© 2011 Ji-Sook Yim. All rights reserved. Screen shot 2011-11-23 at 1.13.13 PM

Creating the Character: Hair in Prêt-à-Porter Design

Hairdressers always look for sources of inspiration, and the fashion runway is one of them. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Bumble and bumble’s Vice President and Senior Artistic Director Howard McLaren about hair’s role in prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) design.

AZ: What is the relation between hair and prêt-a-porter  design? What role does the hairstyle serve when it’s shown on the runway along with the clothing? 

HM: Hair should never be more important than the clothing. That’s why you see designs with very simple hair. Designers create a character that they imagined for their collection by putting together makeup, hair and accessories. And hair makes a statement without being overwhelming to the whole show. The hair shouldn’t be the only thing you look at; it should be a part of the whole image – a complement to the outfit – that the designers want to portray.

AZ: How do hairstylists and designers decide on the hairstyle that will go with each outfit? Is it to convey a certain attitude or fit with an overarching theme for the design collection? 

HM: The designer, stylist, hairdresser and make-up artist all get together, where the designer shows his or her collection and shares where the ideas came from and what image he or she wants to create. The hairdresser’s role is to synthesize all of that information and come up with a couple of different looks based on the designer’s vision. When creating the look, the hairdresser has to consider how the hair will work with the makeup and the texture of the clothing, and how the hairstyle will serve to complement the outfit. And the models themselves also determine the direction for the overall look, as the hairdresser’s work depends on the quality of the model’s hair.

Usually the look for the entire collection is uniform. A lot of the time, the texture of the hair will be a unifying element for how the collection all comes together because the hair texture is what the public and hairdressers take away in the end. The public will want to replicate the style for themselves, and hairdressers will want to take the look back to the salons.

AZ: A lot of the time, we see a modernized version of a classic style on the runway. How are classic styles created into a modern look? 

HM: The classics – the chignon, the bob, the French twist – they’re great go-to things and stand the test of time. And classics bring in the new. What makes these styles modern is the model, the face, the hair texture and the outfit.

It’s the same with digital photography. You’re still looking through a lens, and you’re still trying to create a narrative. You might have a different way to capture it but the idea is still the same in creating a narrative or point of view. The standards of creating a style don’t change, but it’s the interpretation that makes it new.

AZ: In a previous blog post, you once said, “People look to us to see how we adapt the [trending] hairstyle into the daily life, and it’s our duty as people in the beauty industry to deliver that message to the clients.” How should we deliver this message?  

HM: Salon owners and hairdressers need to know what to look for – only then we’ll know what’s new and how to bring that look that’s on brand. Once we figure out what to look for and finding that look, it’s a matter bringing that quality of creativity and execution from the runway back to the salon. When a client reads a magazine or goes online, they’re looking at the whole image, seeing how the hair goes with an outfit and how it helps creates the character. And it’s every hairdresser’s responsibility to be aware of what’s going on in fashion, even if it’s something very simple. There’s always something you can bring back.

Clients expect hairdressers to know what’s going on in fashion because we’re part of the beauty industry. So we have to maintain the high level of knowledge the clients expect us to have, and be able to translate the look to the client and educate them on how to create the look themselves, such as having a conversation about how to create texture or how to use a product. Executing the look for the client and educating them is not just our responsibility – it’s part of our job. We need to adapt the haircut and hairstyle from the runway and interpret it in a way that the client asks for, whether it’s something simple or complex. And the ability to deliver that look and transfer the knowledge to the client – that’s what’s going to set us apart.


After speaking with Howard, what stood out most to me was when he said that designers create a character by assembling the outfit, hair and makeup together. I completely agree.  The designer has a vision, and the hairdresser, makeup artist and stylist interpret that vision and bring it to life on the runway in the form of a character. The character portrays a certain image or carries a certain role, which creates a narrative for the design. And through that narrative, the general public is able to identify with the character, wanting to become that character and embody that role for themselves, in their own way. It’s amazing to realize the magnitude of influence designers have on our lives, and it’s inspiring to know that a designer’s vision can serve as inspiration for everyone, from hairdressers to the general public.

Photo Credits: Stylish Touch, Into The Gloss