Giles Coren: In Defence of the £100 Haircut

Esquire's Editor-At-Large on his love affair with John Frieda

Most Popular

There are three questions a gentleman never asks another gentleman: 1) How big is your cock? 2) Have you ever wanked over my wife? 3) Who does your hair?

The first two you don't ask because a gentleman never puts another gentleman in a position where he may be compelled to tell a lie, and the third you don't ask because you don't give a fuck.

At a push, you might ask a man who makes his suits (very embarrassing when it turns out he buys off the peg like a homeless) or where he gets his shoes, wine, technology, financial advice or drugs. For these are all areas in which one is forever looking to improve one's line of supply. But his hair? You like his hair? You have noticed the way he has arranged part of his body, you find it attractive, and you want to copy him? You sicko! You filthy fucking prison daddy! You get your fucking face out of my hair or I'll drop you right here, right now.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

I don't talk like that, obviously. I would never threaten violence or use language verging dangerously on the homophobic to demean anyone, whatever they asked me. But I'd be fucking surprised.

There are people out there who quite often say to each other, "I love what you've done with your hair!" and, "OM Fucking G, that is a blow-dry!" and, "Who in the WORLD did your colour? I love it? No, no, no, I ADORE it!" But they are women. That is what women do. Yes, this is 2013, and they may also run countries, they may boss massive international corporations, they may wear the trousers at home, they may even marry each other and have fatherless children through artificial sperm made from their own snot, but they are still, exclusively, the half of humanity that asks its fellow members exactly who it was that recently cut off some of the keratinous excreta that hangs from their head and gave it that lovely fluidity and bounce, and where she works, and whether she'd be likely to have a spare slot before the weekend.

Most Popular

But ask a man where he gets his hair cut and he'll say: "Greek bloke on the high street, he's got a proper selection of wank mags and all." 

He'll say that, but it's probably not true. It is just what you are meant to say, to show that you don't spend time thinking about your appearance. Although you do. Not as much as women do. And not as much as David Walliams does. But more than your father did, and probably more than you ought to.

The place you really go to get your hair cut is the unisex parlour round the corner that once gave you an okay haircut when you were about 24 – you got some half-serious praise for it from the girl behind the bar in your local – and the woman who did it had quite nice warm boobs when they pressed briefly against your arm as she trimmed round your ears, so you've been going back ever since, sharing little jokes, flirting a bit, very gradually changing your hairstyle to reflect passing fashion, but always about three years behind the pace, paying the £25 and tipping the spare fiver because it makes you feel like a high-roller, well aware that Stavros could be doing it for £6 with the clippers, and feeling a bit funny about going to the poncy salon, but reckoning you're probably getting your money's worth from the hair wash alone.

And that's fine. That is as it should be. I also went to the unisex for years. I certainly didn't let Stavros anywhere near it after the age of 12. Although in my case he was not called Stavros, but Andy. He cut hair at Andy's in Swiss Cottage, and probably still does. Almost everybody from my primary school went to Andy's. You always knew which ones, because twice a term they'd come to school with a plaster on one ear. He was loose with the scissors, was Andy, on those £1.50, five-minute schoolboy jobs. Fag in one hand, eye on the row of mums in the mirror, wondering which one to besiege next with his finest chat-up lines, snip, snip, snip…. nick, AAAAAARGHHH!!! "Don' a be a beeg a-baby!" Andy would say. "Ees only a leetle scratch!"

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

And so you'd get a plaster on one ear, stuck on while you swivelled your eyes to cop a load of the cover of Mayfair or Penthouse on the coffee table – slightly saggy Seventies boobs, nips three-quarter covered, loads of eyeliner, big perm – and then next morning in school, with a bloody Band-Aid on one lobe, you would be greeted with, "Oh, so you go to Andy's too?"

We didn't have to ask who did your hair, we could see.

***

I stayed with Andy for a while and then, like you, changed up to a local salon with a funny name (Hair Today/Mane Event/Curl Up & Dye) where I stayed for maybe ten years, and then moved out of home and went to a different place for another ten, and then moved across town and found another place.

Wherever I went, I took advice from Sheena or Charlene or Simone on how best to acquire the style of the moment. And so I went Caesar crop for a while when it was really only gays who were doing that, then "bedhead" probably four years after everyone else had tidied up, but not really caring what it looked like as long as I didn't get my ear snagged or look like a massive dick.

For years, I just hopped from one reasonably hot woman to another through a succession of suburban shops, saying, "Oh I don't know, whatever you think, not too short though", reckoning to get one good haircut out of six, three average ones, and a couple of shockers, always making sure I had nowhere important to go with in a week of any haircut, as it might need time to grow out a bit.

I even tried downstairs at Trumper once, because I was feeling chappish and thought it would be pukka, but the old cunt used a cut-throat razor on the back of my neck and it was red raw for a week. So I went back to Sheena.

The thing was, I just didn't think hair mattered.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Aesthetically, I have always been on the borderline. I am not such an ugly bastard that there is no point trying to look nice, but nor am I one of those handsome blokes who looks great whatever. I have a face that, if I have a tan, no hangover, am not more than a stone overweight and have a half-decent haircut (which is then styled up in the mirror with whatever branded sticky shit comes to hand) can be quite good-looking enough for the skanky milieu in which I move.

But then I got old. Got slack, baggy, tired, sad. Got children. And now, even at my target weight, a couple of weeks sober and nicely tanned, I need help. So a sea of shit haircuts with the odd island of OK is not going to cut it. I have a tailor now, I have a doctor, a wine merchant, a jeweller, a gardener, a cleaner, and a nanny. It was clearly ridiculous that I did not have a hairdresser. So I got one.

Most Popular

Ask me who cuts my hair today and I will not tell you, "Six-Quid Stavros down by the station". I will clear my throat a little nervously, and say, "Nadia at John Frieda."

What, John Frieda the shampoo bloke?

"Yes. But he is a hairdresser mainly. The products came later."

It's a chain, is it?

"I think there are two. And a couple in America. I go to the one in Mayfair, always to Nadia.

And how much does that cost then?

"About a hundred quid."

You fucking WHAT?

"Including the tip."

Just for a haircut? Or is there something you're not telling me?

"Do NOT talk about Nadia that way! She cuts my hair absolutely perfectly every time, is what she does, so that I do not spend 11 months of every year looking like a child-murderer hastily scrubbed up for a police interview, like you."

And she does. It is a miracle. You pay £100 for a meal with wine, you pay £100 for a shirt, you pay £100 for a pair of football tickets (shit ones). You pay £100 to fill up your car, for fuck's sake. So why would you expect change out of a tenner for a haircut?

***
 

It was my wife who put me on to Nadia. Esther used to go to her after hours for student rates, and always looked amazing. In fact, it was Nadia making Esther look so hot that led directly to my marrying her. So after one too many times watching me come home from a haircut and stare at myself in the mirror, looking like a hair-eating bear had raped me in my sleep, and saying, "We're going to have to postpone all social engagements for at least a month," she suggested I go to Nadia, too.

And I did. And that was that. She did a couple of choppy cuts first, at my behest, designed to make me look young and sexy, which fooled absolutely nobody, and then we bit the bullet and went what I call "Old Man", a style term that Nadia happily took up, and offers me each time I go: "Hello Giles, we going Choppy or Old Man?"
It just means short back and sides, option for a parting, little bit longer on top because, let's face it, one is not a fucking soldier, but not too clear a contrast, not razored, no skin, no big stack on top, because one is not David Beckham, either. One is not a bleeding rent boy. One is past 40, and the time has simply come.

There is no fancy stuff with Nadia, no showing off. Just total consistency, total control. It is the difference between a Michelin-starred chef and the sweaty pot-basher at your local gastropub. Your pub chef might knock out a corking meal one in five, and feed you OK a couple of other times, but there will be some inedible stinkers, too, and a couple of times a year you will probably get poisoned. Meanwhile, your Michelin guy, like a good serial killer, will be achieving consistency. No nasty surprises.

Everything just so, every time. Why ask any less of your hairdresser??

You park up in a quiet residential Mayfair street (personally, I leave my 12-year-old Fiesta round the corner in case the rich lady customers see me getting out of it, clutch their handbags to their chest and shriek for the police), walk in through the door of a cream-coloured, unbranded, unmarked shop, hand over your jumper to the magnificently coiffed doyenne at the coat-check, read Esquire for a couple of minutes, and then out comes Nadia.

Kiss, kiss, "How's Esther?", "Choppy or Old Man?" and then it's hairwash time. I got a boy doing that once, and had to explain to Nadia about how infrequently, at my time of life, one's head is held in both hands by a young girl, and how I never, ever, ever want a young man anywhere near me when I am having my hair washed again. Which she grasped fully, thank the Lord, and sees to now every time.

The girl washes your hair. After a couple of minutes she says, "Would you like a head massage?"

I mean, like, duh. What do you think? OK, no. No I don't want you to gently stroke the whole of my head with your young fingers while I doze here and dream of Ancient Rome. Of course I fucking do! In fact, a head massage is only the first of a long list of things I would like, but for now, for decency's sake, let's go with the head massage.

Then we go to a chair upstairs, if possible, because I like the daylight as opposed to the stark, bunkered professionalism of the basement, and Nadia does snip, snip, snip, snicks no ears, maybe has someone get me a mint tea or a full, excellent, three-course meal (if I was having a perm or something, and in for the long haul, I might order the goat's cheese salad followed by the salmon, with a fruit salad platter to finish) and then it's done, and I look awesome.

And then it's, I don't know, 85-odd, plus tips and I'm off.

The only thing is, to keep looking awesome, one really needs to go every six weeks. With Six-Quid Stavros, that's not a problem. Or even Twenty-Six-Quid Sheena. But with Nadia it means nearly a grand a year. So I try to stretch it to eight weeks, or even ten. But there comes a point, around the beginning of the ninth week, especially in hot weather, when my wife says, "So, when are you next seeing Nadia?"

"Why?" I say.

"Because you have 'bolted'," she says. "Like an old lettuce."

"I thought I might go to Sheena," I reply. "Just for the maintenance trim."

"Fine," says my wife. "You do that. But we're at the Massive Esquire Summer Party For Supermodels and Famous People next week, and you are going to look fucking silly in a bobble hat."

So then I call Nadia, and everyone's happy.

***
MORE GILES COREN:

The TV Boxset Could Save Your Marriage 
The Case Of Analysis 
Sex, Martin Amis And Me 
***