“To be honest,” surprises Guido Palau, “I never wanted to be hairdresser.” The much lauded hairstylist ‘fell into hair’ when he was nineteen, discovering that there was this different kind of hairdressing: fashion. Then came the revelation: “I really like hair as a medium and I like working with other creative people.”Text by Georgette Koning.
Guido Palau’s big break came in 1990 when styling the hair for George Michael’s iconic Freedom video, which featured supermodels such as Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell.
As one of world’s most in-demand hair stylists, Guido Palau regularly collaborates with fashion photographers Steven Meisel and David Sims. In the eighties, these two helped him discover his distinctive edgy style. Since then his work has often featured in every important magazine. In the nineties Palau created ‘anti-hair’ for a young Kate Moss. He did wigs for Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty exhibit in 2011. Each season Palau creates hair looks for – as an insider whispers – ‘half of all the fashion shows’. Always by his side is always that other star, makeup guru Path McGrath. The two are always booked together.
For twelve years running Guido Palau has been Global Styling Director of Redken. He describes the collaboration as a ‘marriage’ that still is very beneficial for him; “we develop products and I’ve learned about how real women and men use a product. I didn’t have that experience before.”
Mirror Mirror talks with Guido Palau the day after the Raf Simons show New York, which so happens to be, the hometown of the British born hairstylist of Spanish origin.
Over the years you developed a style that has become recognisable, how would you describe it?
“My style has a lot of plasticism in it, but I think there is always an element of punk and a kind of another way of looking at beauty. You know; the texture might be wrong, the shape exaggerated or aggressive. I want to challenge people’s perception of beauty, that’s what I’ve always found interesting in doing hair. With hair as a medium I can challenge people’s perception of beauty.”
When did you notice you had a style that was different from other hairstylists?
“In the mid-eighties I was working in the studio for maybe five, six years, when I met a young photographer: David Sims. We were of a very similar age, had very similar backgrounds and he had a very strong opinion about hair. David really influenced me and brought out my taste in hair.”
So it took a while…
“Before that I kind of copied hair a lot. David was supportive, the first person that I met who encouraged me to bring out my own style. If you’re around other crazy people that can inspire you, and push you and support you, then you can be really creative.
“There have been other people that came after David, great teachers, great women, great designers, great supporters that helped me develop my style, like Steven Meisel. As said, to be a creative person you need to be around other crazy people that support your vision. Then the confidence will come through in your work.”
Do you feel like a teacher yourself now?
“I don’t know… I mean I find it hard to look at myself introspectively. Maybe my work has had an impact on hairdressers. I have been very lucky and had such a long career that my work is on a kind of platform, so people can see it.”
What makes your Redken consulting role so interesting?
“What is great about a big global brand like Redken is that they are so open to my artistic way of looking at hair. It is a ‘marriage’ that still is very beneficial for me. When you work in fashion, you can be artistic or crazy all the way, without ever really understanding how real men and women wear their hair.”
What, over the years, has been your biggest challenge as Redken’s Global Styling Director?
“To be honest, we’ve never really had frictions. Redken has always been open to my artistic eye and I think we learn from each other. Well, sometimes I like the idea of making a product quickly and that can be frustrating, but we have a period of testing. Redken sends me products fast and I try them in the studio and develop them and then, 18 months later, we have products that hopefully can help the consumer recreate the looks they’ve seen on the runway or in magazines or on the red carpet.
“The challenge is to know what the consumer really wants. That has changed over the past twelve years: products now have a much more naturalistic feeling and smell.”
At what age did you truly began experimenting with hair?
“When I was about 19 I fell into being a hairdresser. I had a dear friend that was doing hair and I thought maybe I can do it too? But until I started doing it, I really didn’t feel passionate about hair. At the studio I discovered that there was this different side of hairdressing – the fashion side. Once I connected with that side, that’s when I thought: ‘I really like hair’.
“In the eighties I found like-minded people, such as photographer Corinne Day, stylist Melanie Ward. We clubbed a lot and loved to dress up. It was an inspiring time for hairdressing. It was the dawning of a new era in fashion and youth culture with people becoming designers, sub cultures like Blitz, New Romantics, New Wave, and new magazines like The Face. A youthquake. It resembles a bit what we are experiencing now with the social media revolution.”
Do you remember your first publication?
“Maybe Elle magazine? Or another women’s magazine. In the beginning I worked for everyone. I got a big public break when I did George Michael’s video Freedom. Yes, people still talk about that. Off course it was an iconic video and something about it is quite timeless.”
How did it feel doing that at that time?
“I did not realize that it would be such a seminal point in my career. Looking back I was naïve and maybe not even that qualified to do that kind of big job. I don’t even remember how I got it.”
“I really do not know. For sure in life you get lucky breaks and you have to work with those lucky breaks.”
Are you professionally still one step ahead?
“Hmm, I think it is harder now because people are so aware now. With the internet you can find information very quickly. Ten years ago it was easier to be one step ahead. I have always done the stuff that I like and then people have liked it too. Sometimes I still try to challenge people with an idea. For example, when I use hair spray in a different way that makes the hair very tacky and bad, and use it over and over till the hair becomes something else – a new texture to work with it. When that is published in a magazine everyone goes what’s that? It’s like challenging people’s idea of beauty in a way, right?”
Do you feel the pressure to constantly come up with creative ideas?
“Yeah. I mean especially after doing this a long time you still want to be relevant. But what really is important, is to stay true to yourself instead of getting locked in the idea of success. So I keep doing my thing. If you get worried about the pressure then you loose something, I think.”
Is it hard to deal with stars and super models?
“Yes sure, part of your learning is learning to how to deal with difficult people or people that are under pressure or people who have big ego’s. That’s part of the job. It’s not just about being creative, it’s managing people, managing a team. I have three main assistants. For a show I have a team with fifty to sixty people.”
Which important hair tendencies did you notice over the last 10 years?
“In general the whole idea of what is considered to be beautiful has changed a lot. Now the idea of having green, blue or pink hair is normal. And the idea of a sophisticated woman going out, just having washed her hair, left it natural and still it looks very chic and rich. I call it easy beauty.
“Our perception of beauty has changed a lot over the last ten years. The social shift we see on the runway with diversity is really important. We’re accepting different ideas of beauty and different ideas about hair and hair texture. Women will always be neurotic about their hair, because that is a privilege of being a woman, but there is less social pressure for women, and men, to look a certain way. We understand that everybody can be who they are, so that is a big change.”
What is your own favorite look of all times, you have one?
“That is hard to say because I love many styles. I always can see the good and bad in everything. But David Bowie, in the seventies and eighties, had an incredible impact on me with his style and the way he presented himself.”
You are constantly on the go, what is your favorite way to unwind?
“When I am not working I get up very early. I have my English cup of tea, I brush my cat Ned, who’s named after my godson. My cat is ginger so is my godson. After having brushed Ned I take a spin class and when I come back - I live in Chelsea - I might go for a bike ride and maybe have an early supper, or watch a Netflix show.
“I am not such a big social person and being away so much for work I like to have very quiet days. I really enjoy routine. I certainly don’t hang out with my colleagues, no. Over the years I made some great friends through the industry. I work a lot with Pat McGrath, but we don’t hang out. We see each other almost everyday anyway.”
Why does it work so well with Pat?
“Pat, and also Steven Meisel, we work together all the time. Pat is an amazing creative person, we work of each other. You know what I mean? We have a good dialogue. We are both British and though she is younger than me, she has similar reference points. Her creativity pushes me on and that shows in our work and collaborations.”
What are you thoughts about the current state of the hair industry?
“You’re getting smaller companies coming up with more boutique kind of ideas of hair care. That is interesting. Those small companies push big companies to go somewhere. The beauty industry is really growing in an exiting way.”