Brightly-hued hair isn’t a new phenomenon, but all mane lovers know, it’s no easy feat to achieve. You can throw on a wig, or spray on some temporary hair color, but to actually get the pink or blue tresses of your dreams, you need to enlist a highly-trained Mane Master to do the honors. Alex Brownsell is one such guru, who has transformed the hair of some of the coolest women and men in the game—Alice Dellal and Florence Welch are on that long list.
While we were deep into junior high and probably getting our MTV fix, Alex Brownsell had already started her foray into the hair industry: at the young age of 12. “I worked in my mum’s salon New Image in Daventry on the weekends and after school,” she told us about her humble-yet experienced beginnings. “I learned how to do my first colors, updos, and blow drys there, though sometimes my mum had to fix them. Once I melted my friend’s hair off trying to make her hair white blonde from dyed black! The salon was shut—I was the cleaner too—so no one was there to tell me it wasn’t possible.” Needless to say, Alex learned a lot from that session.
Brownsell actually credits her mother as one of the role models that has inspired her throughout her career. “She still runs New Image in Daventry and has showed me loads of tricks that I still use every day.” At 16, she moved from Northamptonshire to London. There in one of the world’s beauty capitals, Brownsell worked as an apprentice at Daniel Hersheson in Mayfair—who she gives a big shout out for teaching her how to do the perfect blow dry. “It was a total culture shock,” she recalled of her first big-time job. “Rich women were spending more on their weekly blowdry than I made in a week! I loved it though and decided to stick with hairstyling as a career rather than the summer job I originally thought it would be.”
The Bleach London co-founder then went on to assist at fashion show and shoots full-time—mainly assisting Lyndell Mansfield who became like a surrogate big sister and introduced Brownsell to the big world of session hairdressing. “She’s a very eccentric, creative hairstylist and she taught me to break the rules,” Brownsell stated of one of her best teachers. “She showed me that you can do any hairstyle if you put your mind to it.”
Brownsell eventually turned her kitchen into a makeshift color salon—aptly titled Heartbreak Hair. “This is where we got the main inspiration for Bleach,” she explained. “It’s where I really experimented with color and new techniques and met my business partner Sam [Teasdale] who was a client. She complained about it costing fifty quid for a full bleach, toner, and haircut! In 2009, I began working solo on my first fashion shoots.” It was this experimentation that led to Brownsell’s now signature colors and looks. Dip dyes, color fades, blondes, and rose golds are all in her arsenal of trademarks.
A few years later, Teasdale and Brownsell then met WAH Nails founder Sharmadean Reid. “She was such a huge influence on us and helped us so much by letting us open Bleach London as a pop-up inside her original nail salon,” Brownsell recounted of the origins of her world-renowned salon. “That then led to the concession in Topshop Oxford Circus in 2010. I joined Fashion Agency D and V in 2011 and then began working on bigger shoots, including my first for British Vogue in that same year.”
Two years later, Brownsell and Teasdale then opened their first stand-alone Bleach Dalston salon, which led to the launch of their Bleach London range in Boots. Then, their Bleach Berwick Street opened, as well as the former’s signing with fashion agency Streeters. And though she has in many ways “made it” according to industry standards, she still fondly recalls even more mane masters who have helped her along the way and motivated her. “Benjamin Mohapi is a celebrity hairstylist who I worked for on The X Factor around the time I started working on my own shoots,” she remembers. “He showed me how to make hair shiny and slick for TV lights. Luca Cesari—who I worked with whilst training—forced me to perfect the firefly for six whole months! Rudi Lewis showed me how to barrel tong like it was a yoga routine and Luke Hersheson who showed me how to make hair look expensive.”
She has now also added natural textures, red carpet-ready looks, grown-out fringes, extreme wig work, and sculpted dramatic styles to her long list of talents. This means she has to keep her kit on point! Here’s a list of what she always has on deck: Bumble Prep Priming spray to prep every single hairstyle; Kiehl’s Silk Groom for a worn-in finish; Bleach Swamp Spritz to blow dry; Bleach Hair Elixir; Elnett Hairspray; Schwarzkopf Silhouette Hairspray due to its strength; L’Oreal Liss Control for very dry tresses; Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray when she needs more texture on set; Kerastase Shampoo to wash models’ hair if they come in with product build-up.
And being on set often means she needs to have her tools handy as well. Here’s what she has always has in tow: a set of gold dust Japanese tongs; a Parlux blow dryer; Hersheson’s round brushes which she still has from assisting 13 years ago; 2 Mason Pearson brushes; pin tail combs; elastics; Joewell Scissors; Cloud Nine straighteners that never break; and a Makita Leaf Blower to make a wind effect.
Brownsell finds a lot of positivity in competition because “it pushes you forward and keeps you striving to be better”. So she loves to use social media to see what other stylists are creating and dreaming up. @SalonBenjamin, @visualpursuit, @Bartpumpkin, @Beautypapersmag, and @Doesshecontour are just a few Instagram accounts she can’t get enough of. In her eyes, social media has given everyone in the industry a chance to have their own platform for self-promotion. “If you utilize your Instagram account well by organizing your posts and creating your own aesthetic, you’ll not only attract a decent following, but you will create a loyal client base as well,” she advises.
The only advice she’d give herself a decade ago is to cut down on the clubbing—wouldn’t we all? And she encourages up-and-coming stylists to not rush their training. “Perfect everything before you move onto the next thing,” she urges. “You’ll really appreciate it in the future.” Clearly, she knows from personal experience.
Brownsell now splits her time between fashion shoots and working at her salons—when we caught up with her, she had just returned from working on a shoot in Tel Aviv, Israel. Can you say #goals? But she defines success right now as achieving things she never thought she could. “It’s also about making time to have a life and a laugh whilst you reach your goals,” she adds. Balancing work and her personal life is indeed very difficult to balance, especially when she’s traveling. “I make sure I keep in touch with my friends and family as much as I can,” Brownsell states. “I say no to some jobs and always try to make time for myself. Even if it’s just 20 minutes a day. I also work with friends and collaborate a lot, so work is my personal life a lot of the time. You could say I’m a good multi-tasker.” Her best friends are her business partners and she shoots with all her friends. Pretty sweet, if we do say so ourselves.
But she won’t deny that there is now less money because wages have gone down in Britain after Brexit. “So everyone is having to be more creative about how they spend and make money,” Brownsell explains. “As harsh as time might get, these kinds of periods in history have always been the ones that breed new movements in art and music, as well as creating vibrant subcultures. In a few years, there will hopefully be a positive by-product from the negativity.”
Up next for Brownsell is the relaunch of the Bleach London range with lots of exciting new hair products and makeup for the first time. She’s also opening a new salon location in Brixton this Fall. “Right now, that’s about as far into the future as I can see without my head exploding.” The woman stays busy—the calling card of our favorite, modern-day mane masters.