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Toni Mascolo obituary

Toni Mascolo
Toni Mascolo, the co-founder of Toni and Guy, in 2011. Photograph: Good/Daily Mail/Rex/Shutterstock

Toni Mascolo was not in hairdressing for fashion, fame or art. He expressed his creativity not in extreme cut or colouring but in a novel business structure through his family firm, Toni & Guy. From his teens, Mascolo, who has died aged 75, was his own accountant, business adviser and advertising director, with an immigrant’s willingness to work full-speed from 8am to 10pm six days a week and concoct hair lacquer in bulk from raw ingredients in the back room should there be an hour’s slack in trade.

Mascolo understood from early on that the trade was descended from the guild system, where apprentices learned on the job, served time with a local master, then often split to found a new business. Its services were not reliable in standards or geographic spread. He introduced franchising, where every salon provided a brand-guaranteed level of service, but allowed the franchisee independence within a family. There are now almost 500 Toni & Guy salons in nearly 50 countries.

By the time he was 20, a serious young man, balding and with a moustache to make him look even more mature, he had already worked in most levels of salon. He was born Giuseppe, grandson of a barber-surgeon and eldest of the five sons of Francesco Mascolo, who had a barbers-cum-salon in Scafati, a town in Campania, southern Italy; the boys did salon tasks for their father. Mascolo senior, who had talent but no outlet for it, decided to migrate after a visit from a cousin who had done well for himself hairdressing in London.

Toni Mascolo, in glasses, working in the very first family salon in Clapham, south London
Toni Mascolo, in glasses, working in the very first family salon in Clapham, south London. Photograph: Toni & Guy

Francesco’s wife Maria, (nee Gallo), determined it should be a family move. They arrived when Giuseppe was almost 15, then school-leaving age; he spoke no English and spent his last classroom months in the school of the Italian church in Clerkenwell, the expatriate community’s social heart.

The Mascolos clustered nearby, then found half a house to rent in Clapham, funded by Mascolo Sr’s job in a smart Mayfair barbers, where his son joined him as assistant (wages 15 shillings and 11 pence a week; Charles Forte tipped the lad a quid). The firm was sold on and the boy was workless for three days, then so convinced the owner of a tatty salon near his home of his competence that he was made manager.

He moved to a chic, Italian-run salon near the Houses of Parliament, with a clientele of political wives plus Barbara Castle’s red bouffant. There he learned about volume business – it was the era of volume hairstyles, too, achieved through shampoo-and-sets – with electricity for the driers costed into overheads and setting-lotions mixed on the premises to keep margins low. He also became Toni, a little less publicly Italian.

His workrate was so prodigious, often 50 clients a day, that he might soon have achieved his goal of buying the family a decent house. But when he was 20, his mother died and his father fell apart. The family closed in around home, with provider and worrier Toni, and brother Gaetano, professionally renamed Guy, finding jobs in a grotty one-room establishment in Clapham Park Road.

They took over the business in 1963 at a high weekly rent of £20 and lost all but one of their Saturday girls (who didn’t want to work for Italians); some weeks the family lived on a fiver in tips, all they had after the business bills were paid. The brothers kept the place open, promising “Mayfair hair designs” (which they could deliver) on their shop sign and “Florentine elegance and Roman flair” (they had been to neither Florence nor Rome) in the leaflets they jammed through local letterboxes.

It worked. The salon kept up with fashion and technology, but in an atmosphere without West End hauteur or celebrity-hairdresser flamboyance; in the Italian manner, it welcomed older women, and young men wanting highly stylised looks. “Toni & Guy” became three south London salons with siblings Bruno, Andrea and Anthony joining as they grew up.

The first Toni & Guy salon, in Clapham, south London.
The first Toni & Guy salon, in Clapham, south London. Photograph: Toni & Guy

The next hurdle was snobbery: for historical reasons, prestige hairdressers were all in Mayfair, Kensington and Chelsea, and they monopolised magazine and advertising work; salons elsewhere in London (especially south of the Thames), no matter how gifted their stylists, were ignored. Toni Mascolo decided to open in Davies Street, Mayfair, in 1973, and persuaded the family it had to part with the south London salons to restart at a different level.

That worked, too. “Toni & Guy” became a familiar magazine credit, and a second salon opened in Sloane Square (until his death, Mascolo did a stylist shift there or in Mayfair most weeks; he didn’t tell clients who he was). The backroom recipes were formalised into products for their TIGI line in 1979, and a first staff training academy opened in 1984. Mascolo believed in slow craft learning, especially by experience; there was no substitute for his Scafati years among the perm rollers. Touring the US in the 1970s, he saw that the then new food-chain franchising system would work in hairdressing; it would tap a market wanting higher local standards while retaining the family feel he had prized since Clapham.

The brothers sundered as the firm expanded, with Bruno, then Guy, moving to the US to run operations there; in 2002, they and Anthony took control of TIGI products and salon business in the Americas, leaving Toni with the rest of the world and his new franchise, essensuals.

The teen girl assistant who didn’t walk out of Clapham in 1963 was Pauline O’Donnell. She befriended all the Mascolos; they missed their mother’s food, so she learned to cook Italian, and married Toni in 1970. Their daughter, Sasha, and son, Christian, run their father’s businesses, while their other son, Pierre, produces movies. His wife survives him, but Guy died in 2009.

Mascolo was a Chelsea supporter, a devout Catholic with a chapel in his mansion’s grounds, and an unstoppable charity fundraiser (he knew how much luck he had had in life.) He was awarded an Italian knighthood and an honorary OBE.

• Toni (Giuseppe) Mascolo, hairdresser, born 6 May 1942; died 10 December 2017

This article titled "Toni Mascolo obituary" was written by Veronica Horwell, for The Guardian on Thursday 14 December 2017 06.05pm

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