WHEN Ugo De Luca opened his first hair salon, in Bradford, he brought a touch of Italian style to the city.

It was in that little salon, at Forster Square railway station, that he changed the face of hairdressing - bringing chic styling methods and a Mediterranean zest to the post-war North.

Today his legacy lives on in Bradford. The city’s two Marios Hairdressing salons, on Kirkgate and Market Street, continue to be run by the De Luca family, and next year is the 70th anniversary of the multi award-winning business. Marios is an enduring success story in Bradford, and this month it won Hair and Beauty Business of the Year at the Telegraph & Argus Retail, Leisure and Hospitality Awards.

“It’s a great honour - for everyone that works with us,” says company director Adrian De Luca, looking proudly at the award displayed at the Kirkgate branch. “We are very much a family business, and that sense of family extends to our staff too. A lot of our them have been here over 20 years, we value them greatly. And we treat our clients like family too.”

That inclusive ethos has stayed with the business over seven decades. Many clients have used Marios most of their lives, and some come from across the region, and as far as Manchester. “We have a 77-year-old lady who’s been coming in since she was 17, she remembers my grandad and says he was a good-looking man,” smiles managing director Lucy Corradini, Adrian’s niece.

The Marios story began in 1930s Naples, where Ugo worked in the family salon with his brothers, Mario and Guido. They later went to war, and Ugo was serving in El Alamein in North Africa when he was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp in a Yorkshire mill town. It was here, in Brighouse, that he met a local girl, Mary, who became his wife.

When Ugo returned to Naples after the war, Mary travelled there to visit him. Eventually the couple decided to set up home back in Brighouse, and they opened the Forster Square station salon in 1950. They called it Marios, which was what Ugo was known as to family and friends.

“It was a very busy shop, customers used to queue down the street,” says Adrian. “My father revolutionised gents’ hairdressing, and introduced the concept of the unisex salon.

“He brought vision to Bradford which, in the 1950s, was very much short back and sides when it came to the barbershop.”

As the Sixties dawned, hair stylists like Vidal Sassoon made a name for themselves in swinging London, and Marios was at the forefront of new trends. “Grandad was doing the blow dry before anyone else here. He introduced hair-dryers and straightening irons,” says Lucy. “He brought a new flair for hairstyling to the North. When we won the Hair and Beauty Award the Mayor, Doreen Lee, said she remembered going into Marios for a ‘Pixie cut’ which was quite a radical style at the time.”

While Ugo brought creative flair to the business, Mary looked after the accounts. “She was the backbone of the business,” says Adrian. “She used to greet clients, she was coming in to the salons until she was 86. They were a great team.”

Ugo’s brothers later joined him in Bradford and the family went on to open other salons in the city - Godwin Street and Girlington - and in Ilkley, Halifax and Leeds. Today there’s the Market Street salon, first established in the Wool Exchange in the 1960s, and the flagship Kirkgate salon, originally a coffee shop owned by the family and a salon since 1972.

As the business expanded, the salons were managed by Adrian’s cousins Antonio (Tony), Pino and the late Enzo as well as Adrian, his brother Enzo and sister Adelina.

Today, Tony is director of the Market Street branch, while the Kirkgate salon is managed by Bobby Kachholia, who has been with the business since 1991. “They welcomed me as family right from the beginning,” he says.

Over the years Marios clients have included some famous names - not least Bradford’s Zayn Malik. “His mum still comes here,” says Bobby. Roger Daltry came in for a haircut when The Who played at Leeds, and other clients have included actor Chris Fountain, Bradford Bulls legend Robbie Paul, Emmerdale star Lisa Riley and footballer David Batty.

The Italian blend of creative flair and family warmth that Bradford first took to its heart 70 years ago has grown with the business. Today it has a highly trained team of stylists, colour technicians and barbers - 23 at Kirkgate and nine at Market Street. The longest-running member of staff, Lyn Gill, has been with the company since 1984.

Staff are trained from the age of 16, and much of the training takes place at hair academies in Paris, Rome, Milan and Barcelona.

“We get to see where the colours are made, and pick up new styles before they’ve come out over here. It helps us keep ahead,” says Lucy. “Balayage is really big now, but when we first started doing it people weren’t keen. We had to persuade them that over in Paris and Milan it was on trend and soon everyone would want it.”

Lucy grew up with the family business. “I was very close to my grandad, he used to bring me down to the salon when I was a kid, I folded towels and cleaned skirting boards with a toothbrush. It was very much a case of learning as I went along,” she says. “My mum worked on reception, she organised everyone.”

Lucy has visited the site of the original Marios in Naples, where her grandad’s legacy lives on. “It was quite emotional, seeing where he grew up,” she says. “The family didn’t have much money but he had a sense of style. He always wore a silk shirt - he was known as ‘The Count’.”

Hair trends have come and gone, and Marios has always been at the cutting edge. “It’s very much back to 1950s-style barbering now. Gentlemen’s grooming is big, but it has always been around - in the 1970s men had long hair and used to come in for a blow dry,” says Adrian, who’s had his own share of styles over the years. “I’ve had a mohican and a mullet!” he smiles.

Celebrities influencing today’s styles include the Kardashians, Zayn and the Peaky Blinders. “The Kardashians are hugely popular; people often bring in photos wanting their look,” says Lucy. “Hairdressing is a lovely profession because you’re helping to make people feel good about themselves. We prepare people for weddings, all kinds of special events. We all have busy lives; going to the hairdressers is a chance to take time out for yourself, and enjoy some pampering.”

Adds Bobby: “We create a relaxed atmosphere; we work hard but we make it fun. It’s the Marios tradition - friendly, individual customer service that came over from Naples all those years ago. That’s very much Adrian’s ethic.”

As Marios prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary, Adrian, a director of Bradford BID, is optimistic about the city’s business future. “We’ve got the new market planned, the Odeon development, the City of Culture bid; it’s all a catalyst,” he says. “We’ve always been loyal to Bradford. We’ve survived recessions and Bradford’s hole in the ground and we’re still very much a family business. Here’s to the next 70 years!”

* Visit Marioshairdressing.co.uk