hIt may not be a household name, but you are sure to know the hairstyles she has created over the decades for runways, magazine covers, and ad campaigns. Guido Palau, the man behind some of fashion’s most influential hair, showed his shape again in London last week – on the British front Rowing, featuring the offbeat 54-year-old supermodel Kristen McMenamy and a Jack Kerouac-inspired Dior menswear show.
The 59-year-old Anglo-Iberian Palau, born in Dorset, also published #Hairtest, a spiral-bound book that captures the presentation of hair, or its relaxation, during the pandemic amid extensive renegotiations on gender and diversity.
“We all manage to cure something that interests us, flowers or animals or whatever, on Instagram”, said Palau – known in the fashion world simply as “Guido” – Observer on the way to a test for the show at Kensington’s Olympia last week. “I just like the hair.”
Palau, which is known for running dozens of shows and may have 100 producers and hairdressers under his direction each, is a protégé of Vidal Sassoon and was a close associate of the late Alexander McQueen. He is also one of the key figures in bringing the grungy, anti-perfection and individualistic movement of British fashion in the early 90s to the world.
It may be that, as philosophy and politics falter, it will still be up to hairdressers to provide clues as to what women often know and men understand less easily: that of the external clues to the inner life, hair may be the most instructive.
“I am informed all the time. Most people have hair on their heads, although many people don’t, so the way their hair is worn, intentionally or unintentionally, interests me. Combed, brushed or dyed, put up or down in their own way, it’s all something I collect. “
The images in the book document hairstyles in profile and without makeup, taken with an iPhone and later posted online. They are an impression, in a sense, of what was – and still is – happening, in a vulnerable moment.
“Young people look back to the 90s and [are] inspired by that time. We see it in the individualism of the models, but [also] in a more diversified and inclusive way. When there is a reaction in fashion that sticks, it is always something to do with the changing world because fashion and beauty reflect the times “.
For one, the changes that beauty currently reflects are less gendered. “Male and female look a little old now, so I try to look at their profile, see what fits. It’s smoother. I’ve always been interested in an ambiguous type of sexuality and I’ve always wanted the hair to be slightly questionable. “
Fashion, of course, has received its share of recent criticism for deficiencies in its approach and sensitivity to issues of social justice. “There is a new awareness of how people feel or have felt in the past, and rightfully so,” he says.
The job of Palau, therefore, is to take from the street, to interpret, to place in a fashion show or in a magazine and to filter. It is, by definition, a highly changing process. “I can’t really tell. People might see it in a different way and then take it back, consciously or unconsciously, or it’s just in the spirit of the time. People are more aware now, because there is a lot more information out there than when I started when we didn’t know where the references came from. “
Instagram is influencing the changes, in part because visual information is posted and absorbed, as Palau says, around the clock.. “Beauty trends are entering our home, or our hands, all the time.”
There was a time at the beginning of the pandemic when the beauty business, for reasons of social distance, effectively ceased to function, bringing people back to do-it-yourself, fix and repair. In Palau, Covid has given people time to reflect on self-presentation and this, in turn, has prompted a return to individualism.
“If a woman wants to go out with damp hair because she just washed it, with fresh ease, it should be totally acceptable. Wet hair always looks sexy, and trendy hair is what people wear anyway. So it’s about reality or reality. Nobody should feel they have to look a certain way for anyone who stands up, and hopefully the idea of social acceptability is collapsing. The look of your hair should be your idea.
This, in a sense, is a throwback to the 90s. But even the most maligned decades, like the 1980s, came with cool looks as sub-cults, from goths to New Wave to New Romantics, proliferated along with the glamorous dos of Dallas or the yuppies. “Fashion takes from the past but never really goes back. If you do, it’s a pastiche. “
Palau doesn’t belong to any particular church, though friends joke that he’s never seen a bowl of pudding he doesn’t like. “Hair is important to everyone. Women love to talk about it, men love to talk about it. Sometimes you get a little short straw and people don’t realize how hard it is to do well. It has a psychological impact as it changes the way people feel and look. When you look back, it’s amazing how it has changed and how it defines the social aspects of life ”.