BRITAIN'S LEADING hairdressers are combining influences from Italian, French and--most importantly--American movie stars to create the newest take on retro hair fashions. The British are ushering in the 1990s with a look that recalls the late '50s: Marilyn Monroe's swooping pageboy, Grace Kelly's waves, Sophia Loren's swirls.
Vidal Sassoon calls it "glamorous reality." Catherine Turner, beauty editor of Looks, a London-based women's magazine, calls it "very Hollywood--ladylike like Kelly, but terribly sexy like Loren." And Michelle Feeney, a spokeswoman for London's trendy Trevor Sorbie salons, calls it a "departure from hair cutting to hair dressing ."
If the mere mention of "hair dressing" conjures images of hard plastic rollers and Aqua Net, you've got the picture. "It's very reminiscent of the years when women took the time to really polish their look," Feeney explains. "Of course, women today are not going back to the discomfort of putting their hair up on curlers, so the haircut must be so brilliant that it actually styles the hair."
For some young Londoners, the roller experience isn't a bad memory. They were born after Sassoon's geometric cuts eliminated the need for curlers and spray. They're getting tips from their mothers about how to set a head full of rollers and how to back-comb for a bit of height at the crown.
"For many career women, though, it is a look that communicates that you go to the salon every week," Turner says. In most interpretations, the hair is cut blunt, between chin length and shoulder length, to show off its texture and emphasize its sheen. At Trevor Sorbie's Covent Garden salon, the most requested movie-star do is a Grace Kelly pageboy with full, bouncy curls at the ends.
Some versions have "kiss" curls at the cheeks. When bangs are worn, they are softly waved and brushed across the forehead, but they are never heavy, straight or long.
Mark Hayes, assistant creative director for Vidal Sassoon Salons, United Kingdom, adds that modern technology helps make this "very finished look possible with '80s ease. We've come up with what we call the curve-curl perm, in which the hair is combed through with solution, sculpted into shape and pinned in place. Then we dry it and rinse it with a fixing gel. You get all the body and curl without having to endure perm rods or sleeping on rollers."
Hayes says that some versions of the look require some back-combing, "but today it's a very limited application of a procedure that was done to extremes 30 years ago."
Why are British women turning to the polished look after years of hair liberation? Feeney says it is because "women here are realizing that they don't have to look 'natural' to be taken seriously. These hairdos are related to the new fashions that emphasize curves, waistline and legs."
"Women come to the city to become leaders in business," Turner adds. "They have to look sharp. The sloppy, messy look is gone."
Furthermore, Feeney says, "London is a city that loves the classics. Around the '70s when everyone was abandoning whatever was considered traditional, it fell out of fashion to look like you were concerned with your appearance. Now the old favorites, like the classic Aquascutum raincoat or the Burberry trench, are quite desirable. You see it reflected in the hairdo and wardrobe choices of the royals. It only stands to reason that London women would gravitate toward very sophisticated, glamorous hair fashions that we now consider classics."
Will the look make it to Los Angeles? Absolutely, replies Aitch Peters, senior creative director of Sassoon's Beverly Hills salon. "For years L.A. women have been attempting to integrate the casual California way of life with the corporate mode, and it doesn't work. California women are ready to become more tailored."
But will they be willing to wind their hair on plastic rollers or faithfully go to the beauty parlor once a week, as women did in the '50s? Peters says the standing appointment isn't a necessity for the new glamorous look. "With the technology we have now, we can give a cut and a touch of perm that carries a woman through four or six weeks, looking as polished as when she stepped out the stylist's chair. She doesn't have to come to the salon every week to keep the look."
Photograph Eika Aoshima; hair: Keoni / Cloutier; makeup: Joanne Gair / Cloutier; styling: Shinko Iura; model: Mariah O'Brian / Nina Blanchard Agency.