Guido Palau’s new book is an ode to radical hairstyles
Photography Guido Palau. Images courtesy of IDEA.
Since the end of the 80s, it is difficult to think of a big fashion house of which Guido Palau did not play a role in the development of the visual identity. Known throughout the industry by his mononym – so just Guido, à la Kate, Kristen and Naomi – his hair art has been a key feature of the shows from Louis Vuitton to Raf Simons and Prada, as well as some of the most popular images. most memorable taken by David Sims and Steven Meisel, and countless covers of this same magazine.
In her latest project, however, the emphasis is less on the role the hairdresser played in shaping the tune of the beauty era, and more on the craftsmanship and propensity for creating characters that define his work. Posted by IDEA, #HAIR TESTS brings together 18 months of iPhone shots taken behind the scenes at shows and silent studio sessions, with the focus only on the hair. Coming from one of the most definitive minds in the beauty industry, it’s perhaps best to think of it as a book of ideas on the power of hair to offer insight into the people around us, and a proud testimony to the unfathomable horizons of today’s beauty.
Here, Guido discusses his career, building characters from a person’s profile and the most significant beauty changes he’s seen in his time.
Hi Guido! So how does #HAIR TESTS ** to come?
** Part of that was being backstage and doing hair tests with designers, where you often take photos of what you’ve done on your phone. And then during lockdown, like a lot of people, I often thought about what was going to happen with my career, and I continued to do these hair tests myself when people could start to get back together. I would bring models to the studio, comb their hair and take a picture with my phone. Once I started working on it it kind of moved in its own direction. I’ve always been very inspired by real beauty and a real sense of how people actually do their hair, so I really wanted that to be the center of it all. I mean, sure, some of the hairstyles in the book aren’t really things you can do at home, but in general it’s a compilation of ideas I’ve seen on people somewhere in at some point in the world.
** You described it as “a book of ideas” rather than a book of photographs. What is behind this distinction?
** Well everyone is using their phone to take pictures of the world around them. If you love food, you take photos of your food, for example. We take all these reference libraries with us, and it turns out mine has become a book. So I wouldn’t say it’s a photography book, it’s a book of ideas. And I guess it’s a book of our time, really, because without Instagram I wouldn’t have made this book. It was almost done backwards – taken from my Instagram ideas, then turned into a book. Today everyone has the platform and the ability to create their own things, because everyone has their own content. In that regard, I see this more as a published version of what anyone can do.
** Your work is usually seen in the larger context of a parade or editorial image. How did you find the editing process for a project that focuses so purely on the hair?
** Well, every time I jump into a project, even though I’m normally part of a bunch of other creatives, that’s still my goal. On a fashion show, the goal is, hopefully, to promote what the designer is trying to convey to his audience. And in a photography studio, I’m part of a collaborative team. Granted, it was fun working alone – there was no one to balance ideas with, it was just my own thoughts. But I’ve always had a pretty good idea of hairstyle and strong opinions on how I like how people look. So in that regard it was pretty easy. When I see someone’s face, even though I’m not styling their hair, I quickly think about what their hair could look like the best. And here the people you see aren’t like that in real life – I’ve mapped my fantasies, my creative view of hair, onto them. They become the characters that I would like them to be then. And I think that’s what’s great about hair – you can change people and their identities in such a profound way.
** This is one of the most immediate things that is part of a first impression of someone, isn’t it?
** I think this is a great indicator of who you are. Whether you are doing a show or doing a photo, the viewer will always look at the hair very quickly to get an indication of what the image or the creator is trying to say. Hair is an important indicator for all of us – whether consciously or not, we look at people all the time, even when we are just walking down the street. For me, this is part of my inner visual library. Whether I’m sitting in a restaurant or on the subway, I’m always looking at people’s hair – it makes such a big statement about who we are.
** So how do you approach character development and expression only through hair? Is there a particular thought process you will go through while looking at someone?
** Someone will sit across from me and I will focus on something – it could be their eyes, nose, or chin. In this book, they were all profiles, so it was always a question of proportion. It could be whether I wanted to emphasize certain features and think about creating architectural structures. It’s really like designing something – I think of the proportions, then I think of the texture it will be – whether it’s super smooth and shiny or natural and rough; or if he needs a little color to emphasize something. Overall, however, I wanted the hairstyles to be weirdly wearable. I’ve done books in the past that were more fantastic and unreal, but I really wanted it to reflect what I thought people were doing with their hair. In most hairstyles, there is something wrong, something wrong. One cut might be too straight, or there is a layer in there that looks a bit off of the rest. This is something that I hope the viewer will understand – it makes you question notions of good and bad taste, and it’s always a hallmark of my work. I’ve always been drawn to hair approaches that are slightly unconventional or that reflect the way real people might style their hair, although that wouldn’t generally be considered the “right thing.” We also live and work in a time of ever-changing beauty. It’s so wonderfully diverse and our eyes are opened to accept all kinds of beauties. I have always been fascinated by how beauty and hair reflect the times we live in, and as we all know, we have certainly all gone through explosive times. Hopefully, this book represents the changing face of beauty as it is today – and serves as a reminder of how anyone can truly be viewed as beautiful.
** What do you think were the most important beauty changes during your working time?
** Well I was part of the modeling era of the late 80s and early 90s and then became more famous for breaking that through the grunge movement of the early and mid 90s. You suddenly had people like Kate Moss who at the time represented a truly alternative idea of beauty. She was much smaller, she had rawer energy, and her images were about not styling and not wearing makeup – very naturalistic, almost anti-beauty in a way. When you look at these pictures now, they seem almost timid, but they were pretty explosive back then. This whole movement started showing people that they could look good without spending hours in the barbershop and doing tons of makeup. I think we’re now experiencing another explosive change, however, with the beauty industry opening up to all beauty possibilities – and it’s so accelerated, compared to what we’ve seen before. If you like hair up to your butt, there’s a magazine or catwalk where you can see it, and the same goes if you like really experimental braiding. Things are not that categorized. You can have blue, green, braided, natural hair, there are no more rules of beauty. God knows where we will be in 20 years!
That sense of range is felt here in this book, but over the years have you ever come close to developing a “science” of what makes a Guido Palau hairstyle? I think I’m just lucky to have these hands. I don’t think I’m the most technical hairstylist around, but what I have is a way of looking people that I can then translate with my hands in my hair. It’s something very guttural, really instinctive. And over the years I’ve refined that, and when I do something with hair I’m very focused and driven by instinct. A person sits down, I look at their profile and they can bring up something that I saw in a book or magazine years ago, and I will bring that idea to life on that person. So my process is really the culmination of all the references that I have seen, of the different types of hair that I have touched. Even though this book took 18 months to complete, it is still the result of 30 to 35 years of experience. And when people are true to themselves and what is around them, you can really see it. Whenever young artists and hairdressers ask me about my career, I always say that the most important thing is to be true to yourself and your vision of beauty. If you’re a hairstylist who grew up on the beach in California, for example, you’ll probably understand the undertones of long surfer hair very well, and I think I’m most true to my aesthetic when there’s a slight punk- ness, because that’s a time I grew up in. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn other things, but it’s good to start with something you’re good at and build from there. Ultimately, I think that’s what this book is really about – me being true to what I love.
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