Wipe limp and bouffant from your mind. Replace them with wild, crazy, subversive. James Anderson reports on hairdressing: it's the new rock 'n' roll, you know
HAIRDRESSING the new rock 'n' roll? We jest, of course. But there's a brazen new breed of barneteers who would certainly like to think so. Apart from helping McQueen and his ilk shape some of today's more retina- scorching images, they are also doing their best to change hairdressing's traditionally rather luvvie, not to mention camp, reputation. In more bog-standard snipping parlours their efforts are talked of/hooted at in tones either reverential or derisive (responses like "nice" or "pretty" being, to say the least, inadequate). A-rockin' and a-rollerin', they are fast garnering a reputation as the industry's new hair scare bunch. While these boys and girls are not short on attitude, tales of groupies doing outlandish things with hairbrushes and hotel-based ODs are notable only by their absence. Shame. What is much in evidence is a harder-edged, more subversive approach to hairdressing (in synch with in-yer-face high fashion) and a highly professional approach to self-promotion.

Of the wild men of hair, probably the most in demand is 36-year-old Guido. A session stylist and supermodel fave (his work is constantly featured in The Face, Vogue and Harpers Bazaar) Guido is rumoured to be on a hackle- rising salary as international creative director for big wig primper Nicky Clarke. He has come a long way (via the zillion hair miles notched up trotting from one swanky global appointment to another) since bookings with, ahem, Woman's Own. "I was offered twenty shows for Fashion Week," he confides, "but you can only do so much." He did, however, find time to create harsh part-bald, bleached and braided looks as head honcho for McQueen's latest, Joan of Arc-inspired catwalk show. "I saw a New Age hippy in Camden and thought something like that would look great," he explains, "but ideas come from all over the place." Despite the severity of this crowning glory, Guido is keen to emphasise that "I don't set out simply to shock. I am classically-trained, though I've since broken all that down. But the training was important, otherwise you don't really know why you're doing something and it's just gratuitous." (Who does he think he is? Picasso?) Pleb-like apologies and all that, but whether or not such artistic aspirations or classic awareness mean anything more than "Look at the state of 'er 'air!" to even the average style-aware observer is debatable. Less questionable, however, is the impressive effect a Guido makeover had on the career of top clothes horse Erin O'Connor. "She had a plain bob and wasn't getting quite enough work. I advised her to go extreme, and shaved off some of her hair, undercut it and dyed it black. People loved it! That cut has helped her career, definitely... models should be brave." (Give the lass a medal, someone!). As for the current hair mania, he believes: "There's a young side to the business as important as the establishment - who know they have to move with the times. People are more experimental in this country...mad hair is part of our heritage. We are at a very exciting point."

Somewhat less excited is Jason Evans, a style photographer and regular contributor to ID (which featured a hair extravaganza a few issues ago): "It's just another thing for the fashion industry to hype about itself," he scoffs. "Hairdressers should be banned from shoots 'cos they get in the way - apart from Johhny Drill, who's a really sweet bloke. He looks amazing, very suave... I wouldn't let him near my hair though!"

Caution is justified in the case of 25-year-old, generously-sideburned and Sweaty Betty's in Bingley-trained Mr Drill. His aesthetic (shears and sellotape have been used) is only for the headstrong. Regarding his newest work, he says simply: "It's all about eggs and rollers." When pressed, he elaborates: "If you look at old school barbers, it's f*****g wicked. My stuff is essentially tailored, barbered haircuts with deliberate mistakes." Fond of punkishly debunking notions of exclusivity, he reckons "Anyone can cut hair and you can use anything to cut it." A tad reckless long- term career-wise, perhaps? He continues: "In olden days they used fire and razors - scissors are a relatively new invention." Appropriately, client consultation was not offered at Johnny's day of "performance" styling at East London's Dazed and Confused Gallery last year. The public were invited by the eponymous magazine to turn up, get a free haircut and be photographed for inclusion in a later follicly-challenging exhibition. "You had no choice, you got what you were given, he explains. "I wasn't that interested if people liked it or not. It was taken from people's imperfections, like scars or a double crown. I was inspired by lobotomised hairdressing - looking at diagrams of people having brain operations. I learnt so much from doing it." As is evident from the ensuing flurry of prestigious session work for Arena, The Face, and ID magazines. Nonetheless, Johnny is not desperately chasing infamy and insists his main aim is to "get people to have a bit of a laugh, be more free with themselves and less structured." Alas, structural alterations were an irrelevance to various tear-bedimmed gallery visitors (tragically, there were a few) seeking a short cut to Old Street-style without first checking the proverbial small print.

Another hairdresser with unusual research techniques is 26-year-old Nichola Clarke. Her own stark red bob ("I test shades on myself," she chuckles) is a familiar sight in clubs, the history sections of W1 bookshops and on her local (post-Clerkenwell, and suddenly a bit trendy) King's Cross streets - where she fearlessly photographs prostitutes and eccentrics. Not for her endless hours of flicking through twee hair brochures for inspiration. As a colourist, her dying skills are much sought after, with an impressive CV encompassing projects with David Bailey, up and coming photographers Ram and Fab (on a Mary Queen of Scots-themed shoot), dying hairpieces for designers Antonio Berardi and Mathew Williamson and work published in NG, Frank, Donna and Wallpaper. Nichola admits that she is not into making unnecessary small talk while at toil - a radical stance in hairdressing circles. She also claims to be "not bothered about being famous, but I'd go with it if it happens. I'm definitely heading towards more creative session stuff though... it can be really open and challenging."

As is Staffords - The House That Hair Built, a spooky Leigh-on-Sea salon run by 31-year-old likely lad Lee Stafford (winner of the 1998 British Men's Hairdressing Awards, which he attended sporting parodic cowboy/guitar hero chic - "typical day-wear", he assures me). His talent was nurtured in locations as far flung as Beverley Hills (where he was lured at the tender age of 18), the living room of his parents' Essex home and his own previous salon-proper in Hadleigh. It's all culminated in his current haunted house-themed hairdressing empire. "It used to be a massive old Victorian house... it oozes charisma," he enthuses. "We designed it to be humourous and have a sharp-edged feel. There are cobwebs, chandeliers from the Twenties, and the entrance is through a pretend bookcase. It appeals to everyone: young kids, clubbers and old folks." Being a little out of town for most potential Well- Known Clientele means famous punters are few. Not to worry, Lee happily acknowledges. "We (he and his trusty team) are the celebs round here!" And nowhere is the free advertising potential better than Friday night round the pubs and clubs, where the Stafford entourage are oft-spotted living it large.

If it all sounds a little untamed and unabashed, well, that's the whole point. Wayne Hemingway, frontman of fashion label Red or Dead, agrees: "There is a return to more avant-garde cutting and making a statement with your hair, and rightly so. It's the one area of your body you can alter at a whim and as fashion changes it's much less expensive and stressful than plastic surgery..."

To conclude, this ain't so much hair today, as tresses for the twenty-first century. And whether that amounts to art, style or a storm in a pot of hair gel, one thing is certain: polite chats about holidays in Perm-olinos have never seemed so boring.