Alex Brownsell, the visionary hairstylist behind Bleach London, offers advice to creatives in beauty and beyond

Since getting her start at 16 years old, Alex Brownsell has revolutionised the industry with her technicolour editorials and at-home hair dye brand

Alex Brownsell's Bleach London brand shoot
(Image credit: Alex Brownsell)

You might not recognize Alex Brownsell’s name, but no doubt you have seen her work in dozens of magazines, all over your instagram feed and all over the streets. That is because Brownsell is one of the industry’s most prolific and notable stylists, with Gucci, Celine, and Diesel among her many clients (she does approximately 100-150 editorial and private client jobs per year), as well as the thousands of hair dye enthusiasts that use products from her at-home hair dye brand, Bleach. 

Alex Browsell working on Vivienne Westwood's hair

Alex Browsell with Vivienne Westwood

(Image credit: Alex Browsell )

Yet for all of Browsell’s atmospheric success, she says she ‘still feels imposter syndrome. From helping with blow dries and blue rinses at my mum’s salon at age 12 to spending most of my twenties hair styling for Gucci under Alessandro Michelle, I’ve always had moments feeling like I’m not good enough and that at any minute the whole thing will fall away. And with Bleach, building a business is hard, it’s been full of twists and turns, feeling like you are teetering between world domination and total collapse. So I guess I’m still waiting for that moment when I feel like I have cracked it. But I don’t think it’ll come until it’s all over and I have time to digest it all!’ 

Alex Brownsell hair design of red hair with shaved heart

Larissa Hofmann photograph with hair by Alex Brownsell  

(Image credit: Alex Brownsell )

Clearly though, it's not going to be over anytime soon. Brownsell continues to work with some of the biggest names in fashion and Bleach continues to grow; and while her success can certainly be put down to her talent, it is also, clearly, the result of an unwavering work ethic.

Having grown up in a Midlands village, Brownsell hustled her way into the London scene by securing a coveted trial position with Daniel Hersheson when she was just sixteen years old. From there, she set up a makeshift salon in her East London house share and called it Bleach. Despite, or perhaps because of, charging customers '50 quid and a bottle of wine' for a session, Bleach skyrocketed in popularity, eventually leading to a partnership with Topshop, salons across the country, and an at-home range of products sold throughout the world. 

Bleach London campaign for Violet Skies lilac hair dye

Bleach London campaign for Violet Skies lilac hair dye, with hair by Alex Brownsell

(Image credit: Alex Brownsell )

Looking back on it all, Brownsell says if she could offer any advice to her younger self it would be to ‘learn to be confident in your own abilities - don’t wait for the approval of others and don’t bend to other peoples’ will.’ To those trying to establish their place in the industry now, Brownsell says, ‘ always follow your ideas to completion, because if you don't, someone else will.’ 

Alex Brownsell for Celine campaign

Alex Brownsell for Celine campaign 

(Image credit: Alex Brownsell )

But what about those moments you hit a creative block you just can’t get past? For Brownsell it's important to just ‘keep going. It’s a cliché but ninety-nine terrible ideas often precede one good one. And sometimes you don’t know which ones were the good ones until years later. Some of what I’m most proud of is the early Bleach stuff that cost no money and made no money. Friends modelling and taking photos and me doing hair just for the sake of it. Sometimes you just need to find a way back into that teenage headspace and do something for no reason.’ 

Alex Brownsell shoot with Larissa Hofmann

Alex Brownsell shoot with Larissa Hofmann

(Image credit: Alex Brownsell )

When it comes to finding inspiration for projects, ‘I try to do the right things,’ she says. ‘I buy overpriced vintage hair books that I never open. I have a digitised library of scans of thousands of physical media I’ve collected over the years - which I’ll happily share with the next generation of hairdressers when the time comes. But as wanky as it sounds, my practice is my process. From shoots to editorial to my business to the salons I grew up in and opened I’m never away from hair. And I’m never happy with it so the ideas keep evolving. No creation is ever finished.’ 

Thankfully for anyone with an interest in hair, we will be reaping the benefits of Brownsell’s creations for many years to come. 

Beauty & Grooming Editor

Mary Cleary is the Beauty & Grooming Editor of Wallpaper*. Having been with the brand since 2017, she became an editor in February 2020 with the launch of the brand’s new beauty & grooming channel. Her work seeks to offer a new perspective on beauty, focusing on the pioneering personalities, product designs, and transformative trends within the industry.