With a career spanning over 50 years and a name that has become synonymous with professional hairdressing, Trevor Sorbie is responsible for establishing techniques that have shaped modern hairdressing. His development of ‘scrunch drying’ (“every woman on this earth has scrunched her hair at some point”) ‘the wedge’ and ‘the chop’ hairstyles transformed women’s hair in the 80s. The first hairdresser to receive an MBE, he has mentored the industry’s most in-demand session stylists including Eugene Souleiman and Angelo Seminara.
It is therefore no surprise that Sorbie is widely regarded by the industry as the ‘Godfather of Hairdressing’. But Sorbie is frank about admitting that life as a successful hairdresser has not always been easy. At his lowest point, his struggle with depression led to his hospitalisation. “Everyone thinks the road to the top is a smooth ride,” he says, “but I want people to understand that there are bumps in the road to success”.
Leaving school at the age of 15, Sorbie followed in both his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by entering the barbering profession. He spent 5 years at his father’s 2-chair barbershop in Essex, before enrolling on a course at the Richard Henry School of Hairdressing. Following this, he continued his training at Sassoon’s, eventually becoming art director aged 23.
“I’ve got where I wanted to be - and it’s been bumpy - but I wouldn't change it.”
Sorbie’s first salon opened its doors in 1979 in the heart of London’s Covent Garden. Punk had hit and Sorbie was firmly under its spell. “In those days I was a hairdressing rebel,” he recalls, “I created a spiky haircut called ‘the wolf’ and put images of it in the window of my shop. People walking past would go, ‘I’m not going in there for a haircut’”. However, Sorbie’s style attracted the radical musicians of the time, “people like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adam Ant and Annie Lennox… People that were into creativity were coming to me”.
5 award-winning salons, 2 hairdressing academies and a worldwide product line later, Sorbie stresses that the most important advice he can offer is to stay humble about your work ethic. He still spends much of his time on the salon floor at the flagship salon on London’s Floral Street. “I’ll still sweep the floor in the shop, wash hair, make coffee and help clients put their coats on. I want to show young people that if I can do it, they can do it. I try to lead by example.”
“Even though I run my business I’ll still sweep the floor in the shop, wash hair, make coffee and help clients put their coats on. I try to lead by example.”
Sorbie now dedicates most of his time to his charity My New Hair www.mynewhair.org which offers support to people suffering from medical hair loss. He started the charity after his sister-in-law requested his help prior to undergoing treatment for cancer. “She asked me to get her a wig, as she was going to lose all her hair. I bought one for her but it really looked like a wig, so I set about making it look more natural. When she put it on she burst out crying. Tears of joy. My whole hairdressing career did a right turn at that point, it really affected me.”
The charity and the services it provides continues to grow, offering training seminars to hairdressers which focus on wig cutting, aftercare post-chemotherapy, and nurse-led communication workshops. The focus, aside from technical skills, is on how to be able to support clients through the emotional trauma of losing their hair. Building on the psychology of the hairdresser as a type of unofficial ‘go-to-therapist’, Sorbie explains “doctors aren’t interested in hair – they’re there to save lives. But when a woman loses her hair, she loses her femininity, her confidence… it has a ripple affect and I try to fill in the bit that’s missing.”
Sorbie’s focus now is taking My New Hair international, with Canada and Dubai two of the next locations on the agenda. “I’ve gone beyond my wildest dreams with my hair achievements. But you always have to set a goal and that goal now is my charity. This is where my heart lies now.”