FROM LA to London, Hollywood to Edinburgh, perfectly coiffed locks and tresses around the world have a lot to thank the Gillette razor for. Because, it if it wasn’t for the seemingly innocuous razor that was used by a 14-year-old Charlie Miller to tidy up his dad’s hair, the iconic hairdressing institution that is Charlie Miller Hairdressing may never have been born.
Now celebrating its 50th year, the eponymous Charlie Miller brand is internationally recognised and acclaimed with everyone from A-list actors, singers and supermodels to the average person on the street having been styled by the artistic team and 110-strong roster of award-winning hairdressers spread across five modern salons.
Today retired, Charlie Miller himself remains one of Scotland’s most eminent stylists. Not bad for the boy from The Pleasance who was simply helping his dad.
“My mother said ‘Charles, wouldn’t you like to be a hairdresser’,” recalls an impeccably put-together and charming, Charlie, 72, laughing. “The early seed was planted. I had also wanted to be a drummer but, not having a drum kit of my own, I decided I would join the Marines. They were always the best at the Tattoo and that inspired me. I found out that you had to be 18 and I was only 15 so I quickly made the decision to become a hairdresser.”
From the age of 15 he trained at Bob’s Barber Shop in West Port, one of Edinburgh’s most popular barbers in the 1950s and 1960s. “I actually wanted to be a ladies’ hairdresser but after a four-and-a-half month search I still couldn’t find a job in any of the Edinburgh salons,” he admits. “Being a Bob’s client I was over the moon when I saw an advert for an apprentice barber so I immediately applied and got the job on the same day. I had fantastic training in precision cutting, creating the coolest looks in the city. I loved it. My lights went on and I became immersed in hairdressing.”
He adds: “The precision cutting and styling of men’s hair was strong. I was creating the top styles of the time: Perry Como’s, Tony Curtis, flat-tops, hippie styles right through to the Beatle cuts and beyond. There are many different levels to barbering and with the precision techniques that I created the men’s styles I was able to look at a ladies geometric haircut and just see it. Cutting ladies hair really came naturally. It was organic for me.”
The roots of Charlie’s ladies’ hairdressing really took off in 1964 with his wife-to-be Janet. “She was always current and up to date and had a strong sense of the latest fashion trends,” Charlie recalls. “To compliment her looks I cut her hair with every style that was happening for ladies at the time. Cutting these hair styles came naturally, her hair was admired by many and, time and time again, my clients started to ask me to cut their wives’ hair. I fortunately said ‘yes’ and it all evolved from there.”
One year later and at just aged 20, Charlie had opened his own salon called His Hair in the Prestonfield area. It quickly became one of the Capital’s most popular salons and the demand for women’s hairdressing continued. By 1971 he moved to Stafford Street, rebranding as Charlie Miller Hairdressing. So, was it always in his masterplan to continue to grow and expand to the five award-winning salons of today?
“We are aesthetically and quality driven and everything I’ve done has been dynamically organic,” he says, simply. “Quality has always been the main driver. It was there at the beginning and it’s still there now. Only when the quality was right and there was a manager we could put in place to run a salon did we move forward. Because we have had the right people we have moved forward with the same quality and passion.”
As the Charlie Miller empire grew, so too did the industry accolades, including the British Hairdressing Awards Hall of Fame. In 1982 his eldest son, Jason, joined the business straight from school followed by his brother Josh in 1989. By 1998, Charlie had laid down his scissors professionally to focus on expanding the company, leaving his sons to take over the reins. High-profile industry events followed such as Mondial Coiffure Beauté exposition in Paris along with an enduring annual relationship with MTV Europe Music Awards, which started in 2003.
Along with watching his sons grow the business and cutting the hair of Sir Tom Farmer in 2010 on his North Pole Expedition for Teenage Cancer Trust, it was an OBE from the Queen in 2012 for services to hairdressing that was one of Charlie’s proudest moments.
“I was brought up in the tenements of Arthur Street just along the road from Holyrood Palace. As a child I played in the grounds of the park and then some 60 years later here I was arriving at the Palace to accept my OBE from the Queen. I felt honoured and I’m deeply grateful to the people who supported me in getting it. I share it with my talented and supportive family and the many wonderful people with whom I have worked with.”
So, how have hairdressing techniques advanced over the past 50 years?
“As cutting techniques have evolved over the decades the standard of haircutting worldwide has got better and better,” he reflects. “In the 80s people learned how to take weight out of hair, creating texture and movement in a way they had never done before. Hair can now be tamed; we have learned how to take frizz out and even create volume. Tools, brushes and electrical equipment are so technically advanced; products have also evolved immensely.”
And then there are the evolution of hair trends themselves. Not to mention our willingness to experiment with new styles and looks.
“Consumers have always had an experimental aspect,” admits Charlie. “In the 60s when geometric styling and bobs became popular ladies dropped the roller set look and blow drying became the norm. Hand hair driers were actually used in men’s hairdressing before women took to it in droves.
“My son Jason says that in recent years women’s hair has got tamer because it’s celebrity driven and the desire for glamour has overridden the majority of women’s hair styles. Currently men are more experimental and with the continued explosion in male grooming, led by the likes of David Beckham, this has given them the confidence to be much more daring.”
Fifty years on, how has Charlie Miller Hairdressing managed to stay ahead of the competition and remain tastemakers and thought leaders rather than following the trends?
“Our focus has always been about looking after our clients,” he says. “It’s about our teams of wonderfully gifted hairdressers who focus on style and artistic quality. They are so strong together and a remarkable group who share my lifelong values of genuineness, empathy and warmth.”
What does the future hold for Charlie Miller the brand?
“The business is 50 years old and with huge credit to my sons Jason and Joshua who for several years now have been looking after the business as joint MDs with co-directors India (my daughter-in law) and Ian Blyth (long-term family friend of 40+ years). They work closely together on its development and growth; their ambitions are evolving and continue to grow the business even more. They share the same values and the same vision and deliver it with the same care, passion and inspiration that I have done.
“I am grateful for their visionary talent, trust, skills, love and support – they and their teams are the future.”