Mathieu Nayis: the hairdresser of the Red Devils

Five years ago, Mathieu Nayis opened his first hair salon in Anderlecht. A bit later, for some mysterious reason, a player of the legendary Red Devils team came through the door. Today, the members of the Belgium national football team can be found at several salons of his signature, as the Brussels hairdresser with Aramaic roots opened his sixth hair salon, this time in Sint-Niklaas, a few months ago.

Tekst Anja Van Der Borght – Pictures Louka Lambot / Louvisual

Are you under contract with the Red Devils ? 
MN: “No, not at all. It actually works as follows. The players bring their own barber and it is the Federation which decides whether the barber can stay or not. I have been working for the Red Devils for five years now and I take care of the haircuts of 18 of the 27 players. And then there are also some players who are bald unfortunately… In short, I do all of their hair but I’m not under contract.”

It is afterwards when I am done and go to sleep, that it dawns in me: Ooh wow, Jean-Claude Van Damme just sat in my hairdresser’s chair.

Mathieu Nayis

Did you ever get to take care of the hair of bonds coach Martinez ?
MN: “Not yet so far. It’s a barber who has been in the business a little longer who takes care of the staff’s haircuts.”

Why do you think so many stars and footballers come to you ? And did the fact that your first hair salon was located in Anderlecht play a role in that ?
MN: “It was mainly my mindset and my way of working which was unseen in Belgium in 2015 that caused a kind of revolution and attracted a lot of big names.”

Can you explain how your mindset and way of working is different then?
MN: “A lot of hairdressers say ‘don’t worry’ and end up doing something the client doesn’t want and that isn’t better either. Just let me do my thing and the end result turns out to be much better than what the client originally desired.” 

Do you remember the first Red Devil you had to give a haircut and were you nervous at the time ?
MN: “Of the players that are in the team today, that was Youri Tielemans. You should know that I believe very much in God and that I don’t idolize people so much. I will respect an ordinary person as much as let’s say Eden Hazard. And if your name is Eden Hazard and you respect me I will demean myself even more than if you are Lionel Messi. I was always raised that way. It’s my mentality but I was definitely nervous when I first gave Youri Tielemans a haircut. God, on the one hand, has given me the luck that I am standing where I am today but I also have to live up to it all and work to enforce that luck. I think I deserved this chance at that moment. At that moment I felt always a bit stressed but it is especially afterwards, when I am done and go to sleep, that it dawns on me: ooh wow, Jean-Claude Van Damme just sat in my hairdresser’s chair. At the moment itself I’m less conscious of it.”

Which Red Devil was the first one in your hairdresser’s seat – so not necessarily of the players playing now – and were you nervous at the time ?
MN: “The very first one was – if I remember correctly – Michy Batshuayi. Whether I was nervous then, I don’t really remember; it’s been almost seven years now. What I do know is that it did something to me. After all, he was the very first big name in my barber chair and had just signed with Chelsea at the time. It was a special experience for me.”

Once I was asked to cut the hair of Christiano Ronaldo

Mathieu Nayis

Do you remember what haircut he asked for ?
MN: “I remember creating a drawing on the side of his head. A bit in the shape of a lightning bolt.”

Most of the Red Devils play abroad, does this mean you go on site regularly or do you do their hair when they are in Belgium? 
MN: “Before Covid I moved around very often but now I mainly do the hair of the Devils when they are in the country. Let’s say thirty percent of the times I do their hair abroad, seventy percent at home.”

How does that work? Does this styling abroad take place at the club or rather at the players’ homes? 
MN: “Always at their home. They arrange a hotel and a driver who picks me up at the airport. I arrange the plane ticket myself and then arrange with the player afterwards that they reimburse me.”

Do you also do a hair cut of other sports people ?
MN: “Yes. I was counting when another journalist asked me that question, and in five years time I’ve taken care of about three hundred national and international celebrities.”

Do you remember the most impressive question ever ?
MN: “Once I was asked to cut the hair of Christiano Ronaldo but that session was cancelled at the last minute. I was almost in the car on the way to my hotel for a match Portugal – Bosnia in Luxembourg. Actually, I am the hairdresser for Raphaël Guerreiro who plays as a defender at Dortmund and is in the Portuguese team together with Ronaldo. Guerreiro had asked me – if they were playing not too far from Brussels – to pass by and give them both a haircut. Of course I agreed. I was very happy to be able to cut Ronaldo for once. On the way to my hotel, however, I got a call that there was a problem during practice and that the coach forbade outsiders to enter the hotel. Neither the partners, nor the family, nor the hairdressers had access. So I had to return home empty handed. Today, having Ronaldo in my barber chair is no longer an end in itself. Of course it would give me great pleasure to cut his hair but it will not change my CV much. If a new hairdresser around the corner announces that he is cutting Olivier Deschacht’s hair, everyone will talk about it: ‘Did you see that there is a successor for Mathieu Nayis? While I also cut big names like Neymar but everyone thinks that’s normal. When I recently posted on social media that I had cut Eden Hazard, I didn’t think I got the reactions I should. On that front, my status today does bring some frustration because it wasn’t easy for me to get to this point either. I had to fight hard for it. Today, my position has more to do with luck than with talent: if Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar are in the same place as me for – let’s say – a PSG-Real Madrid match, Eden will undoubtedly call me and say Messi and Neymar are right in front of me and you can come and cut them all. “

If you would have carte blanche to do Lionel Messi’s hair, what hairstyle would you give him?
MN: “For that I would first have to see the shape of his head. I see Messi on television but I’ve never held his skull in my hands so I don’t know the shape of his head that well. His current haircut looks good on him but we can definitely improve something. This is exactly the reason why I need to see and feel the shape of his head first. It’s true that his beard looks good on him. And also his white hair matched very well with his dark beard. That combined with a nice dégradé on the sides would suit him perfectly.”

You already mentioned that Axel Witsel is a good friend. He has special hair, is there a specific Red Devil who has more difficult hair than the rest ?
MN: “Not really. They are all relaxed. It would be a bit like asking if it is difficult to manage six salons. At first I would answer ‘no’ but in the end it is. We’ve been through all kinds of things. One day I enter one salon and am faced with a moisture problem, another day in another salon there is a chair broken or an inspection and so there is always something. I have accumulated so much experience in the meantime, so this keeps me always positive. I am too busy to waste time with those things. I have so many goals in my life that I don’t focus on money. I don’t need to make millions. Superstars like Eden or Ronaldo end up paying as much as other VIP clients. I want to be passionate and make sure everyone goes out beautifully coiffed. That’s what pleases me in the end.”

So if Fellaini comes in tomorrow for a dégradé you have to book twice as much time ?
MN: “No not at all. Besides, he has braids now so that cut goes fast.”

Did you ever get to do his hair?
MN: “No, he doesn’t really need it cut either but we get along very well.”

We’ve already talked about the dégradé. Is it a popular hairstyle in your salon or are there other popular styles? 
MN: “The dégradé is the most complicated hairstyle to create, especially if you want to do it well. Belgium is a bit behind in that respect compared to the United States or London. Here, there are not yet so many hairdressers who can do a dégradé to perfection and nowadays there are many actors, lawyers, etc. who want such a dégradé. I even have judges who come to me for their dégradé. It’s not like ten years ago that hair had a negative connotation and you couldn’t go to the disco with a short haircut. Today, it is seen as well-groomed, trendy and classy. A very low, progressive haircut is very classy and you can easily wear it with a suit for a chic occasion. For me, I chose a slightly higher dégradé. More flashy and a bit more aggressive.”

You also work for L’Oréal Professionnel, what exactly do you do for them?
MN: “I am a Redken ambassador for the men’s range.”

So do you also teach hairdressers?
MN: “I give lessons for L’Oréal Professionnel and Hair+Co in which I elaborate on my way of working, my techniques both regarding the beard area and the head hair. I actually reveal my little secrets that will make your dégradé fall perfectly, for example.”

Can you reveal such a secret to us?
MN: “Yes of course. I want to reveal everything but it’s hard to put into words. It’s mainly my way of working, my technique, the little details, … It’s like if you were to ask Messi how do you always score such beautiful goals. He can show you how he puts his foot down, but by just talking about it, you won’t learn much. It’s really by doing that hairdressers on the field can learn something from me.”

Considering you work for L’Oréal, you are undoubtedly aware of the trends and maybe you are also defining them. Is there a trend you can tell more about ?
MN: “The current trends mostly focus on products for men that are taking up more and more space on the market. Even huge space. Men are taking care of themselves more and more and I can only applaud that. I may have a mixed salon ladies men in Anderlecht (the first salon I opened in 2015) but this growth in the men’s market is the reason why all my other salons focus only on men. I have a good understanding that men are grooming more and more and are going to take a bigger part of the hairdressing market. Today the man has grooming done, he epilates himself, he has coloring done, lissages, … it’s no longer like it was in the 1980s and 1990s where he didn’t care much.”

Have you never gone wrong that a WAG was waiting for you at the door with her Hermès outside?MN: “(laughs) No not at all, they all know me very well. Some also go to my salon in Anderlecht which is still a mixed salon ladies/men.”

Do you find that a Red Devil is more demanding than the standard customer?
MN: “It’s true of course that in the beginning they didn’t have as much confidence in me as they do today but I can’t say that any particular Red Devil is more difficult than another. They come, get their hair cut and leave again. They are chill. Of course you do notice that some like Alderweireld and Mertens love their hair very much. But they don’t really show that in the salon.”

Have you ever been asked such an exuberant question by a Red Devil that you refused it ?
MN: “Dries Mertens had asked me to color his hair all white for the 2018 World Cup. I had to go to Russia for that but didn’t get my visa so – if he would stay in Russia for a whole month – I wouldn’t be able to update the color so at some point it would turn yellow and that would be negative publicity for me. Mertens finally let another hairdresser do it and the result a few weeks later was exactly as I had predicted. When Mertens came back I did color his hair completely white and we appeared on TV together. Totally awesome!”

Are you and Dries Mertens also friends ?
MN: “Most Red Devils have become real friends. Eden Hazard comes to my house for dinner, I go with my family to Youri’s house for dinner. Apart from that, we are also looking at opportunities to start up projects together. But for now, nothing concrete is visible to the public. In their minds, I am no longer just their hairdresser. Mathieu Nayis is a name of someone who does business, who doesn’t sleep much, who makes things move and that’s how the players see me today. Some players just come to have their hair cut by my staff. Most players go to our hair salon in Anderlecht, Eigenbrakel or here in Louise during opening hours. In our salon in Braine-l’Alleud, you had the chance to run into Massimo Bruno and Dedryck Boyata until this summer. Bruno has since left for Turkey. In my salon in Sint-Niklaas, you will again come across a Lokeren or Antwerp player with clock-like regularity.”

Do you have a favourite soccer club?
MN: “Yes, of course Anderlecht. I was born and raised there.” 

Did you play soccer yourself ?
MN: “Until I was fourteen, I was a midfielder. As a child I played with Anderlecht and afterwards with several other teams. I played mini-football with Benfica St-Michel from Jette. Some Anderlecht players also played there. I was always very sporty and fit. I took my food with me in Tupperware jars… but the last few years I didn’t even have time to make myself a sandwich. Since I opened my first salon, I’ve gained fifteen pounds but I’m working on it now that I have a little more time for myself. After all, health is important too.”

While styling the VIPs, do you not learn any news before the press or the public knows about it and can you give an example ?
MN: “I know everything ahead of everyone else (laughs). But my lips are sealed. After all, a player’s barber and agent are like family. Indeed, the bond is even more intimate. Therefore, everything that is said must remain confidential. You have to understand that we have a kind of bond of trust and of course I don’t want to jeopardize it.”

Don’t you have a nice anecdote to tell ?
MN: “One day Nathan Kabasele brought Youri Tielemans to me. Nathan had convinced Youri to let me cut his hair once, although he was reluctant because he had his own barber. But Nathan had told him that I do crazy haircuts, in the same style as the haircuts of the Latinos… and that he really had to try it. So one day after opening hours they both arrived at my hair salon in Anderlecht. At the time, there was no barbershop downstairs but there was my office from which I could oversee the upstairs salon via the camera footage. I finish Youri’s haircut, go downstairs to get a wax in my office and I see in the cameras Youri gesticulating madly with his hands and fingers. “I see him saying “wow what a haircut, I’ve never seen that in my life”. But once I come back to the salon, he is his normal self again and very neutral. I didn’t say anything at the time but confronted him with it a few years later during – I thought in Russia in 2018 – and we had a good laugh about it together.”

Where do you see yourself in ten years in an ideal scenario ?
MN: “In an ideal professional scenario, I see myself with an international chain of hair salons, franchises or not. It is my dream that my name is respected. That if I were to open a bar, bowling alley or restaurant that people would immediately know it is good because I am behind it. In my head I hope that everything will be a bit simpler and quieter then. Just enjoying life in my little garden with my wife and children.”

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