Beauty Insider: Odile Gilbert

Stylist Odile Gilbert on shooting with Helmut Newton.

Best known for her elegantly whimsical ’dos—from the feather-topped hair at Jason Wu’s spring 2012 runway show to the fantastical wigs for the Costume Institute’s 2005 Chanel exhibit—Odile Gilbert created coifs for a whopping 16 shows this season. Recently appointed lead stylist at Kérastase, the French-born, New York– and Paris-based stylist reminisces about her nearly four decades in the business. christina han

How did you get your start? I graduated from hair school in Brittany, where I grew up, and moved to Paris in the early seventies. I began assisting Bruno Pittini, who was working at his salon and on magazine shoots, movies, and in theater.

What was the first shoot you did on your own? It was with Helmut Newton for French Elle, and I didn’t sleep at all the night before. I really didn’t know what I was doing—I was so young. But I must have done a good job because I continued working with the editors.

What made you move to the United States? My friend François Nars and I were obsessed with America, so in 1982 we went to New York. One of my first shoots here was for American Vogue. We photographed Paolo Roversi’s wife, Laetitia Firmin-Didot, with Arthur Elgort and Polly Mellen. You can imagine how nervous I was, because I did not speak English that well.

If you couldn’t be a hairstylist, what would you be? A photographer, or even a painter! I have always loved photography, and that is why I love doing hair on set. I remember walking into Richard Avedon’s studio for the first time, and there was his famous portrait Dovima With Elephants—it was an Oh, my God! moment.

Where do you find inspiration? I’ve always been inspired by my travels. It’s all about getting to know different cultures. Now, with the Internet, you just push a button for pictures—and voilà!

How do you deal with your own hair? I am addicted to conditioners and masks. I don’t like to wash my hair every day, so I use a mask like Kérastase’s Chronologiste instead. It smells so nice and makes my hair feel very soft. Then I always put in a barrette—whatever I have lying around—or the hairpins I created, which are sold at Colette in Paris.

What is the most memorable project you’ve worked on? Oh, there are so many, but when Sofia Coppola asked me to do the hair for her film Marie Antoinette, I thought, Wow! I’d better be good!

Photograph: Jacqueline Bates; Stills: Marko Metzinger