Fashion Week stylists just a hairbreadth away from glory


NEW YORK— How many hairstylists does it take to comb a ponytail?

Backstage at New York Fashion Week, figure on five.

That's one to hold the hair atop the model's head, another to brush small sections until the silky smooth strands seem certain to fall out and then seal them with a straightening iron, a third to douse each piece with hairspray and two to unravel the entire project.

"Not tight enough!" an assistant to the head stylist declared, pushing aside Minneapolis hairstylist Jen Hughes, who had been on hairspray duty as part of the Aveda team at last week's Monique Lhuillier show.

"That's part of the deal. You can't have an ego," said Hughes, an Aveda educator and stylist for Juut Salon Spas at Gaviidae Center. "They want everything uniform."

Aveda head stylist Kevin Ryan slipped into Hughes' spot and began finessing the hair back into a bun. Scratch that — not a bun. "This is the link between Audrey Hepburn and the Samurai. It's a modern updo," Ryan said to the group of reporters and television cameras clustered around him. He had been perfecting the look for two weeks, since previewing Lhuillier's architecturally inspired fall collection. "A lot of good hairdos are taken," Ryan continued. "This has a nod to the future."

Hughes volunteered for this. She paid her own way to New York and donated her time to work backstage at Fashion Week. Because of her level of experience — this was her fifth trip to Fashion Week — Aveda gave her a stipend to offset some costs.

"This inspires you to do greater things," Hughes said. "I take a lot back to Minneapolis."

Working at Fashion Week is perhaps the best on-the-job training a stylist can get — you're teamed with top hair experts from around the world, witnessing the trends as they emerge on the runway. Plus, it definitely adds cachet with clients back home.

Since Fashion Week has become a star-studded spectacle, Aveda, which provided hair and makeup for 11 shows last week, has been flooded with requests from stylists eager to participate. This season, for the first time, Aveda offered a two-day course on runway styling at its advanced training academy in New York. Participants were guaranteed a spot backstage during Fashion Week.

The class sold out in two days, despite the $750 cost.

"Hairdressers are very visual people," Aveda spokeswoman Vicky Melen says. "It's a great experience for them in terms of technique and doing great hair on short notice."

Backstage at Lhuillier, there seemed to be plenty of time to get that bun — er, Hepburn/Samurai updo — just right. Ryan recombed the hair Hughes and her team had already been combing for 20 minutes. He held it up while another stylist wound a wax cord around the base of the bun — er, whatever.

"The hair can't have any buckles in it whatsoever," Hughes explained. "The model had a bit of extension glue in her hair from a previous show. These are the challenges we have to deal with."

The model! That's right. There was a person attached to the head of hair that an entire team of stylists was obsessing over. Her name: Johana. Finding her face in the jumble of denim-clad hips, blow dryers and straightening irons, we asked: Has it ever taken this long to set your hair atop your head?

"I just have to go to the bathroom," she said.

Allison Kaplan can be reached at akaplan or 651-228-5116.

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