- Edition 2, Chapter 16 -
The Long and Short of it
When I was a very busy salon hairdresser doing 15 to 20 clients a day, the argument that I would put to a new client was, does their hair enhance or does it detract? I’d look at them and say, “Let’s pull your hair back. Do you like your face?” If they replied positively, I’d say, “Well, you’ve got a really terrific face, very beautiful, interesting, but your hair is shitty.” (Yes, I’d use the word shitty.) “If your hair isn’t making you look better, less hair is going to reveal your face and be much more effective.” Most of the time they’d agree. If women don’t have the kind of hair that literally looks good by itself, why do they want it?
In the late eighties and early nineties it was routine for young models to come to New York and have their hair cut; the agencies sent them to us every Monday to do it, and a lot of careers were made – it became a signature. Maybe the most renowned was Linda Evangelista, not just because she cut her hair off, but because she embraced different hair colors – and that first cut by Julien D’Ys was instrumental in taking her from a good model to a supermodel. Those were the days before celebrities were on magazine covers when many models had short hair; the nineties were a more interesting time for hairdressers and for magazines.
Above left: Mia Farrow; right: Kris Gottschalk; bottom: Linda Evangelista (with Julien D'Ys, center)
Now that I’m not cutting hair as often, I have overwhelming fantasies of doing it when I’m on the street or on the train; I shear people with my eyes because so many people look so dreadful. Hair is stringy, not a good color, not interesting, and they’re doing this thing all day long in and out of a ponytail; in a yoga class you get dizzy – up pony, down pony, bunasana…
Women think that men like long hair. First of all, most men don’t know what looks good on a woman, and second of all, who cares what they think? They grew up looking at Barbie and thinking that women should look like her.
I’ve peered into windows of blow-dry bars, which are a clever business, but what they do to women is criminal – they all look the same. it’s decidedly not sexy, and I don’t mean sexy in a stereotypical way, but alluring, something we say French women have; they tend to wear bobs that aren’t especially well cut, but they look great. If you go back to the Twenties, bobs were incredibly popular; they were a sign of liberation, emancipation, getting the vote, and the poster girl was Louise Brooks. Fast-forward to the Sixties when Vidal Sassoon reinvented the bob with Nancy Kwan – different because it was long in the front and short in the back.
People come to Hairstory Studio trusting us completely to rewrite their story and make them look amazing. It often means we cut their hair off, because we photograph them, and if it’s not interesting to look at, it’s hard to take a picture of. We’re not terribly interested in taking twenty pictures of long hair without some remarkably unique color, wave, or something. I love long hair on the right people but it can also be a huge liability. If you look at pictures of one of my favorite models, Saskia, you see how she looked before she cut her hair off – it was alarming; it looked like hairdressers were curling her hair and giving her a soccer mom bouff, and underneath was this stunning face. So our job here is to encourage and inspire, push a little bit, and really look at clients and question them.
One of my little tests used to be, “Madam, does your hair fit through your wedding ring? If it does, it means you have far too little of it and you should cut it off.” Faced with the truth, many women would say, “Oh, you really think so? Oh, Ok… .” Is long hair intrinsically beautiful? Does it have character? If you can’t wash it, let it dry and have it look great, I’m not so sure you should have it.
Amanda, one of our favorite models walked in looking like a bat with her prominent ears. Some might say she shouldn’t have short hair, but that face really got me, and she didn’t have an especially stunning cut. But once she did it was all about her face. Pretty much anyone can have short hair, but it has to be the right haircut – that’s the big thing. Many women’s haircuts just aren’t well done; they’re average, which is the last thing you want when you have short hair. It’s very much about the perimeter, the lengths; it has to have a point of interest. Generally, you have to play with the back, the sides and the top; it’s particularly nice if it doesn’t look just done, if it looks like it happened.
Above: Amanda Evans
There’s a wonderful passage in Ernest Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden where a woman gets a haircut at a barbershop and she’s thrilled to show her husband saying, “Look. It’s just like a boy’s.” If I were a woman I’d rather have a man excited that I looked pretty in an unconventional or interesting way. I think short hair can be a lot more feminine because there’s something bold about showing your face.
Certain women are attached to their hair. If you go to Barneys at lunchtime you’ll see a grandmother, a mother and daughter who all look the same from behind; it’s kind of scary because the grandmother may be attractive, but it’s not gracious or appropriate to try to look twenty when you’re clearly not. Of course the other problem is that by that age, hair is looking kind of dry, tired, forced into shape; it doesn’t have that youthful vitality (which it would have if they used New Wash and stopped blow-drying so much).
I think you can have long hair, like the Sozzani sisters, but they look great anyway; it’s striking hair. I wouldn’t have talked Jean Shrimpton into having a haircut, but Twiggy, yes… Shrimpton’s hair was a great haircut with the bangs – an iconic, sixties, cool look for girls in Chelsea.
When hair is just long, unless it does something beautiful, which it can do, bangs can really work and make it more interesting. If you look at pictures of Audrey Hepburn when her hair was long, it was seldom down, always up. So what was that saying? It was saying that she understood that her face was the thing, and she got rid of the hair.
What I don’t love is long hair with some ugly piece of hardware in it. Kate Moss has had long hair, short hair, everything, and it all worked. Obviously it’s individual. But for the majority of women I think many, many of them would look so much better with shorter hair – if it’s good. The French model Melissa looks stunning, but not with long hair; most people can see immediately how it detracted from her prettiness, her uniqueness.
Above left: Ruth Bell; center: Ruth and sister May; right: Ruth