How to be a cut above the rest
Stylists are sharpening their scissors ahead of a hair-raising contest at the RDS, writes Deirdre Reynolds
Going for gold: Team Ireland member Jacqueline Layton puts the final touches to her designs in her salon in Dalkey, Co Dublin. Below left: Wayne Partridge, World's Best Men's Hair-stylist'. Photos by: Ronan Lang/Patrick Hogan
It's 9am on Friday morning at Jacq L Hair Designs in Dalkey and already the phone is bouncing off the hook. Dotted throughout the psychedelic pink salon, one customer's hair is slowly turning chocolate brown, another is having her mane massaged at the wash basin, while a third is flicking through the latest gossip mag as she patiently waits her turn.
As a scented cloud of coffee steam and hair spray brews overhead, a middle-aged lady with a perfectly-coiffed Bichon Friche in a pram stops by to make an appointment to have her own tresses tended to.
If there's a recession in Ireland, then someone forgot to tell our folicles.
This weekend, the prestigious OMC (Organisation Mondiale Coiffure) European Cup 2011 takes place in Ireland for the first time ever.
Considered the Olympics of the hairdressing world, it sees top stylists from over 40 countries across the globe battle it out to snip, backcomb and colour their way to (crowning) glory over 48 hours at the RDS.
There's no cash prize -- but competition is fierce, says Jacq L boss Jacqueline Layton of Team Ireland, a 70-strong contingent of the crème de la crème of Irish hairdressing.
"It can get quite catty," shouts Jacqueline, above the dull din of the hairdryer.
"When they countdown 'Ten, nine eight...' and the starting bell goes off, it's like you're running a race. There's hair flying everywhere, models passing out from the heat and just this fog of hairspray.
"The Russians are the most hardcore -- they train for competitive hairdressing from a young age and are completely focused on winning. And I'm convinced that some competitors deliberately mislabel their bottles so you can't tell what product they're using.
"No matter how many times you do it, it's very nerve-wracking."
Having already amassed a small mine's worth of gold medals between them, Jacqueline -- who's ranked sixth best 'Trend' hairdresser in the world -- and her teammates are proving there's more to hairdressing here than a wash and blowdry.
Indeed, Layton's 'Fantasy' creation for this weekend's competition -- a Predator-inspired headpiece made from yards of chopped, contorted and coloured human hair -- wouldn't look out of place on the noggin of Lady Gaga.
"You wouldn't walk down Grafton Street wearing it," admits Jacqueline.
"But Irish women are definitely getting more adventurous when it comes to their hair. When Rihanna dyed her hair bright red, for instance, girls started asking for it in the salon."
"Walking around the RDS, your mind would be totally blown by some of the creations," she adds. "It's a side to hairdressing that people don't see and it's definitely an art form."
And chalk it up to the Bieber effect -- but it's no longer just the ladies who are scrimping for a professional primping.
Incredibly, in the tiny west Cork village of Ballydehob, lucky lads have the current 'World's Best Men's Hairstylist' Wayne Partridge at their disposal.
"Usually it's the wives pushing them into the salon when they're sick of the state of them," jokes Londoner Wayne, who who runs his own unisex salon in Ballydehob.
So what are Ireland's chances of sweeping up the top prize?
"I've worked all over the world and I've never seen the level of talent that's here at home," says celebrity hair stylist Frank Hession, founder of the Hession hair dynasty in Drumcondra, Dublin.
"In every other competitive sport, Team Ireland is always recognised," adds Jacqueline, putting the finishing touches to her ET-esque entry.
"But, so far, in hairdressing we haven't been.
"Ireland's hairdressers are a force to be reckoned with -- hopefully we'll prove it this weekend!"
The OMC European Cup 2011 takes place this Sunday and Monday at the RDS, Dublin. Tickets from €20 -- see www.omcireland.com