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Book Excerpt: Hair by Guido Palau

An excerpt and photos from the book, out September 2014.

Hair, once it has grown out of the scalp, is for all intents and purposes dead, but it is still incredibly strong and we invest it with an enormous symbolic power—all of which makes hair sound like the consummate zombie fiber. And that, in turn, means that he who controls hair could be considered a twenty-first-century variant of the zombie master.

While it’s highly unlikely that Guido Palau has ever thought about what he does in such terms, the occult insinuation of the idea dovetails with the curious alchemy of the hairdresser’s trade. The transformation of a base material—a dead fiber—into a soaring sculpture or a sensuous come-hither tangle is a magical process. At the height of his game-changing influence in the mid- 1960s, Vidal Sassoon declared he’d rather be known as a designer than a hairdresser. It’s not hard to see why. It was at the Sassoon salon on South Molton Street in London that Guido got his all-but-accidental start in hair in the mid-1980s. After some years of late-teenage drift, he was at loose ends; when he saw that friends were making money cutting hair, he decided to give it a shot. While that particular position didn’t work out (he was fired after eighteen months), Guido’s subsequent career in styling has established him as a contemporary exemplar of Sassoon’s grand ambition. His combination of natural aptitude and artistry has allowed him to create startling 26 effects, not just in the conventional pursuit of beauty but also in the transformation of the styling of hair into a running commentary on society. It’s a role that fashion itself has often played—a reflection of what is, a projection of what will be—and so to make a similar claim on behalf of the hairdresser is surely not so grandiose, especially when the hairdresser in question is someone as finely tuned to the nuance of the moment as Guido.

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So consider this book his manifesto for now. Enjoy the art. Ponder the message. Be enthralled, intrigued, confused. Hair is dead. Hair lives.

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—Tim Blanks

TB: Obviously, hair is a real signifier, but it’s also just this dead fiber on your head. Do you ever give much thought to that?

GP: No. It’s just a material, something to be manipulated, teased, and trussed into different shapes and colors to define a style for me. Hair can be manipulated in so many ways. I think of it as a designer would think of a piece of material or a milliner would proportion a hat.

TB: But hair isn’t alive, is it? It’s a dead fiber, and so symbolically, it’s a very peculiar thing.

GP: When you think about hair like that it might seem strange, but my thoughts are about creating something out of the hair, building a character. The hair is just my cloth.

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