Annie Humphreys in conversation with mrH
The date and the time were set! Tuesday December 8th at 3pm. Annie had been sent a list of questions but rather than send answers back she suggested we talk on the phone so as to make the interview process more spontaneous! A fabulous idea! So, with pen and paper at hand I dialled the number and Annie picked up the phone.
It’s rather like talking to an old friend. She is actually! I have known Annie for a long time and have had lots of dealings with her over the years and consider we know each other well enough to be classed as friends!! I have her landline, mobile and email details, proof if ever it were needed!
We talked for a while about the Fellowship Luncheon that Annie had attended yesterday and then it was down to business!
I started by asking Annie how her hairdressing career started!
“ I started straight from school, at the age of 15. I was always obsessed with hair, constantly brushing and combing my Mum and aunt’s hair. The school wanted me to get an office job, as hairdressing was not considered a good career move. I was to try and become an office worker, learning the skill of shorthand etc, which was absolutely not for me! Fortunately I had an aunt who was bonkers…. She decided to take me out looking for a job in a salon and I stumbled across Biagio, between the Hyde Park Corner station and the Berkley hotel! It was the first salon I ever worked in. I had to change my name to Maria because there was already an Anne in the salon. The boss used to shout her name really loud and for the first few times I used to jump out of my skin”.
After a while there, Annie went off to work at Jose (a colleague encouraged her). This salon was in Bond Street and as Annie settled in, the owner announced he was selling up and moving on. The buyer turned out to be Vidal Sassoon. Annie stayed on.
When I asked about always wanting to be a technical expert, Annie explained that she started her apprenticeship like every other hairdresser but, as was the case in those days, the late 50’s, assistants quite often coloured hair and she felt a natural affinity with this process, no fear for Annie as she went into the cellar of the salon to mix up peroxide and ammonia, add a few lux soap flakes, mix it up and then apply it to clients roots as a bleaching agent. This formulation was applied using a stick with cotton wool wrapped round the ends to apply gently onto the hair, and Annie says, “It tended to leave the hair very yellow”. At the time there was no such thing as toners, there was a product called Coloral, which was available in Silver, platinum and Ash. “I used to put the product into an enamel bowl, add hot water, mix it with a soft brush, like a suede brush really, and gently rub it into the roots and hope that this water colour would tone the roots down. If it didn’t stick to the hair I would add some acetic acid to it. Not many people had there hair coloured in those days, most wanted it to be very natural, apart from the starlets from The Rank Film Organisation, and, ladies of the night. We didn’t wear gloves, but at the age of 15 I didn’t think about that, I just got on with what I was told to do” say Annie.
She goes on to say “Vidal had a colourist, Lawrence Taylor, he did the colour work for him. He was a fun guy, the first gay guy I ever met and we got on like a house on fire! I was carrying on with my apprenticeship, everyone was trying to become a stylist, and this was before the Sassoon style really kicked in. I was attracted to technical work, so that’s what I set myself the challenge of doing. From 1958 to 1964 the work we did was quite ‘normal’, but after that things changed drastically”.
I asked Annie about colours that were used in the late 50’s and early 60’s, her memory of names and shades is unbelievable. There was an English brand called Inecto, L’Oreal had a liquid colour, there was a range called Evanol, mostly browns! All the colours were progressive meaning the longer they stayed on the hair the darker they got. Evanol browns could quite easily turn black if left on too long.
Annie went on to say “I really liked Immedia Crème D by L’Oreal, the first crème colour, I then met a guy called Jeff Tunnard from Wella who introduced me to Koleston, the 1 series (in orange packaging)…. Numbered 1 to 22 with some special shades: 31 Silver / 46 Graphite Grey / 40…. Possibly Blue?
‘The L’Oreal cream was excellent, 6.1 / 7.1 / 8.1, great ash shades that covered grey and had an iridescent quality to them. Then of course there was Clairol, or Amarol as it used to be known in the UK.
I really liked it when L’Oreal brought out crème colours called L’Oreal Pastel Blonde with shades: 93 Champagne, 95 Grey Marquis, 90 Platinum Iris, 91 baby Blonde and 92 Giselle. This was the beginning of toning after bleach and we now even had an oil based bleach to use, as well as White henna, a powder bleach.”
At this time, roughly 1961, Annie met Renato Brunas and the salon started to stock Rencolour as well. (known as Renbow, the inventors of Crazy Colour)
For anyone who has ever seen Annie colour hair it will come as no surprise that she says: “I was a cardinal sinner, mixing products from each company we used to try and get the results I wanted”.
I asked Annie if there was a pivotal moment when she knew that the Vidal Sassoon organisation was going to become a global name?
“Not really! There were always lots of exciting things happening, we all worked every hour of every day, I remember one night, after work we were trying to create something new…. Vidal wanted a new image. At the time perms were very popular, because most people didn’t wash their hair daily, they came to the salon and had it set, so the perm helped hold it. Somehow on the evening we created the Greek Goddess, the first wash and wear perm, it just seemed to happen. At the same time Vidal was opening his first salon in America, NYC, and we went on tour with Wella. It was on the tour that I met Phil Wren, the technical manager for Wella GB, he taught me so much, especially the art of mixing different colours together. It was an incredibly exciting time but I can’t recall thinking this was about to become what it did become”.
Asking Annie to recall a fond memory of Vidal she shared a story about when she had been working for some 20 years and [he] flew over from America for a meeting with the UK team and during it he presented Annie with an engraved watch from Asprey for her dedication and commitment to the company.
Many years later, whilst on a Wella tour with the VS organisation, I (as a young team member from Wella) was asked by Annie to take a watch to a jewellers in Glasgow, where the show was happening, and get a new strap for it. The watch was that very one given to her by Vidal! I know because I checked out the inscription on the back of it as I walked up Buchanan Street.
With a legacy as strong as Annie’s I wanted to know who where her favourite hairdressers:
Vidal. Of course!
This image shows Vidal in his 1st big, famous salon; 171 New Bond Street. Designed by David Hicks, very famous in his day and married to Lady Pamela Mountbatten.
Christopher Brooker, Annie did her first ever ‘colour’ image with him, the [first ever] for the VS organisation.
Tim Hartley and Mark Hayes for their amazing creativity and conceptual approaches to hair cutting.
Roger Thompson: Fond memories of discussing the fact they never did a colour image together, lots of perms but nothing featuring colour!
A question from Penny Etheridge of Radiant Hair Consultancy:
Q: If you hadn’t chosen this career what might you have done instead?
A: “I really don’t know! A lot of life is luck and being in the right place at the right time, mixed with a determination to succeed. So I always wanted to do this and I did it. I can’t say something like ‘I’d have liked to have driven a truck’ because it’s just not true”.
Michael from Middlesex asked about a favourite image. Annie said there were too many to choose from but the firefly always stands out because it showed how well colour enhanced a cut. “It was a bi-level cut and a bi-level colour which means the colour was placed to stand out irrespective of whether the image is shown in black and white or full colour, it always accentuates the shape”. For Annie is was a ‘true milestone’. “It was the very first image to do that”!
As we all know. Annie has an incredible reputation; I asked what she thought her legacy might be?
“COLOUR IS NOT A SECRET, IT’S A STATEMENT! When I started, nobody wanted to let anyone know their hair was coloured (apart from previously mentioned actresses and ladies of ill repute). I believe that I helped change that and I am very proud of that fact. Colour is as important now as the cut. Colourists used to be hidden in the basement of salons, now they tend to be right at the front of the salon”. When I first went on tour (with Joshua Galvin) in Germany, the then head of technical for Wella, Manfred Schmock didn’t want anyone on stage colouring hair, and if there was to be someone he would rather it have been one of his team. He even once tried to get me drunk on schnapps so that I wouldn’t be able to get on stage. He obviously didn’t know me very well”.
Annie & Josh: Note Annie has never seen this picture before but says “It’s FAB”
So what does an average week consist of for Annie Humphreys now? “Walking the dog, a rescue Weimaraner called Ziggy, the abbreviated version of his German name Ziegfried! He needs lots of attention and I have the time to give him it. It’s fabulous that I can do whatever I want whenever I want to, visit exhibitions, anything at all! When I was working my life could be mapped out for up to 3 years in advance. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to, I can do things on the spur of the moment. I do miss the camaraderie of being part of a team, travelling the world with all its excitement. Being part of such a close ‘family’ was a wonderful experience. I miss that, but it was a way of life that was then, not now”.
Perming! Bryan from Liverpool wanted to know if Annie thought it would ever come back?
“Never say never, look at the aggressive 80’s shaved sides that are back in fashion now. Look at how many styles are created with curls in them. I think if a true semi permanent perm was launched, one that didn’t compromise the quality of the hair, then maybe it would come back”.
Okay, some compulsory ‘interview’ questions now:
- Favourite Colour: Orange. I remember getting my first flat and I saw a pair of velvet orange curtains, I was upset because I couldn’t afford them.
- Favourite Music or song: Don’t really have one.
- Favourite Film: Don’t have one.
- Favourite Book: ‘The Power of One’ by Bryce Courtenay.
- Favourite Designer: Elsa Schiaparelli, a designer ahead of her time, known for her signature colour, shocking pink, or her once-famous perfume, Shocking de Schiaparelli, launched in 1937.
- Favourite Shampoo and Conditioner: Malibu, made in California and very kindly shipped over to me by the owner of the company.
- Favourite hair Colour: When I was still ‘working’ it was the chilli Red range from Wella Koleston.
What about hobbies, does Annie have any?
“I love restoration work and can often be found in junk shops searching for something to restore. It used to be called junking… I just love finding something; anything, and taking it back to its former glory. Gardening! I’m not very good at it but enjoy it nonetheless. Classic cars: John (the other half) and I love renovating and restoring old classics, we have too many but there is always another one waiting to receive some tender loving care”.
Back to colour, I asked Annie if there had ever been an occasion when a colour went wrong?
“In the salon, no. I always say ‘Nothing is wrong unless it leaves the chair not quite exactly as you want’. Once though, just before I was about to go on stage I had pre mixed my colours. The tubes had been put on my trolley and I had put what I thought to be 310/0 (blonde) from Koleston into the bowl. It was very dark backstage and what I had actually squeezed out was in fact 301/0 (black)! After applying it I noticed something was going wrong. I told the audience this colour developed quickly and sent my model off as the colour was ready. That model had to run as fast as she could back to the prep room and get it rinsed off and then shampooed with something extra special”.
After almost 2 hours of frantic scribbling of notes with my phone latched to my shoulder, I asked Annie when we could expect to read her autobiography (this almost feels like it).
The answer, quite simply, NOT YET!
I think we should start an online petition to get Annie writing.
2 questions left!
Mary from Edinburgh asked about hairdressers Annie admires today.
“I really admire Shaun Pulfrey the genius behind Tangle Teezers. After spending many years working for Sassoon across the globe, then moving on to Richard Ward, Shaun knew he had a great idea for a product and even after Dragons Den turned him down, he pursued his dream and he had the courage of his convictions to believe in himself and his product”.
The final question was:
Can you share something that no-one knows about you.
The final answer was:
“Let me think about it……………. I can’t really think of anything that fits the question”.
(mrH isn’t giving up hope that Annie will come back with something brilliant here).
And so my interview with one of the world’s greatest colourists, a legend in so many ways, was over. We have laughed and hopefully it shows in this interview.
mrH would like to thank:
- Annie for being graceful, witty and honest in her words.
- The Vidal Sassoon organisation archives dept.
- Pascalain Gianello and the ‘Old School Sassoon’ Facebook page
Many thanks Annie it was a real treat for me!