Style police: Curls on top

Not in our lifetime, we thought, but incredibly, the perm is back. This time Kristin Scott Thomas and her ringlets are the inspiration, says James Sherwood
If one person tolled the death knell of the perm, it was Coronation Street's Vera Duckworth. After 20 years of peroxide frizz, she finally went on the straight and narrow this spring. If even caricatures have abandoned the perm, you'd think real people would have left it behind with the blue rinse or shampoo and set. But fashion in hair moves faster than the frock business. For this week at least, hairdressers have decided that curls are back.

The man most people hold responsible for the curl renaissance is Guido, creative director at Tony & Guy. When styling Kate Moss for Versace last season, Guido crimped - and the crimp begat the curl. "Romance is the key this season," says Guido. "This is a very modern, structured approach to hair styling but using old-fashioned techniques." Roughly translated this means Kristin Scott Thomas in The English Patient rather than Julie Walters in Educating Rita. The look may be Forties, but the feel is not hermetically sealed with lacquer.

The softness of the new perm curls are the chief selling point. Hairdressers are really on a mission to erase La Duckworth's perm from our collective memory. "Forget about your granny and her tight curls," reads the Tony & Guy promo. My granny (Hilda Sherwood), who eschews tight curls of any description, was a hairdresser in Sheffield when the perm was born. "I went into business in 1930, at the time when perms were done by machine," she says. "The Rolls-Royce of perm machines was the Eugene." The Eugene, patented in the Twenties, was not unlike a basketball hoop with wires hanging from it. The hair was wound and inserted into the loops before an electric current ran through the circuit. The perms we have today are descended from the "cold wave", a chemical rather than electrical perm that was invented in the Forties. The Eugene may sound like an ancient instrument of torture, but the cold wave can still strike terror into Nineties women.

"Actually, clients can't go wrong with the new perm," says a L'Oreal technical adviser. "With the old perms, you left the salon feeling as if you'd been through an acid bath. Now, the solutions are much more gentle on the hair. With our Duclia Tonica, curls are painless."

So, they don't need a health warning but are perms a fashion hazard? This season's fashion is undoubtedly romantic, with floral chiffons, Eastern sarongs and simple shift dresses all signature pieces. Soft, waving curls cascading around a face complement the look perfectly. In conclusion, Style Police says, "Don't panic Vera! You've still got Volume."

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