My West London Life

Derek “DeCutter” Clement

October
16

Derek 'De Cutter' Clement, a renowned celebrity hairstylist, Afro hair care expert, and entrepreneur, was one of the UK's first black British hairstylists to have a West End Salon. Formally known for his dedication to black hair, which started in the early 80's, he worked with the legendary Splinters (one of the 1st Afro Hair Salons in the West End) which enabled him to style celebrities such as Billy Ocean, Patti Labelle, The Three Degrees and many more.

When you did you first develop a love for hairdressing and how did you get started?

My journey essentially started in the late ‘70s and onwards, and actually, hairdressing found me.

The day that steered the wheel of destiny for me was when I accompanied my girlfriend to the hairdressers and while seated in the reception area what I saw changed my life forever.

Unbeknownst to me, as a teen, I visited what then was the premiere Black Salon in the UK Splinters International of Mayfair. As fate would have it, what I saw that day in that salon changed my beliefs. Here I was in a high-end spot in the heart of Mayfair, owned, operated, and patronised by black people. Not only were they black, but they were also the who’s who in London. The thing is there were no black organisations or black-owned businesses I was aware of – after all this was the late ‘70s. Right there and then I walked up to this 6ft “4 black man who turned out to be Winston Isaacs himself; he had just done my girlfriend’s hair. I asked him whether he could train me to be a barber, he said “start next day”… the rest is history. So I decided then that I am going to work in a place where I was exclusively catered to, and nurtured properly. I knew that that was what I wanted to be around, specifically in my chosen working environment, rather than a corporate environment which would probably offer otherwise.

So as I said it was by chance that I stumbled on the craft, but it might have been divine intervention…I didn’t know then I was being set up to be one of London’s leading black hairstylists and that my economic trajectory would change in just a few short years; five years to be precise.

Your journey as a renowned hairstylist for black hair began in the early ‘80’s which led you to work with the legendary Splinters (one of the 1st Afro Hair Salons in the West End) and the owner Winston Issacs, a move that resulted in you becoming his artistic director for the salon and led to your revered work with celebrities. Please talk me through this powerful journey and those early years.

The mould of learning back in those days was to begin as an apprentice, and then after five years, you would have become a fully-fledged stylist. There was also a queuing system as well, in direct correlation to who had usually started first and so on.

I was fortunate in that I got the coveted number one queuing position. I pushed myself to be Winston’s personal assistant. After two years I was well ahead of my contemporaries, being promoted early on in my age, as well, was a blessing.

Within a few years, I became the artistic director of Splinter International. I also began to teach hairdressing as a part-time lecturer at Hounslow Borough College. As a matter of fact I assisted in putting together the curriculum for afro hair at Hounslow Borough College. By that time I had equally cultivated a die-hard clientele of loyal young clients, and city types from the nearby department stores in the West End, generating a substantial amount of money for the salon.

Ultimately I was at the top of my game and eventually left splinters to open my own salons such as Noir in Lewisham, and the Derek Clement salon in Maida Vale. I was driven and determined with a clear aim to own my own salon one day.

Following that, after some time I then closed my UK-based shops and headed to the sunny shores of Grenada where I opened three salons and a school.

After achieving further success there, I naturally began to look to the US, in particular New York, to expand my horizons.

At one point you managed P Diddy’s personal barber shop over in the US, how did that come about and what was that like?

After migrating to the states, I met up with Curtis Smith who was P Diddy’s personal barber at the time. He had owned two salons. The salon was yet again a celebrity haven with the likes of Black Rob, Kid Capri and many other rappers who frequented here. Besides managing the salon, I also styled Janice Combs’ hair, who is P.Diddy’s mother.

What other celebrities have you styled?

Mostly British Celebs. At one point I did hairstyling for Yaz the British pop artist, Pepsi from the group Pepsi and Shirley, The Pasadena’s lead singer, Claudius Afolabi “Labi” Siffre, The Honeyz and many more.
American soul singers like the Three Degrees, Patti Labelle and Pearly Gates were also among my clientele. They frequented the salon since the original partners were American, the salon, therefore, was a home away from home to the Americans who were around or visiting the UK.

With that level of notoriety as a number one stylist and artistic director, my celebrity clientele grew beyond proportion. I became the go-to guy around London. A top stylist in those days was akin to rock star status, so naturally, my name was growing in the Caribbean and African community. Not only was I doing African Royalty, but I also styling the oil tycoons from Nigeria, as well as young politicians like Paul Boateng, Diane Abbott, and Patricia Scotland, now Baroness Scotland. I also styled known personalities like Billy Ocean, and Grace Kennedy, to name just a few, among my many celebrity clients in Britain.

Since the explosion of social media over a decade ago, we have seen how platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have changed or at least moulded the way businesses or stylists communicate with their customer base. How has this affected you, your business and clientele over the years?

Social media has benefited my business. I have embraced social media and have run with it. I document everything on Instagram and Facebook, and I love it. I have both feet planted firmly in the ground, in a sense for how things were in the business back then and how things are now. I move with the times; I am flexible. The positive effects of social media are people being able to see how hair is done in real time via shared platforms like Youtube and so on.

For example, I will do a tutorial and people will contact me, ask about it and then come down to the salon to have it done, and people know what the deal is. My clients are kept entertained with my videos and hair tips. The demand is such that we have a full-time social media person.

At present, you are continuing your work at the Bella & Bello hair & beauty salon, in West London. You also provide the ‘Hair Surgery Sessions’ in colleges within the UK & Caribbean; with a mission to save and replenish heads of hair through education of the scalp & targeted regimes. What initially motivated you to do this?

The need for information, guidance and support is what is needed the most, amongst professionals and consumers alike. As a result, I started up my Salon Surgery Concept which provides education empowerment and emancipation.

In recent years you’ve created the DeCutter hair care range to help men & women retain their hairstyles out of the salon, as well as maintain good hair care. The DeCutter brand also includes clothing merchandise, nutritional books & short stories. When was it that you decided to venture into further avenues (to expand your brand)?

Since we cannot perform on the salon floor forever, it’s incumbent that a savvy stylist looks to merchandising, and in the late 80s during my Caribbean crusade, I began to use natural oils, fruits and herbs to care for my clients’ hair.

Moroccan oils and shea butter are two of my favourite products to use, particularly as they of African origin. When I came back to the UK, I began the process of putting together my products which resulted in my DCCFACTOR1 ARGAN OIL, and DCCFACTOR2 SHINE SERUM.

What would you describe as your favourite hairstyle of all time?

For chemically relaxed hair, what I call the crop, it’s a short layered cut graduated at the sides and back, Halle Berry, Toni Braxton and Nia Long popularised that style.

How do you feel about your career now, in comparison to five or even ten years ago?

My career has never been so exciting, simply because my clientele is three generations strong. For example the clients I did as a young trainee, I’ve done their daughters and now grandsons and daughters. I’ve got a very youthful clientele that keeps my creative and artistic juices flowing. I also have so much more confidence, and I have learnt so much along the way. I always feel like I have just started out, which continues to give me certain energy and vigour to what I do.

What more do you want to do, plan to do and focus more on from this point?

Rudi Page (the man who coined the three words Afro Hair & Beauty) and I have been focusing on the Afro Hair and Beauty Show event. I am also working on a big event in Jamaica for early next year, and I will be in Barbados next month to provide a hair expo. I intend to take Salon Surgery global, so I can pass on my skills and give back. I want to pass on the baton to young stylists whilst paying homage to those who came before.

Another thing I want to do is pay tribute and bring attention to the big hairdressers. Everyone knows the Vidal Sassoon or Nicky Clarke or the Toni & Guy, but our names are not as recognised. For example, Carmen England was a famous hair stylist in the West End, in Piccadilly, during the ‘50s and ‘60s but not many now know of her. Not many people know of the Dykes and Drydens, or the Winston Isaacs or the Carmen Englands of our community. White Hair has changed because it has had the media to change, whereas black hair has not.

I also wanted to place more emphasis and pay tribute to the big names of hairdressing that are not from the UK or US.

Any other last words to add?

This saying may sound cliché, but mine would be to never ever give up and dedicate less time in building up other people’s businesses when you could build your own. I would do it [everything] all over again if I could.

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