“A mate who had long hair was going to get his cut, so I went with him, and that’s when I saw all the girls working in the salon,” laughs Joe.
“I finished school as soon as I was legally allowed to, at 16, and the next week I started a full-time job in Hair Traffic on Rosemary Street.”
For Joe, hairdressing is more than a job, it’s his passion and life.
“Regardless of cut or colour, to me, my role is all about making the person sitting in front of me look beautiful.”
After leaving Hair Traffic he worked for the Zakks group before setting up his own salon, Pi Hair on Belfast’s University Road, which he sold within the past year, after ten successful years in business.
“I became disillusioned with the salon,” he explains. “Being a hairdresser and being a business owner are two very different things.
“My lease was up after ten years and although I love hairdressing, I didn’t want to be a businessman, because the focus then shifts to money, not hair.”
Joe is now one of the province’s foremost freelance stylists, regularly hired for fashion shoots, TV and film campaigns, advertising shoots and PR jobs across Ireland, while also working out of Belfast salon, Rogue, a few days a week.
This year he’ll be popping up on the small screen, with appearances on RTE One’s Off The Rails, doing makeovers and editorial shoots.
Joe has twice been nominated for the Northern Ireland Hairdresser of the Year category and pulled off a tremendous achievement in winning the much-coveted British Newcomer of the Year title in 1993 – at that time he was the only local hairdresser to have won the award.
And his work has appeared in publications ranging from the Hairdressers Journal to Marie Claire, while celebs including Ciaran McMenamin and Eddi Reader have benefited from his expertise.
After working at New York and Milan fashion weeks in both February and September last year, he’ll be back at both events again in 2011.
“Both operate on such a mega scale, but I’ve found out that fashion weeks are very different depending on where you are,” Joe reveals.
“New York is very commercial, it’s very driven by money, whereas Milan is just all about the clothes.”
Joe has now been freelancing for a year and has more work in Dublin lined up for 2011.
But, while his role is to create stunning – sometimes inventive, sometimes classically beautiful – looks, it’s not all glamour behind the scenes.
“I did a shoot in the Wicklow Mountains and was eaten by midges the whole day,” he laughs.
A typical fashion shoot will see the 37-year-old leave his house at 5.15am to drive to Dublin, where he’ll start the day in a meeting with the photographer and art director and talk through the brief.
“There’s a lot of hanging around. On a Brown Thomas shoot this summer the call time was 9am, and the last photo was taken a 12.30am that night.”
It’s a career Joe obviously loves and lives for, and he’s impressed by the creativity he sees on the streets of the province every day.
“I love the fact that people are starting to find a look for themselves.
“When I was starting out, students shopped in Oxfam and had a quirky look, but then everyone started to look like they were in a boy band or girl band and that individuality was lost, but it’s coming back again.
“The big trend right now is all about texture, it’s about hair being able to move, not sitting poker straight, but moving as and when you move.”
After working with so many models and celebrities, there’s still one woman who Joe would love to get his hands on – professionally-speaking.
If he could style the hair of anyone at all, he’d choose the Danish model Freja Beha.
“I’d love to do some photos with her,” he admits.
The hot model of the moment being styled by our own uber-talented Joe – that’s one photoshoot we’d love to see happen too!
Click on any of the images below to bring up full size and click through. Hair by Joe McGivern.