“I feel some of the younger artists are trying to duplicate the past. There are a lot of artists that come with references that are 20 years old and they hope you can recreate it – but it doesn’t work that way.” Didier Malige is one of the greats. Styling heads since the sixties, Malige has been a central cog within an industry that has grown exponentially since his beginnings at Paris’ Carita salon. Maxine Leonard talks candidly with the hair legend, and Didier shares a series shot exclusively for Beauty Papers with Photographer Guillaume Roemaet.
Maxine Leonard: Hello Didier it’s Maxine
Didier Malige: Hello Maxine how are you?
ML: Good thank you. Do you remember meeting in Chelsea, NYC?
DM: I remember. We never have worked together and everything has changed a lot since then. Maybe I have been in the industry too long!
ML: How long have you been doing hair for?
DM: I’m 70 now and I started when I was 14. I grew up in Paris. At the time there were two big salons and my mother knew Rosie Carita and asked if I could be an apprentice at the salon. There was a guy at Carita who was doing some shoots. At this time hairdressers used to only go to set for a couple of hours, they would create a stiff updo then return to salon once the hair had been done. I went to work with Jean Louis David and he changed things. He was interested in the idea of advertising and he created a team of stylists. The style was either Mod hair or Jean Louis David style. In the mid 70’s Jean Louis wanted to start advertising his work in magazines like Elle and Marie Claire – spending his money buying pages in the magazines. I could have stayed in France but I wanted to go to America, to a new territory.
ML: Was it a culture shock moving to America?
DM: It was a big shock because the style of it was very different. In France the hair was more flexible.
ML: That’s interesting because I would of presumed the opposite?
DM: The major player in America for hair at this time was Kenneth and what he did was create big bouffants – not easy going hair.
ML: Where would you say your technical training came from?
DM: Definitely from Paris. The techniques differed, they used curlers, teasing and and a lot of hairspray.
ML: What was your defining moment editorially in America?
DM: I think my big break came later when I started to work with Bruce Webber. Bruce as you know is not working as much anymore but recently I worked with him. He’s not a major force like he used to be.
ML: Has that effected how you work?
DM: I still support Bruce Webber and Patrick Demarchelier and if there is a way that I can support them to those that want to listen, I will. I feel those stories are fabricated. People will take sides… what can I do. Once these stories have gone to press your name is blacklisted. That’s been a very big change, a lot of those photographers who took those images were a big influence, but their pictures are not there anymore.
"What I like most is to work with the same people that I have worked with for many years, but that doesn’t exist anymore. I feel like the industry is a bit like Starbucks now. It moves too fast. The industry is not personal anymore because the turnover is so fast."
ML: You have been doing hair for many years. When you work with younger teams do you see the new generation understanding the heritage of your work?
DM: They recognise my name but I’m not sure if they recognise or know what I have done. There are a lot of young assistants that have met me and worked with me but I started a long time ago. What I like most is to work with the same people that I have worked with for many years, but that doesn’t exist anymore. I feel like the industry is a bit like Starbucks now. It moves too fast. The industry is not personal anymore because the turnover is so fast.
ML: How do you find working with the next generation?
DM: I feel some of the younger artists are trying to duplicate the past. There are a lot of artists that come with references that are 20 years old and they hope you can recreate it – but it doesn’t work that way. There are some really great new teams, especially make up artists. The ideas are there and they are spontaneous and I like that.
ML: How do you think editorially it has changed? I believe the landscape has narrowed and the balance between art and commerce has damaged the voice and removed freedom of expression and liberty to play. Do you associate with that?
DM: In fashion, most of the time the editor is concerned with how many credits are being shot in the story and most of the time it’s the Editor in Chief making the decisions. They need to keep their jobs! And unfortunately, you are not given the freedom.
ML: Now Didier you live with an infamous Editor: Ms Grace Coddington. Did you have those restrictions working with Grace?
DM: Grace doesn’t shoot that much editorial anymore because she isn’t keen to experiment with the younger generation, but she has more say in what she wants to shoot. You know a big change in New York is the magazine stores have been replaced with juice bars or mobile phone stores, they are not there anymore for people to go and look at the magazines and the work. There is one on Hudson St around 8 Ave which is still going.
ML: And Casa Magazine is a big supporter of print. Are you still on the same street you lived on when we met?
DM: Yes I’m still here – exactly!
ML: We used to live on the same street. I always say my biggest achievement during my years of living in the city was living on the same street as you and Grace! [Both Laugh] Would you say your work has a signature style?
DM: I think the signature comes from my hand but also it’s how the work is photographed. When my work is translated by a photographer that I have a good relationship with and have worked with for many years it becomes a signature. But I think I have lost the photographers who really appreciated what it was I used to do. I think now to be recognised or to be a leader you have to do fashion shows, it’s a totally different landmark.
ML: Do you like doing shows?
DM: I do, I do. I never did a lot but I like to work with a group of people and I like the intensity. Some people are extremely good at that – they are organised, they are specialised.
"I still look at magazines and I want to be surprised but it's pretty rare. Instagram is free, magazines are expensive, people don’t buy magazines like they used to and it’s difficult for the magazines now. There are more and more people in the beauty industry and people want to dream and be surprised, artists want to create work that’s exceptional but you need to be motivated. You can see artists want to make different work."
ML: Social media. How do you feel about the vehicle that we have all become so reliant on?
DM: I enjoy looking at it. You can find incredible references. I love looking at imagery from the past, how musicians used to look in the 60s and 70s. So it’s a good tool for that. But in a way, I feel it is anti magazines because it goes so fast and people don’t touch anything – they just look at one image then go to another. There’s no time to appreciate any imagery. Images are being created for Instagram. I still look at magazines and I want to be surprised but it’s pretty rare. Instagram is free, magazines are expensive, people don’t buy magazines like they used to and it’s difficult for the magazines now. There are more and more people in the beauty industry and people want to dream and be surprised, artists want to create work that’s exceptional but you need to be motivated. You can see artists want to make different work.
ML: After years of working editorially have you ever had a desire to photographically record your own work?
DM: I did some pictures but it’s very difficult to do the hair and take the pictures, it’s too objective for me. I don’t really like imagery when you see too much of the hair, I like the idea that the photographer takes the images and looks at it from their point of view. I don’t really like hair pictures in a way.
ML: After all of your achievements and the many years you have been in the industry, how do you challenge yourself? What’s the drive that keeps you going?
DM: One of the challenges is to keep working with good teams. The drive is to try something new, to keep moving.
“If you consider the designers in Europe I feel they do better things than in America. America is a place where designers can make money but Europe has a stronger creative identity.”
ML: I wonder if you related to the idea “if you’re not angry you’re not paying attention”? Is there an essence of punk in your approach to work?
DM: What people are doing is not always good. I don’t want to be part of it. It’s perhaps not the best way to translate what I’m trying to say. But if you want to be part of this industry it’s important to maintain being professional and being open. The challenge is to go with the flow and not to be against it. I think the flow in general is too strong though.
ML: I agree. It’s hard to be everything, there’s a pressure to keep up and I think the struggle is real for all. I think brands and artists are finding it hard to keep any balance. It’s impossible to create that much content and maintain quality and integrity, it’s a war zone out there.
DM: I think in Europe people try harder, they do it for different reasons, it’s less about the money.
ML: There’s definitely less money this side of the pond I can confirm that! [laughs] I think in Europe historically it has always stemmed from the love of creating, and America has been the country you travel to to make it a business.
DM: But that’s good. If you consider the designers in Europe I feel they do better things than in America. America is a place where designers can make money but Europe has a stronger creative identity.
ML: Do you ever see yourself returning to Europe?
DM: To live but not to work. I could live in Europe again but it wouldn’t be to be part of the industry.
ML: Do you think living back in Europe would be a culture shock? After I returned to London I struggled to acclimatise because New York was such a fast paced city to live in.
DM: I lived in America for probably over 35 years…
ML: Still have that glorious French accent though!
DM: I am happy to go to Europe working. I leave for Paris tonight and I’m excited to be going.
ML: Paris is having a heatwave.
DM: I don’t want to hear that! [laughs]
Photographer Guillaume Roemaet
Makeup Holly Silius
Hair Stylist Didier Malige
Photography Assistant Kevin Drelon
Model Alice First at Elite NYC
Casting Felix Cadieu