Behind the Chair with Karyn Holloway

SpotlightJuly 1st, 2024
Charlie Miller, Styling since 1965

Join us Behind The Chair with South St Andrew Street’s Senior Head Stylist Karyn Holloway.

Karyn became a Charlie Miller employee on the 30th of September 2013, becoming one of a handful of employees who didn’t originally train with us. 

Feeling it was time to move on from her previous role, Karyn pondered her next move. She recalled the words of one of her regular clients, who knew our Managing Director Josh and had often insisted she should get in touch with him. Karyn had followed Charlie’s, and later Jason’s, successes throughout her own career and deeply admired their work, and it felt too big a dream to become part of the company she’d known of since her early teens. But at that moment, she felt a change was needed and decided to go for it; she thought “What have I got to lose, the worst they can say is no. 

Karyn likens her quest to become a Charlie Miller hairdresser to being on the Apprentice; it took her 7 weeks to secure the role. In all, she had four interviews and three trade tests with Jason and Ian. She recalls how surreal it was to have people she’d watched in shows and read about it magazines look at her work. “I felt 17 again,” she says. It was hard work, but I wanted it so badly. Every time the phone rang, I was on tenterhooks.”  Finally, she got the call she’d hoped for. “And”, she says “here I am.” 

This moment was all the sweeter considering Karyn had been interviewed by the company before as a 16 year old.

She remembers waiting to be interviewed alongside a boy around her age who she described as looking like a new romantic, while she wore a blue outfit her mum had made her. She’d thought she’d looked “pretty funky”, but the new romantic pipped her to the post. “He’s not here now though!” She jokes, “But I am!” She describes herself as “a Charlie Miller diehard.” It’s clear to anyone who knows Karyn, just how much this company means to her.

She does feel that it’s always been her destiny to be here. She proved that perseverance is key. “30 odd years later, I made it!” She jokes. She does mention that she didn’t wear blue to any interviews this time, feeling it might have been unlucky for her. 

Back as a teenager seeking out her first job, she felt there was so much demand for apprenticeships, that you really had to stand out. It just wasn’t her time yet. Instead, fate took her to Ian Cameron to begin her apprenticeship. It was tough, strict and seriously hard work but she gained her qualification, invaluable experience and memories that have stuck with her throughout her career. 

“It was so different being an apprentice back then.”

Calling in sick was a last resort and a nerve-wracking experience, and there would be one trainee to each hairdresser. The rota system meant that they were paired with a stylist for a month. You’d have lunch when they did, run late when they did, and didn’t go home until they were finished. 

One of the earliest memories in her career is competing with Chris Dickson, now of Dickson & Reid, to see who could dry the salon floor the fastest; “It was a really long salon.” She recalls. “Once we’d locked up, we’d put on Diana Ross, mop the floor, and shimmy across the salon on towels, to see who could get there quickest. Every morning and every night, someone would go in with a hand brush and brush the carpets of the three staircases, then clean the stairwell, and you had to do it quickly, or else you’d be late shampooing the first clients, or late to get home.” She would train twice a week at their night school, and if your model took you until 11pm, then it took you till 11pm. 

It was tough but she loved it.

Looking at the fantastic hairdresser she has become, it was all worth it. She absolutely lived and breathed hairdressing. Always in her mind was the end goal and an appreciation for what she was learning... but she still remembers hiding in the tumble dryers to get a break now and again. 

 When Karyn was 19, the ‘done thing’ was to leave the salon you qualified in and do what they called an ‘improver year’.

This involved moving on to another company and did a further qualification there. This is exactly what she did when she went to work for Bruce Tennant in Fringe on Spittal Street. This is where Karyn learned to put hair up, something she’s now famed for with her clients and colleagues. Bruce taught her everything she knows about classic up do’s, like chignons and French rolls, and she remembers fondly that Bruce made it look like an artform. “I loved watching him do it.” It wasn’t something that Karyn had learned as a trainee, but she’s certainly not the type of person to ever stop learning. She made sure she asked as many questions as possible, soaking up Bruce’s knowledge. His passion rubbed off on her, and whenever the opportunity arose, she’d go on courses and to watch hairdressers like Patrick Cameron.

In Fringe, she also learned foil highlights, when lots of others were still using caps. She remembers there was only one hairdresser who did highlights– calling them ‘star lights’- and she’d always try to make time to assist her and ‘pass up’ to her.  

Karyn remembers her time in Fringe fondly, saying she’s still in touch with Bruce now. When he retired, he even sent some of his clients her way. “He’s a lovely, incredibly talented man.” she says.  

Karyn worked there until she was 21, then decided she wanted to live abroad for a year.

“Some of our friend group had gone to Tenerife in ‘89, so I had saved for around a year and went out to meet them. This was almost like a gap year for me. I didn’t hair-dress, I worked in bars or did PR for nightclubs.” 

Karyn worked in a pub called The Brewer’s Droop, collecting glasses, and it was here she discovered her love for travelling. “I don’t think I was meant to be born in Scotland. I realised how much I loved living in the sun and when the money ran out and I came home, I immediately started looking for jobs abroad.” 

Karyn’s parents were reluctant to let her go again, but she assured them, this was what she was meant to do.  

In the days before social media, everything that was worth knowing about hairdressing came from Hairdressers Journal. There were advertisements in the back of The Journal for jobs on cruise ships or in exotic places. 

An ad for a hairdressing job in Bermuda caught Karyn’s eye, and, as these were the days before the internet, Karyn set off to Waterstone’s on Princes Street, which was where the Apple store is now, sitting in the travel section and surrounding herself with books on Bermuda. Looking at photographs of pink-sand beaches and clear blue seas, there was no question about it: Karyn needed this job.  

Karyn had never written a CV before, so being the creative and artistic type of person she is, she instead made a portfolio of her work, not only photographs of hair but artwork and inspiration. She painstakingly noted everything that she could do, how she went about it and how long it took her. 

The lady who was recruiting was a Mancunian, who had married a man from Bermuda and had just bought a hairdressing business. She was home visiting family when she received the book Karyn had sent her and told her if she could get herself to Manchester, she would interview her.  

Two weeks later, Karyn got the call to say she had the job in Bermuda.

It was all becoming a reality. By November of 1991, she was about to embark on a huge journey, combining her two loves of hairdressing and sun-drenched travel. 

Little did she know that by the end of her first month there, she’d have met the other great love of her life; her husband Phil.

Knowing Phil was originally from London, we ask Karyn what he was doing there. “What was he doing there?! She exclaims. “He was waiting for me!” 

There was a running joke between the couple, which his best man even mentioned at their wedding, that Phil was waiting at the airport with a sign, waiting for the fresh hairdressers to get off the plane. The majority of women who came to work in Bermuda were either hairdressers, beauticians or nurses.  

Besides waiting for his future wife, Phil was living in Bermuda working as a printer, and the pair met each other at a rugby club fundraiser. 

Karyn recalls Phil having nice eyes, good teeth, wearing a “rubbish black, purple and blue shell suit top with lime piping”. 

“Have you got the bottoms to match that?” was her opening line. Phil confirmed he did. “Don’t wear them.” replied Karyn. 

By the following February, they were living together, and Karyn was perfecting her hairdressing skills in Headway.

“I did everything you could imagine. It’s where I learned to do afro hair, cutting and relaxing it, and how to do braiding, dreadlocks and corn rows.” It was mostly the young trainees who taught her these skills, adept at it from a young age.

She worked there for 11 years and then moved to a salon called Tangles for two years.

Karyn had a huge Portuguese clientele, meaning she got to experience many different hair types and needs. Blow drying naturally curly, thick hair in intense, humid heat means that Karyn is now a dab hand at blow dries; those of us who’ve often felt a bit sorry for a hairdresser who’s had to dry our lions’ manes needn’t be concerned with her. “If I can do that, and I did it at 9 months pregnant too mind you, I can do any blow dry!” 

In all, Karyn and Phil spent 13 years in Bermuda, getting engaged, married and having their daughter Ellana, whom they brought home to Scotland aged 18 months.

Karyn went straight back into hairdressing at Clowns and when they closed their doors, she moved to Vincent Bell. 8 years later, she was a Charlie Miller hairdresser.  

With her she brought knowledge of afro hair, beautiful colour work, an outstanding ability to put hair up (not to mention serious strength for big blow dries) and a whole lot of hilarity.

Karyn is warm and friendly with a riotous laugh. These factors, plus many more, are why she’s a stand out teacher. 

Watching Karyn teach is a joy. She is patient and a great communicator, and Karyn vowed to be this way many years ago. “Sometimes I’ll make it fun, or be a wee bit firmer, but I will always be patient and empathetic until they understand what I’m teaching in that session.” With all her years of experience, she can see the subtle signs of something ‘clicking’ for them. 

Whenever the trainee finishes what they’re doing, I’ll get them to stand back, and look at their work. I ask them what they see, and I need them to tell me if there’s a hair out of place or if something could be improved. But if it’s perfect, I need them to be able to see that too.” Back in 2012 when she was considering her career options, something that crossed her mind was to retrain as a teaching assistant and then eventually a primary school teacher. We, along with many of her clients we’re sure, are very glad that she didn’t, but it’s clear she would have been brilliant at it.

“I’d like my legacy to be how I’ve taught people things and having made it fun.”  

Karyn hopes that many years down the line, someone will pass on a tip, trick or some knowledge to another young hairdresser and say “That’s how Karyn taught me.” We can assure Karyn, that there’s no doubt of that. Many apprentices applaud Karyn’s abilities to instruct them, and you can often find a literal queue of trainees waiting for her advice in South St Andrew Street!

Naturally curious and inquisitive, if she sees one of the trainees doing a braiding or knotting technique, she’ll ask them to demonstrate.  

“If I was ever to think I know everything, I should be hanging up my scissors!” 

As much as a lot of trends that get spoken about on TikTok are new names for tried-and-true styles (a butterfly cut is just a new name for a shag, for example) she’s passionate that all stylists should know the terminology.

“I’m quite driven by the thought of someone sitting in my chair and asking me for something I didn’t know how to do; I’d be mortified!”

Of course, with the advent of the internet, this opened up a whole new world for me, I was watching and learning so much on YouTube. Young trainees these days are so lucky to have that at their fingertips. I had to go and seek it out. I’d encourage anyone who wants to be a stylist to use everything at their disposal to learn. I’m forever telling them to follow this person and that person.” 

Karyn’s dedication to her role is evident, but hairdressing is far from her only passion.

“I’m an all-in kind of gal.”

Her most recent pursuit has been Munro climbing, which she’d initially decided to do in an attempt to conquer her fear of heights.

“A friend had been asking me to go and do it with her for years, and I’d always said I didn’t think it was for me. But this year, I decided I wanted to quit smoking, get fitter and get outside more; so I thought, ‘Aw, just do it!'”  

Her toughest climb so far was Benn Narnain in Arrochar, and she says to be honest, she can’t tell us much about it because she’s blanked it out!

But she does know that there was a sheer drop and that she couldn’t look further than where her hands and feet were going next. 

“I started meditating this year, and it’s really helped, I did that before the climb. I kept repeating to myself; “It’s not a fear, it’s a thought,” and I made it. Not that I knew there was a choice, until we started to head back down, and I realised there was a pathway we could have taken!” 

Karyn often immerses herself in what she’s interested in at the time, but she realises that she shouldn’t have watched ‘Sherpa’, a documentary about an avalanche on Everest, before this particular climb… 

 It hasn’t put her off though, she still plans on doing many more. She even wants to memorialise her new-found hobby with a tattoo of her first two Munro’s contour lines.  

Karyn and her friend Catrina have a fantastic way of deciding which climb is next; they decide where they’d like to go for dinner afterwards and plan their next Munro from there. 

Ben Nevis is the ultimate aim for Karyn, she hopes to have climbed it before 2024 is out.  

Spending so much time in nature brings back fond memories of her childhood, when she was her dad’s shadow. “I was always a daddy’s girl. I know places like the Pentland Hills like the back of my hand because my dad taught me so much about the outdoors, and about life really, on our walks together.” 

Aside from spending time outdoors, Karyn does actually have some more relaxing pastimes!

Her comfort show is Friends; she remembers watching the very first episode in Bermuda. She also enjoys anything by Steven King and has recently rewatched Mr Mercedes (a particularly risky thing to be watching on the bus as she tends to do, given the amount of jump-scares). She loves old school musicals like those by Rogers and Hammerstein, particularly The Sound of Music. Her karaoke song would be from one of these movies, or- as anyone who knows her will confirm- “anything by Beyonce.” Her favourite kind of music is Northern Soul. 

Karyn is happiest at a concert or watching something in the theatre and makes the most of the Fringe festival. “I won’t say no to any concert. We were robbed of all that for two years!”

A keen foodie, the best meal she ever had was in Locanda De Gusti, a Napolese restaurant in Dalry, for her 50th birthday. They enjoyed a seafood platter that she recalls was fresh, rustic and delicious. On this particular evening there were lots of Italians eating in the restaurant, where an Italian football match was being shown; the atmosphere was incredible. At one stage, she came back from the loo to find Phil in amongst an Italian celebration, napkin in hand, waving it wildly over his head alongside the others. She hadn’t even been gone 5 minutes. 

If she herself were a food, we come to a very solid decision that she would be a fajita; colourful, fiery and fun, Karyn is soft round the edges but spicy on the inside. And, she likes to get wrapped up and cosy. The fajita is of course, everyone’s favourite dinner. We defy anyone to answer that question better than Karyn just did, because this truly sums her up.

Her manager Roz tells us that there are so many reasons why Karyn is a fantastic hairdresser and a busy stylist.

It’s because of how enthusiastic she is, of how well she keeps on top of her career as well as what’s happening in the industry. It’s about her energy, her vast experience, and just the manner in which she treats people. Her regular clients are people who have similar personalities to her, and so she’s developed deep friendships and become huge parts of their lives. She’s not ‘just’ their hairdresser. She’s aware. Aware of trends, products, and she is incredibly thoughtful, a good listener and always present.

She pays attention to the smallest details and wants to remember as much as she can about the individuals who choose to come back to her.”

When you’ve been in the industry a while, your clientele does begin to reflect who you are as a person, so you must be your genuine self to make that happen, and this is exactly what Karyn has done. On top of that, she’s an incredibly passionate, intelligent and wise woman who has brought so much to the company in the time she’s been here. 

“I love my job.” Says Karyn. I love standing behind that chair, creating and making people feel good about themselves. It’s a great job to have, and a wonderful thing to look back on and say you’ve done. For any bad experience you might have, you have so many more amazing ones. Those moments of changing someone’s hair and they cry because they love it so much, or seeing that you’ve made someone more confident, that’s truly special.” 

Thankful for the career she chose, she’s also incredibly grateful for her family, her health and the life she’s led to this point. She’s grateful for every single day, and the fact that she has no regrets.

She may not have begun her journey here, but we, in turn, are grateful that she will be with us until she does indeed hang up her scissors.

Book an appointment with Karyn here.

Karyn talks more about her love for occasion hair here.

You can also keep up to date with all the things our wonderful teams get up to by following us on our social channels, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tiktok.


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