The Industry's Top Hairstylist Says This Tiny Tweak Changes Everything

You'd expect the industry's most in-demand hairstylist to have a supercilious air about them, but not Guido Palau. Despite getting virtually zero sleep since Fashion Month began back in September, the Global Creative Director for Redken tells me he likes my hair before taking a seat opposite me on a squishy sofa and talking to me as though we're old friends. (We'd never met.)
Since styling George Michael's "Freedom! '90" music video, which boasted models like Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, he has become a firm fixture backstage at Fashion Week, creating looks for the likes of Victoria Beckham, Marc Jacobs, and Prada, while his micro-bangs, towering buns, and outlandish wigs have graced the pages of the biggest magazines worldwide.
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This is what the man himself has learned after almost 30 years — and counting — in the ever-changing industry.
Some of the looks you create have been referred to as "anti-hair" or "anti-beauty" because you push the boundaries so far. What do you think of that?
"Being in the creative industry, there’s always a responsibility to make men, women, everybody look beautiful, but I’ve always tried to look at things that aren’t traditionally conventional or even acceptable. I’ve never thought of myself as traditional, so I always wanted to pick up the antihero in hair and to celebrate that. I look at these things and I ask, 'Okay, why isn’t this beautiful?' For example, why are we told that straight hair is beautiful and really frizzy hair isn’t so beautiful? It’s all about perception. These are traditional ideas. People are put off by frizzy, flyaway hair, but I’ve celebrated that in my career. I want to challenge some of those ideas, because the industry has changed radically in the past few years. People’s idea of beauty has changed, and that’s a good thing."
You have an Instagram page, but you don't use the app yourself. Why is that?
"I have a team that runs my Instagram, but I don’t use it personally that much because I found myself getting anxious with it. I approve all the imagery and take a lot of the pictures myself, but someone else does the uploading. It’s only that process because, especially doing Fashion Week, I used to get up in the morning and start scrolling and I’d feel so anxious about the industry because it’s so overloaded during Fashion Week, and I was overloading on it myself. I think Instagram is an amazing thing, and I wouldn’t say I don’t like it, but I have to take a break from it sometimes. I like the way it’s inclusive and everyone can have a voice. In one way it’s elitist, because you only really see glamorous things on it, especially when it comes to fashion, but in another way, everyone can do it. It’s like your own little magazine. You can do it your way. You could go out into the street and find people whose hair is amazing and just create an Instagram around that, like, 'I love the way this person’s hair looks.' Over time, you build up a catalog and an idea."
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If you're not on Instagram, do you get most of your inspiration from the streets?
"If you look at people in cities like London, there are so many different techniques, whether they’ve just left their hair natural or brushed it a certain way. I clock that and it’ll come out somewhere in my work. It all goes in, and it comes out at a certain point. There were times where I looked at nature a lot and that gave me the idea of dual textures in hair: wet and dry, shiny and matte. That came from me being interested in architecture. Sometimes, you’d get something very severe against nature, and the juxtaposition of those two things became so beautiful. When you see hard and soft, modern and old, nature and man-made — I like that juxtaposition."
Which three products can you not imagine your kit without, and why?
"Redken Windblown Dry Texturizing Spray is my go-to product. People like it because you can’t mess up with it. A lot of people find using hair products difficult, because they’ve freshly washed their hair, put it in, and it doesn’t look great. This product is iconic and you can’t go wrong with it. I love the All Soft Shampoo — a great shampoo is always a good starting point. I also love the new Redken Dry Shampoo Powder, for when you feel your hair is a little bit flat and you need body at the root. Spritzing a little bit of that into it gives you that, but it also lends a shine that you’d expect from naturalness."
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You do the hair backstage at so many shows. Which ones do you always jump at the chance to be a part of and why?
"I’ve been lucky that my career has been a very long one. Not to blow my own trumpet, but I’m amazed at how long it’s gone on for! Over those years, I’ve climbed for a long time. I love working with designers that push ideas, and I love working with other creatives that have a vision, again, to challenge people’s ideas. I love working with [Miuccia] Prada. She’s a feminist and she pushes the idea of being a woman with a quirkiness and being subversive. She has a classic taste but she always subverts it. I love Marc Jacobs, and I had a longstanding relationship with Alexander McQueen, which I cherished. With Lee [McQueen], he had a different way of looking at women, which was sometimes misconstrued, but he always celebrated women’s strength. It was always done in a different way. I’ve been lucky that I’ve worked with such a diverse number of designers who have different tastes, from very classic, like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, to more avant-garde designers; I love that mix and the way it pushes my creativity."
Has a designer ever given you a brief that you’ve disagreed with? How do you deal with creative differences?
"Designers ask us to listen and to understand their vision and their design and to translate it into hair. Sometimes I guide them, but because I’ve worked with the designers for so long, that’s okay. The big hair at Valentino, for example, didn’t start out as big as that. Every time I sent Pierpaolo [Piccioli, Valentino's creative director] the pictures it got bigger and then I thought, no, now it’s got to be really big. I’d ask my assistant, 'Is that big?' and she’d say, 'Yeah, it’s big,' then I’d say, 'No, it’s got to be much bigger.' At the show, I even put another wig on and another pad. That wasn’t me going crazy; that was an idea that had come from him. We were talking about the idea of fantasy in fashion and beauty — something we haven’t talked about much. We’ve talked about inclusion and diversity and naturalness as positive aspects in beauty and fashion, but we shouldn’t forget the fantasy, which is what he was trying to make a case for at that show. There is a dream that women want as well, and it was an exaggerated idea of dream hair, because it’s fashion. It’s all about collaboration, and designers book me because I understand the brands."
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Do you think the right steps are being taken to make the fashion and beauty industry as inclusive as possible?
"Even though fashion is often criticized, I think there have been major steps to change this. When I’m working with my team, I feel it’s very inclusive and we cater to all hair types and all sexualities and genders. I’m of an older generation, and even three years ago I remember there was only one girl with natural curly hair in a show, but now there are many different textures and trans men and women in every show. At Miu Miu this year, for example, there were 16 girls with natural texture and cropped hair. I think the change has been positively proactive, and we know it isn’t a trend — it’ll only move forward."
You’ve been doing Fashion Week for years and create so many looks each time. How do you stop the inspiration from running dry?
"I do get a block. It’s harder to make reactionary things now. That’s a new challenge — how to make provocative statements when we’re all so knowing. There are times in my career when it was easier to make statements and to create buzz around things, but people are very savvy now, and we can all see the reference, we all understand the irony. There were times, not so very long ago, when people didn’t know all the references and couldn’t google things. Now, there’s so much knowledge at our fingertips. Before, you had to find the book, research the artist, find the idea — it was much more difficult. But being around young people, being around other creatives and bouncing off them is what keeps me interested."
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What advice would you give to someone who wants to switch up their hair but doesn’t know where to start?
"Start with changing your part. So many people are locked into the way they part the hair, aren’t they? It’s a tiny little thing. Even trying a new product or letting your hair air dry — small things. Try these things at home, not when you’re going out. See whether you feel confident. You might want to go back to your original style, but what we love about seeing models or celebrities on runways or red carpets is their chameleon-like approach to themselves, it’s attractive. Kim Kardashian goes long, short, blonde, brunette and there’s a magpie effect. The thing is, do we know she’s ultra confident? She exudes it, but because we don’t know her we don’t really know what it is. We can all be that, though. We live in a great time where there are no rules. We don’t have to listen to anyone else’s idea of beauty. It’s all our own idea of beauty."
Searches for the word "perm" are through the roof. What do you make of the trend coming back and what’s the easiest way to pull it off?
"Like everything that has been put in room 101, it has come back in some strange way. I remember when I first cut a mullet, people thought, 'A mullet? Really?' But now it’s de rigueur if you want to be a cool kid. Everything can be turned around. The perm has had so many bad connotations attached to it, but if it does come back in any kind of way, it’s when the cool person gets it, and then everybody loves it. Everything that is considered bad has come back in the last few years. It’s a trend I’ve noticed among young people; they want to antagonize and challenge the ideas that people have. It’s interesting, and I’ve always been like that — why is a curly perm so bad? In terms of pulling it off, do it with a nonchalance, like anything with a bad vibe around it. There has to be an ease to it — youth helps, as well."
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Are there any hair trends you think should be shelved forever?
"I don’t think so! The wrong things can always become the right things. If we had the right things all the time, we wouldn’t be moving anything on."
Who has the best hair out of everyone you've worked with?
"Girls like Gisele have iconic hair. Gigi Hadid has that hair as well. When she first started modeling she was a lot blonder, but I think she was told to let the dye grow out — she has this amazing, natural ashy-blonde color. I’m really enjoying working with natural curls, too. Because shows are so much more inclusive, there are so many types of hair to work and play with backstage, and that creates new challenges for me, which is really exciting."
What are your trend predictions for next year?
"To predict seems old-fashioned. It feels too dictatorial. Women don’t want that. They want to make their own mind up, but there are so many choices out there, so if you want to have a severe punk haircut, there are so many examples on the runway. If you want flowing locks, it’s there. It’s about being true to who you are. It’s not to say you have to be natural and all earth-mother about it. You can be extreme. Play with your color, play with your texture, leave the texture. It’s so inclusive and open, and to me, it’s the most positive time for women to be looking at beauty because it's starting to finally be diverse and it’s just going to become even more so."
This story was originally published on Refinery29 UK.
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