(NEW YORK) How did a self-described “flunk-out” from Dorset become the biggest beauty phenom since the chignon? Mousse maestro Guido Palau explains.
BY MARIA DENARDO
How did you get into lady’s hair?
I grew up in Dorset, a seaside town in England that I really wanted to get out of. I didn’t have massive expectations for myself, and I didn’t exactly hit it off with the educational system, so at 17, I left! I backpacked through Europe, lived in a commune in Denmark, and found work as a DJ.
So, hairstyling wasn’t a lifelong goal?
Not at all. But when I got back to England, some of my friends were hairdressers, and I thought, ‘Oh, I could do that!’ So I applied to work at the Vidal Sassoon salon in London to be an apprentice. It’s the best place to learn, but it was very strict.
And in no time, you got fired, right?
Hey, I was still a bit cheeky at 19! [Laughs] It wasn’t until I got a job assisting another stylist on a shoot that I figured out this was what I wanted to do with my life. I liked creating, and it was exciting to be with models and photographers on set. From there, it was a slow climb.
Have you been back to Vidal Sassoon since?
Later in my career, I was asked to interview Vidal and I told him about being fired. We had a laugh about it. After that if he was hosting a dinner in New York, he’d invite me. I liked knowing I was on his radar.
What was the hair game like back then?
London was exploding, and there was a real youth surge. There were loads of new magazines, like The Face and i-D, and they were covering street style, which hadn’t really been done yet. In some ways, the industry was more elite because it was smaller. The big wigs were really big and you felt really small, like you were never going to make it.
What was your big breakthrough?
I met David Sims during that time, who was an assistant photographer at a hair salon where I worked. We hit it off and became friends, and I started working with him more and more. We captured a time of flux, when fashion moved from the supermodel to the grunge period.
What did you learn from David?
When I first started out, I was still copying other people’s styles. He really encouraged me to bring out my own. But we weren’t the only ones experimenting with grunge—there were probably three other photographers, two hairstylists, and a couple of makeup artists in London who had their fingers on the pulse. We were sneered at by the old guard.
Until Calvin Klein got a hold of you!
Calvin Klein was the man! He brought us over to work for him on his runway, which was so intimidating. I was like, ‘Are you sure?’
Did you stay in touch?
I still bump into him sometimes. He’s very charming.
When did you meet Kate Moss?
In England, at a party, when she was 15. Of course, she wasn’t Kate Moss as we know her now. She was just Kate, this girl in our group who was always wearing Westwood.
How has your relationship changed over the years?
I don’t see her as often as I used to, since she lives in London and I’m in New York. But it was great to see her at her wedding. We always have a laugh at each other’s expense—she’s very self-deprecating. She’ll kid me about something I’m working on, and I’ll kid her that she’s still modeling.
Why is the bond between a model and her hairstylist so special?
I think it’s because you’re touching the girl a lot on set— always running your fingers through her hair.
Whose hair are you running your fingers through these days?
It’s hard to keep up! I still think of Raquel Zimmermann as a new model. Unfortunately, now there are tons of new models at runway shows, many of whom don’t speak English. It’s hard to connect, and you feel for them because you don’t want them to think you’re rude. I’m still friends with a lot of the older ones, though, like Naomi, Kate, and Stella. I met Naomi when she was 15. We grew up together! I’m sure girls now look at me and think, ‘Who’s that old guy?’
Is 15 too young to start modeling?
There’s a 15-year-old that’s very young, and a 15-year-old that can sing on stage in front of a room full of people. At 15, I couldn’t, but did anyone question Kate or Naomi? Or Miley Cyrus?
What do you like about working with Stella?
I remember working with her on a Versace campaign for Gianni. She had black hair, and we bleached it for hours. It wasn’t pretty—a lot of her hair ended up in the basin—but she’s great at being open to cutting her hair or dying it. That’s what keeps hairstylists and photographers so interested. She’s part of the creative process.
In the three years you worked with Richard Avedon, what surprised you most?
He was absolutely obsessed with his own hair, in a charming way. Every day, he’d come in and ask me what I thought about it. Then, we’d blow it out and he’d look at it again and ask, ‘Do you think it needs a little trim?’
How long have you worked with Marc Jacobs?
For 10 years now. We have a great rapport, and he’s very giving. A couple of years ago, he wanted all the models’ hair to be different, based on the ‘80s nightclub scene. It was a real challenge for me, but ended up being one of my favorite shows. Marc sees his world in his way, and I’m lucky I get to see the world through his eyes.
How has your aesthetic evolved over the years?
The more people who tell you that your work is good, the more adventurous you become. I still learn from everyone I work with. Steven Meisel is an amazing artist, who I’ve worked with steadily for over 10 years. He’s such a professional. We’re friends, and we work together quite often, but we don’t really socialize. With artists, work is life!
What projects are you proudest of?
Little things make me proud, not necessarily the things people remember me for. Sometimes I’m just happy that the day went well. I almost feel old-school now, because it’s become a different business with this new set of people blogging and tweeting all the time.
You’re on Twitter, aren’t you?
I am, but there’s that pressure! If you’re in your 20s and 30s, it’s a part of your evolution, but it’s not a part of mine. I’m not a big tech person, and my friends and I will sometimes dis it, but you have to be involved in some way or you’re not being a part of the culture we’re living in.
How would you describe your backstage style?
I don’t know if I have style. I dress comfortably and shop at three places: Comme des Garçons, Thom Browne, and J.Crew. I always want to downplay being a hairdresser because of those old connotations. Like, I can’t go anywhere near leather!
How do people react to your wardrobe?
Donatella Versace always frowns at my Birkenstocks, and Kristen McMenamy says I look like a little boy that got dressed by his mother!
What’s your most memorable hair disaster?
I think people book me now because disasters don’t happen. But I’m a bit of a worrier, so I live through all the possible disasters in a sweaty night’s sleep.
What new products are you into right now?
I love Redken’s new range: Wax Blast, Dry Shampoo, Powder Grip, and Control Addict. I’m a hair spray fan! I use it a lot at the shows.
How many runway shows do you book a year on average?
Maybe 100 or 110. My friends think that because I work hard for three weeks that I’ll have a day off, but that’s not how it goes. Right now, I’m in Paris. Tomorrow I go to London. Then New York the next day. I’m still enjoying it!
I picked up pottery last year, and I try to work in a Flywheel. I really envy people who can just pick up a book. It’s hard for me to turn off my head.
Out put you on their ‘Most Eligible Bachelors’ list. Did it change your life?
It didn’t, actually. I wish it had more! I didn’t even know I was on the list. Maybe next time I should include an email address.
How would you describe your state of mind?
Not so cheeky. I’ve grown into myself. I actually feel more myself now than ever.
At what point in your career did you feel like you’d arrived?
I’ve always felt insecure about my creativity. When you’re freelance, you wonder if you’re going to get booked again. It doesn’t matter what you did last week. It’s what I’m about to do that’s important. It’s very stressful, but people are kind about my work. Obviously, I know I must be good at my job because I work with great people and I keep getting booked, but I always want to do better. I never thought that this high school flunk out was going to be successful. I feel like maybe I can’t turn a good job down, since life’s been so good to me!
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