It's an unlikely partnership, but Nicky Clarke, crimper of choice for It girls and Ivanas, and Guido, cutting-edge catwalk hairstylist, are working together. Belinda Morris met them - and took a look at the styles they've created
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The Independent Culture
WE'RE SITTING in the somewhat less-than-cosy surroundings of The Hempel Bar. Everything is so white it's hard to make out the edges, and you have to be careful not to bang into walls or trip down steps. More than once, one of us accidentally jogs the minimalist, barely-there table holding our cocktails and ready-shelled pistachios. Backless seats discourage unsightly slouching.

But it scarcely matters, because it's all very glamorous, in a controlled, modern sort of way. Which makes it a useful architectural-cum-interiors type metaphor for the relationship that has sprung up between London mega- coiffeurs Nicky Clarke and Guido (no second name required).

To those who move in the right circles and keep an eye on the comings and goings of all things fashionable, these two should, strictly speaking, be poles apart. Certainly, on the face of it, they appear as though they would not touch each other with a curling tong. Nicky, nudging 40, tanned, black-leather-clad and not a blond, lustrous lock out of place; Guido, 36, boyish and cheerfully rumpled.

Nicky Clarke's Mayfair salon is famed for having a celebrity client- list as long as your stretch limo; Guido made his name creating anti- fashion hair statements for the likes of Helmut Lang, Gianni Versace, Jil Sander and Calvin Klein. You'd be forgiven for assuming that Nicky's ladies-who-lunch would recoil in fear from Guido's glinting razor blade and bumper jar of heavy-duty moulding wax. So what's the mutual attraction?

"For a start," says Nicky patiently, "it's wrong to pigeonhole hairdressers as only capable of catering to one particular market - most of us straddle lots of different areas." But he readily and happily admits that (thanks to regular appearances on This Morning With Richard and Judy, no doubt) the public has him down as a man associated with overt glamour. Guido's mum for one, is thrilled that her son is now Nicky's new international fashion director - Donatella Versace cuts no ice with her.

Once a permanent fixture backstage at catwalk shows and on photo shoots (he even created the wild hair for Hot Gossip in the Seventies), Nicky Clarke today is just too busy, what with TV appearances and an imminent US launch of his Hairomatherapy haircare range, for the razzmatazz of fashion. And in any case, by his own admission, his style is regarded as perhaps too "pretty pretty" for the edgier style mags and designers.

This is where Guido comes in. "Grungy", "raw" and "pioneering" are all words ascribed to his style, particularly over the past five or so years when his work for Calvin Klein's advertising campaigns portrayed a very definite and stark modernism. "But I do appreciate the classic styles," he insists. "I trained in a classic sense at Sassoon's - which I hated because it doesn't allow for individuality, and you can write that. But because I know the rules I know how to break them."

And break them he does, as anyone who saw his scary high-forehead creations for last month's Alexander McQueen show in London will confirm. But then McQueen demands the extreme. For the most part Guido has moved on from the hard-edged stuff to something that Nicky calls "modern glamour". This is not glamour as Ivana Trump might recognise it, but something more easy and understated. "A clean face, and great conditioned, beautiful hair in a ponytail," is Guido's personal take on contemporary sophistication. One might well wonder whether you actually need to go to a salon at all.

But there's more to it, or Guido wouldn't be the highly sought-after, much-imitated stylist that he is. "There's an irony in my styles. They have their origins in more freakish looks," he explains. "But what I do has to be modern and unreferenced rather than backward-looking." If the Eighties were about power-driven, controlled hair and the Nineties brought us the rebellious waif look, then the close of the century, says Guido, has seen a marriage of the two. Sort of softness with attitude."Women have a strong opinion of what they want, they see different styles in the press and want options and versatility - they won't be dictated to," he stresses.

Sounds like the perfect hairdresser. So how much does it cost to have Guido lavish attention on you? When can you get an appointment with him at Clarke's salon? Sorry, but the answer is never -unless you become a supermodel or one of his very close friends. His is not that kind of job.

Instead, Guido heads up the salon's creative team. Hand-picked stylists travel with him to shows and shoots, where he inspires them, they assist him - and then go back to the salon buzzing with new ideas to try out on surprised customers. "Nicky's stylists have a classical training, and with direction they'll also be able to undo the rules," he says.

Creative inspiration apart, the importance of high-profile editorial and catwalk work cannot be underestimated - Nicky Clarke's customers are a very switched-on bunch of people. "My styling assistant worked with Guido on the Givenchy show recently," explains Nicky, "and really got into the spirit of it. His next client in the salon was really impressed by the press coverage we got. And although I've been doing this for a long time, I'm humble enough to be inspired by someone else."

But what's in it for Guido? A regular pay cheque aside, why be associated with a salon after many successful years as a soloist? And why Nicky Clarke? "I'm in New York two weeks of every month and I'd started to feel that I wanted a British base and the back-up of a salon," says Guido. "It's good to be associated with a British team and the collaboration with Nicky was attractive, mainly because it's unexpected and fresh to have a juxtaposition of ideas."

Just how two differing sensibilities have merged can be seen in the pair's first photo shoot together, seen here. "It's an exploration of what modern glamour is all about," says Guido. Certainly the styles, while not shocking, are do not have the expected gloss and perfection of a Nicky Clarke "do". And while there's been a bit of chopping with a razor, they're less about weird cut, than about finish and product. "This is not extreme hair for the sake of fashion, but a new statement that has an ease about it, that works for the Nineties." !