Grande dame of hair still styling after 51 years

Iris Muter is celebrating 51 years in the hair industry.

Meadowridge hairdresser Johanna Christina “Iris” Muter has spent more than half a century keeping her customers looking stylish and feeling happy.

She is celebrating, who works at Hepburns Hair Salon, has 51 years of experience in the industry.

Born on a farm in Bredasdorp, Ms Muter knew from an early age that she wanted to be a hairdresser.

She received her nickname, Iris, from her mother.

“My mother said I looked like a wax doll when I was born, with these bright blue eyes. Someone had brought my mother some Iris flowers and it made my blue eyes stand out more against my pale skin and the name just stuck”.

Ms Muter began her apprenticeship in 1965 at the age of 17 at a hair salon in Rondebosh.

Once qualified as a hairdresser, her first permanent job was in Hout Bay.

“During my early days, I had my worst experience in the hairdressing industry when I was still working at the salon in Hout Bay. A customer with really thick hair came in to thin it. It was my first time using thinning scissors which has two sets of teeth (blades) on both ends. I didn’t comb the hair after every layer of thinning, and I got such a big fright when I saw my entire client’s hair falling out. I nearly had heart failure. Luckily for me it was just the hair that had been thinned down,” Ms Muter laughs.

She worked for a period at a hairdresser in Blue Route Mall, where she was recruited to work for her current hairdresser by the owners themselves. “It’s been lovely over the years and some of my clients have been with me since I first started in Hout Bay. Luckily for me, none of my clients do their own hair so I have not seen a decline in clientele over the years,” said Ms Muter.

“As a hairdresser you must remember that your clients come first and you must always show respect. You need to be supportive and sympathetic when your clients are going through a tough time. Clients take you on as a friend and confide in you about their personal life. They (clients and colleagues) have become some of my closest friends and are like family to me,” said Ms Muter, who was left devastated last year when her mother passed away at the age of 92.

She had lived with her mother for the last 15 years of her life and they had travelled together.

She helped nurse her mother during her illness and said she got through this tumultuous time with the support of her bosses, colleagues and clients.

In 2014 she became a grandmother, when her daughter, Carla Doughty, gave birth to a little boy, Kayden.

Ms Muter lived in the Bergvliet and Meadowridge area when her daughter was in school.

“In my day it was a little bit easier to juggle being a working mother and a full-time hairdresser because day care was easily available and I had a nanny at one stage” said Ms Muter.

During the early days in her career, Ms Muter competed in hairstyling competitions and did the hair for the South African Wool Board fashion shows from 1969 until the late 1970s.

Over the years the modelling industry has influenced hair trends, as well as popular culture, such as the Purdey hairstyle, a mushroom cut, made famous by Joanna Lumley or the Lady Di, Princess Diana hairstyle, said Ms Muter.

“I have seen so many trends over the years, but an unusual trend which is still requested up until today is the perm, which I wore for years but I do miss the body (volume) of the perm,” Ms Muter joked.

“For me the most classic style is the bob. You can put gel on and make it funky. You can style it to look very elegant. I have noticed there are some of the older hairstyles for weddings and matric balls which are starting to trend again such as the different types of plaits,” said Ms Muter.

“I have found that over the years the Brazilian blow out as well as colouring has become more popular with the younger generation, which in my days only the hairdressing apprentices would dye their hair,” said Ms Muter.

Ms Muter’s advice to others who want to pursue a career in hairdressing is always stay up to date with the latest trends.

“Always observe what other stylists are doing and learn with your eyes, and never think that you know it all because you are never too old to learn. If you pick up a problem, especially when hair colour is concerned, always ask for advice. If you are efficient in what you do, loyal and trustworthy, you will go far in life. It is also important to keep up with the latest trends on social media platforms such as Facebook, tutorials on YouTube and educational training,” said Ms Muter.

Commenting on the issue of hair which has been debated in recent weeks after protests at Pretoria and Sans Souci Girls high schools, Ms Muer said: “It is an unfortunate matter, but if a school has a conduct of rules about their hair and uniform it must be abided by. It’s the way the school runs. I was in very strict schools and I had to abide by the conduct of rules no matter what,” said Ms Muter.

“I would love to continue as a hairdresser for as long as my clients will have me. It’s been an amazing time. I have lovely and very loyal customers as well as supportive,” said Muter.