Wearing the beehive: The Amy Winehouse experience

Her remarkable voice and riotous lifestyle are already legendary. But could the Camden chanteuse's greatest legacy be a crazy out-sized barnet? As hair fashions reach dizzying new heights, Alice-Azania Jarvis gets to grips with the beehive...
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Over-the-knee socks, the shoe-boot, those high-waisted jeans: when you recount trends that women have embraced this year, the word flattering is not the first to leap to mind. But the beehive? Surely fashion wouldn't be so fickle.

Well, actually it would. And the inspiration? None other than the chart-sensation-cum-trainwreck Amy Winehouse, she of the sailor tattoos, bloodied ballet pumps and the perennial jeans-and-vest combination. Suspicious as it may sound, Winehouse's towering hairdo is set to become next year's answer to the Pob or at least if the singer's latest admirers are to be believed. Which, when they include Karl Lagerfeld, they probably are.

Such is Winehouse's allure that the designer paid direct homage to her at the Chanel show he staged in London this month, sending models down the runway wearing impressively vertiginous up-dos and heavily kohl-rimmed eyes. When asked about his muse, the designer announced that Winehouse is "the new Brigitte Bardot": gap-toothed, boundary breaking and most importantly beehived.

In New York, the prestigious Bumble and Bumble hairdressing school is now introducing modules geared specifically to recreating the "do". And with Hairspray hitting the West End jackpot, and model Nomie Lenoir sporting a hefty blonde bouffant in the M&S Christmas campaign, the one-time favourite of Mari Wilson is becoming impossible to ignore. But should we all be reaching for our backcomb? I'm not convinced. The hairstyle may be fashionable, but for every Breakfast at Tiffany's beehive moment, there's a Bet Lynch or Marge Simpson moment right behind. Am I bold enough to brave it? Will I be able, even, to lift my head to the challenge. I decide to call the hair salon.

It's 11am by the time I meet Cinta Martello, one of Racoon International's curiously titled extensionists. With nine years' experience styling shoots, she's a veteran in the world of celebrity hair. Racoon specialises in applying so-called "microwefts" a sort of mid-term hair extension: more enduring than anything found outside a salon but, with a lifespan of two-four weeks, less permanent than conventional "bonded" extensions. At 200 per head they're certainly not cheap, but they are reusable so, once the first set is applied, subsequent sessions cost less. They're also unique in their ethicacy: sourced solely within Europe, using donations from Spanish monasteries, the extensions are 100 per cent real hair.

Martello holds up an inch-thick lock and shows me a patch of adhesive. In order to create my beehive, Martello is going to apply several of these strips to my roots, which will then be pressed together with an alarmingly large pair of forceps. Any doubts I might have about the wisdom of applying glue to my hair are only slightly dispelled by the fact that Winehouse is one of Racoon's clients. Winehouse's hairstyle, Martello confides, is made up almost entirely of extensions, though she's been known to add extra wadding a polystyrene-like padding for dramatic effect. I've decide to give this last step a miss; an extension-enhanced beehive sounds conspicuous enough as it is.

Just how big a beehive should be appears to be a matter of some debate. Can a beehive be too big? "The bigger, the glammer," says Martello emphatically. What, just like Amy Winehouse, I ask nervously? "I'm thinking more Chanel than Amy," she says, fussing over my fringe. "Sometimes that girl looks like she's been dragged through a hedge backwards, bless her. But when Karl Lagerfeld did it, he really made it classy. The beehive should be much more about old Hollywood glamour. It should be fun, but sexy and elegant, too."

I've always had a round face and, in moments of weakness, have been known to resent my round nose. With a beehive in tow will I not simply be a cartoonish conglomeration of circles: spherical hair, saucer-eyes, round nose and face, beads and bubble-skirt optional?

Martello thinks not: "The only people who can't carry off beehives are the ones with really long faces. Amy's not classically beautiful, but the beehive emphasises her features." If anything, I'm told, the hive will be streamlining. It should, after all, leave me at least four inches taller.

The session itself is fairly quick. The extensions are by far the most technical part whatever's going on back there, I'm sure I couldn't do it myself but, when they're finished, I'm amazed by the colour match. It's almost perfect; the locks flowing from my head are so well-blended that they bear no resemblance to the solid colour-blocks laid out earlier. It's now that the styling comes in, and Martello keeps me briefed at each stage.

She starts with a thorough hair teasing (although the process is so vigorous, I wonder if bullying might be more accurate) and then gathers together the tangles to form a sort of hairy clump around my crown. Out the corner of my eye, I can just make out the photographer's sceptical expression. I start to wonder if Martello has forgotten her promise of Karl rather than Amy. But at the last minute she gathers up some loose strands, sweeping them dramatically up and smoothing them elegantly over my emerging hive. Does it feel heavy, she asks? In fact, the whole arrangement feels surprisingly light and strangely detached. It's rather like having a small golden-brown cloud hovering just above my head.

Beehives, in one form or another, have been around since the 18th century. The powdered wigs of Louis XVI were not, after all, too different from the golden locks of Brigitte Bardot. But it wasn't until the summer of 1960, when the Chicago hairdresser Margaret Vinci Heldt received a particularly vain though somewhat vertically-challenged customer that the bouffant graduated to official hive status. With its four-inch altitude, the style was first and foremost a means of enhancing the wearer's stature.

As the decade wore on, and hemlines rose, the beehive slowly ascended and female beauty regimes grew increasingly complicated. Without today's hair extensions, adhesives and curlers, the quest for big hair 40 years ago was considerably more arduous. Women would set their hair in rollers, and then sit for up to an hour under the hairdryer. Then followed hours of backcombing, styling and pinning. At night, women were advised to wrap their hive in tissue-paper and sleep on satin pillow cases to keep it intact. Hairspray sales boomed; by 1964 it had overtaken lipstick as the nation's most popular cosmetic. Meanwhile, school corridors filled with whispered tales of scalps being bitten by lurking spiders.

But hidden spiders are the least of my concerns. As Martello puts the finishing touches on my barnet, it's the day-to-day practicalities of life that I'm finding more daunting. It occurs to me that one should dress appropriately for such a glamorous hairstyle. Standing here in my everyday jeans and T-shirt, I suddenly feel hopelessly upstaged. By my hair. And I've still got to face the office.

Arriving at my desk, I run through Martello's parting advice: "Do carry some hair spray with you, don't use gel; do wear an Alice band if you want to; don't be afraid to accessorise." Her final words are the most fundamental: "A beehive's not practical, so remember to avoid anywhere un-glam. The gym isn't glamorous, so don't go there. Don't do any jogging, swimming or aerobics."

Throughout the day my hair elicits a range of responses. Some colleagues eye me suspiciously (probably) noting my failure to accessorise. Others coo approvingly. And I get more than a few sniggers.

By lunch time, I'm feeling confident. I start to imagine myself in a denim pencil skirt, or a vintage trench or, for that matter, a little black dress? I'm cheered by its day-worn dishevelment; less Doris Day, more Brigitte Bardot, or so I like to think.

When the clock strikes six, the trip home looms. As I step on to the Tube I have to duck to avoid getting caught in the door. But still I feel smug, glimpsing my reflection in the window pane. It isn't until I reach the street again that I realise it's raining. Umbrellaless as I am I head out, thinking that perhaps the hive might shield me.

By the time I get home, it's irretrievable: where once I had a beehive, I now have a soggy mass of knotted hair.

It was, without doubt, the most sophisticated hairdo I've ever had and, if ever my turn came to wear Chanel, I'd do it again in a flash. Glamorous the beehive may be, but for life in the real world? Maybe not.