how guido palau became one of fashion’s most beloved hairstylists

The mastermind behind those huge Valentino couture hairstyles last week, and many i-D covers, Guido Palau remains one of fashion’s most creative forces.

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Jul 13 2018, 11:55am

Last week, Valentino presented a couture collection that had the fashion industry in awe. Creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli drew references from far and wide, Greek mythology meeting 60s glamour as the sun set on Paris’s Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild. Our man on the ground, Osman Ahmed, went as far as to say it was “the best show” he’d ever been to. The antithesis of our current streetwear malaise, it was an elaborate fantasy world that was not to be enjoyed solely by the very few who could afford to actually buy such clothes.

But beyond the collection, one of the most celebrated and Instagrammed aspects of the show was the hairstyles, courtesy of Guido Palau. Among shorter, slicked-back styles and orbs of flowers, were eight dramatic hairpieces that towered over the models and brought home the immeasurable glamour of Pierpaolo’s vision. For Guido, it was about sending an otherworldly message. “It’s hair that woman dream about, not a reality, a fantasy kind of hair. A 60s Diana Vreeland, Avedon pictures where the women were very iconic, and sort of portraits of society woman that Avedon took in the 60s, which were very glamorous and stylised.”

Gudio has long been the to go-to guy for dramatic hair. His work has graced the pages of i-D, Vogue, W, LOVE, and the catwalks of Marc Jacobs, Prada, Balenciaga and beyond. A longtime collaborator of photographers like the late Richard Avedon, Steven Meisel and David Sims -- the latter of whom he released a whole book of avant-garde hairstyles with -- Guido has spent the last three decades creating powerful fashion imagery, awarding him an unrivalled insight into the changing styles and trends of fashion. Following the buzz of the Valentino show, we caught up with the master hairstylist to find out more about what it takes to make it.

What was your vision for the hairstyles at Valentino?
Pierpaolo was speaking to me at the men's show a couple of weeks before about wanting something very dramatic and very kind of dreamlike. Sort of portraits of society woman that Avedon took in the 60s, which were very glamorous and stylised. We came up with this big hair concept and wanted to make it very chic, very stylised, but easy at the same time. A really dramatic look, he wanted a real sort of impact, so when we talked about big hair I explained we had to make it really big to make the point, but still keep an elegance to it. You know, it's Valentino, and it's very exquisite clothes that you're working with, so the hair had to sort of match that. The proportion had to be blown up, to make the impact so people really got what we were trying to say.

How collaborative was it between you and Pierpaolo?
He came up with the fantasy that he wanted to have with the girls on the runway, and then I went away and designed and sent images of it to him, which he loved. We've worked together for a long time so, we have a mutual respect for each other's work. I pushed to the nth degree really. It sort of got bigger and bigger [as we moved] towards the show, and even two hours before the show I made it bigger again. I didn't realise it was going to have such an impact, to be honest. My job as a hairdresser is working with designers to try and represent their vision, and if that's what I did then that was all that was really important to me.

How much time goes into styling hair like that?
It was probably about two hours. I worked the process out beforehand. Two hours to perfect it and make it as dreamlike as possible. The idea of doing hair like that, you want it to look very effortless and rich and easy, even in its enormity you still want it to look very easy and not full of product and you want it to be shiny.

Do you have to take things like Instagram into account more now?
Not really, Instagram is a world unto itself. You don't really know what things are going to be picked up or not -- it could’ve easily gone the other way. I do the hair for the designer and for the show. Instagram doesn’t really come until after. And with that show, which was beautiful and special, the hair got a lot of Instagram interest. For people it was interesting to see a different proportion, it was very extreme. I think we’ve been in a cycle of reality with beauty -- hair especially, celebrating individuality and naturalness, which is a really positive message from the fashion industry, and so maybe it was a surprise to see something so blown up and in-your-face. We’ve seen nods to other eras, like 80s new wave kind of things. But we haven’t really seen the glamorous stylised hair for quite a while now.

Your formal education in hair styling was from working in a salon. How did you move into the fashion industry?
Yes, I started in the early 80s in London at Vidal Sassoon and very quickly found out that I didn’t want to work in a salon. I started working my way around, testing with young photographers, that’s where I felt most comfortable and where I found my calling. A few years later I met David Sims, he was an assistant doing test shots and asked me to work with him and that began our collaboration. Working with David gave my work a great push in that early 90s grunge period. From that my career sort of leapt forward and I started working for international brands like Calvin Klein and Helmut Lang and then my career fell to where it is today, 25 years on.

What have you learnt from these collaborators?
Back then David pushed me to see hair in a different way, and going on to work with my heroes like Steven Meisel and Richard Avedon, they were great teachers who pushed my aesthetic and taught me things I didn’t know about, having grown up in suburban England in the 70s. I was exposed through those designers and photographers to different worlds so thats how my career really started and how it gained traction.

"You have to become a great library of everything to be a great hairdresser in the fashion business, because you don’t know what you’re going to be called upon to reference when you’re working. If you close yourself off to one genre or one particular style, you’ll only go so far."

What would advice would offer someone looking to work as a hairstylist within fashion?
I suppose it’s all about learning and keeping yourself open. Trying to find people who have a vision that’s similar to yours -- photographers initially. Learning about art and film. Looking at everyone you pass in the street. You have to become a great library of everything to be a great hairdresser in the fashion business. You don’t know what you’re going to be called upon to reference when you’re working. If you close yourself off to one genre or one particular style, you’ll only go so far. So, I’d tell young hairdressers they have to be apt at everything, from very old techniques to brand new ones.

What do people wrongly assume about being a hairstylist?
I always think being a hairdresser, you probably feel a bit insecure. Like when people say “what do you do?” and I say “I’m a hairdresser” there are connotations. I find most hairdressers I meet are quite insecure about their profession. I have that too because maybe people put you in a category, but I feel it’s an important thing in the fashion industry and in real life. People feel amazing when they get their hair done. In the fashion business, it’s such an important part of the picture. In a fashion show it can really add so much to it.

Do you think images being made today are as powerful and engaging as they were in the 80s and 90s?
It’s hard to say because you don’t really know that they will be in 10, 20 years time when you look back and see what it represented at that point. Whatever’s happening now is representing a time even if you can’t really see it. It’s quite hard when you’re in the moment to see it. It’s only when you step away and look back that it will for sure be represented by what’s happening now. That’s what was interesting about the Valentino… to see a woman that noble and powerful obviously hits a lot of people or did. I don’t want to intellectualise it too much, but it seemed to push a lot of people’s buttons, in the right way.