or half-head being coloured.
‘How do I stop my hair colour looking too block?’
NC: Mine is a block colour and I just touch up the roots and, if it gets lighter on the ends from wear or the sun, let it stay that way for a little contrast.