In the middle of a world tour of his traveling salon, we talk with the hairstylist John Nollet about his range of haute couture hair accessories and his increasing role as a photographer and film director.
“I love to work with actresses and to create their characters,” says the hairstylist John Nollet. “Hair is often important in the narration of a movie. It’s very interesting to see the power of hair in this respect.” Character building hairstyles that he is responsible for range from the boxy bob of Audrey Tautou as Amélie in the movie of the same name to the customized dreadlocks of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Whether it is on set or preparing for the red carpet, Nollet is the darling of the silver screen. Diane Kruger, Marion Cotillard, Monica Bellucci and his friend Vanessa Paradis are just some of the actresses that have been seduced by Nollet’s practical approach to creating glamour. Given the time constraints of creating paparazzi-ready hair, he makes use of “haute couture hair accessories made with natural hair” that are made, to his design, in Paris. These headbands, combs, tiaras and feathers add instant volume and can transform a hairstyle in minutes rather than hours.
So celebrated is Nollet’s work that he was invited to be part of an installation at the 2005 Venice Biennale. Moreover, not only does he create hairstyles but also he is increasingly taking the role of photographer and film director. “Artisan is the word that best describes everything I do,” he says of his multi-disciplinary approach. “It suggests a certain reality and a lot of work that creates something beautiful.”
Although based in Paris, Nollet can only be described as a nomad for he is in the middle of a project he terms Hair Room Service Around the World, which has seen him travel for the last nine months, bringing his signature hair accessories to women in ten cities, including Dubai, Moscow, Istanbul and Buenos Aires. He travels with a suite of bespoke Louis Vuitton trunks that unpack to build a traveling salon.
When not on the road or on set with one of his A-list clients, Nollet tends to the tresses of loyal devotees at his salon in Paris or at the Hotel Costes, Paris and the Cheval Blanc hotel, Courchevel, where he has permanent outposts of the Hair Room Service. But even here, Nollet’s passion for shaping a character’s personality is evident. “When you come to see me, I try to do the best for your character,” he says. “It’s the right cut for the right life at the right moment.”
What is your definition of luxury?
Good health followed by the freedom of choice in life.
If luxury were a place?
Somewhere close to nature.
If luxury were a person?
The person that one loves.
If luxury were a moment?
The present moment. Luxury is to live in the present moment.
If luxury were an object?
An open plane ticket anywhere. Or better yet, a teletransporter to be taken anywhere anytime.
Would you describe your work with hair as an art form?
I don’t want to say that hairstyling is art, like a very important painting is. It isn’t something you would put in a museum. But it is art in the same sense as all the other artisans working in fashion. Sometimes it is possible to be more than that, to be really creative, but usually it’s just the work of an artisan.
But wasn’t your hairstyling once part of the Venice Biennale?
Yes, which was an interesting experience. The idea was to create a haircut around a point with an elastic band and once you release the elastic, there is your final haircut. It was all about architecture. A haircut is completely based on architecture. You have a face, volumes and a texture that you can play with to help frame and reveal your face. I had to think about where to put the elastic band and where to cut to have a result that would be architectural. This was the opposite of haute couture and my normal work, which is about watching the movement of the hair.
Tell us about your range of hair accessories.
They are items that you put in your hair to change the style, something very discreet. Some of them are things that have helped me when I’m styling an actress for the red carpet. If an actress has been doing interviews all day, she might only have 45 minutes to get ready for an event. My accessories help to change the volume and create a completely different style in a short time. Each piece is unique and is made in our atelier.
Was it the accessories that inspired your world tour?
We first proposed them to my clients in Courchevel, where I have a salon within the Cheval Blanc hotel. It was a huge success and after that I had the idea to do a world tour to offer my accessories service to different women around the world. I called Antoine Arnault at Louis Vuitton and explained to him my idea about haute couture accessories and that I was interested in a suite of specially-made trunks. Then I met Malime Rydaha, who is in charge of communications at the Park Hyatt hotel, who offered me the keys to all Park Hyatts around the world in order to do the tour.
How did Louis Vuitton help with the tour?
They created for me, in ultimate craftsmanship, a made-to-measure trunk that is designed for my work of bringing luxury to clients, linking the spirit of travel and luxury. The original trunk for Hair Room Service is actually a piece of furniture. It can be found at the Hotel Costes in Paris and the Cheval Blanc Hotel in Courchevel and is brought into each client’s private room. The trunks that Louis Vuitton made for me were created specifically for travel.
As part of the tour, the photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino took an incredible shot of you carrying all your bespoke Louis Vuitton trunks. How did that come about?
I’ve known Jean-Baptiste for a long time. I did my first Elle cover with him and Vanessa Paradis. His creative expression is more like that of an artist. For this project, I called Jean-Baptiste and asked him to help me with an image. We had a quick coffee where I explained to him the project and ten minutes later he did a little sketch on the back of the bill. It was exactly the same image that he would later photograph in Parc de Saint-Cloud, Paris.
What have you learned from the international clientele you have met on your world tour?
Traveling from Dubai to Milan, which have completely different definitions of femininity, you can’t help but notice the different cultures of the women. The color of their skins might be different, the texture and color of their hair is different, but they all want the same. In the end, you realize that every woman around the world wants to look good and be glamorous. They all want the same: to look the best they can.
You have styled the hair of actors and actresses for many movies. Which have been your favorite characters?
Of all the characters I have worked on, Vanessa Paradis as Adèle in La Fille Sur Le Pont is perhaps my favorite. At one point she has very short hair, which helped in the narration of the movie to explain that something had changed in her life because at the beginning of the movie she has long hair. The haircut becomes an important point in the movie as it shows that she is changing. The other character that was important was Vincent Cassel in Mesrine. He played a fugitive in the late 1970s and his character changed his face all the time with his hair and beard.
Which other actresses have you worked with?
Monica Bellucci, Diane Kruger, Marion Cotillard.
You are close to Vanessa Paradis. Have you ever worked with Johnny Depp?
For Pirates of the Caribbean, together we created the look of his face and hair. One night we were talking about our upcoming projects, which is when he told me about Jack Sparrow. I talked about dreadlocks and about souvenirs that he could put in his hair. Then I prepared some dreadlocks to show him and he loved them. Unfortunately, I didn’t sign officially with the movie because it became very complicated for a French hairdresser to sign with an American movie.
Do you have a signature style?
I don’t want to say that I have a signature because if you put a signature on something like a haircut you become more important than the client. My signature is to try to reveal the signature of the person who has the haircut. Each client has her own story, culture and style. But at the end, every woman wants to have the best haircut for her particular life. My signature is that result.
You are also a photographer. Tell us about this aspect of your work.
No, not a photographer. I prefer the term image-maker. When I’m taking photographs I feel like I’m on holiday. I know I’m going to do something different, something new. It’s completely different to direct a whole image, rather than just the hair. Before I started to take photographs, I was unsure of the importance of a hairdresser on set. But now when I’m on a set only working on the hair, I know I’m there to help the photographer develop his vision. I used to think that my work as a hairdresser was about my fantasy but now I work to help the photographer.
You have also directed several videos, including a Vanessa Paradis music video.
I was working with L’Oréal when they suggested creating a video and they wanted to know what the process would be to create it. At this point I was going to galleries every day and was really inspired by art. In my industry we have the idea that we have to make something that makes you beautiful and glamorous. But in contemporary art they don’t stop at just beauty, there are other ideas, whether they are beautiful or not. That’s a luxury. I proposed to L’Oréal a video that would show the artworks I’d been looking at in galleries and how each piece could be a hairstyle. With Vanessa Paradis’s music video, I was talking with her one summer about images and really dreaming. A few months later she called me and asked if I wanted to make those images by directing her music video. It was a beautiful experience.
You’re still on the world tour. Where’s next?
We’re going to Tokyo in one week and next month will be the end of the tour in Shanghai. The first night we arrive, the Hyatt will have a cocktail for guests in the hotel and we’ll show them the suitcases full of accessories. We travel as a team of four, and the girl who makes the accessories is with us in case a client would like something bespoke. The actual styling appointments are done in a beautiful suite we set up as a temporary salon. Louis Vuitton will bring even more suitcases and we build something really special.