The Intelligent Consumer: Why blondes have more funds

Style police: For this year's models, a blonde head is more of a career move than a fashion statement

KAREN ELSON, she of the lopsided red bob and deathly pale complexion, was the face of 1997 in fashion. Hairdressers were not, however, mobbed by women clamouring for the "Elson pudding bowl". Elson's may be the face, but blonde is the hair colour everyone wants. Gwyneth Paltrow's maxi-streaked blonde bob was the Jennifer Aniston cut of 1997. Georgina Grenville, Stella Tennant, Kate Moss, and Amber Valetta brought the blonde streak back. Apart from the ubiquitous Naomi Campbell cover, fashion in this month's British Vogue features blonde girls only.

It's not a return to the twilight years of Farrah Fawcett perms or Christie Brinkley platinum streaks. Sure, there are nice girls like Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz for whom blonde equals sleek, modern, minimal and clean. A nice girl's hair must co-ordinate with her Donna Karan cream georgette separates, after all. But fashion blonde is a nasty girl. The base is dirty blonde and the streaks rough and ready.

"The girls like Kate and Stella always push colour as far as they can. If they go dark then it's black. If blonde, it's really blonde," says Toni & Guy session stylist Alain Pichon. "Catwalk hair is raw, edgy and from the street. It isn't about pretty blondes at the moment."

There's only one answer to women who go into the hairdresser with a picture of Georgina Grenville's shoulder length halo of curls and demand a copy: "It'll cost about pounds 30,000." That's roughly how much money it takes to create that image. You wouldn't look twice at Grenville with her hair in a top knot and no make-up on when she leaves a studio. "Blondes look better in pictures than real life," says Vogue fashion features director Lisa Armstrong. "In real life, those blonde highlights are brash. But in front of a camera they radiate light. A hairdresser will also tell you that blonde makes you look younger. Fashion editor Jayne Pickering wanted light-haired girls for her 'Blonde Ambition' story because they worked well with the whites and neutral clothes. It wasn't a conscious decision to feature blondes in the entire issue."

Intentional or no, the blonde still gets more magazine space. When Linda Evangelista went blonde, her career sky-rocketed. The streaked, cropped and finger-waved Stella Tennant gets more coverage in US Vogue and Harper's Bazaar than the pierced, punky raven-haired Stella of yesteryear. "When a model goes blonde it is more of a career move than a fashion statement," says Evening Standard fashion editor Mimi Spencer. "Blondes sell more magazines - particularly in the States. There is something quite sad and cynical about fashion glorifying a stereotype... particularly if you are a brunette like myself."

Fashion for Spring '98 does favour blonde: Bohemian, pre-Raphaelite, embroidered georgettes seem to suit Kirsty Hume's demi-wave halo-light cascade of curls. Sharp, black Gucci pencil skirts work with Stella's swept-back sculpted blonde curls. But before you reach for the peroxide, take heed. "Blondes were so last year," says Boss Models director Leonora Newman. "You're seeing magazine photographs now which were shot in 1997. Their hair colour will have already changed in time for the shows." But the shows (in March) are of clothing for Autumn/Winter 98. So is the hair. When the fashion industry says it's over, for the rest of the world, blonde is just beginning.

Squeaky clean blonde Kate Winslet

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