Insider Interviews: Michael Van Clarke: Hairstylist

Van Clarke achieved the impossible: getting our hair to stop breaking and finally grow thanks to his dry cutting technique & award-winning haircare line. What is his secret? We had to find out...

By Amy Wilson Wyles

The Backstory

At 17, I was working towards my A-Levels and was expected to go to university. I’d been making films as a hobby for 5 years and my brother Nicky was working with John Frieda. John asked me to make a 30 minute documentary of the show they were giving for The World Hairdressing Congress at The Albert Hall.

I was very taken by the glamour, the people and the sheer vibrancy. I didn’t apply to University (much to my father’s disappointment), and shortly after my A-Levels I joined John at the small new salon he created after leaving Leonards. I assisted John on photographic shoots and shows and when John couldn’t commit to the shoot date for a new magazine with Tony McGee, he said, what about your assistant? That was my first photographic shoot, and within 6 months I had my first 8-page editorial in Vogue.

I’ve become known for my signature dry cutting technique. Cutting hair clean and dry allows me to work with the hair’s natural movement and texture in an organic sculptural way. I can interpret the unique texture with face shapes and features to create brilliant styles with an unrivalled level of precision and balance. This unique method liberates the stylist to create something truly personalised for each of our clients, that looks better, lasts longer and is easier to manage. We teach it in our Central London Salon Academy along with an exceptional training programme that has won multiple industry awards.

I decided to create our 3 More Inches range having long been disappointed with the identikit products that the big conglomerates foist on us. If you are a little more discerning and want something better you begin to see how most are off the shelf replicas whose differentiation is little more than the marketing story, especially nowadays, and many are often actually harmful to your hair and scalp health.

Most products out there are full of silicone and other plasticisers that give a cosmetic gloss to fake having healthy hair today – at the expense of actually having healthy hair tomorrow.

We sought to create products that satisfied the most demanding stylists and clients and that were always the best in class. It would be pointless for me to launch any product if I could buy something better off the shelf. The key point of difference is that they are designed for ultimate performance today AND long term hair health. Part of this key difference is that they are silicone-free which is true for less than 1% of hair products nowadays.

Covid and the various  lockdowns have encouraged people to learn a little more about homecare techniques and be more relaxed about their hair. We see some more clients at home now and offer more education online but when open, the salon still runs as it has, yet in a socially distanced way with Covid safe protocols.

The Advice

3 More Inches – How to Grow Your Hair Longer & Repair Damage

1. Hair health is nearly all about hydration. This is the first thing you need to know and remember about hair: healthy hair is 97% protein and 3% water. Anything that dries the hair out, makes the protein structure less flexible and stable so it breaks down a little. This is the journey to thinner hair, dry, brittle, frizzy hair, and eventually hair that snaps and splits.

2. Stop, reduce or protect from the things that take health out of hair: UV light, excessive colouring, seawater, pool water, hot styling tools, poor quality products, silicone and dehydrating heavy oils. Most of these won’t matter if you wear your hair short (just a few inches long) because it’s replaced every four months. But if you wear your hair longer it can take 3-4 years to replace hair that takes abuse daily. There are better techniques and better products. 

3. Put something back. Hair needs feeding regularly to compensate for what is taken out daily. Unfortunately most of the products out there fake their way into your shopping basket with claims of being moisturising and hydrating, when in fact the silicones they use to make the hair feel nice are actually dehydrating the hair. Lockdown is a great opportunity to kill your hair a little less and lavish some healing into your locks. No excuses. LifeSaver Prewash Treatment is our original hero product with 25 years of salon professional use and testing, you soak dry hair with it and leave on – ideally overnight – 2-3 times a week. It’s a complete hair game changer and we’ve seen incredible results with it. Nothing else comes close. It’s also a great change to give yourself a regular 5-minute scalp massage. This will relax the scalp and encourage more blood supply, bringing nutrients and removing toxins. Aim to move the scalp with the finger tips. Don’t rub hair around over itself.

4. Avoid Dehydrating Products. As mentioned, anything with silicone in will ultimately dry your hair and lead to breakage. Over 95% of hair products use silicone additives to smooth the surface and varnish over the cracks in hair. Despite the manufacturers claims, this isn’t haircare. It’s a cosmetic illusion. Most silicones are hydrophobic so whilst they make hair appear pretty today, they dry it out further tomorrow, so you reach for more silicone laden product. Kerching! Breaking the cycle can be difficult for people with very damaged hair, in the same way that a green salad doesn’t happily replace the heroine-fix of a drug addict on day one. But persistence pays off as genuine health returns. So please ditch the silicone products – it won’t say silicone on the ingredients list so look out for the scientific names – cyclopentasiloxane, dimethicone, trimethicone, or any …conol or …cone in the ingredients list.

5. Cut back on heat styling. If your hair is six inches long, the ends have been around for 365 days. Twelve inches long and that’s 730 days, etc. How you habitually treat your hair in those days all adds up. Using a technique that’s less damaging and/or half as often, has a massive impact on hair health.

For example, people ask if shampooing every day is bad for the hair? The answer is no if you are using quality products and airdrying, but over blow-drying or ironing hair with poor technique seven times a week is much worse than twice a week. The difference is burning the same piece of hair an extra 261 times a year. Over a thousand extra times on the ends of long hair! Using small improvements in different habits will completely transform the condition of your hair over time.

The Kit

Kit Essentials: 

1. LifeSaver Prewash Treatment because this hypo-allergenic silicone-free formula from our 3’’’More Inches range works for every kind of hair, and gives people back the hair health they forgot they had.

2. Scalp Exfoliating Shampoo from our 3’’’More Inches range. I use it myself, because it keeps scalps clean and fresh and hair strong and supple.

3. LifeSaver UV Leave in Styling Treatment from our 3’’’More Inches range which controls my unruly hair and also helps me wear it a little longer.

4. Ten Second Transformation from our 3’’’More Inches range which gives shine finish and control. The styling product I wouldn’t want to be without.

5. Powershot Hair & Nail Nutrients from our 3’’’More Inches range. I take two with breakfast to help my hair and they are a good general all round nutritional supplement too.

The Experts

Hairdresser: I give my hair to one of our advanced apprentice/graduates for a year or two. Mitchell has been looking after it for a while now but as he has rapidly been promoted to Senior Stylist and now in his 6th year I should probably move on and scare someone else.

Facialist: We have great facialists in the salon, and Hina is exceptional. 

Workout Spot/Exercise Class: My wife Gaby is a personal trainer so helps direct me and we both see her old boss Luke Gray. He has a unique way of keeping you motivated.

Manicurist/Pedicurist: We have a brilliant team in the salon. Maryce is particularly good as she is also our in-house reflexologist.

Treatment to Unwind: Hina’s deep massage usually sends me to a blissful sleep.

Favourite Spa Destination: I like to try different ones around the world so I can recommend to my clients. My last three were all brilliant and totally different. Huvafen Fushi in the Maldives – we took a package of ten treatments so tried pretty much everything in their overwater spa which also had an underwater treatment room. Vana in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. Two treatments a day from an eclectic mix including Ayurvedic and Tibetan. The 4 handed synchronised massage I had would have won gold if it were in the Olympics. Lanserhof in Bavaria was no party but we followed a Germanically strict Mayr therapy for a week in a beautiful modern building and felt great at the end.

Get In Touch

Address: 1 Beaumont St, Marylebone, London W1G 6DF

Telephone: 020 7224 3123

Follow: @mvanclarke

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