Author of a book of images that captures a nation locked down, the stylist explains why our hairstyles reflect the changing times.
Although he might not be well-known, you will be familiar with his hairstyles over the years for magazines covers, catwalks, and advertising campaigns. Guido Palau is the man behind some the most iconic hairstyles in fashion. He was seen in London last week, on British Vogue’s front cover, alongside the unusual 54-year-old supermodel Kristen McMenamy, as well as at a Dior men’s show that was inspired by Jack Kerouac.
The 59 year-old Dorset-born Anglo-Iberian Palau published #Hairtests. This spiral-bound book captures the appearance of hair or relative relaxation over the course the pandemic, which was accompanied by wide re-negotiations about gender and diversity.
“We all manage and curate something we are interested in, flowers, animals, or whatever,” Palau, also known as “Guido”, told the Observer while he was on his way to a test run for the show at Kensington Olympia. “I happen to love hair.”
Palau is well-known for his ability to run dozens of shows, with up to 100 hairstylists and producers under his supervision at each show. He is also a protégé of Vidal Sassoon, and was an old collaborator of Alexander McQueen. He was also a key figure in bringing the anti-perfection, individualistic and grungy British fashion movement to the rest of the world in the early 1990s.
Perhaps philosophy and politics will falter and hairdressers will once again provide clues.
“I’m being told the whole time. Although most people have hair on their heads, many people don’t. I am interested in the ways that hair is styled, whether it is intentionally or not. It’s all something that I notice.”
Images in the book show hairstyles taken in profile and without makeup. They were later uploaded online using an iPhone. These images are a glimpse of what was and is happening in a vulnerable moment.
Young people are still looking back at the 1990s and being inspired by them. It’s evident in the individualism displayed by the models, but also in a more inclusive and diverse way. Fashion reacts to the times and fashion is always able to stick.
One, the gender-based changes that beauty reflects today are less prevalent. “Masculine & feminine seem a bit old, so I look at each person’s profile and see what matches. It’s fluid. It’s more fluid. I have always been curious about ambiguous sexuality and wanted my hair to be slightly questionable.”
Fashion has been criticised for its insensitivity and lack of approach to social justice issues. He says, “There is a new awareness of how people feel or have experienced in the past. This is rightfully so.”
Palau’s art is then to interpret the street, place it in a magazine or fashion show, and filter back. It is by definition a highly flexible process. I can’t tell. It’s possible for people to see it differently and then return it, conscious or unconscious, or just in the zeitgeist. Because there is so much information now, people are more aware than they were when I started. We didn’t know where the references came from.
The changes are being influenced by Instagram, partly because visual information is being shared and absorbed all day, Palau states. “Beauty trends are coming to our home or into our hands all the time.”
The beauty industry was shut down for a time early in the pandemic. This allowed people to get back to their normal lives and to make do with what they have. Palau believes that Covid has allowed people to reflect on their self-presentation and has helped to propel a return towards individualism.
It should be acceptable for a woman to wear damp hair, even if she has just washed it. Hair in fashion is always what people wear, so wet hair looks great. It’s either realness or reality. It’s not right for anyone to feel that they must look the same way as everyone else. The idea of social acceptance is slowly fading. Your idea of how your hair should look is yours.
This is, in a way, a throwback from the 90s. Even the most hated decade, the 80s, had cool looks. Sub-cults, ranging from New Wave to goths to New Romantics to New Romantics, proliferated alongside glamour dos in Dallas and the yuppies. Fashion takes from the past, but it never goes back. It’s just a pastiche if you do.
Palau doesn’t belong to any particular church but friends joke that he has never seen a bowl of pudding he didn’t like. “Hair is very important for everyone. It’s a topic that women love to discuss, and men enjoy it as well. Sometimes, it can be a little difficult to make it work and people don’t realize how hard it is. It has a psychological impact on people as it changes how they feel and look. It’s incredible how the changes have been made and how they impact social aspects of our lives.”