Setting standards for decades in an industry that is constantly redefining trends and fashion, Toni Mascolo sees his lucrative hairstyling business as an extension of family and emphasises client hospitality.
Toni&Guy stays a cut above the rest
Toni Mascolo believes in the power of hair. "We cut Boris Johnson's hair the day before he won his election to become the mayor of London," he says. "I can't say we won the election for him. But I think it helped."
Mascolo is joking, even if hair is a serious business for him. The 69-year-old can still be found on a Saturday in one of his London salons, cutting away and keeping up with latest trends - and this despite being the co-founder and head of an empire.
His Toni&Guy brand turns over £185million (Dh1.1bn) a year and operates about 420 salons in 42 countries. Mascolo plans to open another 400 salons over the next five years, thanks especially to the burgeoning markets of China, India and the Middle East, where the company has a growing profile in Dubai, Kuwait City, Jeddah and Amman.
It is all, he says, down to the personal touch.
"It's important to consult with a client, to give them what they want but also what best suits them - so you don't give a short style to a tall woman with a long neck, lest she look like a giraffe - and to be consistent with the quality of cut," says Mascolo, wielding a pair of scissors with the precision of a bomb disposal expert, his careful anonymity ensuring that his customer doesn't know the boss is shaping her coiffure. "But just as important is that the stylist has to want to do what they do for someone else, has to really want to make the client look better."
Mascolo came to the UK from Naples in the early Sixties at the age of 14, finding the standard of hairdressing so poor that his talents - learnt from his barber father - were sufficient to land him management of a West End salon by the time he was working age.
His company today, he suggests, thrives on the "one for all and all for one" spirit of those other men handy with sharp implements, the Three Musketeers.
"It is, I admit, a broad definition of family," says Mascolo, who likes to spend as much time as possible with his own - his daughter, Sacha, is the company's global creative director, while his son, Christian, heads up its Essensuals spin-off brand. It was with his late brother Guy (real name Gaetano) that Mascolo (real name Giuseppe) launched their business some 50 years ago, later joined by younger brothers Anthony and Bruno.
"It was a crazy industry," he says. "It was considered a job with no future. I'd see people doing respectable jobs that I was sure I could master in three hours or so, and yet could they do a good perm, or colour, or create a style? It just gave me a superiority complex."
Toni&Guy invented slide cutting (cutting into the hair) and pinpoint cutting (using just the tip of the scissors) - "techniques used worldwide now," notes the OBE recipient. The chain was among the first to use the then-exotic Japanese tools that made more complicated cutting technically possible. Indeed, the company has a sideline in academies that train the rest of the industry.
Mascolo assumed that hairstyles were part of fashion and needed to reflect it, with salons situated in cities' fashion quarters. Toni&Guy was the first in the industry to offer hair books (catalogues of styles), to offer videos on hairstyling, and to launch its own magazine and, more recently, a TV channel. And it has a huge products business.
It's a giant of snipping, blowing, dyeing, curling, straightening and sweeping. And yet Mascolo puts it into unbusinesslike terms.
"A successful hairdressing business is less about style as hospitality," he says. "That's a very Italian way of thinking about it. In fact, it's not so much Italian as Neapolitan. We didn't even speak Italian growing up. We spoke the Neapolitan dialect and we had Neapolitan attitudes - chiefly the belief that guests are number one and you do everything you can to make them comfortable."
Toni's 2012 trends
CUT Layered mid-length with natural movement
COLOUR Amplified tones - blondes go blonder (platinum, icy), reds go intensely red and so on...
STYLE Think Kristen Stewart in (her 2012 film) Snow White & the Huntsman