Consider if you will, the humble blowout. Freeing us from the tyranny of the bulbous overhead dryers our forebears had to suffer, it's both ubiquitous and unique—there's a stylist offering them on every main street, yet no two ways of doing it are ever the same. But where did it all begin?

W sat down with the woman behind it all, possibly the beauty industry's best-kept secret: 90-year-old Rose Cannan. The originator of the woman's blowout and co-owner of Evansky's, the leading London salon of the 1960s, Rose's clientele pre-dates the better-known British salons like Vidal Sassoon and Leonard of Mayfair. Not one to court the limelight, Cannan had all but disappeared until a few years ago when she was "outed" at a cosmetics conference by a friend in the audience who pointed out that she was very much alive and kicking in the British seaside town of Hove.

Here she tells us about the day she invented the blowout technique:

"It was a Friday and all the chemicals were on the trolley ready to straighten my clients' hair, yet again. I hated straightening hair. And I remembered something that had happened a few days before. I'd been wandering past a barbershop in Brook Street around the corner from our salon in North Audley Street, and I saw the barber drying the front of a man's hair with a brush and a hand held dryer. And this image—of the barber with the dryer—flashed through my mind and I thought, 'Why not for women?'. So I started doing this on my clients' hair, and Lady Clare Rendlesham (the Vogue editor and famous champion of 60s style-setters) came in, took one look at what I was doing and said, in that formidable voice of hers, 'What are you doing Rose!?' and went rushing back out.

"I immediately thought, 'What have I done?'. My usual Jewish anxiety kicked in—Rendlesham could make or break a career. She reappeared with Barbara Griggs, who was a journalist for the Evening Standard, and said, 'Look what Rose is doing!' They went out again. The whole thing was mysterious to me. And that afternoon, this piece appeared in the newspaper about the new blow-wave. That's how it came on the market.

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"Of course, not everyone was pleased. When the article came out in the paper, my husband [her first husband, the late Albert Evansky with whom she owned the salon] said to me, 'Have you gone mad? We've just bought 20 new hood dryers! What shall we do with them? Throw 'em out?!'

"I do feel like I've achieved something. I've freed women from having to sit under a hot dryer for ages, frying on hot days—though in the winter it was pleasant enough. I was the opposite of all those male crimpers—I wanted to operate with clients who were mature women who understood what I was doing for them. We chatted, we talked, it was fun. Sometimes they'd say, 'My husband won't like this.' And I'd say, 'Never mind about your husband, look at it for yourself!' and I'd give them a little lecture about independence.

"Where do I go now to get my own hair done? [Laughs] My hair is best described as 'windswept' as I live near the sea. I've never colored it, and I cut it myself. Why would I let any one else when I can do it myself?"

Photo: Courtesy of Rose Cannan