For Los Angeles-based hairstylist Yoann Bourquin, the 'French-girl' haircut has always been just a haircut. Originally from a small village in Provence, Bourquin moved to Paris in 2006 to build his career in a big-city salon. There, just west of the Eiffel, he trained under French stylists who stuck to classical techniques, all while harboring a fascination with the cultural phenomenon happening before his eyes: the American obsession with the French woman's hair.
"The French haircut is a lot like French toast or French fries," says Bourquin in a thick accent, a skinny cigarette bobbing between his lips. "Simply put: French sells."
The American demand eventually grew enough that Bourquin was begged to step away from his post at Dessange Salon in Paris and move to sunny California, to bring his style and expertise to friend and fellow stylist David Pierre Pappalardo's Los Angeles salon, Mod's Hair. With a travel visa, an English dictionary, and almost a decade of styling experience under his belt, Bourquin temporarily relocated to L.A. in 2016. To him, the challenge was simple: bring the traditional French cutting technique created by stylist Bruno Pittini back in the '60s to the L.A. woman who wants a low-key style — something different than blonde beach waves.
Though careful and precise in approach, the quintessential French cut is more about the woman who wears it, according to Bourquin. It comes with appreciating her bone structure and natural hair texture, both of which bake into his signature look: polished, sexy, low-maintenance, and above all else, très chic. We asked the expert to break it down for us, ahead.
What is a "French" haircut?
"We use the French cutting technique, which was created in the '60s by French stylist Bruno Pittini. The cut starts with wet hair, beginning with the baseline shape, then perfecting the front layers. I dry the hair on low heat, without touching it with the brush, so I can really see how the hair dries on its own. I make a cut that works without fancy tools or the perfect blowout. Shape and volume comes from the cut, not the styling."
What is the "French-girl" bob?
"The traditional French bob is cut right at the mouth line, with a straight, full bang right at the eyebrow. You can see it on famous Instagram model Taylor LaShae. I don't cut her hair, but I often use her as a reference. If you look closely, you'll see that she actually has a little texture built into her cut, which gives soft waves around the face — it's a super-subtle, modern twist on the classic French bob."
What's your "L.A. approach" to French hair?
"I always create the shape — blunt and full — then personalize it to the individual. The traditional bob is straight with blunt lines, so the modern twist could be adding asymmetry, more texture, face fringe, highlights, or more layers. In the end, we don't really create anything new. We take what we know, the French technique, and we shake it up to create something modern that's still classic."
How do you add volume and fullness on thin, fine hair?
"With thin hair, I usually cut in a very blunt manner, without a lot of texture. If you texturize thin hair too much, it might look good for a few weeks, but you quickly lose the initial structure with the grow-out. I'll see how the hair dries and what kind of texture I have after the blunt-line cut. If I need to, I might add texture with layers after that, depending on the woman's preference and how she wants her hair to fall."
How do you get the perfect shape on thick, curly hair?
"With thick and curly hair, I take it in sections and I texturize starting from the inside, like an undercut. I use thinning scissors around the frame of the face to shape the cut precisely, which gives curls the best end design. The biggest difference is that I infuse more precise thinning with naturally curly hair than I do with fine, straight hair, because I have to make the shape so that the curls are perfect when they dry naturally."
How do you grow out a French haircut?
"I have one client who came on Saturday and she said, 'Yoann, you cut my hair almost a year ago, and I still love the way it looks.' With a good cut, the hair can still look healthy six months to a year later. The thing to keep in mind is that the layers around the face — around the cheekbones or the jawline — are going to fall. If you let it grow out for a year, that volume might now be down around your shoulders."
What is the French approach to styling?
"Less is more. If I want something sleek and straight and shiny, I'm going to use a polish milk, something creamy. If I want something with more texture, with waves or curls or a just-out-of-bed vibe, I'm going to use texturizing spray or dry shampoo on the dry hair. I love dry shampoo because it adds texture and, because there's no alcohol, the hair still looks super natural and airy.
"That's what I love about the French cut: It's easy. Some people style with a blowdryer, without a brush. Some let their hair air dry. Then, there are lots of people who regularly use the curling wand to get those California waves. I like a hairstyle that you can wear in different ways. It really just comes down to confidence and how you wear it."
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