There are many things we’ve learned in 2020, but one of the most abiding lessons is that the state of our hair is intricately connected to our psychological wellbeing. Frazzled tips are no trivial matter.
This is something Josh Wood understands better than most. ‘Hair is everything,’ he declares from the attic of his cottage in Oxfordshire, where he has decamped with his partner, Jonathan, and their rescue dog, Gandalf.
Wood has been colouring hair for more than 30 years. He maintains the resplendent manes of celebrities such as Kylie Minogue, Elle Macpherson and Saoirse Ronan from his boutique salon in Holland Park, where an appointment with him can cost £1,000. Or, if you are in Monte Carlo or Beijing and in need of primping, £10,000 will get him on a private jet.
But from the very first lockdown, with salons shut, Wood turned his attention to us normal folk. His top-quality £14 permanent colour packs and ingenious £10 marker pen for touching up greying roots have become 2020’s cult products, word of mouth recommendations ensuring blanket success.
Josh Wood (pictured) who lives in Oxfordshire, launched a video consultation service during lockdown and his permanent colour packs became a cult product in 2020
Sales of the Root Marker pen for lighter blondes (the most popular shade) increased by a staggering 24,353 per cent during lockdown. Meanwhile, the permanent colour range saw a 4,000 per cent rise in sales (shade 7 — deep mid-blonde — being the most popular).
Almost all the colours sold out on his website and sales doubled in Boots, resulting in a nail-biting wait for stock to be replenished from the factory in Italy.
Josh Wood’s isn’t the only retoucher to take off this year — Colour Wow Root Cover Up, L’Oreal Paris Magic Retouch and Batiste’s Hint of Colour range all saw a huge spike in sales too.
But Wood was the only hairdresser savvy enough to share a breadth of home-dyeing advice via videos from his team of experts.
‘We’d been planning to launch the video consultation service this Christmas,’ says Wood, his Barnsley accent still strong despite moving to London aged 19. ‘Then when lockdown happened in March, I gave the team three weeks to turn it around. We did nearly 4,000 video consultations, each lasting about 20 minutes, from March to July.’
It was an all-hands-on-deck moment, as colour packs were sent out to clients old and new — ‘there are household names who were touching up their own roots’ — and Wood himself was giving free online tutorials, along with a number of the salon’s 80 staff (although Wood did furlough some).
‘I would be talking to people who were saying, “I have three kids, I am trying to home-school, I have a husband in the attic working. If I can just keep my roots going I can cope with anything.” It became so much more fundamental.’
Wood was well-placed to step into the breach. He launched his Josh Wood Colour range in 2018, with 12 shades, as well as his Root Markers, to try to bridge the vast gulf between at-home hair colour and the salon experience.
Josh revealed his products are aimed at improving at-home hair colouring, as seventy per cent of all hair colour is done at home. Pictured: Kylie Minogue
‘Seventy per cent of all hair colour is done at home, but the experience some people reported was that it was smelly, messy and they ended up with hair that looked like Lego hair. I knew the parameters I had to deal with.’
Another thing people worry about with prolonged use of at-home colour is damage to the condition of hair and thinning.
Wood wanted to solve these problems, too. So this winter, he launched a new product — aptly named the Miracle Shot (sold as part of the Miracle System, £29) — just in time for Tier Four.
Miracle Shot is a cocktail of vitamins and omega oils, which is combined with permanent colour just before application to condition hair. ‘The people testing it said they have never had their hair feeling this way, so soft and hydrated,’ he says.
It might seem ironic that a man so associated with high-end exclusivity (he’s also the go-to catwalk show hairdresser for fashion houses including Prada and Alexander McQueen) should seek to make his mark in a market more associated with cheesy pile-em-high brands. (Remember Just For Men?)
‘I came from a council flat in Barnsley, I’ve worked very hard for a very long time,’ says Wood.
Josh who grew up in Barnsley, said he always knew that he wanted to do something creative. Pictured: Elle Macpherson
‘I have a lot of knowledge and with that comes value. But if I have done all that work and I can only see one person every 90 minutes, it feels a bit futile. It should be bigger than that. I want to share this expertise to a wider community, to democratise it.’
His father died when he was five, and he was raised by his mother in Yorkshire at a time defined by the miners’ strike.
‘In Barnsley in 1986 there wasn’t much choice, but I always knew I wanted to do something creative.’
At 17 he went to art college and got a Saturday job sweeping floors at a salon. He quickly realised hairdressing might be the answer. However, after a year on the Youth Training Scheme, he was informed he wasn’t being kept on and that hairdressing wasn’t for him.
‘That devastated me. But I thought, sod ’em, I’m going to Leeds.’ He worked in Vidal Sassoon and then came to London.
By the time he was 25, he was doing David Bowie’s hair. ‘He was such an amazing person, I was so fortunate to work with him and call him a friend.’ Although Wood didn’t realise quite how famous Bowie was. ‘I was rather naive, I was busy getting out of Yorkshire.’
Wood says he has never been star-struck. ‘Not really, I have been so focused on my career.’ He opened his own salon in 1999 and was driven by a powerful work ethic. ‘I pressed on; I always pressed on. I always used to be the first in and the last out of the salon.’
Josh closed operations in Liberty and Soho House in order to focus on his brand and product range, when they first launched. Pictured: Saoirse Ronan
No doubt it helps that he is an astute businessman — his profits have been steadily growing in the past few years.
The future, it seems, really could lie with the mass-market and not the upmarket salon. He even closed operations he had started in Liberty and posh members’ club Soho House in order to focus on his brand and retail products when they first launched.
‘I hire the best people I can. I need a brilliant accountant, the best operations person, blue-sky thinker, tech person . . . because I can’t do those things.
‘I do have a good intuition, though. When something feels right, I won’t let go until someone convinces me deeply that it is a bad business decision.’
But ultimately, he insists, hairdressing is about personal connection. A good hairdresser is a psychologist, confessor and confidante, as well as the person who makes sure you look wonderful (and tells you so).
‘I love a good chat. Both my parents died when I was very young. I left my home town when I was very young. I view the people I work with as family. I love the idea of community, of being there and sharing.’
Wood has been seeing some of his clients for more than 30 years. ‘Some clients realised this year that I see more of them than they see of their partners, so there was separation anxiety on both sides. One can’t underestimate these relationships. I have seen my clients have kids and grandkids, in some cases, lose loved ones and suffer illness.
Josh (pictured) revealed his salon Atelier was busier than ever, when they reopened in July and some of his clients were overwhelmed with emotion
‘I never take the salon chit-chat for granted as quite often we are talking about things that are very personal and important both to the client and me. It’s a relationship I’m grateful for.’
When his salon Atelier reopened in July, some of his clients were overwhelmed with emotion. ‘There was a big outpouring, I had a couple of clients sit in the chair and sob.’
He was also busier than ever, with new clients who had been using the video service coming into the salon to experience the real deal.
And the second lockdown? ‘When we got the news we moved quickly: we opened on Sunday, and I worked all day Monday and Tuesday. When I got home on Tuesday night I had to ice my feet, because I’d been standing from 8am to 8.45pm.’
The move to Tier Four for large swathes of the country has been even more challenging, with Christmas the busiest time of year for hairdressers.
Wood is keen for his new product to launch, but money is not the force that compels him.
‘If you are successful in creating a product people like, you presume you’re going to benefit financially, but that’s not the driver for me.
‘For me it is making the product in the first place, taking the risks, being the first.’
He also wants to give us all the swish and confidence that comes with really great hair, whether our budget is £1,000 or £14.
‘Colour isn’t a utility that has to be topped up every month to hide grey. It’s an important part of how we appear to the outside world,’ he says, whether that is in real life, or over Zoom.
Josh Wood’s guide to the ultimate no- hairdresser hair
1. HYDRATE AND CONDITION
This is a moment to focus on the condition of your hair and really hydrate it in a way you probably don’t on a normal day.
Use a mask once a week (try the Everything Mask, £19, joshwoodcolour.com). If you don’t need to see (or video call) people, slick your hair back with a conditioner or a mask and keep it in all day.
Alternatively, treat with the mask at night, wrapping it with an Aquis Turban (£30, aquishair.co.uk) and go to bed for an overnight deep condition.
2. ALWAYS COMB BEFORE HOME-DYEING
If you do want to do your roots at home, use a good wide-toothed comb, such as Re-comb (£16, re-comb.com) or my other favourite, a Tangle Teezer (£12, tangleteezer.com), to brush out your hair beforehand, then you won’t get clumps of colour or missed patches.
Pictured: Josh Wood Colour Gloss
I think the dotting method works best — applying multiple small dots of colour — and in this case, more is really more. Pack on the product to ensure greys are completely covered
3. EXPERIMENT WITH DIFFERENT SHADES
Have fun! Given that most of us are now working from home and events are on hold, this could be a moment for experimentation with new styles and semi-permanent colours.
This is much easier if you have highlights or balayage, as you can use a temporary or semi-permanent colour over the blonde and it will wash out over time. Changing the tone of brunette hair, going a bit warmer or cooler depending on skin tone, can be another way to switch things up (try Josh Wood Colour Gloss in Cherry, pictured, £19).
4. OR RETURN TO YOUR NATURAL HAIR COLOUR
Use this opportunity to think about what you do with your hair, and whether you have got stuck in a cul-de-sac.
After the first lockdown, many people returned to a more natural colour that didn’t require so much upkeep, partly because they don’t want to be caught out again, and partly because they realised they’d been doing the same thing for years without thinking.
Begin this process by building up a mood board of things you like and things you don’t like. Also think about how often you want to maintain the colour and get advice on skin tone: cool or warm? Ask how the colour can be nuanced seasonally.
We often recommend that clients send us an image of their hair from a time in their life when they absolutely loved it.
5. . . . EVEN IF THAT MEANS GOING GREY!
This could be the perfect time to make that transition. But when you decide you want to start to grow out the grey, you’ve got to be committed.
The first step is to leave a little bit of grey around the hairline, so it starts to break up that harsh regrowth. It looks a bit more natural and helps to introduce a bit of grey gradually.
Then, once you can get back in to the salon, you should talk to your colourist about having a lighter tint around the hairline for a few weeks, then introduce some kind of highlights or balayage.
6. TREAT YOURSELF TO A SCALP MASSAGE
The hair grows from inside the scalp, so nourishing that is very important for healthy hair.
I often ask my clients to think of their scalp as they would their face. A healthy scalp in general leads to healthy hair. Dandruff, psoriasis, greasy hair, or a dry, itchy scalp are indicators that it is in need of some attention.
Regular massage of the scalp is a great way to boost the blood supply — and it’s relaxing.
Your scalp produces natural oils that are essential for keeping the skin moisturised. The more we wash our hair the more we strip these away.
I recommend using the En-Root Scalp Treatment (£36, weare centred.com), which is like a facial for your scalp.
7. LAST-MINUTE CHRISTMAS ZOOM
If you haven’t washed your hair but need to get on a Zoom call and look like you have ‘done, undone’ hair, Sam McKnight Cool Girl Barely There Texture Mist (£25, sam mcknight.com) is the product for you. It’s a very light texturising hair spray that can quickly create a natural tousled look — just spray and scrunch.