Known for his bold and sculptural approach to his craft, Nicolas Jurnjack is one of the world’s leading hair artists. Immersed in all aspects of the fashion and beauty industry, he has created runway looks for Alexander McQueen, Jean-Paul Gaultier and John Galliano, and contributed to editorials and advertising campaigns shot by photography heavyweights such as Mario Sorrenti, Paolo Roversi and Patrick Demarchelier. In early 2017 he released his first book In The Hair.
Born and raised in Marseille, Jurnjack was offered his first styling opportunity – a shoot for French Elle – in the early 80s. “I had barely thought of a career in fashion” Jurnjack admits, “but I found that the work came naturally and easily to me, I had an affinity for it. I’d never been an assistant so had no inkling of the techniques used on set, even less about those used on a location shoot. I found myself on the beach with just a few hair pins in my back pocket, a brush in the other and a mini hair spray to style the long, wavy hair of a young Swedish model, which was roughly tousled by the wind and covered in fine sand.”
The experience prompted Jurnjack to move to Paris to pursue a career in hair. Two years later, he landed his first Vogue cover. Jurnjack admits that in these early years he worried whether his technical skills were at the level needed to deliver the high calibre projects entrusted to him. “I still felt that technically, I had a long way to go compared to the work of hairstylists that I was seeing in international magazines” he recalls, “but the editors of Vogue asked for me again and again despite my somewhat unorthodox approach to hair. I made it my personal duty to overcome any technical shortcomings as quickly as possible, developing an obsession with technical mastery so that I could deliver any request.”
We spoke to Jurnjack about his most unlikely sources of inspiration and why the Statue of Liberty would be his ideal client.
Could you tell us about your new book In The Hair?
In The Hair reveals what a career working in fashion demands, a question my assistants often ask me. Fashion is glamorous, aspirational, ephemeral. I invite the reader to follow me behind the scenes and experience the world behind the door through my career and experiences.
The format of the book is a conversation between an art historian – a doctor of French Literature – and myself. His first idea was an extended interview with a limit of 50 pages. I was never very attracted to big coffee table books of images so this approach intrigued me. I was interested in his concept, a system of questions and answers that would be entirely devoted to hair – hairstyles, sources of inspiration, the world of the hair, the aesthetic of women… In short, a world that I lived for with a passion.
It was really enjoyable (and at times very amusing) to revisit 30 years of my career, recalling anecdotes, details of shoots and taking a journey to track the changing aesthetics of hair through history. I enjoyed conversing freely, it was like speaking with a friend, comfortable, easy. Imagine sitting by the fireside, sipping brandy, answering questions relating to my work with no obligation to be diplomatic, political or censor myself. I will say that In The Hair is a conversation without ego, for all hairdressers, whichever field they work in. It is a tribute to our common passion, hair.
“I will say that 'In The Hair' is a conversation without ego, for all hairdressers, whichever field they work in. It is a tribute to our common passion, hair."
What is your most unlikely source of inspiration?
Music and nature. Music has often acted as a trigger for me for many ideas, conjuring up feelings, images, sensations that I translate and develop into a hairstyle. Nature, wherever the place, whatever the light, whatever the weather, for me it offers an infinity of inspiration. It’s often where I go, where my mind goes when I’m searching for ideas. Skies painted with clouds offer a thousand varieties of volume, shapes, forms and movement for hairstyles. But equally the shape of a building, a stone wall, an intertwining of roads, projections of shadows on a wall, the texture of any matter inspires me. I have occasionally created hairstyles out of wood chips, burnt matches, newspaper or even wire wool pads used for scouring pans. All matter has potential to be aestheticized even when the raw state at first appears undeserving of note.
You are known for your sculptural hair styles. How do you come up with the ideas and implement them?
I enjoy creating all kinds of hairstyles, from the simple ponytail to the most intricate and elaborate of styles. When we are solicited, creatively speaking, for fashion week, editorials or unique projects, we have the opportunity to develop a vision beyond that of trends, using volume, texture, shape and style in more extravagant ways. As stylists we are not focused on cutting the hair, but on creating styles for it.
When I embark on a work of sculpture, I try to explore hair outside its element as a “fashion beauty accessory”, to transpose it into a textural sculpture. While hair is usually inscribed in an aesthetic sense to accompany the silhouette, the colour of a garment or trend in fashion, I try to work the material, much like a sculptor would, to approach the raw element before giving it life and form, to find a language and poetry of its own.
If you could cut and style anyone’s hair, who would it be?
The statue of Liberty because it’s a symbol of freedom. I would love to push a sense of femininity, fluidity and add a lightness around the face by creating some layers or leaving strands of hair to frame it softly. I would unbind her hair, free it, create long and loose hair down to her hips, letting it flow in the wind with her crown sitting atop her glory – a strong, feminine image in movement – a similar feeling to some illustrations I have seen of Boudica riding her chariot. It’s funny for a French guy to be saying this because we designed the statue and created the hairstyle that she wears. But, at that time in France we were very inspired by Roman gods, not so much by glorious goddesses.
What is your most memorable experience of your career so far?
One show is unforgettable for me and I still see it as a really happy moment in my life. It was in São Paulo, Brazil in 1996. The show brought together 25 of the most revered Brazilian actresses and popular singers of the day, for a social cause. I was there to style the hair of these women of all ages, from 19 to 60. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced greater professional joy. Brazil’s carnival tradition imposes overstepping boundaries as a duty, but in a non-sacrificial, rather joyous way. I felt this joy powerfully during the show. My hairstyles were not based on a fixed theme, instead they were based on the desires of each of these women, for whom I found myself creating the wildest arrangements… Gigantic hair pompoms as high as they were wide, adorned with parrot feathers à la Léonard Autié, but a Léonard who would first have been immersed in tropicalism.
With the complicity of all these incredible women, we took the extravagance of the hairstyles very far. Wellbeing exuded from each of these actresses and singers, enveloping the backstage in a festive atmosphere that had us all floating on a cloud. They were disarming, overflowing with charm while involving themselves in work, refusing nothing and giving much. I have never again found such grace. With them we had everything: informality, happiness, creativity, communion of hearts, this unbelievable classiness, this lightheartedness made us able to dare anything and defy everything. In São Paulo, I was drunk with joy.