Come Monday, in varying degrees depending on region, France is set to throw open its doors and deconfine. The burning question: What are we going to do about our hair?
Stylist David Mallett’s post-confinement waiting list is hundreds of names long. A stampede does not combine well with new distancing rules that require even lower density in his already rather vast, The World of Interiors-ified salon around the corner from Chez Georges in the Second Arrondissement. “We have so many clients who have to be done. But we have to consider hygiene, safety, and security, too. I can’t squeeze people in.” (Mallett’s satellite salon, at the Ritz Paris, and his New York salon, at the Webster, are still closed until further notice.)
Mallett counts among his clients Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chloé designer Natacha Ramsay-Levi and other impossibly cool Parisians. In terms of what’s on the menu, he thinks it could go one of two ways. “There’s going to be a wave of people asking, ‘Do I actually like my gray roots and do I just go natural?’ Some of my clients are letting me know they think it’s going to be O.K. But then I’m also getting a ton of messages from people saying, ‘I want to go blonder, I want to feel like I’ve got sun in my hair, I want something breezy and beachy.’ Because this summer is going to be odd, and I think people need a bit of escape via their hair.”
“There’s going to be a wave of people asking, ‘Do I actually like my gray roots?’”
To accommodate distancing, Mallett’s cutters, colorists, shampooers, and receptionists have been divided into two teams for two rotating shifts, starting at eight a.m. and going until eight p.m., six days a week instead of the usual five. These are essential services, after all. “We couldn’t have promiscuity in the salon,” Mallett says, forgetting the English word for too much physical contact. (He is Australian but had just done two separate two-hour-long staff meetings in French when we got on the phone.) The staff will all be wearing masks, face shields, gloves, and protective clothing. “Normally my staff is very ascetic,” he notes, “but they’re going to be looking a little medical. Or lunar.”
For their part, clients will have the option to wear disposable masks, whose fastenings around the ear can be removed carefully, one side at a time, to accommodate scissors or dye brushes. Or they can hold sanitized, vintage, plexiglass face guards up to their faces, “the kind we used to use when we sprayed someone’s hair.” Not that Mallett’s look—he specializes in that sort of just-had-sex Parisian bed head the world envies—really features a lot of spray. But post-confinement, everything old is new again.
“Normally my staff is very ascetic, but they’re going to be looking a little medical. Or lunar.”
Spacing stylist workstations even farther apart than usual provided the occasion to give the whole place a refresh. (Fans: the stuffed leopard in the shampoo room is not going anywhere.) “I re-did the garden and repainted the whole place,” says Mallett. The men’s club taupes and beiges of old are giving way to “a lot of soft grays and washed-out, milky-cream colors. It’s gorgeous. It was a colossal job to get it into perfect order so the day we open everything will be beautiful.”
Nothing less will do for a clientele that is, at the moment, a little touchy. “I really tried to groom my team that people are going to be a little fragile. I have clients who have spent the past 50 days in a one-bedroom apartment, who haven’t seen anyone, and for those people it’s going to be quite emotional. Apart from a great haircut, they’re going to need a lot of human kindness.” Yes, Virginia, even in highly exclusive Parisian salons, you will find some.
Alexandra Marshall is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL based in Paris