In 1964, Tony Rodgers and his wife Bernie opened the Witches Hut in a basement on Dublin’s South Frederick Street. The salon became, to quote the Sunday Independent, “the top hairdressing salon in Ireland where all the in-crowd went.” Dublin had seen nothing like it before. Staff danced and sang to movie soundtracks, Hieronymus Bosch paintings hung on the wall, and when it got hot in the summer, the stylists worked outside. Joe Power (Zorro) recalls his time there: “We loved our jobs. Every cut was a performance, and the cut had to be flawless. It was theatrical, it was fun, but it was always about the passion.” Robert Chambers, who worked there from 1965 to 1973 says: “It was terrific, we were the superstars, we were passionate about cutting hair. Vidal Sassoon and Tony Rodgers were our inspiration.”
Vidal Sassoon gave Tony Rodgers his first hairdressing job back in 1955. The soon-to-be world famous hairdresser hired Tony and within ten weeks promoted him to stylist. They had a lot in common. Both were born in London to Jewish parents, had been messenger boys, loved football (Vidal: Chelsea, Tony: Spurs) and only ended up as hairdressers because of their mothers. Tony, although gifted, had no qualifications but watched and learned from his boss: “When Vidal was cutting, his face contorted. People would stop and stare and just watch him because it was so intense. He was a great artist.”
In 1957, an Irish businesswoman headhunted Tony and offered him a job in Dublin. Tony knew little about Ireland but the lure of a wage five times the industry average convinced him to move. Billed by The Swan Rooms Salon as “Mr Tony from Mayfair”, the handsome and talented twenty-five-year-old became a star at the South Anne Street salon where women often queued for four hours. Tony quickly settled in Dublin. He turned down an offer to return to Sassoon’s, bought a white Triumph TR2 sports car and he met and married Bernie. When a fire closed the salon, Tony moved his family to New York where he worked at Saks before returning to Dublin in 1964.
Back home, Tony and Bernie decided to open their own salon. “The basement in South Frederick Street was a dump, but the rent was cheap.” At ten shillings a week, it cost half of what Tony charged for a haircut! Bernie looked after the business, Tony the salon. “I knew exactly what Vidal had done. You trained people but they won’t have reputations, so you have to promote them. I knew the boys were good, and they were getting better, better than me. My stylists became known and people talked about them.” Business at the Hut boomed – even back then it seems, people bought experiences, not products. They expanded and opened new salons and training schools in Nassau Street, Henry Street, St Stephen’s Green, Limerick and Cork.
But with their marriage breaking up, business suffered and by the mid 1980s everything closed. Staff left and set up their own successful salons all over Ireland, scattering the gold dust from the Witches Hut on their way. Tony, in his own words, ‘disappeared into oblivion.’ Now, at 86, he is a sculptor but still cuts hair for friends and family. “I was the most famous hairdresser this country is likely ever to have. It doesn’t mean to say I was the best, but I was the one they talked about.” And we still do Tony, we still do!
Words: Brian McMahon