Saturday, September 12, 2009

How I learnt to have grown up hair

My hair is long, naturally blonde and poker straight. It needs no product or clever cutting. It just hangs there, and so I've worn it in exactly the same style, that is no style, ever since I can remember. Bar the Christmas holiday of my final year at uni when I went to Harvey Nichols' hair salon, (for reasons I no longer remember), and had it all cut off in one of those sleek chin length at the front, shorn up to the crown at the back bobs.

I spent two years growing it out.

No one had told me that short hair was a royal pain in the neck. It needs styling. It requires product. And hairdryers. And God knows what else for it not to look like crappy bedhead. And I am really, really lazy when it comes to things like hairstyling. I just cannot be bothered. As I soon discovered, tousled Brigitte Bardot bedhead with long-ish hair is sexy. Bedhead on a 1960s Vidal Sassoon style crop is not.

So it's a shame that I hate my easy to manage flat straight hair. It was bearable in the days when everyone was obsessed with ghds, maybe five, six years ago. I was Little Miss Smug then, rolling out of bed and, after a couple of strokes with a Mason Pearson brush, looking like I'd been straightening it for hours. But I rarely want what everyone else wants. And in this case I wanted waves. Not so much Farrah Fawcett as Rita Hayworth.

For two years, whilst everyone else was sporting sleek curtains, I religiously went to my local granny salon in North London before parties to get my hair set in rollers, before being shoved for an hour to bake under a dryer hood with the rest of the purple rinse brigade. Thing is once the rollers came out, I only had a couple of hours before the curls drooped, leaving me with something nearer to a shaggy perm than sleek movie star waves.

I gave up when I moved to America 2,5yrs ago, making do with blowing out my hair with a round ceramic hairbrush, so it at least had bounce in a shampoo advert kind of way. I had a few pro blow drys from session stylists, hoping they could give me waves, but the artful lightly tonged loose curls they added looked wonderful for just about as long it took me to get home.

Then came the epiphany. I had to have my official portrait taken last summer for work. The Selby was commissioned to shoot it which was all well & good, (thanks Todd), but the real highlight of the shoot (sorry Todd), was the hair stylist, the venerable & lovely Francois Ilnseher, who asked me how I liked to wear my hair. Wavy, I replied, whilst thinking, my hair is dry, ramrod straight, silky just washed ; we've got barely 30 minutes to effect a hair & make-up transformation from sleep-deprived, over-worked office monkey to polished fashion editor. Good luck with that.

Unfazed, he proceeded to almost produce a silk purse out of this sow's ear. First he gave me the best smokey eyed make-up job I've ever had. Then he produced a pair of curling tongs, things I - and other stylists - had used before but never to any lasting success.

I raised an internal eyebrow but, not being one to make a fuss, let him get on with it. Soon there were bouncy tight Victorian ringlets hanging around my face. I looked like the girl off the old Quality Street chocolates tin. My internal horror meter was close to screeching point, as he produced a cushion hair brush. I squeezed my eyes shut as he brushed through the corkscrew curls. Upon opening my eyes I was gobsmacked. Instead of the frizz I was expecting, I saw the hairstyle of my dreams: beautiful deep waves in a Rita Hayworth kind of way. As the day continued, the waves just morphed into gentle volume with a little curl at the end of each lock.

What a revelation. The secret was to take the curls tight with direct heat so that there was no danger of them dropping. Next day I hotfooted it to the hairdressers supply store down on Fifth, bought a ceramic curling iron and sure enough, I got similar results.

It had never, ever occurred to me that you could just brush out hideous, tight ringlets to achieve waves. A good spritz with Elnett Extra Hold Hairspray and the waves stay in for a good while too. I invested in a Braun Cordless Hair Styler ,(a small portable curling iron), for my handbag, and became an adept at curling my hair in the back of Town Cars, on trains, buses and in the loos at restaurants. In fact I'm usually better at it now than a hairdresser, which has saved me hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours in the styling chair.

Finally, I have a hairstyle that takes maybe twenty minutes, looks grown up and makes me feel sexy. A win, win.

Thank you Francois. You are a gentleman & a superstar.