School Daze

Our Guest PAINTER for September, Zoë Irwin is a renowned creative hairdresser who has been the brains behind some of the most adored blow dry services and looks in the UK. Now, as the new UK Colour Trend Expert for Wella Professionals, her love for colour has been reawakened…


“I have, what I like to call, ‘a colourful past’.”


The Zoë lipstick

I have created colour menus for salon group Headmasters with new concepts and names in colour. I designed “Cobain Chic”, the first UK dip-dye salon treatment for Hari’s salon. These colour concepts were featured in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and The Times.

Estee Lauder even invited me to create my own lipstick, which was named “The Zoë”.  It was the perfect coral tone to match the blondes I was known for.

Little Mix’s Perrie

I become the colourist for Sony Records, taking the Little Mix girls from blondes to lilacs and greens to blues. When your client first fancied pink hair after seeing it on Perrie? Yes that was me, behind the scenes busily creating colour ideas for huge colour campaigns and music artists.

Fifteen years ago, the super stylist Lotta Volkova (pictured left) was my muse – I took her from white to fluorescent yellow from a suitcase full of acid neon colour I had found in Japan and brought back to the UK.

I went on to colour the models in her first runway show varying shades of lilac. And coloured her and all her friends from Vivienne Westwood for features in Love and Pop.

When I worked on Guido’s team, I coloured the girls at Alexander McQueen rich hues of copper and amber in the toilets backstage.

It’s not that I ever really stopped colouring hair. I’ve been maintaining a client base of beauty and fashion editors that I quietly coloured at my home or theirs. It just became quieter from me. My reputation as a stylist, the woman who blows out hair and designs waves, dominated. I had become the ‘Blow Dry Queen’ and this is what I was known for; many people were even surprised when they found out I coloured hair at-all!

So, after nine years away from a salon, colouring always solo with no team, in hotel rooms and my own home, I yearned for a little company.

I craved a conversation in the colour room over my choice of toners.  I wistfully watched the Instagram Stories of colourists painting balayage, wishing I had someone to debate techniques with.

I was also giving colour quotes to journalists that would never feature my name, because when I stepped away from a salon and was no longer available for a client to book, I could no longer be quoted in print. I was the silent colourist!

As a trend forecaster, I was giving lectures on colour to large audiences, describing such things as how the Rothko tones (see picture on the left of Rothko piece) that would be dominant in 2019 should be made into a colour palette for clients. “If I was in a salon right now” is how I would begin my sentences… and after hearing it one too many times, one of my good friends in colour challenged me to return.

I felt as nervous as a first year but after nine years away, I knew that to do it, to gain respect from my fellow colourists and to be able to be confident myself, I needed to study again – to learn about the formulations and methods and nuances that I would need to launch colour in the modern market. I last did a colour degree 15 years ago and with formulations quoted daily on Instagram, I knew there was so much knowledge I needed to be in the game.

Fast forward to August 2017 and I am sitting in the Wella World Studio London, writing my name on a piece of card so the other students and I can learn each other’s names. My heart is racing and I am slightly regretting the double shot coconut milk cappuccino that I picked up in Pret on the way…

Wella World Studio London

We are nervously looking at each other as we are about to introduce ourselves to the group. After 34 years of hairdressing, I am back at colour school on the Wella Master Colour Programme, here to learn at the highest level the methodology and technical details of Wella colour. To be guided through colour correction, mixing palettes, bleaching, shade choice and toning. To learn how we see colour and how the body responds emotionally to tone.

On day one, little did I know that I would spend the next nine months reciting to myself the measurement of a nanometer, as I made my journey to work.  I would be repeating the names of the parts of the eye that enable us to see colour, over and over in my head and often to my friends. I became obsessed with tone and depth. I walked around The Tate matching the 1932 Love Fame & Tragedy Picasso collection (see picture on the left) to the Wella Colour Touch Create shade chart in my head.

I cancelled my nights out at restaurants to colour wefts. My lounge became a rainbow of shades, each dangling from my bookshelves as I put together my stage two exam.

And I loved it, every second!

My teacher Scott blew my mind with his knowledge. To me, he became the Yoda of Colour. His quotes and words I scribbled down and repeated constantly. I would begin my sentences now with “Scott said…”.

I can only describe it as being with a designer and hearing them talk through their own collection, the passion and the nuances; the fine details. This is how it felt to me, learning colour at the highest level. It’s incredibly empowering. When I realised I could do it my way and stopped comparing myself to the other students who were running busy columns in salons was when I relaxed.

For my Level Two exam, I studied the Nike x Sean Wortherspoon pastel-toned Air Max 1/97 trainer that was the biggest trend release of the year, while other students talked through their work on their client’s pastels. I held up boards of the ‘90s references used in the design of the trainer. I matched every reference to a Wella colour tone, it was my way and everyone was so kind. I may not have been in a salon but we were all speaking with the same passion.

My fellow students guided and encouraged me. It was in the Wella Studio that I met Santi, Ben and Marianne from Taylor Taylor. When I looked over and saw Marianna weaving babylights as fine as mine, I knew I had found a friend to chat to.

We shared lunches and went shopping for coloured pens for our homework and it was then that I decided to approach Taylor Taylor to see if it could become my new hair home.  And so here I am, one year in, about to launch my first collection at Taylor Taylor Liberty as creative director. And I couldn’t be more excited!

Taylor Taylor Liberty

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