Behind the scenes at Alexander Wang’s Spring 2016 show, models’ hair was lopped, buzzed, twisted and tousled to emphasize every curve and bend earned at after-parties the night before. This spotlighted each model’s personal style instead of moulding them into a uniform rank on the runway. “There’s not one singular idea of beauty anymore, which is quite liberating,” explains hair guru Guido Palau backstage. “Everything we were once told was wrong is right; all the textures we spent hours blowing out, we’re enhancing…it’s ultimately about bringing out your personality.” Just a few seasons ago, curls were flat-ironed into submission, extensions were added en masse and any inkling of individuality was suppressed instead of celebrated. For many fashion houses, the goal was to create an army of model soldiers sporting sleek, obedient strands.
But this season, designers like Wang, Alessandro Michele, Nicolas Ghesquière, Phoebe Philo and Hedi Slimane challenged this long-standing ideal by booking not just pretty faces but characters whose looks are as unique as their curl patterns. Models bold enough to march to the beat of their own beauty drums are having a “domino effect on the business,” notes hairstylist Paul Hanlon, who whipped up looks at Louis Vuitton and Gucci. There isn’t the same level of enthusiasm around crafting “clones” for the catwalk. “Now there’s a girl with a haircut, a girl with fringe, a girl with pink hair and a girl with curls,” he says of the eclectic models this past season. “I imagine as a consumer, if you look at a show that’s aimed at one type of [girl], it can be off-putting.” Instead of struggling to envision herself in the clothes, Hanlon says, “Every woman can look [at the more diverse lineup] and say, ‘I can be her.’”
When one considers a few of the biggest newcomers of the moment — Imaan Hammam, Mica Arganaraz, Lineisy Montero and Frederikke Sofie — it’s clear that textured hair, no matter the length or shape, rules the runway. Hammam’s riotous ringlets communicate confidence; Arganaraz’s rumpled shag adds instant cool factor; Montero’s cropped ’fro feels at the same time elegant and edgy; and Sofie’s soft Pre-Raphaelite spirals are the epitome of feminine romance. Even in pop culture there’s been an embrace of hair that’s born this way. Celebs like Lupita Nyong’o, Lorde and Solange Knowles respectively make a case for the indisputable glamour of non-relaxed tight curls, waist-grazing locks and cumulus clouds of corkscrews. And it’s not just the upper echelons of the fashion industry and Hollywood that are taking notice of all this glorious texture — megabrands like Victoria’s Secret and Dove are getting in on the action, too.
Maria Borges made history by becoming the first model to saunter down the VS runway with natural hair — or a “TWA” (teeny-weeny Afro) as she refers to it (the Angolan-born catwalker proposed the idea to the company). Though Borges’ hairstyle isn’t exactly a new beauty phenomenon, her manicured mass of curls sent a much-needed message to women tuning in across the world: Being yourself is sexy.
Dove is also instigating change but on a digital level with its Love Your Curls Emojis (131 text-able characters with hair that runs the gamut from springy kinks to Botticelli-like waves). According to the brand’s study, 67 per cent of women say they can better express themselves through emojis than words, so it’s pretty mind-blowing that the only female options offered up until now subscribed to the same straight-strands-fits-all standard.
Whether it’s the fact that visual language is evolving to reflect the diversity of its users or that the runway has given way to free spirits with free-flowing strands, deep-rooted perceptions of beauty are being challenged. No longer do women have to manipulate what’s on their heads to fit a narrow ideal, damaging their hair as they fight their natural texture. Curls can be your calling card. “There isn’t just one type of girl,” surmises Palau of the long-overdue shift that’s taking place on and off the runway. “It’s a concept that we’ve talked about for so many years that has finally come to fruition, which is the idea that a woman can be herself.”
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