Derek DeCutter Clement. If you don’t know that name, you should. His journey in the Afro hair scene is extensive. Career highlights include a stint as Artistic Director in the legendary Afro hair salon, Splinters based in Mayfair in the early 80s, looking after the hair of Billy Ocean, Patti Labelle, The Three Degrees and much more before going on to manage P Diddy’s barber shop where he styled the heads of numerous US celebrities.
These days, Derek can be found rescuing the crowning glories of clients in West London-based Bella and Bello Salon. He recently launched the DeCutter hair care range, the latest addition to his brand which includes clothing merchandise, nutritional books and short stories.
We recently caught up with Derek to find out more about his journey, get the inside scoop on his celebrity clients and learn more about his new hair care range.
How long have you been in the hair business?
I’ve been doing hair for over 25 years.
Tell us briefly how you got into the industry?
That’s an interesting question. I went to Acton County School in West London which had just been converted from a grammar to a comprehensive, though it was a great school, the racism was obvious since black boys and girls were systematically kept back. I knew instinctively that I would encounter that again in the work place. So, I began plotting for a future career that would allow me to work with, and for my people (black people). The funny thing was there were no black organizations that I knew of back then.
One day, my girlfriend asked me to escort her to the hairdressers, she was a little older than I and would go to the infamous Splinters hair salon in Mayfair. I knew immediately that’s what I wanted to do. All the ducks were aligned; A= A black salon, B= Black owned and C= All Black people the majority of which was black celebrities. I boldly asked Winston Issacs, the owner, for a job and the rest is history.
To those who know, Splinters is legendary. Tell us what it was like to work there?
The best way I could describe Splinters is that it was like the MOTOWN of hair, where the great and the good would visit, Black politicians, musicians, Black nobility from Africa etc, it was, at the time, the most prestigious salon on the planet. Run by the late Winston Issacs, not only did we learn hairdressing at the highest level, but Winston was a great mentor, teaching us life skills, how to dress, speak and deportment.
Who are some of the big-name clients you worked with?
Once I earned a name for myself after a five-year apprenticeship, I was given a number and it happened to be No1, and in no time I was one of the most popular stylists doing all the young fashionistas in London’s West End, models, singers, musicians, students particularly young rich Nigerian students! Then the celebrities like Billy Ocean, Paul Boateng, a young Diane Abbott, Patricia Scotland (now Baroness Scotland) Pepsi, Yazz, Labi Siffre and The Three Degrees to name a just a few.
Who was your best client?
My best client then was Pearly Gates the American singer, but I grew very close to Baroness Scotland and would do her hair in her chambers in Parliament often.
And the most difficult?
I can’t ever say I had difficult clients except Nigerian oil millionaires [laughs] who constantly begged me to introduce them to my celebrity young female clients.
What was it like managing P Diddy’s barber shop?[Laughs] Managing P Diddy’s personal shop was a real eye opener in that all the New York rappers came there, including up and coming young R&B singers, among them was Black Robb and Kid Capri, the famous New York DJ. I was kind of a novelty to them being a British Black guy and Americans love the British accent.
Contrary to popular opinion, our hair actually grows at a cellular level. However, perfumed toiletries i.e. shampoos and conditioners are NOT what it takes to repair, restore and rejuvenate hair growth, actually it’s the opposite.
Tell us about your ‘Hair Surgery Sessions’?
In 2008 while working in Brooklyn, New York, I created the Salon Surgery Seminar designed to empower educate and emancipate not only hairdressers but the clients as well. Afro hair was in a transitional state at that time because the sisters had realized their inner confidence. Salon Surgery provided information, advice and guidance on how to manage their hair. Today Salon Surgery and HAIR Ex (short for Excellence in Creativity) by Rudi Page (who founded Afro Hair and Beauty) have joined forces to conduct seminars around the UK and the world as a whole.
Why is it important for us to learn about the science of our hair?
Contrary to popular opinion, our hair actually grows at a cellular level. However, perfumed toiletries i.e. shampoos and conditioners are NOT what it takes to repair, restore and rejuvenate hair growth, actually it’s the opposite. It’s all about being holistic, the entire mind, body and soul must be in alignment, along with a professional hairdresser to cut and style your hair. That is the perfect combination. Therefore, learning about the science of hair is paramount. Not only will it hold you in good stead, but you will not fall prey to dodgy vloggers, bloggers and YouTubers telling you what’s hot and what’s not for Afro hair.
What are the top tips you can offer our readers regarding looking after their hair and scalp?
A – Find a professional hairstylist to treat and maintain your hair needs
B – Ensure you have regular trims
C – Hair food supplements like Biotin are a must and DO work
D – Drink your recommended eight class of water daily
E – If possible, keep well away from chemicals
F – If your hair is natural, avoid excessive heat. Heat damage is as serious as chemical breakage
G – Oils in your diet is essential. Try drinking it or apply it to the hair
H – There are eight hair growth enhancers: Apply them to your diet. They include: Aloe Vera, Ginseng, Moringa, Castor oil, Coconut oil, Rosemary etc.
What’s the DeCutter range all about?
As a professional of more than 25 years I have always advocated lighter oils for Afro hair while many others promoted more greasy type oils that leaves the hair clammy. The Derek DeCutter Clement Hair Care System UK is a unique range designed for the professionals, but the creme de la creme are DCCFACTOR 1, Argan Oil and DCCFACTOR2 Shine Serum. When used together they leave the hair feeling smoother, silky, satiny and luxurious. They repair, restore and rejuvenate dull, dry hair and encourage hair growth. The Argan oil provides nutrients for the scalp and the Shine Serum protects the hair.
Read our interview with another Splinters alumni, Charlotte Mensah.
My friend Julian Hall the brilliant Lawyer introduced me to Splinters and Winston and his Team at the salon on Maddox Street in the l1970s wow what a joyful proud experience it was to be handled so professionally at Splinters.So glad the legacy is being carried on. M