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Hair ups and avant-garde

It’s a session skill that’s taken me to a whole new level

As a three-time finalist  in The It List Visionary category, I really wanted to talk about one of the things I love the most: avant-garde. I get asked about it a lot and feel there’s not a lot of education out there at the moment.

When I first qualified, if you’d asked me what I hated most I’d have said, “Other than cutting men’s hair, putting hair up.” It’s a skill I feel gets lost when you’re training because colours and cuts are more important for the everyday stylist. It wasn’t until I started assisting that I truly learnt how to dress hair and put it up, and now I feel it’s one of my core strengths and I couldn’t imagine my career any other way. The more I played with avant-garde the better I’ve become at classic hair ups for clients and brides; you start to fully understand hair’s potential as a mouldable fabric.

Above: My avant-garde hair work, Fall

So before I get into pushing your work to avant-garde level, let’s talk about hair ups in general. When you attempt anything with hair – a colour, cut, perm or hair up – you need to section. Mainly because looking at a whole head of hair can be daunting and when you break something down section by section it’s easier to handle and not so scary. Get your foundation in first, blow-dry in lots of product, then curl wave or smooth it into the texture you need. Make that hair pliable so you’re the boss of it. Now you can pretty much do any hair up.

If you loved art, sculpture or crafts as a kid, avant-garde is completely for you. I’ve always loved creating things; it’s almost therapeutic, that feeling of achievement you get at the end, seeing it finished and physically having something for all that hard work you’ve put in. You can’t teach creativity – you have that within you, I promise, even if it’s buried deep down – but you can teach method. Please refer to my step by step for the inspirational side of things.

With avant-garde you need to break down your idea and work from the bottom up. Start with your hair up and add and build onto it. I used to start with a crimped texture as it’s the most malleable and you can create large shapes with it. Just get playing with the hair. Don’t be afraid to mess up. Mistakes are the best way to learn and sometimes you create the best shapes and textures that way. If there’s a hair up you know you’re good at, start with that and build on it. Try doing it in a different texture or placing the focal point on a different part of the head – if it normally sits in the nape, move it and create it at the front of the head or off to the side.

When you’ve built a structure or you have something to add onto the hair, think about placement. My top tips for placement, both for aesthetic and comfort (that model has to rock it remember) are:

  • If it’s an all-over piece have a braided foundation as this provides maximum security and a good base for sewing or pinning in your structure.
  • for anything with height, have a ponytail base. Make sure your pony sits on the core of the head – where the head is flattest on top, before the dip of the crown. That way the model will be most comfortable and you’ll get the best height.
  • always think 360 degrees. It’s all about balance, even if you want to exaggerate an area

Lastly, play with different materials. Hair is our main material, but push your boundaries and play with the obscure. This is a great way to push a hair up from a classic shape into avant-garde in one simple step. Go to craft and DIY shops and see what they have to offer. There’s inspiration everywhere for us to set new horizons, we just have to open our eyes to it…