During my last visit to France, I had the pleasure of visiting David Mallett’s gorgeous salon. Located upstairs in a chic historic Parisian building, walking into David’s salon feels as though you’ve just stepped into your favorite art studio. Adorned with luxe furniture, the intoxicating scent of their signature candles, and lots of taxidermy, David’s space feels like anything but a hair salon. In fact, he boasts the salon’s ability to feel anything but. While he was wrapping up a shoot, I was promptly offered tea and sat outside on their lush private deck while I waited. David began his career in Australia before moving to the UK and then to Paris, a place he graciously expresses having been so warmly embraced. After years of working as an editorial hairstylist, he opened his salon and began his product line. With such a fulfilling and well rounded career, David talks the hard work that goes into the business and the situations that forced him to greatness…
How did you start doing hair?
I started as a very, very young boy. I wanted to do hair and would do my sisters hair. I was one of those people who was born knowing what I wanted to do. I came from a very traditional Australian family and they weren’t so keen on me deciding to be a hairdresser, but that didn’t bother me too much. I started working on Saturdays at a small suburban salon rinsing hair and sweeping the floor, as all hair dressers do. Then I worked very hard in Australia for 4.5-5 years until I was 21. I created a book of photographic work, which was judged by Australian Vogue, and they awarded me Australian Hairdresser of the Year. With that check, I took off to London to start working in the fashion industry, working between London, Paris, and Milan. I was a good hairdresser at 21, but I was technique obsessed, which is now not so important to me. Beauty is much more important, and now I can deal with mistakes, things don’t have to be perfect. So I spent my time traveling around Europe. European/English hairdressing is very different from Australian hairdressing. In Australia it’s all about the haircut, and they pay very little attention to the hair. Italian women and French women know how to do their hair. They’ve got the rollers and the blowdryers, the best shampoos, and they style it.
When I got to 37 I was traveling so much and had basically no personal life. I decided I wanted to bring everything I was doing into a studio, translating the feeling I had doing client’s from my apartment. I was very scared to do it because I had this very niche small group of fabulous fashion people I was working with and they all hated salons… but they all came!
Did you have a big break in your career?
The day I came to Paris when I was 25 to work with Lenny Kravitz, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, and Emmanuelle Alt. I was just filling in because the proper hairstylist couldn’t make it, but then Emmanuelle asked me to stay on for another shoot with Diane Kruger. That was the minute my career changed and from then on I was introduced to Terry Richardson and other great photographers. I very much admire Emmanuelle’s work and she was very kind to me. I was a young boy who didn’t speak a lick of French and she was very generous.
Did you have any mentors who influenced you or helped you along the way?
It sounds so cliché, but my mentor was Sassoon. I was trained by Terry Hutchinson. He was the director of Sassoon in London. He was my mentor as a hair cutter, but as a hair dresser not at all. His hair styling is non existent because at Sassoon it is all about the cut only.
As far as styling, Alexandre de Paris. His designs are incredible and he was known for chignons and what he did on Liz Taylor.
What was the best piece of advice you received?
That would come from my parents’ education. They always said if you wanted to do something, to make sure you really do it. It was very financially challenging and I went through some very tough moments from age 20-28. I was finding the fridge very empty. There were many times I almost had thrown in the rag because it had proven so difficult. For those going through the same thing, I would tell people to just continue, which is a very Australian work ethic thing to say. “Just get on with it. No one is interested in your complaints, just work work work work work.”
Do you have any advice for new stylists?
Watch every single person you can that you believe has talent. Work with them, study them, assist them, follow them, and do everything you can. Do not remain limited, use everything you have and work really hard, just like all of the great hairdressers I know. Hairdressing is a life consuming occupation. If you want to get to the top, it’s almost impossible to have a personal life and it’s almost impossible to have a family. You can do it, but it’s a job where you look after people all the time, and if you want to go into fashion where people are extremely needy it takes a lot out of you.
Tell us about your namesake product line.
I started the line about 4 years ago. I’ve been hairdressing for 35 years and the line started off as an idea to create a replacement for all the products my clients’ would tell me just wouldn’t work. We started off with just one product, the serum, which took us a great amount of time. We call it Numero 27 because we did 27 full tests back to the lab just to get it right. It was based on what all of my clients’ were looking for. In France, we’ve got very dry hair but we don’t want to weigh it down or for it to be heavy or greasy, so we need a really moisturizing weightless product. It doesn’t act like a leave in conditioner because leave in conditioners mattify the hair and French girls like their hair really shiny. There are people that believe it’s actually the best product in the world.
The Hydration line is for French women who don’t want to spend a lot of time on their hair, they want quick, efficient products. So the line is all about getting hydration in the hair without weight. Heavy masks just don’t work in France because French women value volume and they never want something flat.
The Volume products are about strength, and it’s for women who want lift at the root and that weightless feeling to the hair.
The salt spray came from this special salt I cook with at home. I was unhappy with a lot of the salt products we’d use because they cling on to the hair and they get dusty, so I started mixing up the salt with hot water at home and ended up making my own. The salt is from a river in Australia called the Murray River. You can taste it. You will see that is literally just salt.
When I started off I only wanted to create one product, and that was the serum, which is why I spent so much time and money creating it. Then it just took off. I never thought I would have a whole line, but things just organically progressed. People demanded more.
I am completely biased towards France because of how kind the country has been to me, so everything we do from formulation, to packaging, to recycling is done in France. It’s the way I give back to the country.
What was your biggest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
I can think of two very challenging moments, both with photographers; Jean-Baptiste Mondino and Ellen von Unwerth. They both have a great eye for hair and I’ve since worked with them a lot.
When you are working in a salon 10 hours a day, what you do is very organic. When you make mistakes, it’s softer and more spread out. When you’re working a photo shoot, it’s much more intense, you have much less time. If you make a mistake, it’s a real problem to get out. I did a job just after Cannes Film Fest a couple years ago and Mondino invited me to look after Sharon Stone. I’d never worked with her before and I’m very shy around celebrities. We spoke briefly on the phone and they said they wanted something completely natural with her, asking if I could cut her hair. They had told me they just wanted her to look they way she is over 25 pages. So I said yes and we drove two hours outside of Paris with my two assistants. When we got to set, Sharon and Mondino decided that they didn’t want to cut her hair because it was just too boring. Instead, they wanted to metamorphasize her in every photo, making her look like a different woman with each shot. They wanted red, brown, black, blonde, short, long, curly, and platinum hair. We were outside of Paris, far from the salon and I had nothing. It was one of the most incredible jobs. I had 3 assistants run around Paris going to all the wig suppliers, all the wig makers, picking up everything they could find. I was so nervous to be so out of control, but in the end it was so incredibly satisfying. When I see the pictures now and think about what we did in 2 very short days with 20 hair changes, I am so proud.
I don’t imagine that creation has to be tortuous, but I don’t imagine that is has to be comfortable either. Sometimes in those really uncomfortable moments, some really brilliant things happen. Sometimes to create, you need those things to push you.
Another example of a situation like that was when I had to get someone ready just before a Vogue party. Erica was in a hurry and said she wanted flowers in her hair for the party. She called and asked if she could pick me up and I’d do her hair on the way there in the car. I get in the car and it’s tiny and there are no lights inside. We ended up doing this fantastic plait in the dark and I wove daisies in it all the way to the bottom. After I saw pictures, I just thought how great things can come when you’ve got very little. No chair, no light, no blowdryer, but you’re forced to do something really beautiful. Beautiful things can come from very limited conditions.
Another big challenge was coming to France for work and not speaking a lick of French! The most challenging thing about my life now in my 50’s is exhaustion. I’ve been working about 75-80 hours a week since I was 25.
What’s the next chapter for you?
To broaden my product line and open a satellite salon very close to here. Something very, very exclusive.
Follow @davidmallett for more #manespiration.