“I call it London-cool-girl hair,” says George Northwood of his “done but undone” approach. As the hairstylist responsible for Laura Bailey’s waist-length, mussed locks and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s relaxed waves, not to mention Alexa Chung’s sleekly disheveled long bob and grown-out bangs (the cut that launched a thousand imitations and anointed Chung as an unparalleled hair pin-up), Northwood is more than qualified to speak on the subject.
His “chopped into” cuts seem to convey a uniquely British attitude not only to hair but also to personal style: low-hassle, offhand, fresh, and fantastically covetable. “Cool, but not as if you’ve put too much thought into it,” says Northwood. In other words, hair that’s the perfect complement to Marques’ Almeida’s frayed denim jeans or a ruched leather cocktail dress by Christopher Kane. (Think of Northwood’s hair as the anti–Kate Middleton.)
This artful way of cutting has won him a significant fan base across the pond and a growing cult following. Among those regularly submitting to his scissors are Gwyneth Paltrow, Kirsten Dunst, and Blake Lively. (“I cut the perfect shape and then assess it and think, ‘It’s thick there, let’s take some of that out, chop out the weight, feather it a bit, soften the front.’ It’s still very sleek, but in a relaxed way,” he says of his signature technique.) Even Kim Kardashian, whose brand of amplified glamour seems a total contradiction of Northwood’s rumpled bedhead look, was given light, tousled waves by the hairdresser for the recent GQ Men of the Year awards in London. He says, “I told Kim, ‘Your outfit is so full-on, your hair has to be nothing. We’ve got to strip it right back.’ And she loved it.”
Photo: Courtesy of George Northwood Salon
Conveniently tucked behind Oxford Street, Northwood’s first self-titled salon opened in April. The interior is part English country house—paneled walls, vintage floral cushions, and crystal chandeliers—and part industrial loft: “I wanted it to feel like a home away from home,” says the tall and genial stylist, gesturing to the “tuck shop” where glass bowls are loaded with goodies: protein bars, Spirulina chips, and cold-pressed juices by Roots & Bulbs. (Perfect for squirrelling away into handbags for between-shows snacks.)
Even if you can’t pin down an appointment with the man himself, every staff member is trained in the Northwood technique. For a blow-out, this means “rough-drying the hair 90 percent and then smooth-drying the last 10 percent, working through the products, and shaking it out at the end. We never blow-dry hair from wet, because I think it takes the guts out of it; any natural wave or shape disappears. So this is like a half-hearted blow-dry. But it’s not a half-hearted service,” he says, laughing. “Its all about adding products to give it that texture. And the importance of a good cut.”
For a black-tie evening iteration, Northwood offers a roughed-up ponytail. “With Laura Bailey, I keep the sides tight and lift the top part of the hair to make it a bit messy. I lightly tong the hair, leaving out the roots and the ends, and then shake it through afterwards.” A slept-in, matte effect is achieved by the addition of Redken’s Powder Grip, “a gritty product that gives the hair that day-old look.”
He makes it sound easy. “It should be!” says Northwood. It should certainly look it, effort being the enemy of true British style—a truth that is the foundation of Northwood’s success. As Rosie Huntington-Whiteley says of her friend’s salon: “Be there or have bad hair.”
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