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George Northwood — Hairstylist to the Stars, Royals — Discusses the Modern Salon

George Northwood, the man behind Meghan Markle's wedding reception messy bun and Alexa Chung's bob, is carving a new path in the luxury salon business.

LONDON — George Northwood, the man behind Meghan Markle’s messy bun and Alexa Chung’s bob, is carving a path in the luxury salon business with a refreshingly laid-back approach.

His modernist brand of no-fuss, deliberately undone looks has drawn a slew of celebrities and royalty, namely the Duchess of Sussex who joined the likes of Alexa Chung, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Alicia Vikander, Izabel Goulart and British fashion editors galore. Northwood was the man who created a messy bun look for the evening reception of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding.

Northwood also joined the newly married royal couple on tour in Australia.

The memorable looks that Northwood has created — be it Chung’s bob or Markle’s up-do — have been a key driver of business.

In an interview, he said “people have gone nuts” asking about messy up-dos since the royal wedding, while requests for Chung’s bob or Vikander’s signature beach waves have been constant throughout the last few years.

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“Celebrity exposure is kind of everything. They provide this aspirational element for how people want their hair to look,” Northwood said. “Alexa’s bob was such a huge thing, then I also cut Rosie’s hair in a different kind of bob and off the back of that I created a bob bar at the salon. It was about taking some of the cuts I had done for some of my best clients and bringing them down to the salon for all people to have access to. It’s also a great way to get the client and the hairdresser on the same page, which can be quite a hard thing to do. No one wants to bring reference pictures, for some reason it’s seen as a negative.”

While clients might feel apologetic when showing reference pictures to their stylist at other salons, Northwood — who usually wanders around his salon dressed in tracksuits and Calvin Klein tops — was adamant about creating a more laid-back, unintimidating atmosphere in his space, despite his own celebrity.

AG AW 2017 CAMPAIGN Alexa Chung
Alexa Chung Angelo Pennetta

He chose to open in Fitzrovia — better known for its buzzy restaurants, ad agencies and marketing firms than its luxury offering — at a time when salons were still buttoned-up and scattered around the more polished Mayfair.

“I wanted it to feel like you were coming into my home because nowadays, luxury feels dated, and we are moving toward what I call ‘functional luxury.’ Gone are the days when women have hours on end to sit in a salon and kill time. Women and men now want hair done as quickly and efficiently as possible, in a space that lends itself to that service,” Northwood said. “It’s that fine balance of really great service, but delivered in quite a casual approach, it has to feel quite professional, but relaxed.”

He describes his space as the “modern-day answer” to the big, glamorous London salons he saw his mum come out of looking perfectly coiffed. He said it reflects the shift to a more editorial, relaxed aesthetic.

Inside the George Northwood salon
Inside the George Northwood salon

“Women nowadays don’t want to look like they stepped out of a salon, they want to look like they stepped off a shoot. For me, that’s the biggest shift, that hair should be unfussy. We have a method of working that really delivers this editorial type of hairstyle. It looks very undone and casual and that is also reflected in the surroundings,” said Northwood, adding that he wants to create a cozy environment where customers can come out with as much interiors inspiration as hair styling ideas.

The modernist furniture, marble countertops, quirky art on the walls and sleek glass cups used to serve customers coffee, do the trick.

As all consumer-facing companies across the fashion and beauty sector are rethinking the ways they are addressing modern luxury consumers, Northwood’s “functional luxury” approach is resonating with competitors, too, who have been ditching posh Mayfair in favor of more welcoming, experiential spaces.

But Northwood is cautious of jumping on too many trends, expanding too quickly, or pushing too much product or too many services on clients.

Instead, he is holding onto the special community he has created in his Fitzrovia space and looking for alternative ways to grow, be it through pop-ups or brand building in new territories, particularly the U.S.

He has wholeheartedly embraced social media, which has helped usher many hair and makeup artists onto the spotlight.

“From my own point of view, social media just drives the clientele. When I’m working with new clients, it will draw people in because every one of them has a whole new audience to bring in,” said Northwood, who is often found sharing selfies with his famous clients, dancing around the wash basins of his salon or posting snaps of his editorial or red carpet work on Instagram.

More recently he also debuted a podcast, HedTalks, where he talks to a series of creatives about hair, life, careers and more. “It has actually helped me attract new clients to myself and it has helped the salon attract new clients. I just think it is the modern world that we are living in, it’s what everyone wants. Nine times out of 10, when I ask people how they heard about me or the brand they will say Instagram, that is all you ever hear.

In terms of the products he works with, Northwood said he wanted to create an “apothecary feel” in the salon, handpicking a small selection of products, from the likes of Redken, Sam McKnight and Pureology, that resonate with his no-fuss aesthetic.

He is also toying with the idea of creating his own range: “It becomes more and more appealing every day, but I have to create a world that will be in sync with the salon and what I believe in. My biggest fear is trying to grow too quickly and compromising what we do because I think it’s very special.”