There are epiphanies and then there are epiphanies like John Nollet’s. His happened at a prodigiously young age. “Aged four, I had the feeling that I wanted to be a hairdresser even though no one in my family was connected to the trade,” says Nollet, who was raised in northern France. “My grandmother gave me a present – it was a grown-up hairdressing toolkit including a mannequin head and brushes. I began to discover the craft practising on the mannequin, on my mother, grandmother and friends. She also gave me a subscription to the magazine Coiffure de Paris and I learnt about hairdressing pioneers like Carita and Alexandre de Paris and the role of hair styling in fashion and in the movies,” says Nollet. As a teenager, Nollet apprenticed in the local salon during his school holidays. At eighteen, he found work with the regional dance company and opera in Montpellier. That broad foundation led to movies, to fashion work and, in due course, to becoming a master in the field.
In the space of a few minutes, I experience Nollet’s transformative skills while sitting in front of a mirror at his Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme micro salon located in Suite 101. Here, he keeps several customized red-suede-lined Louis Vuitton trunks out of which he pulls a series of star-shaped hairpins set with tiny dazzling Swarovski crystals. Nollet, impossibly handsome with a carefully tended nomad beard and pale sapphire eyes, gently ruffles my hair, sculpts shapes and slides in a constellation of pins behind my left ear. My daytime persona suddenly shifts to a playful, nocturnal mode and I am thrilled.
The John Nollet Atelier Swarovski ‘A Star is Born’ hair accessories collection brilliantly delivers the nonchalant glamour that we all desire today. “Women work, they are mothers, girlfriends, wives, professionals and, of course, we all want to be perfect. A hairdresser has to do a good cut and good color, then you can simply slide in an accessory on a bad day, a special day or everyday,” says Nollet.
The collection is deceptively simple. His star-outline charms appear to float on the head with no sign of fastenings or pins and it took Nollet time and research to perfect the mechanism. He drew on ample red-carpet experience and the R&D invested in his own line of eponymous ready-to-wear and couture accessories that launched in 2014. His range, made in collaboration with specialist couture ateliers – Lemarié for feathers, and Lesage for embroideries – includes sparkling dragonflies, flapper bands and leather tassel charms alongside feather- and tulle-threaded hair-pieces fit for a glamorous banshee. “I went to Swarovski for crystals and that’s how the relationship began. I met Nadja Swarovski many years ago and when I later showed her my collection she fell in love with it and proposed we did something together. The process was organic and emotional and, in that way, real,” says Nollet, who seems to exercise that perfect balance of intuition and skill that so many strive for. “I love jewelry and diamonds and the idea was to have a collection ready for the red carpet. Voilà – I decided to theme the collection around stars.”
Or you could call them lucky stars. They are instant quick fixers, mood lifters in a woman’s armory. Nollet appreciates the essence of time. “Every film project is different as you are developing a character,” says Nollet, who works with actors including Juliette Binoche, Uma Thurman and Nicole Kidman. “With the red carpet, the hair stylist might have between 30 and 45 minutes to create a look. You have to create something not just OK but beautiful and extraordinary because it’s going to be seen by millions of people. It’s not like a dress where you simply zip it up on the day. Hair is about the mood of the person on the day. It’s always exciting,” says Nollet. At Cannes, the stars are seen from all angles so he can play with the back of the head; at amfAR galas, the red carpet means front view only, and on fashion shoots, again, work goes into creating a 2-D image.
In the intimacy of the salon, the process is different. “First, I observe the person looking at themselves in front of the mirror and that look tells me all. I start by destroying, flattening the shape and sculpting areas with my hands. You might create a new volume and when the client’s eyes light up, I know we are going in the right direction,” says Nollet.
After Nollet’s nimble fingers have re-worked my hair and he has slipped in those star pins, I even start to imagine that he is blessed with benign shamanic powers. That’s how charming a hairpin can be.
Words: Harriet Quick
Photography: Marion Leflour as Seen in Salt Issue 16 (Spring / Summer 2018)