Hairstory

- Edition 4 -

RUNWAY REMINISCENCE

by Michael Gordon


As most of you know, fashion shows began nearly a century ago. The great couture houses like Dior, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Balmain, and Balenciaga held dignified, elegant affairs in their ‘Houses’ with important editors and customers perched on dainty gold chairs watching rail-thin models with hair in chignons (self-styled) present the collections.

As they do today, magazines would write about them, but unlike today, if a hemline changed by an inch it was big news. If you look at films or photos or books from the 40s and 50s, you see people clothed similarly, dressed up, very proper – not just the upper class – conventions of dress were taken very seriously then. Christian Dior became famous for his New Look because it truly was new.

Dior's New Look

Fast-forward to the 1990s when the late Gianni Versace turned his Ready-to Wear shows into rock concerts and hired the top fashion models, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford to walk the runway on the heels of George Michael’s video Freedom, (with hair by Guido) on MTV. So it was a moment of music, fashion and media all colliding, and it had a big effect. The power of the press was suddenly switched on; fashion editors would focus on maybe one look, like Tom Ford’s Gucci hip-huggers and open silk blouse and a forgotten, over-licensed brand becoming cooler than it ever was.

Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington on the Versace runway

Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington on the Versace runway

Nowadays you have maybe 100 shows in each city (New York, London, Milan, Paris) and I think everyone would agree that the specialness has waned because it has become obligatory to produce a show rather than having something relevant to say.

In the mid-90s a young, up-and-coming editorial hairdresser named Orlando Pita joined Bumble and bumble, and we provided some of the hairdressers on his team. There were 3 shows in Paris he was scheduled to do, and I decided in my typical fashion to film them. So I asked a commercial director that I knew, “Where do I get a video camera?” He sent me to B&H Photo to buy a Sharp. So I read enough of the manual to know how to work it, arrived in Paris one morning and went straight to the first show.

This was before backstage became a circus; it was very quiet, in a beautiful room in a beautiful place, and the show was by a woman called Martine Sitbon. There was Orlando with his team, and me with my camera, and he was doing quite a complicated, stunning hairdo, and in a way I was a fly on the wall. I realized if I flipped the display around, the models could see themselves and get very excited and start posing.

The next show was Jean-Paul Gaultier, which was pretty fantastic. The last one was Chanel. There were no phone cameras, no press, just the usual photographers at the end of the runway. Important editors might be allowed backstage, but not the throngs of spectators you see today.

So we turned my footage into what I thought was a pretty fabulous film, but for no apparent reason; we didn’t even have a product company yet. It was edited on an Avid, which was a pretty serious lump of machinery. I did this regularly for several years. There were moments where I was speechless because the shows were so beautiful, magical because they were everything you thought they would be; the clothes and staging and hair and makeup were just… special.

Ann Demuelemeester was one of those special moments. She was a tiny Belgian designer, one of the Antwerp 6, and she was incredible because she was extremely controlling; she had that eye, walking around and picking up on things that weren’t quite right. I loved her clothes, a very distinct style, black, white and very cool. She knew what she wanted for hair and makeup; she used a Belgian group to do makeup rather than a big name artist. For hair she chose a Dutchman called Ward who was also with Bumble at the time. He was very excited, and he did it for about 3 seasons. I was there with my camera, helping organize the models and the hairdressers, and we were all really happy to be a part of it.

Another show I loved was Yohji Yamamoto’s. It was memorable, masterful; he’d find a massive warehouse or hangar where it could be staged differently than normal. The hair and makeup were extreme, but romantically, poetically out there; it wasn’t big hair for the sake of it, it was part of a vision.

One of the best shows was Dior Men in 2006 by Hedi Slimane. It had a sense of the Sixties and the English Mods, who were style icons. The hair was sensational, and even though the models were men, the cuts would work on anybody. The show was titled ‘The World Was a Mess but His Hair was Perfect.’ All eyes were on this show, but when we tried to find out who did the hair in recent weeks, we couldn’t find out because it wasn’t mentioned! If you sense I’m a little exasperated by this, you’d be right. The hair is so important, but they didn’t mention Didier. You wonder why.

 

We have to take our hats (or wigs) off to Guido because his collaboration with Marc Jacobs has produced amazing images with wigs because he felt strongly enough about giving every model a look, but they don’t always want to get their hair cut. He did the same for Louis Vuitton; he has this ability to take inspiration from a 1960s Italian housewife who slept in rollers and make it look super cool. Again, wigs. A wig is interesting because it disguises character; for one campaign Gisele and Caroline Murphy, among others, all had this black-haired, Sicilian kind of look – breathtaking, but also neutralizing. Would you like to do hair like that? God yes.