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Alexa Chung: the hair memoirs

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She instigated the re-birth of the bob, popularised dip-dyeing and made grungy waves cool. Alexa Chung talks Stylist through her life, one haircut at a time

Words: Anita Bhagwandas, Photography: Matt Irwin, Additional Photos: Rex Features

Superficial as it may seem, our hair sends a pertinent message to those around us. It’s one of the first things we notice as we meet somebody new – in that fleeting 30 seconds before we make our judgement on them. It’s one of the key things we remember (alongside the numerous achievements) when we think of powerful female icons – from Michelle Obama’s perfectly aligned fringe through to Margaret Thatcher’s shampoo and set.

Hair can’t change foreign policy, topple an empire or cause a revolution – but it’s intrinsic in other ways, having been proven to have a dramatic effect on our self-esteem. A recent study of 1,000 subjects found that women feel deeply affected by the state of their hair – with 44% saying their mood was negatively affected by a bad hair day (in some cases, even affecting job performance) and 26% revealing they had cried after a bad haircut.*

The psychological impact of hair is undeniable. And it can also serve to almost define some personalities – with model/muse/ presenter Alexa Chung being one. In her 14-year career Chung has inadvertently become a hair inspiration to thousands, cementing global trends for the dip dye and chic yet grungy waves to name but two.

Photography: Matt Irwin

“When I look back, some of my hair choices are pretty funny,” she recalls. “During primary school I had a bob, which was fine. But then going into secondary school, I tried my best to grow it out – until my dad chopped it into a weird bowl cut when I was about 13. That’s definitely the worst age you can feel insecure about your hair, so thanks for that, Dad!

My next hair move was my finest: I cut it shorter and grew out the front section, so I had bits down the front that I scrunched up with my hands. It became a ‘thing’ at school that other kids started doing, and I was like, ‘Ha, micro trend’. It’s a pretty big deal, aged 14, to be starting trends

Eventually, I grew it out and had longer, flowing ‘dream’ hair when I was 17. Then, when I was 18 I was the hair model for a L’Oréal Colour Trophy competition and they dyed my hair the unlikely combination of orange and yellow. Then I dyed it black after that. That’s the craziest I’ve ever had it, and that wasn’t out of choice. But I’m lucky, because my hair grows really quickly, so I can try different styles and be quite flippant, although a crop is the one look I’d never do because I’ve got massive ears. That’s not just me saying that, it’s the truth.

When I began modelling, I had to keep it longer, so when I was actually allowed to cut my hair in 2007, it felt hugely liberating. Then, when I went to America, I had it dip-dyed like Kurt Cobain because I wanted that grunge, Nineties look that’s almost completely unpolished. When I turned 27 in 2010, I grew that out because I wanted to look a little more ladylike.

ABOVE LEFT: 2006 - as a young model Alexa had to keep her hair long and flowing AND RIGHT: 2007 - the Alexa effect is born and the humble bob is catapulted to stardom

I guess I’d never really tried to be pretty, so going a flat mocha colour felt refreshing and sophisticated. I’ve got very flat hair, so I’ve found that dying it is quite good for texture and makes it a bit bulkier. I almost have to dye my hair to boost it up. I’m always apprehensive, though, when I’m sat in the hairdresser’s chair because there are always so many pots and some look a bit blue and you’re like, ‘I don’t know what’s in there or what colour that’s going to end up being’. When they wash it out, you can tell by their faces if it’s gone well or not.

Now I’m 29, L’Oréal Professionnel Inoa colourist Jose Quijano and I decided it was time for a change, so I have a natural chocolate brown with slightly lighter sections through the front for the summer months. In my mind, I always think my skin will turn a golden tan colour during the summer and I’ll end up looking like Anita Pallenberg, but it’s like I’ve got Pallenberg’s bloody wig on without the tan, so, for the next couple of months I need to focus on that.

I don’t have many hair icons, as my hair is never going to look like theirs, but my favourite hair era is generally the Sixties. People like Marianne Faithfull, Anna Karina, Brigitte Bardot, France Gall or anyone in or around The Beatles or the Rolling Stones from 1962-1967 fall into my list of hair inspirations.

I try to keep everything as simple as possible with my hair: I just blow dry the front and that’s it. I’ve gone out with boys that take longer to get ready than I do, but I do a lot of maintenance throughout the day by constantly manoeuvring it into different positions. I put it up, then I put it down. I put it to the side, then leave it down again. I go through about eight hairstyles in a single day. I’ve also perfected the art of blow drying – I even give my mum blow dries. I had to get good at it because when I was modelling, the stylists would create all kinds of dramatic, slightly crazy styles and I’d need to be able to fix it myself.

ABOVE LEFT: 2010 - has it grown out? who cares, the dip dye has arrived AND RIGHT: 2013 - new hue; the face that launched a thousand haircuts

I’ve got a few hair essentials I fall back on, like dry shampoo if I can’t wash it, but I do wash it every day if possible. Sometimes I’ve been known to try a topknot, but because I’m obsessed with balancing things out, I’ll only wear a topknot with lipstick. Without lipstick on, you’re just looking at the topknot.

All this might make me sound high-maintenance, but I actually wouldn’t sweat it if my hair fell out. I’d probably get one of those bright Jamaican Rasta hats with dreads attached to it and just wear that.

Hair is so linked to how we feel and everyone goes for something radical after a break-up, but my advice if you’ve just suffered heartbreak or you’ve broken up with someone, is to not touch your hair. It’s the first thing women do, but you’re not in a fit state to make decisions that are long-term – you’ll have to spend the next four years growing it out. Don’t have a fringe cut. Don’t bleach it. Don’t do anything, because you will regret it. Buy a lipstick instead. Go and kiss loads of other people, but don’t f***ing touch your hair, as you’ll still feel sad – and you’ll have weird hair. I always think people’s hair looks really weird when they’re sad anyway. When my friends are heartbroken I can tell that they’re sad; their hair just starts looking a bit forlorn. Like when Britney Spears got sad and shaved off her hair. That’s the ultimate warning – heed that. If you’re not feeling good don’t do anything to your hair.

Another thing I’ve learned is different hair lengths affect the way you dance. If you’ve got long hair you can do the classic girl moves, just swinging your hair from side to side. If you’ve got short hair you’ve got to be more creative with your dance moves and inject a little comedy, I’d say. Also, blonde people look better on planes. Blonde hair seems to just travel really well. If you’ve got dark, fine hair like mine, then you’ll always look crap at the end of a flight, but blondes step off the plane looking really nice and fresh. I fly a lot, so I notice these things. I’d also advise taking a hat when you’re travelling – you’ll also look slightly like you’re in a band at the airport. I might actually consider keeping my luggage in a guitar case one day.

But my biggest question, by far, is where do kirby grips go? I’m sure I buy maybe two packs a year and they all disappear into nowhere. It’s still a mystery to me.”

Alexa is the face of the new L’Oréal Professionnel Inoa colour, which is available at salons nationwide

* Research from Shopsmart magazine (part of consumer reports)

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