• SHARE

LONDON — “I am very proud that I really did find a wonderful job. I can travel the world with my scissors and comb, and wherever I go not only can I find work, but by making people beautiful I can also give them hopes and dreams,” said Yoko Ishii.

Yoko Ishii spreads happiness through giving people beautiful, easy hair.

As a young woman in Tokyo, Yoko cast around for a career that would enable her to travel. “I did not particularly relish the idea of hairdressing, and at first had no confidence,” she said. However, she entered the Yamano Beauty College in Tokyo in 1969, and after training worked in the Aiko Yamano salon in Shinjuku. Despite some opposition at home, in 1972 she took herself off to the salon of Alexandre de Paris in France. Hairdressing had set her in motion.

“Then I went to Rome for an interview, and was lucky enough for two years to work for Alexandre de Paris in Rome. At the same time I acted as interpreter, and became a model in the Vidal Sassoon hair show in Rome,” she said. Yoko spoke French and Italian, but worried over the gaps in her languages. In the salon one day a client told her, “When you are going through difficulties you are achieving the most.” The client who encouraged her with “those precious words” was the actress Audrey Hepburn.

In November 1975, Yoko went to London to study at the Vidal Sassoon School. She gained her qualifications, and joined the company. She worked in several branches from her base in the Knightsbridge salon. She is the only native Japanese on Sassoon’s staff in the world.

Yoko describes Vidal Sassoon as “a breath of fresh air in the world of hairdressing.” She said: “The VS philosophy is perfect, an amazing thing. It touched my heart.” She mentions the “wash and wear” concept of styling, which depends on precision cutting, and is very easy to manage. She said: “The hairdressing industry gives people dreams. It is a form of art that produces joy. A hairdresser needs the sensitivity of an artist and the skills of a craftsman. Varying the balance between artistry and craft gives each person individuality.” Yoko is now senior master stylist for VS, and educational consultant on hair and beauty.

With her years of work experience in Japan and Europe, she appreciates the differences between hairdressing traditions of the East and West. Accordingly, she was the ideal choice for the position of Schoolship Global Program coordinator when this VS educational program was instituted in 1991. She said: “The program provides an opportunity for Japanese hair and beauty colleges to experience the latest technical and creative developments as they happen. It is designed to stimulate and develop individual creative potential.” She believes that uniting hairdressing industries in different countries results in enhancement of the profession.

For the Schoolship Global Program, Yoko travels to Japan from the U.K. several times each year. Her mother from Tokyo, husband Takanori of London, and her two daughters, who were born in London, live together here. Yoko said: “Under the Schoolship Global Program, we offer training to those hairdressing schools in Japan that join our partnership, which is completely free. We work for the improvement of techniques and creativity. The program offers substantial discounts on shows, seminars and courses taken in London. Students, managers, and old boys and girls develop long-term relationships with the leading international creative force in hairdressing.”

Yoko emphasizes that “being a hairdresser is one of the most worthwhile professions, as you can actually make people happy.” As an instructor she tells her students not to worry about making mistakes. “Success can be born from 99 percent of mistakes,” she said. “I feel it is my duty in my lectures to present students with only the framework, and to allow each one to discover something that shines out.” For herself, she knows that to complete means the end of growth. “I am working towards a so-called grand finale of incompletion,” she said.