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Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year 2015: Let the search begin

The Belfast Telegraph 2014 Woman of the Year in Hair, Beauty and Fashion Leisa Stafford tells Stephanie Bell what it’s like working with Gillian Anderson and why this year is set to be even busier than ever, both at home and abroad

Twenty-five years after starting out as a young creative determined to push the boundaries in hair styling Leisa Stafford is still raising the bar today — and not just in Northern Ireland but across the world.

If there is a happening fashion event in Belfast, then the chances are you will find Leisa behind the scenes transforming the models with her cutting edge styles.

And on the world stage the winner of the 2014 Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in Hair, Beauty and Fashion is in demand along with her husband Paul to showcase their talents at the highest level.

Both Leisa and Paul share a mutual obsession with hair which has earned them the respect of the industry globally.

They not only create but dictate the new season’s styles.

While Paul still spends a huge part of the year travelling the world, Leisa has chosen to cut back on overseas invitations, preferring to concentrate on running and maintaining standards at their salon, Stafford Hairdressing on Belfast’s Lisburn Road.

“I took the decision to try and cut back and just do one or two big shows a year as well as local events,” she says, snatching a rare half hour to chat before the salon opens.

The Christmas and New Year period are among the busiest weeks of the year for her but then every week is busy at Staffords and for Leisa there are few spare minutes in any given day.

Raising her voice a fraction to be heard over the sounds of a busy salon, Leisa continues: "Paul is away a lot and with our two girls, one of us has to be at home. Besides, I love the salon and the day to day work there and for me that is where the real buzz is now.

"We both love hairdressing as much now as we did when we started out. I would say Paul is an anorak when it comes to hairdressing, but I do have every bit as much enthusiasm as him, although in a different way.

"I love working with my team and my clients and keeping the standards up in the salon which in itself brings a lot of challenges."

The couple's two girls, Joni (13) and Ava (11), are their priority and Lisa has organised her work so that she can juggle her career with being a mum.

She no longer works late nights or Saturdays so that she can be at home for the girls.

The girls come into the salon after school until their mum finishes at five and are very much part of the Stafford hairdressing family, helping out by making coffee for clients and enjoying the buzz which never stops there.

They enjoy the high glamour of the events their parents style and will usually accompany them when they are doing editorials or fashion shows.

There have been so many events this year that the couple did not get a chance to take any holidays.

Leisa (46) is known for her signature feminine but edgy look which has featured on billboards, magazines and television across Northern Ireland.

She heads up the Stafford Art team in fashion shows and media events and her hair colouring techniques and skills have been worn by a long list of celebrities including Sharon Corr, Amanda Donohoe and, more recently, Gillian Anderson in The Fall.

She confesses: "I haven't even watched The Fall - I can't - I'm a real scaredy person when it comes to things like that, but people have talked so much about it and said such good things that I might just buy the box set.

"Gillian Anderson was lovely and really professional. I did her colour for the first series and again in the second series. It was really exciting.

"I coloured it and Paul cut it. In between series she had to have her hair really bleached for another programme and I came in to get the colour back on track.

"She is very serious about her acting and really gets into the part. Her whole conversation and concern with her hair was about getting it to suit the character she plays in The Fall and it was all about wanting to be that person." Leisa, who has a trophy cabinet full of top awards and was British Hairdresser of the Year in 2004, started her career 25 years ago working at Alan Boyce and Co, who now owns Toni & Guy.

One of the biggest and most progressive hairdressing companies in the province in the Eighties and Nineties, it was the perfect environment for Leisa to hone her talents and let loose her creativity.

Alan was working on fashion and hair shows in London and took Leisa under his wing, allowing her the freedom to work alongside him, creating new styles for the catwalk at major events.

He proved the perfect mentor and by the time he moved to Toni & Guy, Leisa and Paul had developed a passion for the creative side of hairdressing and teamed up to work on shows at home and abroad.

Back then they weren't making any money at it but doing it for the sheer love of it.

Leisa says: "Alan was very cutting edge at the time and I learned a lot from him. His salon was very ahead of its time.

"When Paul and I started working on the shows in those early days, it was frustrating at the time working so hard and not getting paid but we loved it and learned a lot. Standards have definitely been raised since then and there are a lot of very good salons in Northern Ireland now, in every town.

"In fact, Northern Ireland hairdressing is completely different today. It used to be that people would go to Dublin for really classy styling, but now we have found the opposite and people in the south are coming here now, which is great.

"You have to send stylists to England now to keep up with the latest training. We have such a young team in the salon who are so into their fashion and into progressing - and they really inspire me and keep me on my toes."

Leisa describes being named the Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in Hair, Beauty and Fashion as "an incredible confidence boost".

Confidence is something you don't imagine someone at Leisa's level would lack and it says a lot about her as a person that she accepts her creative learning is constant and she takes nothing for granted.

She says: "Having been in the hairdressing industry for over 25 years it was a huge honour to be recognised, not just within the craft but in the larger fashion arena.

"Particularly so as my main interest outside my salon work is session styling working with photographers, make-up artists and designers. The award highlighted the talent and skill that thrives in the beauty and fashion world in Northern Ireland, and winning it in 2014 was a personal career highlight. "

Already, 2015 is shaping up to be another exciting one for the Staffords and Leisa has again hand-picked a number of top events to take part in.

The couple are especially thrilled to have been chosen as one of only 10 salons in the UK to demonstrate their techniques at the Alternative Hair Show in the Royal Albert Hall in October.

It's a hugely prestigious event, acknowledged as a worldwide showcase for the best in hairdressing.

Leisa says: "It's an absolute honour to be chosen. It's a very visual presentation which will involve weeks of prep and choreography, and is one of the biggest shows in hairdressing, showcasing the creme de la creme.

"It will take months of prep but I believe we are up to the challenge and we are hoping we can pull it off. We are very excited about it."

Also this year, Leisa will be part of the Stafford hair team demonstrating some of her session styling tips for Denman brushes in New York in March.

She adds: "I'll also be launching my own collection of looks which I'm shooting in London in April for release in summer 2015.

"Stafford Hair will be demonstrating in California in January and March as well as taking part in the Unite Global Sessions in London in October.

"We also have plans to showcase at the fantastic hairdresser awards in Dublin the same month. That, plus the numerous shows and sessions already planned, is making 2015 one of our busiest years."

While the fashion world is already gearing up for the launch of spring-summer 2015, Leisa shares with us her expert take on what will be the key looks for next year.

She says: "This year will see the undone glamour look - strong sexy haircuts perfectly tailored but dressed to look worn, even a little unkempt.

"The new mid-length look will have an emphasis on strong outlines and centre-parted fringes creeping over heavy, made up, smudgy eyes combined with Beaujolais, chocolate and cognac tones.

"Products will be light and feathery as opposed to heavy and solid, hair will move naturally while still having military form and shape. Alexa Chung is still the poster girl for the new hair generation, but look out for the Seventies- inspired pixie skinhead come this summer."

Now nominate a  woman you know...

The Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year Awards, in association with The OUTLET, Banbridge, is now recognised as the biggest celebration of women in Northern Ireland. Once again our annual awards extravaganza will culminate with a gala dinner at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Shaw’s Bridge, Belfast, which will be staged on Thursday, March 19.

Nominations are now open for our 2015 awards which will honour women in 10 categories.

The OUTLET, Banbridge, is Ireland’s largest dedicated outlet centre where you will always find discounts of between 30% to 70% on top designer and High Street brands including Gap, Timberland, Jaeger, Bedeck, Nike and M&S. The OUTLET’s Siobhan McKeown said: “The OUTLET, Banbridge, is delighted to once again sponsor the Belfast Telegraph’s Woman of the Year Awards. It is an amazing opportunity to acknowledge the achievements of women that inspire us all through their actions and abilities. “

As usual, a winner and two runners-up will be honoured in each category on our gala awards night which will also see the crowning of the overall Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year 2015.

For each category, the nominee should have been in her line of work for at least 12 months and have shown particular success, a demonstrable measure of achievement, how she inspired others around her, and how she has demonstrated passion, drive and energy in what she does.

The closing date for nominations is noon on Thursday, February 19, 2015. If you know someone who deserves recognition, then get nominating now in one of the categories below:

1. Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in Education

2. Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in the Voluntary Sector

3. Belfast Telegraph Sportswoman of the Year

4. Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in the Health Sector

5. Belfast Telegraph Mum of the Year

6. Belfast Telegraph Inspirational Woman of the Year

7. Belfast Telegraph Businesswoman of the Year

8. Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in Hair, Beauty and Fashion

9. Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in the Arts

10. Overall Woman of the Year, sponsored by The OUTLET

  • To nominate a woman you know, tell us in 500 words or less why you think they deserve to win an award. State clearly what award you are entering them for and include a daytime telephone for yourself. Entries can be submitted in three ways: online at  www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/woty, by email to womanoftheyear@belfasttelegraph.co.uk or by post to Woman of the Year, Features Department, Belfast Telegraph, 124-144 Royal Avenue, Belfast, BT1 1EB.

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