Move over Fab Four! Merseyside’s new top trio triumphed at The Coterie Liverpool

From being backstage at London Fashion Week to working on a tropical island for seven weeks with Leonardo DiCaprio, last night’s (October 14) Coterie gathering brought together a trio of stars from across the hair industry to discuss their journeys with our VERY FIRST Liverpool audience for the final Coterie of the year.

Hosted by Creative HEAD deputy editor Deborah Murtha, a 75-strong crowd came together as Nick Irwin, Paddy McDougall and Nicola Clarke delved deep into their career history to share invaluable insight and advice, along with some serious name drops along the way.

First up on the floor was the dynamic duo of Paddy McDougall, winner of The It List It Guy 2018 award, and his mentor Nick Irwin, a renowned session stylist. As a firm believer in supporting young talent, Nick has worked with Paddy on several projects, including shoots for Hunger magazine. For Nick, giving the next generation the opportunity to assist is “about giving back – the moral compass. I want to give people the opportunities I had. If you help enough people to get what they want, you get what you want.”

As a frequent globe-trotter over the years, styling shoots and shows as part of Toni&Guy’s Art Team and as TIGI’s former global creative director, Nick’s passion for the industry has remained unwavering through his determination to keep achieving career milestones. He said: “I still have the same drive and hunger as I did when I was an apprentice. It never leaves you. When I reach a goal, I think, what’s the next thing I want to do? I’m not scared to fail, there’s always something else to reach for.” Partially joking, Nick added: “my wife thinks I have two marriages – one with her and one with hair.”

In between his incredible projects, does Nick ever take the time to unwind?  He said: “Working in fashion – as well having all the disciplines in hair, you need to know your references from the start. It becomes less about the hair – it’s about everything around it, the bigger picture. My evenings are spent with my head in a book. It’s my hobby, my passion. I love the details. And I’m strict on this with my assistants.”

Likewise, as a blossoming talent on the session circuit, Paddy has assisted the likes of Duffy backstage at Fashion Week, but it hasn’t always been easy. “I was always interested in fashion, but I made the mistake of listening to people saying I couldn’t do it, living in Glasgow. But I gave it a go – and got an opportunity to work with Johnnie Sapong. That was my first session experience.”

Alongside his work in the session world, Paddy also spends his time at Glasgow salon group, Rainbow Room International. On this he said: “I love my work at the salon – the interaction with clients. But session – fashion – every day is an education.”

Back in 2014 Nick made the decision to go solo, leaving behind his role at TIGI in order to pursue his session career. Though not an easy decision to make, Nick is clear this this was the right choice, sharing that “six years ago, I was on the board at TIGI – and I wanted a change. But when I left, I was really nervous; I was giving it all up for one thing: editorial. We’d left behind the money, the security, but I was in my mid-40s and thought, it’s now or never. It would be too much to say I cultivate my future, but nothing is left to chance.”

Since then, Nick has gone on to form a  long-standing collaborative relationship with photographer Rankin, racking up high-profile covers and campaign credits. For this creative duo, it all began back in the ’90s, when both worked on a shoot with Anthony Mascolo for an iconic Dazed cover. “It was Anthony who introduced me to Rankin – it was a very important moment in my career. Guido was with us [at Toni&Guy] at the time; there was so much energy and so many influences around us. It’s a time I will always cherish.”

In more recent years, Nick and Rankin also worked on a shoot for Hunger Magazine, which still remains one of Nick’s favourite projects today. He said: “It was about 10 years ago. It’s hard to shoot the back of a head – I wanted to do something different. It was the time when Instagram first blew up – emojis were everywhere! Rankin currently has an exhibition in Italy – and this image is on big billboards all over Milan!”

Aside from working with Rankin, Nick also credited Anthony Mascolo for encouraging his creativity right from the start, as he “never put the reins on – he’s a great creative leader. I try to manage young people in the same way.”

Despite his young age, through constant support from the likes of Nick, Paddy has already racked up credits including Marni, Topshop Unique and Louis Vuitton – plus, he’s been named global ambassador for Indola. Prior to being chosen for the role, Paddy said: “I learned as much as I could about the brand – then brought my own style. They liked it. I’ve just shot a third campaign. I have a set vision for my work and I’m keen to bring that to the brand.”

When it comes to finding creative vision, Paddy believes that “there isn’t a moment, it’s a constant process.” He recalls his first shoot with Indola, which was shoot on location in the streets of Barcelona to showcase new colour trends for the season ahead. He said: “shooting this way is Indola’s USP – everything should be transferable. It’s fashion, but it’s not crazy.”

One particular shoot Nick and Paddy worked on together was ‘Misfits’, in collaboration with Rankin for Hunger magazine. An ode to the youthful rebels of the 1960s and beyond, the shoot was created to celebrate the next big names in hairdressing. On this, Nick said: “you pass on the gauntlet if you like, and you maybe see that thing that he [Anthony Mascolo] saw in me, in Paddy.” Featuring beehives, messy bobs and Jane Birkin-esque fringes, when creating the shoot “casting was the most important part” in the process for Nick. As for more joint projects in the future, this dynamic duo agreed “it’s an ongoing thing.” Nick added: “I feel like we collaborate all the time.”

From one rising star in the colour world, to the lady responsible for colouring the tresses of Hollywood starlets around the world – it’s of course the incredible Nicola Clarke. Having previously spoken at The Coterie in Leeds in 2016, Nicola joined us in Liverpool to lift the lid on her incredible career.

Taking it back to her early career, Nicola recalled how she has “been doing this since I was 13. I hassled my local salon in Essex for a job, then fresh out of school at 15, I started working full time for Robert Wright at The Berkley Hotel – I did every job there, learnt everything I could and finished my training but what I really loved was colour. At the time I was obsessed with Vivienne Westwood and Sam McKnight was doing the hair in the late 80s/early 90s, it was my dream to meet him and work for him.”

Little did she know that years later she would have the opportunity to assist Sam across Fashion Week, working on shows every season in between her work with celebrity clientele. Nicola also shared how the first time she met Sam was while working backstage at Harvey Nichols for a show starring Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders. She said: “There was due to be a guest model and that’s when Naomi Campbell, along with Sam McKnight, rocks up. There was a tiny commotion, as Sam’s hair pins had been misplaced and I had some, so I piped up, elbowed everyone else out the way and assisted him. I told Sam I wanted to work for him and he told me to speak to his agent – I hounded her every week and eventually got an assisting gig, I freelanced for him for the eight years after that.”

Though Nicola credits some of her achievements to luck, it’s apparent that she has never stopped working hard. “I think I’ve been lucky, but a lot of it isn’t luck too – it’s passion, you’ve got to work hard. My family know I have to drop things short notice, if Madonna calls…you’re available. The hard work has never bothered me; even at the beginning, what I was doing in my work life was so much more fun and varied than my social life. Hairdressing isn’t a 9-5 job, there are so many different avenues, like film, like fashion, so many departments, tons to do and try.”

And try she certainly has! From working on The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio to working with Gwyneth Paltrow on Shakespeare in Love and The Talented Mr. Ripley, Nicola’s colour work has transcended across film, fashion and beyond. On this, Nicola said: “when working on film you have to understand it’s not about me, or what I want to create – it’s about doing the job they need. Making sure the hair is the same when they walk through the door and exactly the same three days later.”

As the lady behind the impeccable colour of some of the world’s most photographed faces, we’re talking Kate Moss, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet and Kate Bosworth, for Nicola it’s all about knowing the person you’re working with. “Knowing your subject is so important. I know Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t keen on product, so I’ll find her things that leave her hair natural when she’s finished on shoot. While Kate Winslet, she’s happy for you to play with her hair for ages.”

Over the years Nicola has also formed a long-standing relationship with Madonna, and she recalls their first meeting with laugher: “when I met Madonna for the first time, I was the girl sitting in her room listening to The Smiths, I wasn’t listening to her music. I wasn’t thinking about who the person was, I was worried about whether I do the hair well, if I would please someone, what my peers would think. When you work with these names, you have to remember they are just real people!” Nicola added: “Madonna is like a sponge, you have to be on your game. She’s respectful, she wants to know what you’re doing, what it’s about. She’s an incredibly intelligent women, she likes to learn all the time, she’s inspiring to be around.”

On top of all of that, in September 2017 Nicola opened her own beautifully crafted salon in partnership with John Frieda. She said: “I’d achieved lots of personal goals, worked with the people I really wanted to and I didn’t want to work in another salon. John [Frieda] had been asking me to run a space, we talked about it and I’d said I would want it to be my way – he let me lead and listened to what I wanted from choosing materials to the vibe.”

Ever keen to encourage creative partnerships while bringing together friends from across the industry, Nicola’s space has become home to a whole host of incredible talent. “I grew up in hairdressing where you were either Toni & Guy or Sassoon, very separate, you didn’t mix. It’s definitely changed and I wanted to create a creative place, interesting for hairdressers that didn’t want to do session but bring in names like Tracey Cunningham, Tyler Johnston, Zoë Irwin, Sam McKnight, that would be creative and spark ideas.”

And spark ideas tonight certainly has! Special thanks to the night’s kind sponsors BaByliss PRO, who provided every guest with one of their latest styling tools.

Check out more from the night in our Facebook gallery>