"London’s the best place to train as a hairdresser. The training’s quite difficult in comparison to other countries. I know in America, you do a cosmetology license—you can’t be a pure hairstylist—whereas, if you’re doing an apprenticeship as a hairdresser here, you really learn that and you can use that as a passport to work in any place in the world. It’s a trade you can take with you. From the age of 12, I worked in my mum’s hair salon called New Image–it’s in Daventry, in the Midlands–she still has it. I just loved it. I used to work Thursday night, Friday night after school, all day Saturday, and then I cleaned it on Sunday. So, I literally have no recollection of not being able to do hair. When I was 16, I moved to London. I think my first year there really did kick some sense into me. It was intense. I was lucky enough to get a job in one of the biggest hair salons called Daniel Hersheson. I worked there until I was qualified and left after about two years to do more in-depth training on haircutting. In my mom’s salon, I’d only done hair color. She didn’t teach me how to cut hair because she said she didn’t want to teach me wrong. She uses a different finger than the one you’re supposed to use. You’re supposed to use your ring finger, but she uses her middle finger. So she refused point blank to ever teach me to cut hair.
I stopped working in salons by the time I was 19, and then I started assisting on photoshoots full-time. During my time at Daniel Hersheson, I met a lot of session hairdressers. I thought you could either be a celebrity hairdresser or you could work in a salon. Obviously, it must have crossed my mind that people work on film, but I didn’t think there was a fashion [counterpart]. When I moved to London, I was like, 'Wow, this is another side of the industry—you can work in fashion and you could do really well. You could make good money and travel the world. That’s exactly what I want to do.' I did my first fashion cover at 19 for Dazed. It was one of Katie Shillingford's things. She took this wig that I’d spent two weeks dying an amazing blue color and used it on Mia Wasikowska. It was when she was doing Alice in Wonderland, so she had a shaved head. At that point, I was doing a lot of work from home, and I had an entire room dedicated to color. But I ended up with clientele that was beyond my means. I had a few celebrity clients that would come around my house and sit in the kitchen. They found out through word of mouth because I would see them on shoots, or they would see someone’s hair they liked. Katie Shillingford, Gareth Pugh’s muse, said to me one season, 'It’s his first show in Paris. I want to look like one of his dresses.' He had this dip-dyed black-white gown as one of his main pieces and a lot of it was monochrome. And I was like, 'Let’s try and do that with your hair.' That’s the first time I did a dip-dye—in my kitchen literally holding her hair upside down and thinking, Uh, how do we blend it?
I wanted to move things out of my house because I couldn’t handle it anymore. I had a flatmate and she couldn’t handle it anymore either. There was always hair everywhere. Plus, I didn’t have a life. I was doing hair constantly, and I couldn’t say no to anyone! I’m still like that. This was around the same time Wah Nails opened and I went in one day and asked [Sharmadean Reid], 'How did you start? I really want a place like this to do hair.' On the spot, she was like, 'Oh really? Why don’t you come down here? I don’t need the back [of the salon].' So my friend and client, Sam Teasdale, made a business plan and we managed to scrape together £6,000. We bought a chair, a mirror, and a laptop. We wanted to do bleaching and we wanted it to be grungy.
My mom taught me loads of amazing tricks of a really ‘80s way of color. If you look at what Bleach is, it has that kind of fun, punk, ‘80s vibe to it, and I guess that comes a bit from training from my mom, and also what went on with Instagram that year when we started. We must have had three or four trolls @-ing all Kurt Cobain’s people. And Courtney Love, who we don’t know, was backing us up on Twitter. She was like, 'Fuck it! They’re taking something and making it their own. He would have liked it.' And we were like, 'How amazing is this?' I do think what we do at Bleach is very polarizing. Not everyone is going to like green hair or blue hair or striped hair or white hair. Everyone who loves it really loves it, and everyone who hates it really hates it. We’ve always gone with that and we haven’t tried to dilute it or become more commercial.
Now we have 40 chairs and a product range. [The product range] is like what you’d get when you were a teenager and be completely rebellious with–that’s what we tried to stay true to. We launched with about 15 SKUs, and now we have about 35. We’re going to have 165 when we relaunch because we’re making a lot of products. We’re also making makeup with Lou Teasdale. She’s my business partner’s sister, and she was working with One Direction for the last five years and now she has some time off. [Laughs] We’re making all the Bleach colors in eye shadows and lipsticks.
Now, I probably do 3 or 4 days on shoots and 3 or 4 days at Bleach, no weekends. I work with a friend of mine, Molly Godard, on all of her stuff. She’s the most inspiring person I’m working with, in terms of fashion brands. I work with Gucci a lot too, which is very exciting.
Every morning and evening, I use Bioderma as a cleanser. I don’t really use a cleanser, unless I’ve got makeup on. This Ahava Facial Renewal Peel is a new thing that I’ve used a couple times. Then I use Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Serum on my whole face. I put one or two drops. I use it twice or three times a week—it tans you a bit, I think. Then, I use Weleda Calendula Face Cream, which is a baby face cream. It’s lightweight and it’s not cloggy. I’ve really struggled with moisturizers because I have acne. You can’t tell right now because I have an amazing facialist, Teresa Tarmey. She’s really good. I’m quite terrified to try anything else. This is an exfoliator from Japan, Cure Natural Aqua Gel. It’s got peroxide in it, which is really great if you’ve got problem skin like mine. I use it once a month. If I’m not at home and I’ve forgotten everything, I’ll use coconut oil to cleanse, moisturize, take my makeup off and I put it on my scalp. At nighttime, I use Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Oil.
I always use Chanel Vitalumiere Foundation. I’ve also been using this Korean one by Moonshot. I’ve gone through it twice. They make a foundation for people as white as me. I use this if I’m pale, and I use the Vitalumiere if I’m yellow– which people do say is heavy, but I’m using it on my skin now and you can’t see it. I’ve always worn foundation because of my bad skin, even if it’s just in my head. I wait for the Weleda to settle first, and then I’ll do the foundation on my way to work in an Uber. I’ll wear lip balm as eyeshadow and lip balm. The Dior Addict Lip Glow is amazing and has a teeny bit of color, just a pink glossy one.
My mascara changes quite a bit. I normally use the Diorshow Mascara and I’ve got this mascara that I borrowed from a friend at a wedding, Urban Decay Perversion Mascara. And I love to use loads of red lipstick. This MAC Fashion Legacy Retro Matte Liquid Lipstick is my favorite actually. I like bright red. First, I use the Dior Addict Lip Sugar Scrub if I have scrubby lips, and then I’ll use their gloss. Sometimes I use lipstick on my eyes–quite often actually–if I’m going out and doing something more. I like warm colors on my eyes.
Obviously my hair has been very damaged. You can get it from over styling with heat, your diet, hair bands, one dodgy color, organic shampoo—it’s a killer! Sulfate-free shampoo and organic shampoo are really bad for bleached hair and organic color. I’ll eat organic and I’ll put it on my face, but keep it away from your hair.
We do this one thing in the salon that’s called a Secret Trim. You basically don’t cut the ends, ever. What you do is you comb your hair out, and you twist it so you can see all the broken bits, then you cut off the hair strand, and roll it out. By the time you get to the end, you don’t really need to cut them because it’s never the ends that are bad, it’s the whole hair. It stops you from having to trim it every 6 weeks because you’re cutting off the split ends before it starts splitting. It’s like a hippie cut.
All I ever wanted was hair so white it goes gray. People would see me on the street and I’d have this white or gray hair and they’d be like, 'How do you do that to your hair?' No one could do white hair! It’s huge now, and everyone knows how to tone color, but back then, people would just point blank refuse to bleach someone’s hair to the point of being white. It would always be yellow. My natural color is mousey—in the sun it would probably go blond. I high-lift it every four to six weeks, white to the roots. This is two weeks old. The process I use doesn’t have any bleach powder in it—it’s the next level down. It’s like a buttery blonde. You don’t have to tone it and you don’t have to use silver shampoo–you can just wash and go. Apparently, Gwen Stefani does the same thing. If you keep up with it every four weeks, you basically get your hair to white blonde. The first couple of months, it’s quite ginger. Mine was a bit more champagne. I wash it every other day, which is too much, but it gets greasy.
If my hair feels flat or oily, I use Bumble and bumble DrySpun. I used to use the Bumble and bumble White Hair Powder but they discontinued it. The Klorane Dry Shampoo is nice, it’s just not readily available here. I probably go through a bottle of Batiste Dry Shampoo a week. And then I’ll use the serum again. I try and use hair pins instead of hair bands whenever I can. I do a chignon quite a lot—I like a messy, shaggy chignon with one or two pins.
Before I get in the shower, I brush my hair with a Mason Pearson or a Tangle Teezer. I use the Bleach shampoo and conditioner everyday, but then in between I use Kerastase Reflection Bain Chroma Riche. That’s got loads and loads of shine so I can’t use it every day because it’s a bit heavy. But if it’s feeling dry, I’ll use that. I’ve been using Alex-Plex, which is a bond we’ve been developing. Basically, what happens is a bond goes into the coloring process and helps strengthen it. Then, you use a treatment to maintain. It’s a bit similar to the Philip Kingsley Elasticizer Pre Shampoo Treatment, but it’s not as heavy and it’s more moisturizing. I use it as a conditioner sometimes and as a treatment after the coloring process.
I’ll do that and then I won’t really brush it or touch it again except for putting in a serum. When oils became popular, everyone loved Moroccan argan oil but it just doesn’t work for my hair. It’s too heavy. We developed a Hair Elixir–it seals those splits and protects them. You can put a lot on because it isn’t oily. If I’m in a rush, I’ll rough dry the roots. Sometimes, I’ll blow dry it a bit with a brush. I kind of do just leave it. But it’s not because of health, it’s mostly laziness."
—as told to ITG
Alex Brownsell photographed by Tom Newton in London on June 20, 2017.