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Trevor Sorbie celebrates 10 years hairdressing in Brighton

PUBLISHED: 12:58 07 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:58 07 May 2014

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Trevor Sorbie started his career in an Ilford barber shop and invented many of the techniques and styles that define modern hairdressing. He was awarded an MBE in 2004. As he celebrates 50 years in hairdressing and 10 in Brighton, Trevor Sorbie speaks to Jenny Mark-Bell

When you’re on your way to meet a legendary hairdresser, the last thing you want to see is rain. After spending more time on my hair than is customary – I brushed it and everything – I arrived for our interview in Brighton with wet rats’ tails. To his credit, Trevor Sorbie MBE didn’t even wince.

He’s an immensely personable man, whose softly-spoken, self-deprecating manner belies the accolades with which he’s been garlanded in half a century in hairdressing. An Art Director at Vidal Sassoon by 24, Trevor pioneered The Wedge, the iconic unisex cut that defined Seventies clubland, and invented The Chop, a texturising technique that is now a part of modern hairdressing. He became an MBE in 2004, after which Her Majesty invited him back to the Palace for a tête-à-tête. But he told me that it was bullying that drove him to a job in his father’s two-chair barber shop in Ilford.

“At that stage I wasn’t even thinking about a career in hairdressing, I was much more interested in chasing girls. I actually decided to get out of hairdressing. But then I decided that I wanted to stick with it, but do ladies’ hair as well. So I went to college, and on the final day the principal said ‘I can see something in you, I think you should go to a good salon.’” So he did. Vidal Sassoon was a haven for style mavens, famous for Mia Farrow’s pixie crop.

It was there that Trevor’s ambition began to kick in: “I never used to sit in the staff room bitching, I just used to stand and watch these great hairdressers at work.

“Clients like Paul McCartney were coming in, Jack Nicholson, people like that. It was the crest of the wave.” It was while he was at Vidal Sassoon that Trevor devised the haircut that would define a decade – by mistake. “I attempted a one-layered haircut, cut very close around the outside edge. It looked awful. It looked like a helmet. But by luck, to try and salvage it, I just brushed it back, and out came this lovely stacked haircut. We called it The Wedge, and that became the most popular haircut in the 70s for clubbers.” Vogue gave it a double-page spread and a hairdressing legend was born.

Trevor’s passion now is his work with cancer patients for his initiative My New Hair. As a hairdresser, he has long understood the importance of hair to a person’s sense of self. “But that has been brought closer to home by the way women react when they are told they are going to lose their hair. I have met women who have refused chemotherapy rather than lose their hair. Cancer is the big word, but the ripple effect is unbelievable. It is a series of losses.”

When a close family member approached him to style her wig after undergoing chemotherapy, Trevor began to think about how he could help more patients. Now he provides a free service, styling wigs and training other hairdressers to offer the same service. He tells the story of styling a woman’s hair before her hospice wedding. She died shortly afterwards, but the simple act of preparation made her for a brief period not a dying woman, but a bride. Trevor is visibly moved as he tells the story, and says: “I get more satisfaction out of doing what I’m doing now than anything I’ve ever done before.” Now the charity has the support of L’Oreal and cancer charity Macmillan, and Trevor is a member of the National Association of Cancer Patients and Carers. In 2009 he was invited to meet the Prime Minister at Number 10 to celebrate his work with My New Hair and announce the provision of Department of Health funding to support the charity.

Trevor has long scorned celebrity culture, but recognition from the establishment in the form of his MBE was very welcome. “I have a phobia of opening the post box because I always think it’s going to be bad news. When I opened a letter which had the Prime Minister’s coat of arms saying I had been put forward for an MBE I could have fallen off my stool. To have that accolade was mind-blowing.”

“I was about number 95 of 100. I walked up and faced the Queen. She said, ‘I understand you do some rather strange hair styles. I’ve seen you on television and you’re very good. We must have a chat soon.’ Two weeks later I got a call from the Palace saying Her Majesty would like to have a meeting. I was in there for 45

minutes talking about her hair, in a very surreal bubble. I was looking at pictures of family holidays, and at one point I felt a corgi on the back of my leg. I thought it was going to start humping!” The Queen’s hairdresser, Ian Carmichael, works in Trevor Sorbie’s Covent Garden salon.

From an Ilford barber shop to the Queen’s private quarters, Trevor’s half century in hairdressing has seen him rise to the very top of the industry. A born raconteur, he tells his story well. And his legacy will live on, on the heads of women all over the world.

The Brighton salon’s My New Hair specialist is manager Alison Stevens. Find out more about the charity at www.mynewhair.org

For more about Trevor Sorbie and the Brighton salon, visit www.trevorsorbie.com

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