STYLE YOUR HAIR DAILY
When it comes to creating beautiful hair, Kathleen Bray is world class! Having already forged a reputation for excellence with her editorial work for Vogue, Elle and Marie Claire, Kathleen now specialises in advertising work covering major hair and beauty brands, such as Max Factor, Olay and Garnier. However, it is the iconic images that she helped create with Mel & Kim that brought Kathleen to our attention. Kathleen created the hair aesthetic for many of the girls' photo sessions and she worked closely with the sisters through good times and bad. Here she shares with us some of her funny, insightful and, at times, poignant memories:
Kathleen, you have crafted an incredibly successful and global career. How did you start out working in editorial hair styling and how did this lead to you working with Mel & Kim?
I am a lucky girl; I have always done great jobs (laughs). Originally, I started working in 'Smile', in Knightsbridge - which was viewed as a very trendy salon - so I started doing shoots and I had an agent pretty early in my career. After about eight years I went freelance and I started working with the photographer Brian Aris, and it was on the shoots with Brian that I came to work with Mel & Kim.
The sisters are known (almost) as much for their head wear and their use of hair extensions as they are for their music, and they often referred to struggling with their natural hair. Was this something you discussed when deciding on the 'look' for each shoot?
(Laughs) Yes, they both had had difficulties with their hair and struggled with what they could do with it - which was where the hats came in - but look at the difference in the effect of the image once the hair was introduced. Mel looks unbelievable on the 'F.L.M.' album cover, she looks fantastic, and a lot of that is all that hair framing her face. Brian's shoots were always a bit of a journey. It wasn't just, 'let's do something' and 'oh, that's it, we've got it'! With Brian, it was a super-serious business and we were always searching and finding. When I first met the girls (for the Cosmopolitan magazine shoot) they had already released their first single and there was the look with the hats, but with no hair on show, so we were the beginning of finding some hair to form a look. Of course, it's one thing to create a shape with the hair but then the ends have also got to be gorgeous, which wasn't quite the case on the Cosmopolitan shoot, but that shoot lead into all the rest. For the 'F.L.M.' shoot, the real hair extensions were far better quality and they were razor cut. (Shots from the Cosmopolitan shoot were also used for the 19 magazine cover feature, amongst others - see the Press Archives for both articles).
How did you find working with the extensions?
Oh my God, it was fantastic! I was so excited as, at that time, hair was a medium for me to create shapes so, when the girls had their extensions fitted, the world was suddenly my oyster! With the introduction of the extensions my happiness was their happiness and they liked them. There was the 'oh my God we are in there forever' [having the extensions fitted)] but it was big happiness all round, it was fantastic!
Did the hair extensions need to be replaced regularly?
Yes, I remember the girls had them done twice as they only lasted a short while. They had them done at the Antenna salon, which was the only salon that did them in those days and it used to take hours and hours and hours. In those days it was tiny pieces of real hair that was glued in and attached to tiny pieces of your own hair with this little ball of glue. Of course, we are constantly shedding hair so what would happen was, when the hair would fall out naturally, it couldn't release itself because of this attachment.
(Laughs) The extensions sound very difficult to manage.
(Laughs), they could be! I remember, at a later shoot, the girls were laughing because they had all these little bits sticking up and of course they had a little hair/glue bulb attached so it was 'oh God we need to get them done again! Look at these pieces sticking out on the top!' They were laughing about it, but it was all just fun and you never saw it in the pictures.
“It's one thing to create a shape but then the ends have got to be gorgeous which wasn't the case on the Cosmopolitan magazine shoot, whereas later the extensions were razor cut, so it was fantastic! Cosmopolitan was the shoot that lead into all the rest!”
Both sisters laughed as they recalled Mel washing her head of extensions only for them to become badly matted. Did the girls mention this to you at all?
(Laughs) Yes, though this had happened at the beginning of their career before their first single was released and before I met them. Mel had washed them, and it had all gone wrong so they stuffed their hats on as they were off to an event. As I said, when I first met them, they had already been shot in hats but not with their hair styled. The record company had not known how to style them and then, when they saw the girls with the hats it was a case of 'that's the look'. The girls did their own thing style-wise. They were 'Mel and Kim', the image you saw was completely them.
Did Mel & Kim seem comfortable posing in front of the camera and what was the atmosphere like on set?
Yes, totally comfortable, both Mel and Kim were naturals, but it wasn't like they arrived and then they were on camera 10 minutes later. Before they ever got in front of the camera there was a hell of a lot of work that went on, but it was always fun! The girls would arrive, and it would always be great to see them. Typically, they would be both saying,'oh my God, look at the state of my hair' and laughing but it was all in great fun. There was a small annex type room without a door which was 'the dressing room' and you would have hair and makeup working side by side on each of the girls and then swapping over but these girls are sisters so there was never any big tension. It was friendly and it was chatty. It was business but it wasn't difficult, it was social, you know? Brian would always give you your time to do anything and everything. There was a lot of giggling and chatting as we were working and the conversation was always real, totally down to earth and just normal. They were normal, hardworking, excited, fun girls and everyone was always very at ease. Then, once they got onto the set it was a happy environment though very concentrated because Brian would take the girls through things detail by detail.
So, once the girls where on set with Brian, where you able to relax?
No! (laughs). As Brian shot the girls, was watching every second and every bit of hair because we didn't have the retouching in those days. There wasn't Photoshop so everything had to happen on camera. I would always be there watching because every one of those spikes sticking out look like they are just random but if one was not working, I would be in there correcting it. When you shoot anybody, you want to get the best out of them but when there are two people in the picture you need to get them working well individually and working together so it is twice the work. That meant that on set we would need to be very attentive, but everybody was incredibly patient. Brian would be really working the girls but they were at ease because they had had a really social time with us getting ready... and they are sisters, they wanted to do it and they loved doing it. It was serious business in front of that camera, and everything was very directed and they really delivered when they got on set but, up to that point it was fun and excitement. They were the most fun-loving people! Nobody got bored and nobody was saying 'OK I want to stop now'. It was the pursuit of something great and it was exciting.
'F.L.M.' Shoot By Brian Aris
“It was perfect timing because it would have been awful if they had had the album cover and then this look came along afterwards. Mel on that 'F.L.M.' album cover looks unbelievable, she looks fantastic and a lot of that is all this hair framing her face. Had they not had their extensions fitted that day then the look for the album cover would have been something different.”
Was there a clear brief for the hair prior to the F.L.M. album shoot, or did you have free reign to experiment?
No, I don't think there was actually, though the extensions led me to that look. It was perfect timing because it would have been awful if they had had the album cover and then this look came along afterwards. Nobody told me what to do with the hair although obviously the girls had to like it but, had they not had their extensions fitted that day then the look for the album cover would have been something different. It was the 80s and so everything was very spiky, with not a curl in sight, and all of a sudden having all of this hair (with the extensions) and just being able to bundle it around...(laughs). On the 'F.L.M.' album sleeve Mel's hair is more all up and Kim's hair is sort of up but down as well, half and half. My thing would have been working with what I had and creating what I thought was beautiful at the time. Keeping them in a similar vibe but not making them look the same. They didn't have much of a fringe with the extensions but for some of the other shoots, like the David Anthony session, I used to fold the extensions over and shove a bit forward to create one. I think both of their faces work with those kinds of fringes. Styling the shoot did seem to be a kind of creative evolution by the people in the room as I recall but that is how Brian's shoots often were.
Did Mel & Kim have a large entourage of stylists and assistants around them during the shoots?
Actually no! I don't remember there being anybody else there other than us and Mel & Kim. Whats funny is that the jobs I do now are hair advertising jobs and there are 50 million agencies and clients and whatever and, if it's a celebrity, then they've also got their own team. They have got the works but with Mel & Kim there was no entourage whatsoever! They had no airs, no graces. I mean it just didn't come into it, no diva's, no riders, they didn't come with an entourage and they didn't come with any brief. I think their image was completely natural and it just evolved and happened, there was not any planning. It was like water finding its levels. There was no like 'who are we?', 'who are we going to be?', 'who do we not want to be like?' conversations going on. But the 80s were like that, I mean if you were involved in something like this now, then there would be meetings upon meetings upon meetings.
Were the girls specific about their 'look' and what they would and wouldn't wear for a shoot?
My feeling is that if there were choices to be made, it wouldn't be a negative reaction to the ones that they didn't like, it would be excitement and positivity towards the clothes they did, so that's how it would evolve. It wouldn't be like 'oh no, take that away', it was like 'oh wow, this is great!' but on set they were incredibly hard working – incredibly, and they knew who they were! I mean, none of these things [the published photographs] came, how can I put it?... for free! I mean the attention to detail was very, very intense but they knew who they were, and they knew their look. It sounds awful to say but they didn't take their look too seriously, it just happened naturally, it was what it was, and they weren't precious about it ever. It was just there and great and they were excited that it looked great. It was never unpleasant, there was never any bickering, there was never anybody not wanting to look this way or not wanting to work hard. Like I say, it was natural.
So, Mel & Kim really created their own public image?
Yes. I mean when they first came out and they had the hats with the shirts and the high waisted trousers - I would say that came from them as they knew who they were! It wasn't like X Factor people who have to go through a make-over and they have an image put onto them or anything like that. They were young girls who were into clothes so it would have been a positive choice by them. I don't feel any looks were stamped on them by the record company or management team and they didn't have a stylist. The fashion editor would have brought along loads of clothes and the girls would have looked through them. She couldn't have told them what to put on, they would only have worn what they loved. Fundamentally it all worked because they were themselves and because they were sisters, which was the thread all the way through – their personalities and the sister thing. Everything else just fell into place.
How did the sisters' personalities differ?
They weren't wall flowers those girls, were they? (laughs) Let's put it like that! They were both really lively, Mel more so of course. She was absolutely delightful fun. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't that Kim wasn't fun but Kim would fondly be like 'the big sister' and when we were laughing... a lot... Kim was quite funny as she would look at her sister and just say 'Melanie!' (laughs). It wasn't a reprimand, but it was just, you know ... then Mel was all like 'oh my God', laughing and sort of reeling it in a bit. Kim was adorable, fun, lovely, natural but she was aware. Kim was 'the big sister'. She was a bit older and she also had a child. Mel was effervescent and completely natural. This was not like One Direction [the pop group] who were strangers that were put together. Mel & Kim had grown up together and they loved each other. Mel was no different in that dressing room than she would have been all her life, growing up in their front room at home, so they were completely at ease. As I say, Mel could become unaware and Kim would bring her back to the moment and say 'Melanie!' - which was funny because, of course, to Kim she was 'Mel'. (laughs). That was the difference between them. I mean, Mel wouldn't be the one saying to Kim 'hey Kim, sit down, she is trying to do your make up', do you know what I mean? Mel was completely fun, fun, fun! She was a bubbly and effervescent person, you know, there was no craziness, there was no drug fuelled wildness. She was just very chatty and lively. Kim was just slightly ... well she was 'the big sister'. Their sibling relationship went into far more extended and unusual areas than most sibling relationships.
“This was a fashion shoot for the Daily Express. With the extensions I used to fold them over and shove a bit forward to make a fringe. Because the girls were beautiful and fashionable it was like 'hey let's do it on Mel and Kim rather than two models' - they are sisters so they sit well together and they have a really strong image.”
The impression we have is that Mel & Kim were real girls’ girls and quite self-deprecating. Was the image we see of the girls' personalities true to how they were with you in private?
Yes! They were both such great people! There was always such appreciation for what I did for them and there was a lot of excitement. They were girls' girls and they were friends, you know? I did adore them, and it was lovely to work with them. like I say we immediately bonded. It's not that it was easy to forget that you were working but it was such fun. There was no angst with them and there was no 'oh I don't like my hair like this', you know? I don't think they came from such great backgrounds. I mean, they didn't grow up with a silver spoon in their mouths. They were real, normal, lively, fun girls who appreciated what you did for them. It was just like working with your best friends and making them look good and creating something great together.
Did Mel & Kim seem motivated and excited by 'success' to you?
No, it wasn't that cold. It was just the excitement of having a great time. Mel & Kim loved the dressing up and they loved having their pictures taken, they loved their album and they loved the excitement of doing what they wanted to do but it didn't appear to be a big financial plan. They were excited by everything that they were doing and what was happening to them, but they certainly weren't girls who were looking for success at any cost. They were just doing their thing which they loved, and they were passionate and lively about what was happening to them and it was fantastic. It was happening for them and they were doing it together as sisters. I don't really know how long they had tried to get to that point of success, but it was just like 'now we are here!' It was like, oh great, you have had trouble with your hair and now you have someone doing your hair - 'oh great' and 'oh great, someone's taken these really good pictures of us.' They were hard working, grafting, fun loving girls and what they wanted to achieve was now happening and they were having great fun doing it but it wasn't like a 'now we are successful, we are on the road to success'. No, definitely not!
When a career in music beckoned, it was Mel who realised the opportunity for herself and her sister Kim. Did you find that Mel was the driving force when it came to the girls' career or did you feel that their success resulted from the sisters' shared determination?
They were sisters and it was very much the two of them, together and that really came across strongly and intensified their energy. My experience of them was that they both worked equally hard and were on board and involved during the shoots, they were certainly both involved fully. Mel's energy was not necessarily driving force energy. Her energy was just like in the moment/in the room – you know? Mel wasn't unfocused as such, but Kim would help to refocus her at times. It wasn't like Mel's energy was a 'come on everybody, we've got to get this going' kind of energy but other people might have seen differently in the recording studio and stuff. I obviously didn't see any of that, but I didn't feel Mel's energy drove them forward on a shoot. Mel certainly had more energy as a person, but it wouldn't necessarily be more conducive to a better result. It was just like more bubbly in the room and if anything, Kim would slightly harness it forward into the job in hand.
Photo By Brian Aris
“I feel that Kim looks great without a fringe. I remember Mel used to laugh about her own hair because there just wasn't a lot there, just this sticky out mop so the extensions gave me all these possibilities. That stuff in Mel's hair was actually 35ml film and that was a very 'me' thing to do in those days.”
Many remember the sisters suddenly withdrawing from the public eye In June 1987 and the distressing revelations that followed. Mel herself had referenced her pain in interviews prior to this. Being around the girls, where you aware Mel was unwell?
Well, at the start of their career Mel was well and then they very quickly became very, very busy and Mel became less well and there was the question of 'is it busyness or is there something more wrong that's causing this?' Mel had been ill earlier, before they were known, and... I think that was another way in which Kim would be 'the big sister'. Kim had seen her sister go through all that already so that lead to Kim being the one who was protective and seeing what was going on for both of them whereas Mel was always this little bouncing ball of energy bouncing off the walls!
In March 1988, Mel's illness was exposed in the press and the sisters made their first TV appearance, on Sir Terry Wogan's prime time chat show, to discuss the situation. How did you feel to be asked to be involved with the girls at such a sensitive time?
It was a huge compliment to me to be asked to do that at that point for her. I realised that at the time, and I appreciated and respected it. I mean it was a job but it came with so much more than that. I knew Mel had become unwell, but I hadn't seen her as I had been away having my daughter. Then I was told that they were going to do Terry's show and I was asked if I could find Mel a wig? It was really wonderful to be given that opportunity because, anyone that you care about ... if they are seriously ill or whatever, everybody would want to do something for them when typically, you can't. It was wonderful to be able to do something for Mel that she wanted and that made her feel better.
We are all so used to seeing the incredibly brave young girl Mel was from that interview, so full of fight but still with the unfaltering bubbliness and optimism we love her for. What are your memories of that day?
The strength of Mel's spirit was phenomenal! She was so young and to see her character in such a changed situation was ... it was very awe inspiring and incredibly poignant. I had arrived at the TV studio and then Mel came in in a wheelchair and... she had no hair... but she was laughing exactly the same as always. Kim was there, protective and aware of what they were there to do as always, and... it sounds flippant to say but Mel seemed comfortable, she was fine. She was so appreciative of me for finding her the wig and everything, you know they were both always very, very appreciative. I remember I was trying to do with the wig what I used to do with her hair, and she was laughing about it. She was saying 'Oh God, look at me!' and laughing at herself, because she was big and she was shuffling about and couldn't walk and... she was laughing at herself, but in a good way, but that's Mel, you know? Maybe she was trying to put everybody else at ease... I don't know. She wasn't nervous. She was fine, she was happy, she was bubbly, she was ... probably the bravest person I have ever seen really! Once they were on set, I remember I was off camera, watching them, and I was in tears. Mel was so amazing, and her spirit was exactly the same. She was incredibly brave!
Mel spoke very candidly about the effects of her treatment during the interview and seemed to wear her heart on her sleeve.
Yes, there would not have been any secrets with Mel, she would come in and tell everybody everything and those would be the times that Kim might be laughing saying 'Melanie', you know? Mel certainly wouldn't hold back! Also looks-wise, it wouldn't be for vanity that she wore the wig on the show. These were not girls who would have been talking about Botox or anything like that, it was not that way at all. I think Kim was understandably cautious, nervous and protective and all the rest of it that day, but Mel was absolutely fine.
If Mel & Kim came to you as a new act today, how do you think you would style their hair for a photo shoot?
As the young girls they were or as the women they would be today? I guess that either way they would still be the same sharp creative force they were, so I would style their hair to follow their wardrobe and image lead, as it is the only way strong hair can be carried off visually! Also, being the girls they were, they would need to feel comfortable and own it. I think we would have enormous fun now, there would be wigs and pieces to clip on and I think I would vary that enormously. It has become credible for an artist to have a bob one day and long hair the next with no questions asked about reality so we would embrace that and have fun as we always did.
Looking back, why do you think people still remember Mel & Kim and their songs with such love?
The 80's were such an exciting time music-wise and it was a great time for this country musically! I have two daughters and find myself questioning if they have the strong musical influences and trends going on that we had back then. When Mel & Kim came out, they came out big and they were everywhere very quickly! They didn't have a long career, but they made a lot of impact and they had a great sound. It was lively and fun and together they had massive energy, both on and off their records. Then, as well as the music, Mel & Kim made such a visual impact with their image and so it wasn't just the music world the girls were influencing. They also influenced the fashion world but their fashion, the hats, their hair and their look... everything was natural, and it was so strong! Then, on top of all of that, they could also dance! Mel & Kim really did influence many worlds within pop culture! They were both incredible girls and if you heard one of their singles now, you would remember them instantly. They are just unforgettable!
And of course, their 'story' is so rich isn't it?
Yes, it is a terrible and unbelievably tragic story but it was something I lived through so I suppose I didn't really question it at the time but now I reflect, it is like, if it was a fictional movie and I watched it - I'd think blimey, what are the chances of two sisters suddenly becoming massively famous and finding the world is at their feet and then that happens to one of them? What are the chances? It really is an unbelievable story so to have been a part of that... well, I am super privileged. I remember it all vividly, as if it were yesterday as they were such amazing girls and amazing times, I couldn't possibly forget them!
Kathleen, thank you so much for talking with us, you have been wonderful!
Thank you! I am happy to help and I feel privileged to have been asked! You guys really are doing an amazing job for them!