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I'm hoping to inspire a new generation of hairdressers

PUBLISHED: 15:43 10 March 2010 | UPDATED: 08:44 02 July 2010

Hairdresser Conor O’Brien at his new salon Flint in Bridewell Alley. PHOTO: NICK BUTCHER

Hairdresser Conor O'Brien at his new salon Flint in Bridewell Alley. PHOTO: NICK BUTCHER

Emma Lee

In his career at the cutting edge of hairdressing, Conor O'Brien has worked with household names from the world of fashion and television. Now he's returned to Norwich to open his own salon - and he's also getting involved in this year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

Norfolk and Norwich Festival official site

In his career at the cutting edge of hairdressing, Conor O'Brien has worked with household names from the world of fashion and television. Now he's returned to Norwich to open his own salon - and he's also getting involved in this year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival. EMMA LEE meets him.

You feel like you're putting your hair in safe hands when you sit in Conor O'Brien's chair. There's no better recommendation of someone's talents than if celebrities trust them with their tresses.

In the last couple of decades Conor has worked his way up from being an apprentice hairdresser in Norwich to working in salons in trendy areas of London such as the Kings Road and Soho to managing the Fourth Floor salon in Clerkenwell.

“I started out at Transformer in Norwich, but I was going to London a lot and wanted to move there and a friend got me a job in a salon on the Kings Road. I started working at the Fourth Floor in 1990 and learned my craft,” he says.

Conor was a regular at the Paris menswear fashion shows, styling the hair of models for Paul Smith and Comme des Garcons shows.

And he also styled the models' hair for adverts for Paul Smith which were shot by the legendary photographer David Bailey.

Now he has returned to his home city to open his own salon, Flint, in Bridewell Alley in the Norwich Lanes. And he's hoping to inspire a new generation of hairdressers with a fun and innovative project for this year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

Stylish and minimalist, Conor's salon has breathed new life into the building which was formerly home to John's Tackle Den (by coincidence, fisherman John Wilson, who owned the shop was once a hairdresser himself) which had laid empty for some time.

Conor, in his 40s, set up the salon with his wife Rocio, who he met when she was a client (“It took him seven years to cross the line,” she laughs).

The Fourth Floor is based in a converted warehouse in Clerkenwell. Because many creative industries have their base in the area, numerous actors, TV personalities and journalists would pass through its doors.

One his London clients is the legendary interviewer Lynn Barber, whose memoir An Education was recently adapted for the big screen and was among the nominees at Sunday night's Oscars.

She has sung his praises in a newspaper article - although modest Conor blushes slightly at the mention.

Why did Conor want to move back to the city?

He explains that he and Rocio have two young children and they want them to grow up in Norfolk.

“And people always come back to Norwich,” Conor says. “I wanted to take the ethos of the Fourth Floor and do the same thing here. I wouldn't be able to do it without Rocio. She's got a lot of experience in business.”

A self-confessed perfectionist, when Conor cuts hair he pays great attention to its texture and creates a cut which will look good even if you just wash and go.

“I'm my own worst critic,” he says.

This also translates on to the look and feel of the salon.

The décor includes some of Conor's collection of original Cuban silkscreen prints on the wall as well as work by his client Peter Liversidge.

And the furniture was made by Stuart MacCallum, whose work Conor and Rocio had noticed at Angie Lewin's St. Jude's Gallery at Iterringham.

“We wanted to create a space that could the changed around,” says Conor. “The mirrors are on castors so they can be moved depending on what's going on that day and the light.”

Being in a creative industry, Conor was keen to get involved with this year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival - and, embracing the innovative spirit of the event, has found a novel (and literally hair-raising) way of doing it.

Children from Catton Grove Primary School will be training with professional stylists from City College Norwich to become hairdressers - and will then be let loose in the salon to try out their new-found skills on the public.

“I've been fortunate to work with some great mentors in my career and believe it's important to pass on that expertise,” Conor says. “So I'm thrilled to be able to work alongside the children from Catton Grove Primary School and the staff at City College to show them what being a hairdresser at Flint is all about. This will be an exciting experience for us all and I can't wait to get started.”

Conor says that it's also an honour to be taking part in an internationally renowned arts festival.

“The Norfolk and Norwich Festival has an incredible reputation for presenting a rich programme of events that capture the hearts and minds of thousands of people in Norfolk, and I'm delighted to be involved this year,” he says.

Flint is in Bridewell Alley, Norwich. For information phone 01603 616117 or visit www. flinthair.co. uk.

Mammalian Diving Reflex Haircuts by Children is being held at Flint from 11am-5pm on May 7 and 8. Appointments will be booked on the day on a first come first served basis.

Norfolk and Norwich Festival official site

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