Some people follow trends, others make them. For three decades, the legendary hair stylist Guido Palau has twisted chignons, woven braids and pinned the tresses on the runways that dictate what’s next in fashion. Supermodel Raquel Zimmermann talks to Palau about meditation, inspiration, and his new Rizzoli book, Hair: Guido.
Raquel—Guido, I’ve always admired your work because of its unique vision. You’re always ahead, avant-garde. You take in the vision of the designer, or the artist, or the photographer, but then you make more out of it.
Guido—I think that comes from my beginning, when I didn’t technically know how to do hair the “right” way, so I did it my own way, and then it became a kind of idea or aesthetic.
Raquel—And a discovery.
Guido—The off-way to do a chignon or the off-way to do an updo became my style in a way. It was a different point of view. But, in this book, I wanted to show perfection because I felt that other type of hairdressing—that undone kind—is very of-the-moment and what everybody thinks is modern hair, so I wanted the book to go against that. I wanted to show another sort of beauty and another sort of person that could be in my fantasy, but all of the references in this book are from my days in England in the seventies or the eighties, or my experiences, say, with Alexander McQueen and his inspirations. It’s a combination of those things that come out in this sort of visual way.
Raquel—I appreciate when I’m just as pretty in a photograph as I am naturally, but I get more satisfaction as a model from becoming a character, and that’s the beauty of working with you. It’s like I’m a creature.
Guido—I always look at the different person in the room, the person who is more unusual or has her own style, so when I’m left to do my own thing, I want to create something that raises questions. What is it? Is it really beautiful?
Raquel—What is beauty?
Guido—Yes, what is beauty? And, the idea of the book is to question things. Now, I think we’ve come to a point where things are very safe and very acceptable, so it’s nice to do a project like this and really express my ideas, and not edit myself, but be free. I think what I like about working with you—and we have worked together for so long now—is that you take on a role, look very intently at what I’m doing, and you make it work; that’s a great creative process and it’s why I still enjoy doing what I do. It’s a small group of three or four, and it goes into a magazine that lots of people see —but the actual process is very small. It’s like making a record or doing a performance—you can only do it with certain people.
Raquel—It’s true; we all get there together.
Guido—But, I also think what excited me about fashion was looking at the amazing transformations of models in the sixties, and the seventies, and the eighties. I love that way you can transform a per- son into some kind of fantasy—that’s what I enjoy, that’s why I got into this business. And, of course, now my role is different because I have to sometimes do simpler things, but, in its pure form, I love the creation of a character.
Raquel—It’s funny, because when I was about 13, it was the first time I thought about modeling as this fantasy world—I was a kid in Brazil and I saw a picture of Naomi Campbell on the catwalk when she was wearing those extreme Vivienne Westwood shoes, and I thought, Wow, this is different.
Guido—What do you think about being a model?
Raquel—I feel similar to what you just described, especially when I am able to do something different and be creative, because I can also be photographed just as I am.
Guido—It’s nice that you can do both—you’re lucky that you can be very simple and natural, and your face allows people to be really creative. It’s almost as though I cannot put enough wigs on you and makeup, but you still come through; you don’t get drowned in it, which is a really amazing quality for a model because some models can’t take it. That’s probably why people love working with you and why you’ve had such a long career. People probably think of stories and work them around what you can bring to it, and it’s very nice for creative people to have a muse. It feels like when you come into the studio you’re bringing your creative side.
Raquel—You described it so well, with that small group of people— that’s probably where I find the most joy in my job, when you feel that the group of people is in the moment and creating. And then, after, you don’t know if it’s going to be criticized.
Guido—I think that’s artistic; when you put yourself on the line, you can be criticized. But that’s fine, because that’s what people do. The real test of it is when you look back five years later at the pictures you did or the hair I might have done—I’m my own worst critic anyway, so nobody can critique my work as bad as I can. And I’m sure it’s the same with you. If people are critical or critiquing it, at least it means you’ve created some kind of impression. It might not always be, “Oh, she looks so beautiful in that picture,” and, instead, that you look strange, but there’s a reaction. If you just do pretty pictures the whole time, you always look pretty. After a while, people are kind of like, Ugh. And that’s what I wanted to do with the book—not always the most classically beautiful girls. To me, all of the people in the book are very great-looking and I’m very inspired by them. Their hair was designed around them—I would see them and then I would work out a hairstyle.
Raquel—What made you want to do your job and how did you start?
Guido—Well, a few of my friends were hairdressers and I didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t very qualified at school, I didn’t do many ex- ams, so I just thought, I’ll do hairdressing. So I went to London, got a job at Vidal Sassoon, which didn’t last long—I got fired—and then I went around to different salons learning, and at one salon, there was a girl going on a photo shoot (this was the mid-eighties) and I went with her as her assistant. That’s when I discovered there was this job that existed. As soon as I saw that, I thought, “Yeah, I like this creative process.” I don’t think I could have worked in a salon; I don’t think it was my destiny. When I found the studio environment and fashion, that’s when I felt comfortable, so then I began to work in different studios and I learned hairdressing—but, still now, my train- ing isn’t immense. I don’t have the best technical skills; it’s more of wanting to achieve it and asking how it becomes achievable. Then, I just worked and worked and worked, and worked hard. When you work hard at your job, you meet other people who work hard at their jobs and you form little teams, and your work becomes better. On the way, I met these great people, like David Sims and Steven Meisel who taught me different aspects of fashion—it’s not like I had all of that in me. Now, I feel more confident to say what I think. That took a lot of years of nurturing, and confidence, and mistakes, and all that. So, I was lucky, I could’ve taken a different turn and I could be in a regular salon.
Raquel—You could be in a chain of salons.
Guido—Oh, not even. I could have ended up in a local salon, but your fate takes you—
Raquel—And your intuition and—
Guido—And that brings us nicely to meditation. We have to that we both do meditation, so we both go to—
Guido—And we didn’t know we both did but we—
Raquel—Figured out later on.
Guido—I started about three years ago, but I think you’re more full-on than I am.
Raquel—I guess I have a lot of questions in my mind and it’s a technique—it’s like a scientific thing—you just sit down and close your eyes and you get in touch with yourself. And you really feel who you are and what direction you want to take.
Guido—The meditation helps me to calm down, so, in a way, it helps me be creative because it just stilled my mind. Those two times in a day quiet me down; I let go of some anxieties and some fears. It’s a personal thing that I needed to have for myself. You know, when you’re in this business, you’re working a lot and you’re traveling, and it’s very difficult to have your own time, and it gives you energy. Every aspect of your life works better.
Raquel—I feel that—I’m from a small town in the south of Brazil and then I just took this jump and then I was traveling all over the world and meeting so many people and it’s great and it’s wonderful, it’s changed my life. But now I just feel like there’s so much information all the time through the internet, Facebook, Instagram, television, noise all the time in New York and I get anxiety and these distractions, a lot of distractions, so I feel that when I meditate I can calm down, relax and then be still for a moment and let my own creativity and intuition talk to me, not what’s coming from outside but what’s coming from in.
Guido—And I think anything that can help anybody become more in touch with themselves or calm them down and give them some moments of peace through New York or cities anywhere in the world. People are very stressed, so we need some more things that can help us that are good for us, not just like, “I want to go out and get drunk and relax,” you know what I mean?
Raquel—Yeah, because that’s an escape—which is fine, sometimes you need an escape, but it’s a different thing. I hear more and more people are getting into it and it’s a great thing.
Guido—What else is there to talk about?
Raquel—Who are your favorite artists and movie directors?
Guido—I like Fellini and I like David Lynch and I love anyone who has an opinion of visual things, and the same with artists. I love seeing imagery, but I’m as inspired by the street as I am by a movie.
Raquel—Anything could inspire you.
Guido—Could be anything, it doesn’t have to be a great movie director even though when you look at great movies they’re inspiring, but I can just look at a woman on the street and she’s inspiring, or a guy on the street as inspiring, and I get as much inspiration from that as I do a great painting. I find when I look at great paintings I’m slightly removed from them because they’re not in my world. When I see someone on the street I can relate to them. I can be inspired by anything or by getting lost in my thoughts or listening to some music. I think you have to be aware, keep your eyes open and never think that you’ve said everything. There’s always something new to say.
Raquel—Things can change every day. They’re changing all the time. It’s funny, with music I’m always changing, every day I like a different thing, yesterday I found myself listening to Chopin, like classical piano playing and I was like, “I love this, this rocks.” Not Metallica anymore, now it’s Chopin. It’s great, just keep yourself open to everything and all different experiences.
Guido—Music is so important to people because it can give you an energy and it can give you a moment and that’s why often in creative places they have music playing because it can be a very inspiring kind of trigger to something and it sets the mood a lot of the time. But my personal musical taste can go from A-to-Z and you don’t even want to know what that is because—[Raquel laughs].
Guido—What do you think about your hair, personally?
Raquel—For girls, it’s so funny. I hear of girls that are like, “I went and I cut my hair and I was crying for a week,” and I thought, “yeah, they cut a little piece of hair,” and it’s so intense for girls to change. I think it’s quite liberating as a girl to just let go.
Guido—I try to explain to people that models are the model for that moment, for that one second that you see them on the runway or in a thing, but the second before they might not feel great but then there’s that one moment that is captured and it’s great, and all those women that inspire me, all the women that inspire me or men are those men that, if you ever see a woman come out here now and she’s got an elaborate style you’re “like, wow, look how amazing is that!” I always want to encourage that when I talk to women about their hair, like, “try it, who knows. It might be great.”
Raquel—Tell me about your book. This is the second one, how long did it take to prepare?
Guido—The book, it took about two-and-a-half years and it started with one picture, the cupboard picture that I did, and then I was very inspired by that and then I was thinking about doing a book and that was the starting point. The whole just visual side of the book, how I wanted the girls and boys to look, took maybe five shootings, about five shootings over two years when I had a free day and David was free, and we’d do some casting and then we’d work out, me and my team would work out the hair.
Raquel—The casting is interesting—the characters.
Guido—Yeah, so then we’d do the different characters, and then we’d work out between us what hair they should have and then on the day of the shoot it was kind of worked out so we’d have maybe six hairdressers and each one would be working and then we’d shoot more, so it was like a big production, but we got it done quite quickly.
Raquel—What is a great memory, a funny episode of your career or highlight of your career that you can share?
Guido—I’ve been lucky enough to work with all the people that I ever really thought I wanted to work with. I was very lucky that I’ve worked with great photographers like Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and Steven Meisel and all the people that I’d looked up to and then I was suddenly working with them. It was really incredible, and then to still be working in the industry and people seem to like what I do, so that’s a very nice thing, it’s not like one pivotal…I suppose I always think of the George Michael video which I did with the supermodels in the nineties.
Raquel—You did that! Wow!
Guido—With Christy, Linda, incredible because I look at it now and I didn’t realize at the time what a big deal it was going to be, and it was at the moment at the height of the supermodels and it was a great thing to have done and look back at.
Raquel—A moment in history.
Guido—Yeah, it was a moment, and it’s something people put on and everyone seems to know it and love it and it seems to have inspired a lot of people to get into fashion.