Your Best Hair Ever, Courtesy of Fashion Legend Garren

Garren shares his tips and tricks, plus stories of Avedon and Versace.

Michael Thompson for W magazine, October 2001

In the collaborative apex of the fashion and beauty worlds, the hairstylist Garren stands alone. Decade after decade—starting with the ’80s, when he cut his teeth on sets with Richard Avedon and Irving Penn—the mononymous legend has created some of the most celebrated looks on the most iconic heads to grace covers, runways, and ad campaigns. Be it the slew of metamorphic hair looks for his muse Linda Evangelista, Karlie’s dramatic chop, or Kendall’s transformative bob, Garren’s skill relies heavily on his instinct, vision, and frankly good taste. Between creating looks for the fashion and cultural elite, he also co-runs the haircare line R+Co with Thom Priano and Howard McLaren, and still makes time to cut the hair of his loyal clientele. We spoke with him about some of his most remarkable hair moments, and of course had him divulge some seasoned hair advice for the most transcendent tresses.

You’ve worked on some of the most storied ad campaigns of the decades. How collaborative is the creative process for you at this point? Do you have free reign? Collaboration-wise, I’d say this decade is far different than the past four decades that I’ve worked on ad campaigns. In the past, the process would entail the photographer, the ad agency and stylist and/or designer meeting the day before the shoot to discuss the look of the ad. Then they would bring the hairstylist and makeup artist into the fold to iron out the various logistics, and we’d take it from there. But in the last decade, often times something is shot to one particular look, which can then be digitally manipulated to have a whole different vibe. For instance, Tom Ford’s Metallique ad: They took a gorgeous photo that was clean and minimal and made it even more magical, working on it digitally so the hair changed to metallic and the face took on a whole new edge. In my experience you make notes and get a sense of the DNA of what the designer is looking for. It obviously changes and varies over the years, but you tend to know what they like and implement that creatively into the hair.

What are some of your most memorable ad campaigns? Every time I worked with Steven Meisel, Steven Klein, or Dick Avedon the campaigns were super original, completely different than anything having to do with the runway. You generally have more creative freedom. With those looks, it was always about making the girl’s hair look glorious and edgy, especially with Dolce & Gabbana or Versace. It always went against the grain. The designer campaigns used to be used to be sumptuous, 20 pages long and told a story. They showed you a world that you would aspire to. You also knew who that woman or model was. The Versace campaigns, for example, transported you to a place, a lifestyle and a mindset. You knew who the woman was and therefore it was desirable and aspirational.

A Dolce & Gabbana campaign starring Gisele Bündchen. Photographed by Steven Meisel, with hair styled by Garren.

A Versace campaign starring Madonna. Photographed by Steven Meisel, with hair styled by Garren.

A Versace campaign starring Amber Valletta. Photographed by Steven Meisel, with hair styled by Garren.

What about the most memorable fashion show? I’ve had several high notes in runway. Way back, I used to do Capucci shows. These were couture gowns with simple cover-ups that fanned out into a tulip. A girl would pull her arms up and the gown would open up like an accordion pleated flower. With that show, I was allowed to take hair to an extreme. It was fractured hair that went out like an airplane. When they revealed themselves, the hair would stand up straight and out there. No one had done this before.

I’d also say the 25th anniversary of the Valentino Haute Couture show, which was held at the Met. Giancarlo [Giammetti] wanted the hair more punk and Valentino wanted something far more ladylike. It was kind of an unspoken rule that Giancarlo would get his way. When it was time for Valentino to approve the final touches, he wouldn’t have time to change the hair. I remember Giancarlo just pushed the girls out into the runway and Valentino was flustered, telling me “too punk, too punk… you punking my couture!” But it made news. All of those Italian houses are fun, especially Dolce & Gabbana. It’s like one big Italian family.

Is there a defining moment in your career, or one you feel cemented your success? I had to pinch myself when I went in for my first interview to see Irving Penn. I only had four pictures in my book. Polly Mellen was there, and he introduced us, and before you know it, I was Penn’s head hairdresser for a couple decades and working with Polly and Vogue constantly.

Another “pinch me” moment was being in Paris at the YSL couture show in the late ’70s. I was sitting in the front row with Penn, his wife Lisa Fonssagrives, and Polly Mellen. I had just gotten to New York and I had not done much and thought to myself, “Oh my God! This is really real!” I was like a sponge in that I really absorbed what was going on. Nowadays, there is so much preoccupation with social media that no one is really eager to absorb or learn much.

Do you have an all-time favorite of all of the haircuts you’ve ever done? Well, you’re talking to someone who had muses, like Linda Evangelista and Amber Valletta. Every time we had to do a photo shoot, we gave them a new iconic haircut. We were allowed to be creative because there wasn’t a contract dictating the look. There wasn’t a L’Oréal or Victoria’s Secret contract stopping them from cutting their hair.

Linda Evangelista and Garren at Garren’s beauty salon in 1993.

Rose Hartman/WireImage/Getty Images

Sometimes it’s not about the haircut per say, it’s about the look that the girl owns, who they believe in who they are. That’s how I feel about the cut I gave Victoria Beckham. She was in a stage of her life where she was transitioning into a designer. She wanted a transformation to her look. It was at the right time, it was more impactful, and she revealed herself; she stripped herself of her hair that was protecting her in a way. The same goes for the Karlie Kloss chop, and when I chopped Kendall Jenner’s hair right under her jaw for a cover. That was a great moment in change for her hair.

Victoria Beckham, styled by Garren, 2008. Courtesy of Rex USA.

You’ve worked with everyone from Audrey Hepburne to Madonna. Who are some of your all-time favorite subjects? My muses Linda, Amber, and of course Kristen McMenamy. I can’t narrow it down to one. It’s just the way they modeled. Kristen is really an icon. You can shuffle her around and do so many things with her look—woman, kid, rock star chic. You could always push the envelope on any of those three.

You’re in a business that perpetually demands your time and energy. How do you unwind at the end of the day? I’m a home person and I have my husband who I spend my time with. I always watch people’s careers and how they come and go. Some people forget that they’re a hairdresser and in the service business. They overdo it. When you start partying or going out with your clients, you can diminish the mystery behind you. I have my big clientele because I hold myself to a standard. I make sure I’m recharged so that my clients are getting a haircut tailored for them. Might I add, it’s not the same cut that everyone else is getting. I am going to give you the best I can for what you have, for who you are for the lifestyle that you lead. I won’t shave their hair off just to make a statement.

Also, during fashion week, if I’m working out of town, I’m definitely chilling out in my hotel room after a long day. The hours are insane. It used to be an eight-hour day and now it’s 16-hour days. I go back to my room and I play soft music. I have a proper dinner. I want my time to me. I recharge my batteries, essentially.

At this point in your career, do you still ever run into situations where you need to convince clients to take risks? I drop hints subtly, at a slow pace. Then at some point, the time and place to suggest a change seems to happen automatically. It could be that they walk in with a certain outfit or a look. I’ll stop them and say, “Now here’s what I am talking about. You’re wearing this dress and you want your hair long but you’re tying it up? What is the point? When do you ever wear it down? Don’t you want a look of authority?” Then they realize that they want the change and end up very happy they did it. Some clients will be apprehensive and mention that their husband or boyfriend won’t like a change. But the boyfriend or husband has nothing to do with it. If you are sexy, you are sexy because of the way you speak, the way you breathe, the way you move, adorn yourself, how you walk and touch. Don’t tell me you can’t be sexy without long hair. It comes from within.

What are some of your favorite products? Shampoo and conditioner are very important to me. Along with treatments, they’re what will primarily keep a client’s hair healthy. I love the products from the R+Co line, which I co-founded and helped develop. It’s totally vegan, and the formulations we’ve come up with are brilliant in transforming the way peoples’ hair reacts and how it can heal the hair. The new shampoo called Cassette is for curly, frizzy hair. It actually controls the curl pattern on long hair and fills in the hair strand. We also have something called Turntable that you apply after Casette Shampoo and Turntable Conditioner. It’s a leave-in cream to help even your wave pattern. You get an even curl without the frizz.

If someone’s hair is over-processed, I go to a R+Co treatment called Palm Springs. It’s a mousse prior to shampoo. You put it on for 30 minutes, or you can put it on before you go to bed and wash out in the morning. For colored hair I use an R+Co Shampoo called Gemstone. It holds 10-20 shampoos and doesn’t strip away any color. Another shampoo and conditioner set I like to use is Television. It adds shine and durability to the hair. For hair that needs more fullness, Dallas, which we reformulated with Biotin, does a great job stopping hair from cracking.

What styling tools are you loyal to? My blow dryer of choice is the Dyson and Harry Josh hair tools.

Garren and a model, in the Sherry-Netherland salon, 2007. Photo by Matt Jones.

Matt Jones

Are there certain brushes you can’t style without? I use brushes with natural bore bristles. Make sure you do not use metal brushes, because they destroy your hair. If you see a hairdresser using these brushes, they’re too lazy to do a proper blow out. Bring in your own brushes if you have to. Also, nylon brushes over time have ends are that are so rough they don’t fly through the hair and can crack and compromise it.

Let’s talk about the perfect blowout. Any particular steps no hairstylist should forgo in the process? What steps should our readers always do or make sure their stylist carries out to get the very best? Always have them use a good hair protectant. My personal favorites are High Dive and Waterfall from R+Co. If you put a little on the ends of stressed out hair, your hair will have an even blowout; it dries naturally. Again, get rid of the metal brushes. Take your time. When blowing out your own hair, use a paddle brush and straighten out your hair while you blow dry so you get most of the water out. Then go in with your round brush. If you want volume, you should section your hair off by making a circle at the crown. Make three loops either with a clip or roller and then take your big round brush to it. You can set it for a few minutes, then take round brush and start blowing it out section by section. Make it large sections, not small and again stretch the hair out; it makes it smooth. I also use Mood Swing from R+Co. I spray on the ends of the hair. The heat activates and seals the cuticle.

What’s the proper decorum when someone is getting a haircut, and they think their stylist is cutting off too much? Do they interrupt and tactfully express themselves? Or do they just sit and suck it up? Suck it up, it’s too late! Obviously, they never had a clear conversation with the hairdresser. I am all for them showing me a picture. There are some women who always say, “you’re cutting too much” and then they love it. You know them and you know they always say this.

On the subject of deep conditioning and hair masks: Which products do you love, and how often should you use them? Firstly, follow directions and packaging. Do not shortchange the time frame. Listen to the time recommendation! If you’re spending $35 on a hair treatment that opens the cuticle, goes into hair shaft and then needs time to seal it itself, follow it so it can work. The R+Co Palm Springs is my favorite. Feels like silk.

Aging is a part of life. Just like advanced skincare, one must have advanced haircare as they get older. What tips can you give for women in terms of long-term hair care? If I notice that their hair is suddenly fine and broken around the hairline, the first thing I do is I tell them to see a thyroid doctor. I can see the shift quite clearly if I haven’t seen them in three months. Often times it’s either thyroid or hormones. For supplements, I like Viviscal. You need stick to it if you’re going to take it and make sure to get professional one sold on Amazon. Take it with food as directed.

After almost five decades, I have to ask: Do you still love what you do? Yes, I do. Absolutely. And I enjoy working on my product line and reaching the hairdressers. I do wish some would take their craft more seriously and study and practice more instead of trying to be YouTube and Instagram hair celebrities. It’s a challenge to restructure hair with tools and also to restructure a look with the way you style or cut hair. It’s kind of a lost art. Some hairdressers aren’t as versatile and adaptable as they should be. But I still love what I do. I’m still giving sharp, edgy haircuts in an impactful way.

Related: How to Get a Life-Changing Haircut, According to Garren