Guido Palau's good hair days

Among connoisseurs, Guido Palau is one of the few to have obtained the status of mononym. Mention the British barber’s first name to in...


Among connoisseurs, Guido Palau is one of the few to have obtained the status of mononym. Mention the British barber’s first name to insiders and they can easily tell a litany of his memorable style “moments”. Think of the glamorous and lavish models in the George Michael “Freedom!” video “90”; the Grunge-era Calvin Klein campaigns featuring Kate Moss while she was still abandoned; intense theatrical collaborations with Alexander McQueen; and the campy Versace shoots directed by Richard Avedon.

Usually, Palau and his team spend months each year traveling the planet creating influential advertising campaigns and styling hair for the biggest designer shows. The pandemic limited those activities, of course, and yet did little to dampen Mr. Palau’s creativity. He always attended shows and photoshoots, including an arrest British Vogue January 2022 cover which features 56-year-old model Kristen McMenamy with her center gray mane and dyed in rainbow tones. For much of the past two years, however, Mr. Palau has focused his energies on a series of hairstyling experiments posted on Instagram and now collated in a new book published by Idea: “#Tests Hair.”

Reached by phone at his weekend home in Bridgehampton, NY, the hairstylist, who is 59, spoke of his unlikely career path and his belief that hair can be a means of transformation.

Guy Trebay You’ve been at the top for so long that people tend to forget how you got there.

Guido Palau To be honest, having grown up in England in the 60s and 70s, I was probably the least likely to be successful.

GT Was it in Bournemouth?

GP Yes, Bournemouth was a seaside town where young people brought their styles from London. I couldn’t wait to be on the public holidays to see what Londoners would wear, although it’s not like I knew the small world of fashion at the time.

GT It’s amazing how much of what would later become the mainstream of fashion stems from these subcultures.

GP England during this period was full of street culture. There were a lot of subgenres. I had no deep desire to style my hair, but always kept an eye on people’s appearance. I had traveled across Europe before moving to London, being young and irresponsible. It was fun, but when I came back to my hometown at 19, I had to think of something to do for a living. I had a few girlfriends doing my hair and I was like, “I can do this.”

GT In no time, you got hired and fired by Vidal Sassoon.

GP Working for Sassoon was a really big deal. The living room was on South Molton Street, a closed pedestrian street that looked like a catwalk. I was far too shy to be a peacock myself, but I was in awe of people who would perform this way, and I was obsessed with how people looked. It was formative, although I didn’t realize it at the time.

GT It makes perfect sense that you become known for your array of cultural benchmarks.

GP Going to clubs was my education. London was that melting pot of creative people who wanted to be designers or pop stars. I was going down to clubs with my new friend David Sims, a young assistant photographer, and we both started to form a sort of gang and build our own visual reference library.

GT In a funny way, the fashion is reminiscent of Robert Frost’s poem: “Home is the place where, when you have to go, they have to welcome you.” “

GP Fashion is that fun and dysfunctional playground for the marginalized. This is what binds us together. I was very lucky in my career because I was quickly spotted by magazines; it wasn’t that it was my skills.

GT It seems overly modest.

GP When I was a cranky teenager, confused about things, my dad would say, “You are really lazy and you’ll never do anything on your own.” Even now, luckily I can do nothing all day.

GT Doing nothing is grossly underestimated.

GP I still dream like I did when I was a teenager. I imagine characters or something that I could do with hair. Daydreaming is part of the job. I dreamed of this book.

GT Can you talk about it and how you started “#HairTests? “

GP I’ve always met designers before the shows to try on models and get ideas. I photographed these looks on my phone to show them to my team. Then people would also ask me for backstage photos to post on their accounts, so I was already taking those photos.

GT It looks like pretty straightforward documents. “#HairTests” comes close to something Cindy Sherman could have done.

GP It was not a good photographic exercise. When things started to slow down, I still needed content. People are very sensitive to new images. The thing with Instagram is, you have to feed it.

GT Maybe what I’m answering here is the format. You’ve only shot in profile, period, but there’s this formal, albeit improvised, way you create ephemeral sculptures and unexpected transformations using the medium of hair. One model looks like a Klingon, another looks like a character from a De Sica movie.

GP #HairTests ”is a sketchbook, really. At first I thought,“ I’ll ask the models if I can do my hair, and I’ll just wink my phone. ”I had planned to do. a little fanzine. I even went to Staples and stapled all these things together and thought, “Oh, that’s not too bad.”

GT Then Idea came along, and now you have a volume of $ 90 that looks like it should be sold at Art Basel.

GP I really don’t want it to sound like I’m getting bigger. It was all very discreet. We had a group of kids and we would sit them down and sculpt their hair. I looked at them to see what fantasy they gave off.

GT Still, the book has a very cool design, that fluorescent ring binder wrapped in cardboard, and looks like a real art book, rather than another designer vanity publication.

GP What I wanted to do with that was do a book about how hair can change someone – how you can use it to create a character. Every time you create a hairstyle, it’s like doing architecture: the shape is the structure of the house and the texture is the walls. Then you compensate for things. Even when doing the simplest hairstyle, I still want something to be a little questionable. Maybe it is too direct, too short, or something is wrong, then you must be wondering why this is interesting.

GT The sculptural forms that you imagined on the Black models seem particularly remarkable. It is not only that they have become parts of a fantastic British Vogue cover and shoot – that of the last April issue – but that they constitute powerful cultural declarations. The hairstyles are so architectonic extravagantly that the models end up looking as majestic as Beninese bronzes or deities from an 18th Dynasty frieze.

GP It’s funny. This young woman I photographed with a large half dome had beautifully textured hair. I just took what was there and tied it up. We used hairpieces and then inflated it on a pad. It all looks a lot more complicated than it used to be; it probably took 20 minutes to create. Then, of course, as with all hairstyles, the whole design is just a minute away from being taken apart.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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