Interview published in CNT Traveller,
JANUARY 9, 2017
Along with no-makeup makeup and timelessly chic style, French women have long mastered the art of perfectly undone hair. From the classic look of Brigitte Bardot to modern muses Jeanne Damas and Lou Doillon, it’s impossible to picture their iconic locks ever having a bad hair day. But what really goes into that sans effort look? Two Parisians behind some of the most enviable tresses in the City of Light are coiffeur David Mallett, who counts Charlotte Gainsbourg and Marion Cotillard as regulars, and colorist Christophe Robin, whose clients include Catherine Deneuve and Vanessa Paradis. Both men are renowned for their hair-reviving expertise, and in such high demand that appointments at their Paris salons are booked months out.
Hailing from Australia, Mallett recently opened his second salon at the newly revamped Ritz Club Paris—a sleek, five-chair outpost that caters to international clientele looking for a dose of his famous hairstyling. His original salon, housed in a storied 17th-century mansion, has a boho-modern vibe (complete with exotic taxidermy and antique furniture in an airy, window-lined space) that Mallett specifically designed to feel like a luxe yet inviting extension of his home, which doubled as his studio for many years.
Robin, meanwhile, has also expanded this year, moving his salon from its posh hideaway at Le Meurice in the first arrondissement to the pedestrian-only Rue Bachaumont in the stylish yet charmingly low-key Quartier Montorgueil neighborhood. The impeccably decorated feminine-luxe parlor (inspired by the fantastical designs of Hollywood set designer Tony Duquette) has an in-house boutique stocked with Robin’s wildly popular treatments, all of which are available for sampling out of a glamorously oversized, shell-shaped sink.
With decades of experience rooted in Paris, both hair experts certainly have their share of knowledge on what gives strands that insouciant Frenchness. Mallett, who is known for his signature mid-length lob, is always softening the edges of a cut and adding texture. “It is a very good technique for increasing movement and aerating hair, giving it a sense of lightness and fauxment negligé,” he says, referring to that ever-so-French casual yet stylish quality. For color, Robin’s clients are looking for subtle variations of their natural hues, with hand-painted balayage remaining most popular. “I’ve noticed clients do not request specifics as much. They say if they want to go darker or lighter, but there is a real trust in terms of letting us do what would make them look their best, which is dependent on the complexion, eye color, and something that does not require too much maintenance,” he says.
David Mallet Hair Salon in Paris
The key to this effortless look is a healthy foundation: Parisians love a great hair treatment that nourishes the scalp and ends. “Beauty requires time, which we don’t always find in the U.S. where people are usually more in a rush. Women here are loyal to a long-lasting routine,” says Robin. “Culturally, the idea of self-care has always been a part of their routine: investing in a good shampoo, a deep conditioning mask every week, etc. You can really see that they care for their hair like they care for their skin.”
When it comes to daily upkeep, less is more. The notion of bedhead was practically invented by the French, who have long appreciated the benefits of infrequent shampooing and its easy aesthetic—that “divine, clumpy look,” as Mallett describes it. “French women wash their hair less, use only a tiny bit of conditioner—never on the roots though!—and get a serious blow dry. They sleep on it, not really touching it for a week, and in the end it gets a little bit of movement and jumps around,” he says. “It is not that they achieve the undone hair; they let it happen. It is a process.” An added benefit? “It also results in a lot less color fatigue and damage.”
This laid-back approach extends to styling, with flat-ironing being a major faux pas, and fingers as the preferred tool for achieving that tousled look. “French women actually don’t tend to re-touch their hair frequently with a brush. They use their hands and massage the roots to get lift, giving it a more organic, softer effect,” says Mallett. “Over-brushing breaks hair and leaves the ends more fragile.”
There is good news for Francophiles who might not have a Paris trip in the works—or can’t afford the 250€ ($265)-and-up price tag for a cut and blow dry. You can still stock up on the essentials: Both hairdressers have their own luxury haircare lines with products available stateside through retailers like Net-a-Porter and Sephora. To keep second-day hair smelling and looking clean, dry shampoo is a must, but Parisians also crave some bounce, which is easily assumed with Mallett’s bestselling Volume Powder. To nurture and maintain color-processed strands, Robin’s sulfate-free Lemon Cleansing Mask and Sea Salt Scrub Shampoo are cult favorites. And take note: Few Parisians leave the house without a mini version of pharmacie favorite L’Oréal Paris Elnett hairspray for touchable texture and hold.
Les girls from APPARiS