Mane Master Samantha Cusick on Opening UK’s Leading Balayage Salon
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Browse your “saved” images on Instagram, and we guarantee there’s a photo of awe-inspiring balayage strands painted by Samantha Cusick, founder of UK’s leading balayage salon Samantha Cusick London Salon, and leader of an equally talented team of balayage specialists. The salon may sit in the heart of Notting Hill, adjacent to the blue door from the popular film Notting Hill, but the exterior’s canopy and palm wallpaper inside lends loads of Los Angeles vibes. Samantha’s inspiration for the salon aesthetic doesn’t fall too far from who inspired her to master balayage—colorists in California. Ahead, the summer color queen talks about her journey to becoming a renowned colorist, advice to soon-to-be salon owners, the products she always keeps in her kit, and more.
When did you know you wanted to be a colorist?
My mum is a hairdresser so I have always had an interest in hair from a young age, I was doing all aspects of hairdressing up until a couple of years ago when I decided to shift more to focusing on colouring within the salon as that’s what I just love doing! I still do a lot of styling and session work as I feel it is so important to still have diversity in your skill set.
Tell us from A-Z about your journey to getting your start in the industry.
After completing my academic studies, I was actually torn on whether to pursue more academia and head off to university or go into hairdressing. I decided to enroll in a full-time collage course at a local college in Nottingham and defer my start at uni for a year. Needless to say I found my calling and never looked back.
Did you have a mentor? If so, what was the most valuable thing you learned from them?
I have never had a specific mentor to be honest. I have been very fortunate to work with some inspiring people and the team I work with every day in the salon constantly inspire me to push myself to not only perfect my hair dressing techniques but to make the Samantha Cusick London Salon and brand the best it can be and to see how far we can grow.
Where or from who did you learn to color hair?
I am always looking for ways to expand my skill set, when it comes to colour and balayage techniques especially. I remember when balayage really started to take off in the UK maybe 4 years ago and my clients would bring me images of these seamlessly blended balayages usually from salons in LA and I remember thinking how the hell am I going to do that as I had never been taught. So I began trying to figure out how to achieve those looks and actually watching loads of YouTube videos from mostly American-based colourists to learn all I could whilst trying to innovate my own techniques alongside.
If you weren’t a salon owner/colorist, what would you be?
I’ve honestly not thought about doing anything else, but one thing I discovered about myself during the process of opening the salon is how much I LOVE interior design. I had so much fun designing and picking out everything for the salons interior. I think if I had to give it all up tomorrow that’s what I would be.
Samantha Cusick Salon is the leading balayage specialty salons in the UK—so major!!! When and why did you decide to open the salon?
I moved to London five years ago and was fortunate enough to work in some amazing salons but always felt there was something missing and that the experience clients could have in the salon could be so much more.
All the salons I had worked for previously had been led by men and I think that is why I felt it wasn’t quite what it could be. As a a young professional women, I am part of the target market for what we do and I started to think what I would want from a salon experience and the idea grew from there.
With the amount of hours we have to put in as hairdresser, it was just as important that the team enjoy the salon as much as the clients did, making sure that we have a fair omission structure for the tea, as well as ample support in the way of front of house and assistants because they’re imperative to establishing a happy and sustainable work environment.
I downloaded a business plan template from the princes trust and started to put down what I was thinking and it all started to look like a viable business. I showed my business plan to my father-in-law (who is very established in the business world) and he loved it, so much in fact he invested the money I needed to start the business.
I found the premises in the February of 2016 and by the time all the legals were done, I got the keys in April!
In one of your captions you wrote, “I finally got my canopy for the front of the shop and it’s perfect! Channeling serious Melrose Avenue Vibes in West London! Thanks to my Poppa bear who makes all my mad ideas work – you’re the best!” I have questions: Who is this sweet Poppa bear you speak of, and in what ways has he helped shaped the salon’s aesthetic?
Poppa bear is my Dad. He literally built the salon and made it all real. By trade, my dad has a shop fitting company which came in ridiculously handy when I decided to open Samantha Cusick London. Once I had found the premises for the salon in February, together with my Dad we meticulously planned every aspect of the salon. I think at first he thought I was crazy with how I wanted it to look as the common aesthetic for hair salons in London falls into either the ‘shabby chic’ category or ‘empty minimal’ and I was aiming for all out Hollywood Regency! It’s not to say we didn’t butt heads from time to time as he made me rethink a lot of the design as it just wasn’t practical so we had to find compromise’ that would last, still have that sparkle, all while keeping me within my budget.
As the salon has evolved and the team expanded so rapidly, my dad is always there to help me with all my hair brained schemes to maximise the salon potential and more importantly, keep evolving the look as I reinvest in the salon. A prime example being the gorgeous new canopy on the front of the shop that I couldn’t justify in the initial budget, but really wanted to complete the look and pretend that we’re actually in Beverly Hills!
When you opened the salon initially, what was your vision for the aesthetic? Where, who, or what inspired the salon’s mood?
One of the main reasons I was in a position to open Samantha Cusick London was down to Instagram. In the year previous to opening the salon, I started posting my work on there and built up a great online presence so it was so important that this aspect be reflected in the salon itself. I really wanted everything to be reminiscent of the dreamy images pinned to everybody’s Pinterest accounts. The interior and its accents had to be as beautiful as the hair we create.
Like the rest of the world, I am OBSESSED with Pinterest so I created pin board after pin board for how I wanted everything in the salon to look from the interior to the branding to the drinks menu and everything was screaming ‘Hollywood regency’ our definition of which is:
‘The 1930s, the golden age of film was peaking…the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood Regency style. Hollywood Regency is all about details; Minimalist design contrasted with rich metallics, gorgeous lacquer finishes and ornate trims give this style its verve.’
One thing I had to have was the palm leaf wallpaper, which, 2 and a half years ago believe it or not was impossible to get ahold of in the UK so I actually had to find a company to bespoke print it for me (just one more of the things my Dad thought I was being crazy about) but it really brought the whole look to life and tied everything else together! It’s probably still my fav thing in the salon especially now it’s the back drop for our new neon, a Kate Moss quote ‘Why the fuck can’t I have fun all the time’ which captures our mood perfectly.
Tell us a little more about the salon. Where is it located exactly? How big is your staff, etc.
Samantha Cusick London is located in the heart of Notting Hill, just off Portobello Road and is actually next to the famous blue door from the film Notting Hill which still has tourists queuing to take a picture outside of it!
When we opened it, it was me and two of my friends Adam Cooke and Konstantinos Mantiziokas doing hair as I never thought it would become as busy as is did from day one, so we had to quickly expand and now including assistants, managers and front of house staff there are now 21 of us. I am currently looking for a second location in London which is crazy exciting!
Recognising the way our target demographic seek out the latest trends and implementing these concepts into the salon make us fresh and individual as well as having our own Snapchat geofilter, ring lights for clients to snap that perfect selfie to share on their social, ‘Instagramable’ backdrops, and a complimentary cocktails bar where we offer clients a selection of unique cocktails like our signature mermaid martini derived from glittery candy floss and champagne.
Looking back on your journey, what would you say are the do’s and dont’s of opening a salon?
The biggest piece of advise I can give to anybody thinking about opening their own place is to just go for it! Keep your reasons for doing it in the forefront of you mind and don’t compromise. Be true to yourself and be prepared to work harder than you have ever worked in your life!
Make sure you are prepared and organised. Having things all planned out before you go to implement them will make it all so much smoother and lessen the stress.
Invest in your team, take the time to peer to peer to talk to them, train them and work together. Learning to delegate and trust in your team members is so important for everyone, staff and clients alike.
We hear you’ll be teaching balayage master classes soon—so exciting!! When can we expect those classes? Any plans to expand beyond London?
I think education is so important at every stage of your career, you can alway learn something new. We get asked a lot from other hairdressers about our techniques so I thought why not share them! After all, there are enough heads of hair to go around.
Competing with other industry professionals is exhausting and we are just not in that mind set at Samantha Cusick London so we have designed a collection of balayage master classes to teach how we actually balayage in the salon. When I have been on other classes, I never felt the actually show you how to achieve the results our clients want in commercial, salon timings, and bookings.
With the pressure on Instagram to deliver unrealistic results, we will also be teaching how manage those clients’ expectations.
I would love to expand beyond London, watch this space.
What products (styling and color) are always in your kit?
So the items in my kit I literally cannot be without are:
- YS Park 122 Extra Long Tail Comb – it has a 12cm tail so perfect for foiling.
- GHD Gold Iron for creating beach waves
- Olaplex in every colour always
- Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer
- Tangle Teezer Wetbrush
- IGK Beach Club Texture Spray
- OUAI Dry Shampoo Foam
- Davines OI All in One Milk
- Wella Freelights (it’s the bleach I use to balayage with)
- Redken Shades EQ – these glosses give the best blondes!
What’s the trick to changing hair colors frequently while maintaining the hair’s health?
Olaplex, Olaplex and more Olaplex! For me there is only one way to change your hair colour and keep the in integrity in tack and that is Olaplex.