Sandra Marmolejo has been a colourist with our favourite coiffeurs, the Lambton Place-dwelling Kell Skött Haircare for 12 years and now holds the coveted title of Wella Master Colour Expert, which only 300 elite people in the UK can lay claim to. She talks to Nancy Alsop about why she’s always wanted to be a hairdresser, how to avoid common mistakes and what colour trends are on the horizon for 2015…
How long have you been with Kell Skött Haircare?
This is my twelfth year, which is amazing to think. I started here when I was 18.
When did you know you wanted to be a hairdresser?
Well, I was born in Colombia and moved here when I was nine, with no English. We lived in Elephant and Castle, which had quite a strong Colombian community, and I remember on my 10th birthday my Mum threw this big party for me and invited the kids of the friends she had made here. I was given loads of Barbies, but then the next day, when my Mum went out, I cut all their hair off! She was so upset but when she told me off, I couldn’t understand. I said: ‘But it’ll grow back!’ I wanted to be creative, and I didn’t have little sisters to practice on – I was the little sister! I would play with my friends’ hair, doing plaits and giving them new styles; I was known as the hairdresser at school. I always hated maths, and I had a really horrible teacher. I would say to her: ‘But I don’t need maths, I’m going to be a hairdresser!’ I always knew.
How did you then go about training?
I did work experience at a salon in Hammersmith when I was 15. It was supposed to be two weeks; I ended up staying six months! Then I found a Colombian hairdresser near where I lived, and I just loved working for the two guys who ran it, while also studying at Hammersmith. It was there that I met an amazing lady who asked me if I was happy with my course. I wasn’t, because everyone else at the college I was at seemed to treat hairdressing as something for girls who didn’t known what else to do with their lives. But for me, it was a lifelong ambition. It turned out she was a tutor at Kensington and Chelsea College, so I enrolled there, and I was the happiest girl in the world; I was studying with adults and people who were actually passionate. Then one day, she came up to me and said: ‘I’ve got someone on the phone who wants to talk to you.’ It was Jacqueline Skött, and she wanted an assistant. We met the next day, and I started on the 22 April – a date I will always remember because it changed my life.
What is it about Kell Skött Haircare that keeps you here?
I never see myself not being a part of Kell Skött Haircare. They have looked after me so well from the beginning; they sent me to Vidal Sassoon for cutting training and to Wella for colour. When I started, I used to say that I just wanted to do colour, but Kell was very firm; he always maintained that I had to do both and appreciate the opportunity, because it wasn’t like that when he trained; then, you were forced to choose one or the other. He urged me to keep all my options open – and that’s what I love about it. Kell and Jacqueline really care.
Speaking of your Wella training, congratulations on being one of only 300 Wella Master colour experts… tell us how that came about?
It was all down to Jacqueline! She always wanted me to go in for it, and I was keen but felt really nervous about it. Then one day in 2013, she took me for lunch and a glass of champagne and told me that she’d booked me on the course! She is an amazing person, truly my mentor. She doesn’t tell you what to do ever, but she just makes you want to be better. Her personality changed me – sometimes I catch myself reacting to a situation, and I think: ‘Oh, that’s exactly what Jacqueline would do!’
What is it about colour specifically that you enjoy so much?
It’s funny, but colour in all its forms is my passion. My Mum used to paint when I was little, and she would give me bits of wood to play around with, and it would make me so happy. My favourite thing to do in the salon is a whole head of highlights – I love people to leave feeling great about themselves, and when you do your job right, you see the shine in their eye.
Tell us what it means to be a Wella Master Colour Expert…
Well, there are only 300 people in the UK who hold the title. Loads of people sign up to do the course, and get to the theory stage but they don’t necessarily make it to the practical examination. You have to go there three times a week for eight months, then every year you get invited back to learn the new trends and developments in colour. At the final practical exam, you are judged on everything; how neat your stand is, how straight you stand, how you hold the comb. It is the highest colour course in the industry, and I am so pleased Jacqueline encouraged me to do it and gave me the self-belief.
Tell us what products you rate most highly…
My favourite everyday, go-to products are Pureology shampoo and conditioner; also Caviar repair; and Potion 9, an amazing leave-in treatment that gets rid of frizz. If you spend £150 having your hair coloured, it is mad to me to use cheap shampoo. The good ones are concentrated, which means that you use less of them. Cheap ones are full of synthetic stuff. After-care is paramount.
What trends can you see on the horizon for colour in 2015?
It is all about soft, pastel colours for 2015. You’ll see lots of what we call ‘babylights’, so very sun-kissed and all about enhancing natural colour and making your hair shinier and cleaner.
What are you top tips for anyone thinking of changing their colour?
My tip would mostly be to reassure them. A lot of people are scared that dye will make their hair dry, but the products have become so much better since the 1990s. We don’t even have to touch the scalp, we can just comb it through. And the products themselves have non-harmful ingredients, they don’t smell as they used to – even the peroxides. If you go somewhere and it does have that very strong smell, it’s the tell-tale sign of a cheap product.
What is your process when someone comes in for colour for the first time?
First I analyse their features, skin tone and their lifestyle, because sometimes people want a change when there is some great shift in their life on the cards. If they do it because they’ve just, say, broken up with someone, they may end up regretting it. And if what they have asked for doesn’t go with their skin tone, it is my responsibility to tell them. I love the consultation because it’s the bit where you’re getting to know your client. For example, I had a lawyer who wanted pink hair. I did it – but we made sure it was subtle and gradual, so she could test it out on her boss!
What are the most common mistakes people make with colour?
I always tell people to bring a picture. If you say ‘caramel’, you might actually mean ash. It’s worth being clear because everyone has different perceptions of colour.
Finally, which celebrities’ hair do you currently rate?
Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman were both amazing at the Oscars. With Naomie Watts, it was the combination of the softness of the colour and the wave with the bluntness of the ends. And Sienna Miller also looks amazing with her short, cropped hair.