Valentino Valentini, or Val to his friends, owns and runs Valentino, the hair and beauty salon in Thackeray Street. He says he is 100% Italian, as he was born in Italy. But he doesn’t sound Italian, which is not so surprising as he came here when he was 4. But if his nationality sometimes raises questions, there is absolutely no doubt about what he and his team want to achieve in his salon; to create an overall look for a person that reflects the image she or he wants to communicate of themselves.
‘Say you are a lawyer’ he says, ‘who needs to be listened to – is your look working for you? Is it creating the outcome you want?’ So they work with the form, style and colour of your hair to support your image – but then go on to advise on clothes and shoes, too. In his view, a lot of people would like to be in fashion, but are not always confident about how to go about it. Val and his team see their job as providing clients with the tools they need when they go shopping for clothes. No wonder he calls his salon ‘Valentino – the Art of Appearance’.
Although Val’s father was a ‘champion’ hairdresser in Geneva, before coming to England, Val did not expect to follow in his footsteps. Initially he was more interested in music. But he liked the atmosphere of the salon and of helping people to look better, so aged 19 he started as an apprentice at Toni and Guy’s in Mayfair – and from the first day he worked there, he knew he wanted to set up a salon of his own. Four years later he did – in Thackeray Street and he’s been there ever since.
He is deeply critical of the way hairdressing is currently taught. He favours proper apprenticeships, where trainees ‘look, listen and learn’ in the presence of a skilled and experienced person. In his view, the current NVQ system turns trainees into students, gives them little hand-on experience and merely provides a number of agencies and a few of the larger companies with a useful source of revenue that they are reluctant to give up. He thinks we should start rebuilding the strength and character of our youngsters, so they can become highly competent through their own endeavours. Exactly as he started in fact – and to put his money where his mouth is, his youngest daughter Gabriella started in August working by his side as his apprentice in salon management!
In fact Val is big on the value of personal experience. Last year, with his great friend from across the road at Ottoemezzo, Emidio, he cycled all the way to Santiago de Compostella from St Jean de Port – a 1000 kilometre trip in 9 days! A mind-boggling and spiritual experience he calls it. It has given him a fresh way of looking at life. ‘When you are cycling along a flat road, things are a bit boring, so you start thinking, wouldn’t it be fantastic if there was a hill. But when you are climbing a hill 26 kilometres long, like we did, or going down another at 70 kph with your hands killing you as you clamp them to the brakes, you can’t wait for it to end. So whenever you find yourself in difficulties, or things are boring, hang on in there, because it will change.’
Val has embraced this new philosophy as he deals with today’s tough economic climate. Like most small businesses, his faces a challenging time. ‘The economy’s like the steepest hill – you go round the corner and my god! there’s a steeper one. But you know, every hill ends. So it’s a great opportunity to think, when it does end, how should it be?’
So with his staff Val is going through the process of re-inventing themselves, to be ready for whatever challenges lie ahead.
Who would have thought cycling would be so useful to a hair and beauty salon? Well, Val’s very satisfied customers, for a start!
PS Since this profile was written, Val has been resisting his landlord's attempt to take over the first floor of his salon and turn it into a separate flat. It has been a long campaign, supported by the Association, and the result is still unclear.