Nearly a decade ago when hairstylist Mordechai Alvow handled Melania Trump’s mane for a Vogue Japan photo shoot, he never imagined he had his fingers in the tresses of the future first lady. But Trump’s ascendance to the White House and his critical role in shaping her look along the way are just the most recent twists in Alvow’s atypical career path. Raised in Jaffa, Israel, by Turkish parents, he served in the Israeli army before being trained at Vidal Sassoon in London and emigrating at age 22 to the U.S., where he spent six months in Los Angeles prior to settling in New York. While helming the Moty Moty at the Equinox Sports Club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, he was inspired by a bout of horrific allergies, and a mission to give hairdressers and hair-care customers safe product options to launch the organic hair-care brand Yarok, which means green in Hebrew, in 2006.
Four years later, he set up shop at Yarok Beauty Kitchen on West 19th Street, a salon that puts Alvow’s natural approach into practice by blending hair remedies from raw ingredients. Lately, he’s spent quite a bit of time out of the salon and on the campaign trail styling Trump’s hair for high-profile events such as the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and her anticyber bullying speech outside of Philadelphia. With the campaign over, Alvow is gearing up for the inauguration and all the rest that’s about to come with his client’s husband taking over the Oval Office. WWD chatted with Alvow about his working relationship with Trump, the inauguration and how her hairstyles will adjust now that she’s set to fill Michelle Obama’s shoes.
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WWD: What was your reaction to Melania Trump upon your initial encounter with her?
Mordechai Alvow: When we first met, I was stunned at her natural beauty, with no makeup and her hair in a towel. We immediately clicked — working together felt very familiar and easy. There was an understanding of who she was and how she wanted to look. As I was leaving, her assistant asked if they could contact me again. The rest is history.
WWD: Did the thought cross your mind that this woman could end up in the White House?
M.A.: Absolutely not. I consider myself spiritual, and I study Kabbalah. We learn not to get overwhelmed. We learn to take things a day at a time. We learn to share with others and that being humble is a very important quality. When you stick to those tools, it helps. You don’t go wild with your imagination. I have been with high-powered people most of my career. I guess I attract that. I don’t want to say you get used to it, but it doesn’t go to your head.
WWD: How do you generally come up with her hairstyles?
M.A.: At times, she will send me inspiration from images she has found that she likes, and I’ll take some of the elements and apply them. Many times, I also send her images of fashion and overall looks I like for her. We also consider the event, the location and the “team,” if it is a fashion event or a fund-raiser. Usually she knows how she wants it to look and then I execute. I do love her up in a high ponytail with some volume on the crown and some hair falling on the front. She looks great in late Sixties hairstyles, which a few times we have updated to look more modern.
WWD: While you are working on Melania’s hair, what’s the banter like?
M.A.: It’s very casual and friendly. We talk about energy and spirituality, and we talk about my family and her family. We choose music that we feel like listening to, [mostly music from the] late Sixties. It could be European or American.
WWD: Have you also styled Donald Trump’s hair?
M.A.: No, I haven’t. He has his own look.
WWD: How did your hairstyles for Melania Trump shift since her husband started running for president?
M.A.: Before Donald Trump announced last June he was running for the presidency, we used to do a side part sometimes or a middle part sometimes, her hair up in a ponytail or coming down. There was a variety of things we did, according to what she was wearing or where she was going. But I think, once he announced, we didn’t want to be changing things up. I think there is a time for that, and that wasn’t the right time. It was very important psychologically to let people know who she is and show some stability with the look.
WWD: During the campaign, she mostly wore her hair down with loose curls rimming her face. What’s the rationale for that hairstyle?
M.A.: She is strikingly beautiful and tall, so we wanted to provide balance, keeping her looking amazing and also approachable so as not to take away from everything else that is going on. In a more practical sense, we wanted to keep her look consistent and always camera-ready. Lots of times I would prepare her hair early morning and she would fly off on her own, so the shape and texture of the hair needed to last for all those hours.
WWD: For the “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday, what was your goal for her hair?
M.A.: For TV, the goal is not to make it overdone or too stiff, while at the same time keeping the texture alive. Strong lights can bring imperfections, which I don’t mind, but not to the point where that’s all you look at. Also, the right opening next to the cheekbones is always important, as well as overall healthy texture and proportionality to the face and body. Natural symmetry usually works really well.
WWD: Do you think her hair will evolve going forward?
M.A.: I believe so, but right now we are keeping it open and see how things evolve. Her fashion has been looking demure and chic, which is what we will work off of. The length, smoothing the style or a modern shape, but, of course, [will be] still feminine, textured and elegant, which is how she likes it. She never wants to look overdone.
WWD: What do anticipate her wanting to do for the inauguration with her hair?
M.A.: From what I understand it is a very long day. There are ceremonies, a luncheon, parade and the ball. It’s Jan. 20, so it’s probably going to be cold and it might be windy. Perhaps [we will do the] hair up, but it’s too early to tell. The big factor will be the design of what she wears.
WWD: Do you think your association with the incoming first lady will increase your brand’s business?
M.A.: From Day One, Melania was very supportive of what I do. She always tried to promote my products, which I am super appreciative about. The first job we did for Japanese Vogue, she included one of my products in the photo shoot. They asked her to show what’s in a bag, and she just grabbed one of the products. It was amazing to me that she did that. She’s a beautiful woman with beautiful hair, so you want to know what she’s using.
WWD: Back in your native Israel, what’s the reaction to your client becoming the FLOTUS-elect?
M.A.: In Israel, they are going crazy. I was already on a few TV channels. I am going there next week, and the biggest TV channel wants to do a feature. We are in 22 countries with my line, but not in Israel. So, we have to find someone quick to carry the line there.