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FASHION | SENSE OF STYLE

Another Member of Team Oprah Shares His Tricks

May 22, 1997|MIMI AVINS | TIMES FASHION EDITOR

Nowhere in pop culture's neighborhood has the phenomenon of celebrity by association achieved more power than chez Oprah Winfrey.

When her cook and trainer shared the secrets of Winfrey's eating and exercise routines, their books shot to the top of bestseller lists faster than you could say, "I love her and I want to be just like her." Now her hairdresser, Andre Walker, offers style solutions and hair care tips in the inspirationally illustrated "Andre Talks Hair" (Simon & Schuster). The success of anything Oprah-related could be attributed to the hunger of her adoring fans for any information touched with her life-affirming stardust. But perhaps the books have also done well because Winfrey, a smart, thoughtful woman who can afford the best of everything, surrounds herself with experts.

The first thing you notice about Walker is his voice. You'd let him get his hands in your hair just to keep that soothing purr humming in your ear. His approach to hair care is as gentle as his tone. "Hair isn't as complicated as we like to make it," Walker said backstage at the Winfrey talk show, in Los Angeles last week for a series of tapings. "I urge women to try to keep a simple attitude about it and use common sense in making decisions about it."

It's only reasonable to turn over potentially disastrous chemical procedures like straightening and dyeing to a professional, and to cultivate a healthy skepticism about the claims of miracle products. "If a product sounds too good to be true, you can bet you're going to waste your hard-earned money if you buy it," Walker said. "You only need shampoo, something mild you can use all the time; conditioner; a styling agent, like a gel or a gloss or a volumizer; then maybe a finishing spray."

One of the perverse truisms of hair envy is that many people want what they don't have--the curly headed crave straight locks and vice versa. In his book, Walker wanted to realistically convey the amount of time and money a woman would have to commit to effectively counter her hair's natural tendencies. "I'm not saying you shouldn't make straight hair curly if that's the look you want, but you need to have the facts and decide if you're willing to do what it takes," he said.

The effort expended on Winfrey's shiny, stylish, long shag is considerable. Walker straightens her coarse, thick hair every four to six weeks and covers creeping gray with temporary color. He washes it every other day with a protein moisturizing shampoo. Each time it's washed, a deep conditioner is left on for five to 10 minutes. That conditioning step is necessary, Walker said, because "everything you could do to damage her hair, we do to it, but it's still in great shape." Walker blow-dries Winfrey's hair straight, then styles it with a curling iron, making sure the hot appliance touches the hair for only a few seconds.

"There are many women with hair like Oprah who do that much to style it every day or every other day," Walker said. "They get good at it and it becomes part of their routine." But for women who don't have a hairdresser on the payroll, or a pro's skill, he suggests a good cut.

His other favorite don't-fool-with-Mother-Nature idea is to flaunt gray hair. "If a woman has gray hair and feels good about it and knows how to carry herself, she can look wonderful," he said. One of the real women photographed in the chapter on going naturally gray is the 40-year-old Walker's own mother.

For the past five years, Walker's responsibilities have included shopping for Winfrey's clothes as well as tending her tresses. "She went through one wardrobe person after another, but no one really worked out," he said. "So I kind of filled in until they found somebody, and they never did. I like fashion, and I know what she likes and what looks good on her."

Walker concentrates on figure-flattering modern styles. "If something isn't tailored to her body, she can look larger than she really is. And people think because she's a black woman, she can wear any color. That isn't true."

He advises women to learn what colors and silhouettes work best for them, to buy early in the season--before sizes and styles have been picked over--and not to hesitate when they find something great. "Go for it. You'll always find somewhere to wear that dress," he said, his soft voice oozing the calm conviction that's the essence of confident style.

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