It's minutes till show time and Vivienne Mackinder is sweating over a couple of hairs. Quite literally.
A tiny bead of perspiration gathers on her hairline as she sprays, tucks and yanks a model's swept-back style into submission. Two hairs that belong in a turned-under ponytail keep springing out like stiffly calcified spears.
But Mackinder never loses her cool. She chats up her models, murmuring in a soothing British accent: "Simply chic, my darling."
And then, with her models corralled and ready to take the stage at the recent international hair show in Long Beach, Mackinder flashes her best smile and wipes her brow with back of a wrist.
"Oh, I don't take it seriously," she says. "Fashion is a game."
She might not take it seriously, but in the rarefied world of trend-makers, Mackinder and her work have been creating a stir.
She has won the North American Hairdressing Award's prize for Most Avant Garde stylist four times, most recently in 1993. Yet Mackinder is a hairstylist without a salon, a product line or an infomercial to her name. Stranger still, she has moved her home base in England to Pittsburgh, where her husband works.
After working for Vidal Sassoon in London in the late 1970s, she created her own company, offering seminars to beauticians the world over. She also works as a hired gun for photographers on fashion layouts, and last month published "Montage," a book expounding upon her styling ideas for those face-framing follicles.
What Mackinder does, she says, is open to interpretation--your local beautician is not likely to inflict her avant-garde ideas on your head. But Mackinder's concepts do trickle into the mainstream, so you might see a variation on her punkish razor cut around town, but without the purple-fountain hairpiece attachment.
She likes hairpieces--called "falls" in an earlier generation--which she creates by hand. Hair, she says, is a living art form.
"I like to interpret women in different ways, because we're so many different things, you know," she says. "We're certainly not alike."
Among Mackinder's current interpretations of " 'in' looks" for different types of women:
* Street, subtitled pretty and punk. For this look, she takes a raven-haired model with a brutishly short razor cut and applies a purple and black font of up-sticking hair to the top of her head. It's like a small, bright fountain of color.
* Monastic, for women who prefer clothing in neutral shades and long, sleek hair. They occasionally employ headbands. Yes, headbands like the hippies wore--only Mackinder makes them of hair.
* Clean and classic, subtitled "Grace Kelly in the '90s." These hairstyles, which seem to follow the curve of a gracefully arched eyebrow, we admire from afar, but could never do at home.
* Goddess, with long, complicated, almost rococo curls in varying shades of gold, red and brown.
* Baby doll, or mostly fluffy hair to go with the naive-yet-blatantly sexual look going around in some fashion circles. Some blast the trend as the remaking of women into powerless girls. But Mackinder just smiles and shakes her head at the suggestion of sociopolitical intent.
"Look," she says, "you'll always have fashion victims. And then there are others who can interpret the scene.
"I'm just hoping people can learn how to have fun."