Laurent Philippon, the French-born hairdresser whose quest for knowledge about the art of hair—he’s been a creative consultant to Bumble and bumble since 1994—has compelled him for the past 10 years to visit libraries, museums and bookshops around the world to research and write Hair: Fashion & Fantasy. The 293-page book, published by Thames & Hudson, discusses topics such as the history of braids, loose hair, curls, blondes, chignons, mohawks, short hair and wigs. “Artists have used hair as a medium, not just for the sake of beautification, but to reveal the beauty of hair itself, and the creative spirit that moves us,” he writes in the book’s introduction.Throughout the “hair bible” are dozens and dozens of fashion photographs contributed by Richard Avedon, Patrick Demarchelier, Inez van Lamsweerde, Vinoodh Matadin, Annie Leibovitz, among others, as well as passages and interviews by colleagues. Here, Laurent spoke with Beauty Insider about his book journey, his favorite learning and what’s next on his wish list.
Beauty Insider: What was the impetus for the book?
Laurent Philippon: I was a very bad student. I hated math and science but I loved history. One thing I have in my library at home are lots of history books and a lot them are on hair and fashion. But all of the books I have were written by university researchers and were too scientific or were too much like hair catalogues. There was nothing but a little bit of history showing the hairdressers’ eye. I wanted to put together a little bit of a mood board. In fashion we have a language and we take references from cinema, art and different historical eras and I wanted to have that language we share on fashion shoots and show my mood board.
BI: How long did the book take to research and write?
LP: It took me three and half years from the time I came to Thames & Hudson but a lot was already done in my head. I had been collecting images and writing down notes for about 10 years. A draft of the book was very close to the book that was published. I just put all of it together and did research with other hairdressers and traveled and learned a lot.
BI: What were some of the most interesting things you learned?
LP: I learned so much, it was such a beautiful journey. I had an idea of what I wanted to talk about but I was especially fond of the history of African braiding and the symbolism it has. It’s an identity card.That’s the first thing that happened to the slaves when they were taken to America, they were shaved to get rid of any cultural signs. And now in hip-hop and in African American culture braids are so present and it still gives so much creativity. I find it completely fascinating. This was one of the stories I enjoyed doing. I traveled to Mali in West Africa to visit a braider, Hawoye Kaïdiagada, I had heard about her from a friend; she’s also a healer. I flew there and took a jeep to a remote city, Djenné, and met her. She has women walk for days and days in the desert to get their hair braided by her. The pattern of the braids she creates has a meaning and is individualized and it’s part of the healing and purification. After the braiding is finished, she wraps the hair with cloth that’s been soaked in shea butter and sets it on fire to ward off evil spirits.
BI: What was the response from your peers when you approached them to help contribute to the book?
LP: In French we say they were really gentle and wanted to help. I’m talking about Sam McKnight, Eugene Souleiman, Julien d’Ys, Orlando Pita, Yannick d’Is, Vidal Sassoon, Orlando Pita. They understood that this was not about my career or my editorial. It was something to share with others about the respect of hairdressing, the craft. We all have a little vanity. But when sitting down with Orlando, who is very prestigious, there was nothing more than two fascinated hairdressers talking about hair. All of them were like that.
BI: It sounds like an encyclopedia for hair but with a coffee table flair.
LP: It’s a bible, definitely a fashion book. It’s not for hairdressers only, it’s for lovers of images.
BI: What are you doing to promote the book? Is there a book tour?
LP: There was a launch at Collette in Paris, and then anintimate party with Bumble and bumble at 632 Hudson in New York. On Tuesday we are going to London for a launch at Radio, a gallery and salon. An L.A. launch at Book Soup is also in the works. Russia has just bought the copyright so in May 2014 there will be a book signing in Moscow. I’ll also be going to Hong Kong and Mumbai next year.
BI: What do you still wish to do in bringing hair and its place in fashion to the forefront?
LP: It’s still my ultimate dream to do a museum for hair. A national museum of hairstyling is well deserved.