The Mark of success
Mark Doherty has always been the creative type, and he is the first to admit that his wife Gail is the prime mover in all their endeavours, whether they are related to home, business or romance
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan | Photography by Tony Gavin
The Blackrock College website boasts high-achieving pupils in most professions, including the law, politics, medicine, finance, sports, media and the arts, but there's no mention of one particular area - hairdressing.
And that's obviously because there aren't too many Blackrock alumni who became hairdressers.
But there is at least one - Mark Doherty - and he is doing very well with his very successful SitStil hairdressing salon on Drury Street in Dublin, which he runs with his glamorous wife, Gail, and where, ever since Mark and Gail opened 15 years ago, they've counted many of Ireland's successful business people, both men and women, as loyal clients. "I'm probably the only hairdresser who came through the Blackrock system," says the youthful, laid-back Mark. He adds, "Actually, I recently met my career guidance teacher who asked me was I still hairdressing, because, of course, I talked to her about it when I was at school, but she couldn't help me. At the time, you went to university, that was it, otherwise they didn't know what to do with you."
Yet, curiously, an experience at Blackrock was perhaps one of the reasons why Mark went into hairdressing.
"When I was in fifth year, the school was strict about how long your hair was meant to be, and mine was below my collar. My year master sent us - there were about six of us - to get our hair cut. Everyone else went to the local barber, but the brother of a good friend of mine was working in a small salon in Booterstown, so I went to him. I came back an hour later and I'd had coffee and biscuits and a head massage. I remember enjoying that, and I thought it was cool," Mark notes, adding with a laugh, "Mind you, when I came back to school, I got into trouble for being an hour late."
Mark does have an uncle by marriage, Hugh Campbell, who has a chain of salons in Limerick, and his work was also probably an influence - indeed, Mark asked his advice about where to train. It was 1990, and the options were either a Fas scheme, one of the few commercially run schools, or an apprenticeship. His uncle recommended the apprenticeship, so Mark trained at Reds for four years, where he got a great grounding in the trade. Then he moved to Toni&Guy, which he remembers was an incredible operation. "Hairdressing in Dublin was nothing like it is now," Mark notes, going on to explain, "When Toni&Guy arrived in Dublin, it opened our eyes to the international scene; we didn't have fashion shows for hairdressing. They introduced us to all that, and they had top hairdressers coming to Dublin. We also started to travel around Ireland and the UK, doing shows. They are amazing, but at the time we used to burn the candle at both ends, and it eventually it got on top of me. I left and worked for a small concept salon with a more holistic feel. I went from a massive brand to working in a small, independent salon and I much preferred it."
After a couple of years there, Mark moved to Zoo, and it was here he met Gail. A bubbly blonde who hails from Inchicore, Gail had previously spent a few years in California, and some of that time training as a receptionist in a hairdressing salon in Los Angeles. She loved it, so immediately after her return, she looked for work in a similar area. She got a job as the receptionist in Zoo around the same time as Mark joined the team as a senior stylist. They became friends immediately, though the relationship came later. "Mark was going out with someone and I was having fun," Gail notes with a laugh adding, "The night we got together, we were in Bruxelles, and my friend saw what was happening and warned me, 'Don't go there - you're working with him, he's your friend', but Gail being Gail, I didn't listen."
It was just as well, as they've been together 17 years; they married in June 2002 and they opened SitStil - their tagline is 'a salon with soul' - in September of the same year. It's been a bit of a pattern ever since, with the couple taking on several life-changing events simultaneously, like moving house and having babies. "I'm the risk-taker; Mark gets a bit scared of my notions," says Gail, while Mark agrees that progress wouldn't happen if it wasn't for Gail. Of course, as Gail also points out, their reputation is mainly down to the quality of Mark's work. "I'm in awe of Mark and his patience and how he delivers," she enthuses.
In fact, the couple, who are parents of four, seem to be the perfect team. They themselves credit their staff with a lot of their success, as well as the many clients who frequent the salon regularly. "We have a very loyal client base and we pride ourselves on treating them well. They're mainly professionals who demand excellence, whether it's in relation to cut or colour, and we give it to them," Gail explains.
Gail says many of their clients become friends, and, indeed, one of their clients, Richard Mc Loughlin of Lotts Architecture, along with his colleague Des Byrne, did the design for the renovation on their lovely period home in Dublin 8.
The couple bought their first house, a compact house in Inchicore, just six months after they met, then three years after they married, and after the arrival of their eldest son Ely (now 12) Gail set her sights on the larger period red-brick houses in Dublin 8. In 2005, they got what they wanted. "I love the high ceilings and period details. This house was for sale and it was uninhabitable, but I still wanted it. I was hoping other people wouldn't have the foresight I had," Gail says with a laugh, adding, "but they had, and there was a bidding war. Mark was so busy in the salon he didn't want to know, but we got it. We did some renovations and moved in in November 2005. Jools was born the following February."
The two boys were followed by two girls, Cocobelle (nine) and Lola Mae, (seven), so with four in total, Gail, who adored being pregnant - "I've always been very maternal; I always make a beeline for babies" - decided in 2011 that the house needed further updating. With the help of their architects, they added a two-storey extension, adding a large kitchen/dining/sitting area to the back of the house. Two large light wells, and fully folding glass doors, as well as expansive windows, ensure that the extension is full of light as well as space.
Upstairs, they added a fourth bedroom en suite, which the two little girls share. The boys have a bedroom each, one of which is also en suite, and Mark and Gail share the master bedroom, with its lovely bay window to the front.
The couple opted to keep the reception rooms with their many period details intact, but they've very successfully married the older part of the house with the extension by decorating both in a romantic, almost whimsical, practical style with soft shades.
As they would both agree, contrast is good.
SitStil, 17 Drury St, D2, tel: (01) 616-8887, or see sitstil.ie