If a pair of scissors could talk, we’d all be lining up to spend an hour in the company of George Northwood’s. Having chopped the split ends from the heads of everyone from Alexa Chung to the Duchess of Sussex and coiffed Gwyneth Paltrow, Sienna Miller and Julianne Moore, his have undoubtedly heard it all. He’s seen as a god among hairdressers, particularly where fashion editors are concerned, so an appointment with “George” is right up there with a pair of box-fresh Bottega boots.
Revered for his warm and personable chair-side manner, as well as the deliciously “undone” hairstyles he creates for his clients, Northwood, 44, has built a brand out of an easygoing approach to hairstyling. I’ve come to see him to discuss his latest venture, a second salon on buzzy Boundary Street, east London — and for a haircut, of course (all in the name of good journalism). “None of what I do is as glamorous as people think it is, especially not the really big stuff,” he says, snipping and tonging as we talk.
Northwood is referring to the time he spent “doing hair” for the Duchess of Sussex, a period he describes as “a very special” moment in his life that included a 48-hour trip to Australia and ended when the Sussexes left the UK in 2020. “You might imagine that traveling with them was really glamorous, but that wasn’t always the reality. I’d be doing a messy bun in the toilet, that sort of thing.”
Northwood first worked with Meghan in 2018 on her wedding-day hair, creating the disheveled updo she wore to her evening celebrations to complement her Stella McCartney gown, and became her go-to hairdresser in the months that followed.
As per Palace rules, the arrangement was shrouded in secrecy. Northwood, though, has now had time to reflect. “I certainly got a taste of the chaos that follows them around. It was very intense, like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. On those tours there’s barely any time, so everything is really pressurized and, of course, it’s always intense working with someone who is as photographed as she is.”
Meghan, like all the women who sit in Northwood’s chair, saw value in the easy, natural hairstyles he is known for. “My customers don’t want to look like they’ve just stepped out of a salon, they want to look like they’ve stepped off a page in a magazine,” he says. “The irony of what I do is flying round the world with someone only to make them look like they’ve just got out of bed.”
As anyone who has ever had the pleasure of a Northwood haircut knows, what he does is so much more than styling: he’s all about low-maintenance cuts for those who want to look effortless. “Not like dragged through a hedge backwards effortless,” he assures me, “just like they haven’t had to try too hard.”
Is that the request he hears most in the salon? “One hundred percent,” he says. “People rarely come in asking for a blow-dry. Instead they want a hairstyle that people don’t know they’ve had. And if they do want a blow-dry, they want it to look like they’ve done it themselves.”
“The irony of what I do is flying round the world with someone only to make them look like they’ve just got out of bed.”
To achieve this, Northwood, along with the many stylists he is training with the same philosophy, offers clients a bespoke service, acknowledging that no two heads are the same. “It’s sculpting the hair. It’s not cutting it. Hairdressing is not as technical as people say it is. It’s very visual. And it’s really personal.”
Originally from Bristol, he first considered hairdressing as a career while watching his grandmother Tess, a mobile hairdresser, at work. But it was years later, when a teenage George tried out hairstyles in his friend’s bedroom, that he would fall in love with his craft. Inspired by the greats, among them Vidal Sassoon and Nicky Clarke, he worked at the London hairdressing chain Daniel Hersheson (now Hershesons) before branching out on his own.
“The salons I grew up around had real identities and I wanted to create the same thing here. I wanted a movement where you come to be known for something. People come to a George Northwood salon knowing what they’re going to get.”
Part of that is creating a salon experience for customers that is welcoming — whether that’s one of the many high-flying CEOs or television presenters he cuts hair for, or a teenager who has saved her cash for a cut. “I really mean it when I say I want everyone to feel at home here. I spent a lot of my childhood as a minority gay man feeling like I had to pretend I’m something I’m not. That has driven me to create an environment where everyone feels welcome.”
The classic Northwood salon experience is part therapy session, part haircut, with clients known to pour out their hearts in his chair. “Someone told me once there’s something in having your head stroked or touched that makes you open up.”
His original outpost on Wells Street in central London opened in 2014, with customers coming from as far as Malta to have their hair snipped by the team. Aside from Meghan, his most famous client is probably Alexa Chung, since Northwood is behind her near-iconic choppy bob (surely the “Rachel” of the late Noughties).
“Every so often you get a moment when a haircut becomes a thing, a sort of cultural moment, and the Alexa bob really was that,” Northwood says. “At the time it was the most searched-for thing on Pinterest and certainly it is the haircut I’m asked for most. At one point people were practically queuing round the block for one.”