David Mallett: the Perth hairdresser who conquered Paris
The cultural force of luxe French beauty certainly reaches far and wide, influencing Australian women who covet trends and beauty goodies made in Paris, glittering city style capital of the world. But Australia has returned the favour with an export of our own. Perth local David Mallett has become one of the city's star hairdressers, with a legendary, eccentric salon in the heart of the city, a second salon at The Ritz and an eponymous luxe hair brand whose distinctive glossy black packaging signifies highly concentrated formulations that don't weigh down hair.
"I love hair that is sexy, natural and moves," Mallett declares on a sunny summer day in Paris as pretty afternoon light floods through his flagship salon, a rambling high-ceilinged apartment in the 2nd arrondissement. "Give me hair that bounces. I hate hair that's harsh, black or dead straight. Keep the [chemical straightener] keratin away!" he laughs in mock horror.
Mallett's 'bouncy look' - which he says depends on shine, volume and exuberance - is designed to last beyond stick-straight blowdries that frizz up at the first sign of humidity. "I like a bit of dirty hair, the way that French people wear it. They let it get tousled and messy, not over-washed."
Mallett is a creative who prefers to customise an aesthetic around his clientele rather than trumpet the next.big.trend. "Beauty isn't limited to the trend of the week in a salon or a 'beauty secret' - that's bulls-t", he remarks with cut-though-the-fluff Aussie candour. "The writer Dostoyevsky once said that beauty will save the world and it's true. I have worked on cinema sets and fashion editorial - from Alfred Hitchcock to Playboy bunnies!' - and beauty is global."
In a given day his clientele can be from Osaka, Greenland or Peru. "A great hairdresser has to have the breadth of vision to adapt. An 85-year-old customer who lives in Bordeaux will have a different idea of beauty than a 16-year-old Japanese punk singer."
His lively salon on the Rue Notre Dame des de Victories in central Paris is like none other. Rather than the usual generic cube of black and chrome right onto streetfront, David Mallett Paris is discreetly tucked from view on the second floor behind an elegant stone façade, a small plaque the only giveaway. The old-world grandeur of enormous ceilings and original architectural detail is belied by the playful wit of exotic stuffed animals and friendly ambience, as clients sip tea in the courtyard. It's like hanging out in the ultimate haute boho Paris pad of a highly socialised heiress.
"Beauty people told me it's insane, it will never work," says Mallett about his 2003 debut. "No-one will know where it is!" But clearly the word of mouth grew and clients climbed the stairs to be cocooned from the bustle of the city, and emerge with moveable bouncy locks that catch the breeze like a dandelion.
His international staff adds to the private party atmosphere. "Each one has incredible allure and a unique personality. The team represents every gender preference under the sun and every continent - with around 12 languages spoken fluently." After growing up in the 'insularity' of the Perth suburbs his exposure to Europe forged his personal multicultural philosophy. "I was mesmerised by the positive effects and beauty you pick up traveling the world. This is not a French or Australian project; it's a global one."
A stylist trains for months before taking a coveted place on the floor. "They're ready when every haircut and styling pleases me and they see what I see. It's the ability to create attractive, beautiful, sexy, desirable hair - whether it's edgy, natural, messed up or eccentric." He also prizes riches in references, building his team culturally as well as technically. "Today I was educating one of the younger 22-year-old stylists. I wanted a very Great Gatsby look. He said 'Baz Luhrmann?' I was like, 'No, think Mia Farrow and Robert Redford. So incredible. He didn't know Mia so he'll go and research - he's in for a treat."
Australians who can't wait until their next trip to Paris can get the David Mallett treatment with his French-based range of unctuous, fragrance-free haircare, a unisex bergamot hair/body wash and soon to be released Volume Powder. Designed to create that dishevelled, Bridget Bardot-like mass without weighing the hair, the cult, purse-sized lifesaver - nicknamed 'the 60s in a bottle' - has been snapped up by le tout Paris as hair's latest lust-have Parisian cult item - by way of Oz.
Australia Salt Spray, $54 and Volume Powder, $52, (out August)
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