An ace at fantasy looks and ingenious down-to-earth products, Laurent Philippon, Bumble and Bumble’s global artistic director, talks hair fashion and function
In 1988, Laurent Philippon, then an 18-year-old fireman enlisted in France’s compulsory military service, paid an unscheduled visit to the salon of Alexandre de Paris—the renowned stylist behind Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra coif—and asked to work there on his Saturdays off. It was a bold move, but not an out-of-the-blue career pivot. “My dad was an extraordinary hairdresser and had a barbershop [in the ’70s],” says Philippon, “so from age 10, I worked there and did whatever was needed. My motivation then was tips.”
But what truly fascinated him was women’s hair, so at 16, he left his dad’s shop to apprentice in another salon and began entering countless hair contests, where the seeds of his fantasy-filled aesthetic were planted. “That’s what gave me the courage to go knocking at the door of Alexandre de Paris,” Philippon recalls. “Because I won all those contests, I felt very self-secure going there and asking for a job.” He got it.
Once his military duty was done, Philippon devoted his time to learning the intricacies of classical styling from de Paris. Soon, he was assisting on shoots for the likes of Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. When Philippon left the salon a few years later, he immediately signed on to the artists’ agency Atlantis, run by revered rebel hairdresser Julien d’Ys, and began learning the ropes on the fashion-week scene. That’s where Philippon caught the attention of Bumble and Bumble, joining as an editorial stylist in 1994. Now the brand’s global artistic director, he also works with celebrities, glossies and fashion houses (Dita Von Teese, French Vogue and Chanel, to name-drop just a few), while conceptualizing genius products, including the new Bb. Curl collection. We chatted with the artist and innovator on the latest in hair techniques, trends and tech.
The hair industry has transformed since you started. What have been the biggest changes? Hairstyling is usually linked with [both] the status of women in society and the evolution of technology. Nowadays, there are more poor women and more rich women. So there is a lot of stuff you can do at home—your own highlights, your own perms, your own straightening. But on the other side, there are brands proposing super luxury. In terms of what’s fashionable, I always think fashion gets its style from the streets. Last season there was a lot of gender mixing—girlish boys and boyish girls. This was something I definitely [noticed], along with curly hair.
Yes, it seems like curly hair is having a moment now. Definitely. If I had to talk about the style nowadays, it’s just to look young and in possession of your powers of seduction. It is not a style as such—it can be any style. What people don’t like is when hair looks overdone. It doesn’t really matter if it is done, but it shouldn’t look done. Curly hair totally goes in that direction, in the sense of embracing your DNA and who you are.
So going back to the idea of hair reflecting the status of women, does what’s happening now have to do with individuality? It definitely has something to do with that. It’s not a problem to have curly hair. It’s not a problem to have dark skin. It’s not a problem to look like a boy. And there are economic reasons as well—brands want to sell to a wider range of people, for all ethnicities. And if you look at countries like Brazil, the people are multicoloured. This is really the future. In 100 years, it’s not going to be like, oh, the French are Caucasian and the Irish have red hair.
You’ve created some iconic hair products, including Bb. Sumowax and Hair Powder. How do you know what women want? I am usually thinking, What do I want? For example, wax was something I was always frustrated with, because it flattened hair down and made it look greasy. So I said, we should do a wax that has some hold, that is not going to flatten hair down, that is going to bring that satin finish. Most of the time, [product development] just comes from a wish for something that doesn’t exist.
In the new Bb. Curl collection, is there a product that didn’t exist? I have never seen something like the Gel-Oil. I really, really love it. It gives definition to any type of curl—the hair becomes very soft and very easy, even for girls with kinky texture.
In the past, were most products made for one kind of curl, so people with other types could not find what they needed? Definitely. People with tighter curls—coils, ringlets, corkscrews—were going to ethnic beauty shops, but [traditionally those hair products are] very greasy and oily. This is the first time a brand like Bumble and Bumble, with all our modern technology, [has made a line] that covers all the different ethnicities and all the different types of curls.
What hairstyling advice do you wish you could teach every woman? I can give you tips, but what is most important, and what I would like to say to women, is to take a step back. Don’t only look at that [magnifying] mirror. See the whole picture, because so many people are so much into details and that doesn’t look attractive or fresh. Whatever you do, it should look spontaneous.
Laurent Philippon’s Go-To Products
Above, from left:
Bb. Curl (Style) Pre-Style/ Re-Style Primer, $31. To reshape natural but inconsistent waves, spritz this, apply a bit of mousse and create loose braids all over. Dry upside down with a diffuser, release braids and run fingers through hair. “It gives you the same wave from root to tip.”
Bb. Curl (Style) Anti-Humidity Gel-Oil, $39. This jelly formula offers gel-like control, plus the nourishing benefits of an oil to elongate wound-up curls.
Bb. Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil Primer, $50. This pre-style product doubles as a daily hit of hydration. “It’s a must for dry, colour- treated or flatironed hair. It’s milky, like a daytime crème you would put on skin.”
This article was originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of Cosmetics magazine. For more, download our iPad edition.