Stylist to the stars stays true to his roots

By Janetta Mackay

Snowden Hill flies in private jets and wears designer clothes, but believes in staying true to his New Zealand self.

International hairdresser Snowden Hill has returned to New Zealand briefly from his London base for a couple of shows. Photo / Greg Bowker
International hairdresser Snowden Hill has returned to New Zealand briefly from his London base for a couple of shows. Photo / Greg Bowker

Housekeeper or princess - treat them the same, says hairstylist Snowden Hill. "It's a Kiwi-New Zealand skill I've had drummed into me ... we are all the same." This maxim is more than theory to the London-based Hill who counts royals, Hollywood stars and some of the world's wealthiest among his clientele.

Same, same but different surely? Not all hairdressers are given a Jeep for Christmas by a grateful socialite wife or fly first class with Sting and wife Trudi Styler. Not all can tell you that Gisele Bundchen's hair is naturally the best and that Liz Taylor had a true star's knack for "making you feel special".

Hill has coiffed Gwyneth Paltrow and Rob Lowe and learned how to deal with prickly customers turned old favourites like Naomi Campbell. He now flies to Monaco to tend to Princess Charlene. "Amazing hair, amazing body," he lets slip, but for the most part he is suitably circumspect. "At the end of the day you are the hired help."

It doesn't pay though to bow and scrape, that's a recipe for being taken for granted. The Duchess of York told him early on that she liked that he was "unaffected". These days, after 17 years in England, his accent may disagree, but Hill is very much still the boy from Hawke's Bay enjoying rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. There's plenty of hard work as well, around 80 shows a year on the international fashion circuit and styling for magazines, explaining why he is back in Auckland as the star attraction at the inaugural industry event, Hair X, this weekend. A big group of whanau will travel north to see his work for the first time.

Hill credits his early training here with giving him the foundations for an international career. He lucked into the trade - and started smoking - when as a "drifting" 16-year-old, a hairdresser suggested he give the job a go when she was snipping and puffing away under a big 80s fringe. After seven years working in Auckland came the decision in 1996 that "I needed more", so it was off to London where he landed a job with celebrity stylist Nicky Clarke in Mayfair. Soon thereafter, his ongoing collaboration with mentor and industry legend Guido Palau began, working on the big shows in Paris, Milan, New York and London. His Hair X show will function as a mini-retrospective of some of those looks from the likes of Versace, McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino. McQueen he put on a pedestal, saying he took his audiences into a breathtaking fantasy land in shows such as the memorable Game of Chess. "He was very tough. You'd do something, it looked amazing in a hair test, then he would want more."

To this day, Hill wears 95 per cent McQueen, but he says "I do like a bit of Hermes. My look is normally a McQueen blazer and a cravat or tie."

This "uniform" takes him from a plane to backstage at an awards evening or accompanying an A-list client to a dinner or to a party. These are the sort of women who have their hair styled twice a day at home. "You get to the door for the appointment and there's the yoga or pilates person, the nails person, all to get them out the door by noon for lunch."

Hill loves that the fashion side of his work keeps him ahead of the game, but says he would go mad constantly shooting. He credits his one-day-a-week in a Knightsbridge salon for keeping him in touch with what women actually want.

Whoever the client, they all want to look glamorous and the ability to make them so is the power and the privilege of being a hairdresser. "I feel very proud when I send her out the door looking great."

This enthusiasm, along with the necessary skills and fresh ideas, is what he wants to share with colleagues. "If I can do it, anyone can." Little things make a big difference, "like a smile, a bit of empathy".

As to sharing more celebrity stories, Hill says that will have to wait, although a client has offered to bankroll his autobiography.

"I'll have to do it when I'm nearly in my grave."

* To find out more about Hair X this weekend.

- NZ Herald

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