Derek “DeCutter” Clement is a hairdressing legend. He entered the industry in the ’80s after a chance encounter with Winston Issac at his iconic Splinters International Salon in Mayfair (one of the first Afro hair salons in the West End). The rest, as they say, is history. Derek quickly became a sought-after stylist who went onto work with many legendary entertainers such as Billy Ocean, Patti Labelle and The Three Degrees. Eventually rising the ranks to Artistic Director at Splinters, Derek then decided to spread his wings by launching his own salon. As we celebrate Black History Month in the UK, we caught up with the hairdressing titan to find out more about his incredible journey.
Can you recall exactly when you wanted to be a hairdresser?
Hairdressing found me since I wasn’t looking to be one in all honesty. All I knew was I wanted to work with my people in any black establishment, not that they were any that I knew. So as fate would have it, I went to a salon with my girlfriend who was actually older than I. It just happened to be the famed Splinters International Hair & Beauty salon in Mayfair, owned by the great man himself, the late Winston Issacs. I had no knowledge of hair at all, all I knew was here was a place owned and operated by my people, patronised by my people, an above all, the clientele was not what I was accustomed to, due to its central London location, everyone was suited and booted with the occasional celebrity popping in for good measure. When my girlfriend finished her hair treatment, I approached Winston for a job as an apprentice. Needless to say, he asked me to start the following day, and the rest is history.
We’ve heard so much about the iconic hair establishment, Splinters International Hair Salon. Can you paint a picture of what it was like to work there?
Working at Splinters International was any young black boys dream then, hairdressing was akin to what every lad wanted to become today: a football player or rapper. Remember, it was located in the west end amid the iconic name brand stores. Our clients were the who’s who of Black UK. Besides celebrities, there were also budding politicians, Caribbean ambassadors, and the Caribbean cricket teams who visited often too. I was like a little kid in a candy store. I’ve always considered Splinters the Motown of hair in the UK. Winston was Berry Gordy and we were the singers all aspiring to be shining stars in the UK hair industry. We were pretty much the No. 1 salon brand in the UK, probably the world actually.
Amazing story. So was opening your own salon a natural progression, did you feel you had learned/achieve all you could as an employee?
Pretty much. I had established a massive clientele and within five years as a stylist, then a senior stylist to the artistic director, and it it all happened pretty fast. I had to leave to spread my wings so to speak. I received many offers to go into business, so I left to open my own salon
Tell us about your transition into becoming a celebrity hairstylist, and who are some of your clients were…
Well since I had the fortune of working alongside Winston, who was at the time the most celebrated black hairdresser in the UK, naturally all the celebrities came to him. As his assistant, I styled most of the celebrities that came into Splinters, so when I opened my own salon many of them visited including Billy Ocean, The Three Degrees, 80s singer Yazz, Paul Boateng and Diane Abbot to name a few.
With the increasing popularity of YouTube hair tutorials, some say the hairdressing industry has suffered. What are your thoughts on the future of salon services, particularly salons specialising in Afro hairdressing?
Actually, I would say quite the contrary. I think social media including YouTube has helped increase awareness therefore clients. I myself have many tutorials on YouTube, it separates the professionals from the novices, it’s a new day and one must move with the times.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a professional hairstylist?
My advice would be ideally to repeat the past: the best way to learn is on the salon floor combined with attending college. I can’t stress the importance of gaining formal qualifications. Once you’ve completed all your levels, a job is guaranteed. Hairdressing is a visual art, an enthusiastic kid (like the kind I was) will rise to hairdressing stardom very quickly.
What are your future plans?
My future plans have already began. I have collaborated with Rudi Page, who grew up alongside me in the industry when he worked for Dyke and Dryden in marketing and PR. He was the man who coined the term Afro Hair & Beauty. Together we’ve created an organisation entitled Afro Hair & Beauty Legends, our aim is to recognise the legends, pioneers and veterans, the likes of Winston Issacs, Dyke & Dryden, Tony Wade and Carmen England, and thus pay homage to their contribution to hairdressing and manufacturing in the U.K. Last but not least, I intend to continue focusing on my brand Derek “DeCutter” Clement Haircare System UK. My line consists of an entire range of products designed to repair, restore and rejuvenate Afro hair.