ALTHOUGH she has worked as a hairdresser for 40 years, Patricia Mulcahy says she is only 28 in her head.
Patricia, 55, a mother of four grown-up children, was recently honoured along with 74 other employees for their long-standing service at Peter Mark.
Patricia, who now works part-time at Peter Mark in the Wilton Shopping Centre, started her career at the hairdressing chain in 1979 at the Savoy in Cork. When the Wilton branch opened, she was transferred there. Her first management job was at Peter Mark in the Queen’s Old Castle.
“I was there for a year but my heart was in Wilton. I got back there as a manager, a job I had for 13 years. Then I went part-time.”
So happy is Patricia with her career that she is trying to convince her 18-year-old daughter, Stephanie, to follow in her footsteps. But Stephanie wants to be a tattoo artist.
“I’d love her to do hairdressing. It’s a fabulous trade. You can go all over the world with it now. I never did. I didn’t get those opportunities. Peter Mark is a company that’s known worldwide.”
Patricia left school at 15.
“At the time, there was a recession. When you reached 15, you were legally able to work. One of my neighbours asked me if I ever thought of hairdressing as Peter Mark were taking people on. So I went into the Savoy and couldn’t believe my luck when I was taken on.
“I did my apprenticeship for three to four years. The first year was blow-drying. You moved up after that. Now you can do your apprenticeship in two and a half years if you’re eager enough.
“For me, doing my apprenticeship at Peter Mark was like walking into Brown Thomas. It was a big deal.”
Patricia is a stylist. She has a huge blow-drying clientele and also does all the perms in the salon. She adds: “I have a technician who does colour for me.”
Such is her expertise that Patricia has two clients who drive up from Kerry to her.
She is well used to people showing her photographs of film stars, asking that Patricia copies their hair styles for them.
“I try to tell the client that the photographs are air-brushed. I feel like saying that I don’t have a wand but I’ll do my best. A lot of what you see now is way out. It’s all fancy colouring. A lot of people now get balayage. That would be long hair with half of it blonde and dark re-growth. It’s not like meche which people get done every six weeks. Balayage lasts for five or six months.”
Over the years, Patricia has seen the mullet come and go during the punk years “but the bob will always be there”.
Another constant is that, as a hairdresser, she has to be a counsellor and a psychologist, listening to clients’ problems.
“Your clients become your friends. I’m not saying that lightly. I have the most beautiful clients that I’m doing for years. They’re like my buddies. You have to have that very personal touch with a lot of the clients. You need to be a good listener. Hairdressing is 60% personality and 40% technical.”
Patricia doesn’t think that we are over-treating our hair, despite the amount of hair products bought by women and men.
“I can’t believe that people will come into a salon and will spend €160 on their hair colour and then go off to the supermarket where they’ll buy cheap shampoo and conditioner. The cheap stuff takes the colour out of your hair. The shampoo you buy in supermarkets is full of soap. When you wash your hair with it, your hair feels like chewing gum and you’re lashing on the conditioner to soften it out. But if you buy salon products, they last for three times longer.”
Patricia wears her hair in a bob.
“It’s chin length because my hair is very fine. It’s coloured blonde because I’d be quite grey now.”
While the standard advice is not to wash one’s hair every day, Patricia washes hers daily.
“I do that because it gets greasy quickly and I just hate looking at greasy hair. You know yourself, if your hair is washed, you feel a million dollars. Once your hair and your shoes are good, you’re laughing.”
Patricia’s husband often asks her when she is going to retire. Her response is that she’ll keep working “till I’m crawling out the door.” While she only works on Thursdays, she goes in for 8.30am and often doesn’t get home until 9pm.
“I would be buzzing and wrecked on Friday. But I don’t care because I love what I do and being part of a team.”
The Peter Mark Long Service Awards took place at the Westin Hotel in Dublin, recognising employees from the company’s 70 salons around Ireland who have worked there for ten years plus. Seven employees were honoured for 40 years of service. That’s a lot of hair care, delivered with dedication, as Patricia will testify.