Thursday, 23 September 2021

I can’t believe how far a pair of scissors has taken me

FIFTY years after his father launched the Marc Antoni hairdressing chain, Bruno Giamattei is taking it from

FIFTY years after his father launched the Marc Antoni hairdressing chain, Bruno Giamattei is taking it from strength to strength.

He was put in charge of its flagship salon in Hart Street, Henley, as soon as Bruno Snr bought it in 1984.

He had previously been a Saturday boy at his father’s first branch in Reading and would tell his customers that he was 24 rather than 19.

The shop, which used to be a record store, started out with six work stations and four staff and catered for both sexes from the outset.

Mr Giamattei Snr rented it for the first six months then bought the freehold when the landlord proposed doubling the rent. It cost £112,000 and he had to offer his home in Earley as collateral.

He originally wanted to open a pizza parlour but changed his mind after residents complained that it would generate unpleasant smells.

Instead, he decided to create a business opportunity for Bruno, 51, who now jointly runs the Marc Antoni group with his brothers Simon, 49, and twins Aaron and Marcus, 40. The business has four other branches in Caversham, Woodley, Fleet and Bracknell.

The Henley outlet was extended in 2000 to include an additional six hairdressing stations and it has a mezzanine floor which serves as the company’s head office.

The salon employs eight stylists plus two full-time juniors who are all trained in hair colouring, which is unusual as this is typically a separate role.

Mr Giamattei, who lives with his wife Carolyn in Peppard Road, Caversham, leads the artistic team across all five sites and has been named southern hairdresser of the year in the British Hairdressing Awards three times in the last nine years.

To take part, he had to demonstrate his skills on a female model, then send photographs to a panel of judges.

On each occasion he was shortlisted out of about 60 contenders then crowned winner during a ceremony at the Grosvenor Park Hotel in London. His third title came last year when the company won artistic team of the year for the first time.

He cannot enter the awards again as people may only win three times but following his last title, he was appointed president of the Fellowship for British Hairdressing.

Mr Giamattei said: “If anything, I probably enjoyed the team victory most because we were rubbing shoulders with the big guns like Toni and Guy and Vidal Sassoon and it felt like we’d finally arrived.

“It inspired all our staff because it gave them something to aspire to and showed they were capable of working at the very highest level.”

About 40 per cent of his Henley clients have been visiting since the salon’s early years and he now also cuts their children’s and grandchildren’s hair. Another 10 per cent of customers travel from London to see him due to his reputation.

Olivia Harrison, the widow of Beatle George, who lives at Friar Park in Henley, used to be a regular customer while rower and double Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell and television sports presenter Steve Rider have also visited.

On one occasion in the Nineties, the team dyed Eurythmics’ star Dave Stewart’s hair blue and black before he recorded an album at Harrison’s home.

The salon takes many bookings from people visiting the stewards’ enclosure at Henley Royal Regatta every summer and provides a service for weddings at Phyllis Court Club.

Mr Giamattei regularly gives talks both in this country and abroad on behalf of haircare company Wella, Marc Antoni’s supplier.

He said: “My friends in the industry have always said London is the place to be and I want to prove that you can do just as well outside.

“In the 32 years we’ve been in Henley, our clients have been so warm and responsive with us and shown great commitment and loyalty.

“Most are from the area but I now have some who travel from the capital. When we won the award it was all over the internet and social media so that brought in new business.

“Henley is a great place to trade because you can go out on the street and know everyone from the bakers to the shoe shops. I actually do most of the other traders’ hair. A few months ago my boiler system went and the Dorata salon across the road helped out. We were able to use their water and if they ever ran out we would always return the favour. There’s a close-knit, family atmosphere between Henley’s independent businesses and that’s really nice.”

Marc Antoni was launched when Mr Giamattei Snr, 72, moved from Italy to Britain in the early Sixties with ambitions of becoming a professional motorcycle racer. He had been riding bikes for years and came with another rider, who was his boss at the hair salon where he had a casual job.

The pair visited the Isle of Man TT race in 1962 but Mr Giamattei Snr, who was then 18, could not find a sponsor so he settled in Reading and went back to hairdressing.

He says he started in the trade “purely to look at girls” but was able to open his own unisex outlet in 1966 after building a strong reputation while working for another salon.

He called it Marc Antoni after Bruno and Simon’s respective middle names and as a reference to the Roman general Mark Antony.

He became a regular visitor to Henley and snapped up the lease on the Hart Street premises as soon as he saw it.

Mr Giamattei Snr said: “I loved coming to Henley because it was a lovely town with so much going on, from the regatta to cruising on the river and the festival. It really felt alive and full of people.

“The shop was very tatty and old but I had a good feeling about it and Bruno made it work from the very first day. From humble beginnings, he grabbed the business by the scruff of the neck and he has made it one of the best in the country.

“I had no idea that my four boys would follow in my footsteps but when they did I was really pleased and I’m proud to see how the business has grown in their care.

“The lucky thing about my children taking over is that I was able to retire when I was 45, which is no bad thing. I’m still always there to provide advice.”

Mr Giamattei said: “Having Dad on hand is brilliant — I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.

“We argue a lot, which is the Italian way, but he taught me so much about working quickly while maintaining a high quality. He brought me up with an attitude of respect and doing things properly.

“I’ve found a job that I love so it doesn’t feel like work and I try to ensure my staff feel the same way. I want them to enjoy it rather than being stressed. It’s the best career in the world because we chat with clients all day and get to make them look beautiful.

“A woman’s hair is her crown and it’s in our hands to make someone either unhappy or elated.

“I think clients love our service — the warmth and the atmosphere in here. They’re always surprised when they see how big the salon is as it looks much smaller from the outside but it extends a long way back.

“You get all different age groups and different requirements — some people might come in regularly for a blow dry whereas others might want something special for a wedding. We’ve been here so long that we’re often doing three generations of  customers.”

Most of Marc Antoni’s staff have been with the company their whole working lives. Mr Giamattei’s daughters, Charlotte, 27, and Jazmine, 24, are both stylists while Neil Watkins, who was his first trainee in 1984, now manages the Caversham branch.

He said: “We are a family business so our ethos is to be patient with our staff and allow them to grow professionally within the company. It’s very rare for us to bring in people from outside and we try to instill passion and warmth in our team.”

Last year, staff and customers across the salons cycled the distance from London to Paris on exercise bikes in 24 hours and raised £25,000 for leukaemia charity Bloodwise — Simon was diagnosed with a form of the blood disorder in 2013.

Mr Giamattei said: “We’re very grateful to our clients as all that money came from their donations. It’s pretty phenomenal for just five salons to have raised that amount.

“We even had customers getting on the bikes to pedal for a few minutes. Those machines were going at all times and it created a real buzz.”

Mr Giamattei said he is always looking to expand the company.

He said: “Despite a couple of years of recession, we’ve stayed strong with our five-salon group and now we’re looking to the future. It will reach the stage where we need another branch because we will need space for the people we’ve been training.

“It comes back to the importance of growing the company from within — I’m not looking to build 20 new salons but I want to grow slowly and organically as my trainees develop. My biggest regret is that we weren’t able to afford the Monsoon premises next door, which were available at the time.

“We’ve become so busy in Henley that I’d love to have 20 stations and offer beauty services like we do at our Fleet branch. The trouble is that we’d need somewhere bigger and I don’t want to give this place up because we don’t have to worry about rent.

“I never thought a pair of scissors would take me this far in life. I’d been going for about 10 years when Rudi Kartal in Duke Street celebrated its 25th anniversary and I remember thinking I’d never last that long.”

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