Guido Palau has created some of Fashion’s most memorable and enduring images of hair. From the glamour of the supers to Grunge’s stripping away of the status quo collaborating with the likes of David Sims, Raf Simons and a whole new breed of radicals, he has worked for decades on the razors edge. Guido holds the title of Redken’s Global Creative Director. In 2015 Redken and Guido celebrated the 10th year anniversary of their partnership, having influenced trends that continue to shape both the fashion and beauty industries.
Interview MAXINE LEONARD
Guido has coiffed heads for most of the industry’s most venerable houses (Prada, Givenchy, Dior, Valentino… and many more) and he has worked on some of The Met’s blockbuster exhibitions, including the now infamous retrospective of Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. For 13 years Guido has partnered with Redken as Global Creative Director, where he creates some of the most iconic hairstyles and influential trends that continue to shape the fashion and beauty industries.
Maxine Leonard: What was your introduction to fashion?
Guido Palau: Moving to London and becoming aware of style on the street. It was 1983 and it was a very visual time in London with the all the different musical and style cults. It was an explosive time and I think walking up and down South Molton Street which at the time was an epicentre of street bourgeois chic and whilst working at Vidal Sassoon I became aware of fashion and style. It wasn’t as clear as I see it today, my journey started here.
ML: Along with your early collaborators you really changed the dynamic, changed the conversation – the visual – of fashion. What was is about that time and those people that allowed for such a dramatic change?
GP: The people I was collaborating with were one step ahead of the game and it was a much slower time. It was easier in some ways to make an impact visually than it is today. I think people were less knowing. We were young, we were inspired, we had something to say. We weren’t musicians but we were singing our song in a way and I was lucky to be in a great band of collaborators and great teachers at that time, who helped me visualise with hair. David Sims in particular was around in a time that was changing. We are going through another change at the moment. In the 1980s the high gloss glamour was very in vogue and we reacted against that politically and culturally. Out of that became a grunge aesthetic. I suppose it was the right time, right place, right people. The stars aligned for that creative moment to happen and I don’t think that happens that often and I feel fortunate to be a part of that cusp of change.
ML: Generally – do you look back on the archive or is it always on to the next thing?
GP: I think it’s funny having been in the industry for long enough to see your work being referenced. In a way your archive is being made aware of and that sounds very grand of me and it’s not meant too but when you have been around and the period that you started from is being referenced by a younger generation it makes you more aware of the impact that imagery and hair had on a time. I think you can only do what you do at the time, I couldn’t recreate that hair again because I was reacting to something at the time so it was genuine. When I’m asked to do it again the results are not the same emotively and it feels like a parody of it so I don’t look back. When people reference the work it’s hard to recreate a moment in time that was true. I sometimes look back and think some of those moments were my greatest hits but in other ways it was what it was. I was lucky to be working with the artists I was collaborating with at that time.
ML: Do you identify politically today?
BP: I do identify and I feel that because there have be certain parts of my life that I could not be myself, I look at young people being able to voice who they are and not feel ashamed, and the inclusion we are seeing in beauty of all races and sexuality is progressive and should have been there forever… and you realise you are living in changing times. It’s important to give a platform where the voice is heard and seen.
ML: And do you think it is possible now to create change – within the current evolution of the fashion industry?
GP: I think yes, you can always look back at the past but I believe it was easier due to there being less visual communication. There weren’t as many magazines, there was no social media so the market wasn’t as broad. There were two youth based magazines that the world looked at i-D and The Face. Italian Vogue was another publication that was seen every month. Nowadays there are so many more places that it doesn’t maybe last as long, because there’s always something else to look at. The world is evolving and it never stops growing. If a young artist is inspired by the work it will translate differently because they do not have your hands or history so it’s different and it changes. Fashion and beauty never stops, it keeps moving and that’s the exciting thing about the industry.
ML: Your body of work is epic how do you stay excited and keep driving ideas?
GP: By being around other creative people. I don’t think it’s a singular thing. None of my work would be any good without the team I work with. I’m reliant on a great team to make what I do look good and fortunate to have been in the industry a long time and still be around very creative forceful artists that keep me on my toes. I’m generally interested in the process of a team coming together and creating something that we all enjoy which is primarily the most important thing. I think it’s being around creative people who have got the same drive. The industry attracts a certain kind of person and you find a lot of the people that have done well have similar traits so you are connected by that trait in a way and it keeps you going.
ML: Our visual language changes in seconds. Has the new technological world changed your approach to your craft?
GP: Not to my craft but obviously in the way it’s looked upon, everything is so instant now and also disposable in some ways where as before when I first started you would hang onto a magazine and it was the only place you could get a visual fix, whereas nowadays there are different vehicles.
ML: Do you struggle with that pace at all?
GP: I don’t feel like I’m in that race. If I were twenty years younger perhaps I would feel differently but I don’t feel competitive on Instagram. I like it, but I’m not defined by it.
ML: With so much visual noise in the world how do you retain your instinct for what is right?
GP: It’s a guttural feeling. I know when something feels right or wrong. I have a tipping point, I know when I think it’s right and I’m lucky to collaborate with photographers who see it the same way or feel that when we get to the right point in what we are creating we have found the voice we are looking for. When I’m working on an idea it’s instinctual knowing when something needs to stop or to be pushed, it’s in my gut. You can’t train that it’s something you have or you don’t. I find that working with young people that they either have that visual sense or not.
It’s a personal knowing. As soon as the switch was turned on it never left me. I don’t always hit that point, it’s nice when I do. I’m a harsh critic of myself and I know when I’m not satisfied. I always try my best but I’m past the point of beating myself up. It’s lovely when people compliment the work but it’s important to me to feel it’s right.
ML: Are there icons you draw from that we can find traces of in your work?
GP: Yes everyone. I think every hairdresser that is or was is in my work. I’ve drawn inspiration from all. When you’re a fan of someone’s work you can’t help but be influenced by it. Christiaan, Sam Mcknight, Didier, Eugene, Garren, Julien D’ys all of these artists, even assistants that have been part of my team that have gone on to have their own careers I think ‘wow’ Definitely if I see someone’s work I cant stop it visually going into my mind. All the people I have mentioned have distinct styles of their own and I have styles of my own and I wouldn’t copy. Beg, steal or borrow [laughs].
ML: Do you think hair as a social symbol has become less important, or more?
GP: At the moment it’s very important regarding the message of inclusivity and democracy in beauty. For people in a society to be able to express themselves visually in the manner they choose is crucial. In 2018 we are having this discussion about acceptance and freedom to express which is unbelievable. Politically what is happening globally is people are demanding the right to have their voice and why shouldn’t they. Visually your hair is a big indication of who you are and what you want to say. It amazes me with hair how much of statement it can be. Today the conversation can cause a debate which is a pivotal point in beauty which is being acknowledged and it’s exciting. It breaking down people’s narrow minded perceptions of what is beautiful.
ML: Our September issue is themed BIG. What hero products can you recommend?
GP: Guts. It’s a mousse that gets great volume into the hair. It takes guts!