Step by Step with Charlie Le Mindu

Hairstylist-cum-designer Charlie le Mindu has built his career on all that is shocking, outrageous and beautifully bizarre (perhaps you’ve seen the giant bow wig or fall/winter 2012 collection of human hair frocks and hats donned by Lady Gaga, or his spring/summer 2012 looks, which featured dresses, gowns, and a cobra turban made out of custom Minx synthetic nails).  So it may seem strange that, as he sits on the porch of his fifth-floor Dalston flat, the Bordeaux-born, London-based 26-year-old calls for a return to classic hair; done-up, blown-out, drop-dead-gorgeous vintage hair. “In this day and age, maybe because of grunge and all that, people think it’s sexy to look like a mess. And it is. But sometimes we need to look to the past. Not copy it, but just take it as an example,” says Le Mindu, whose own retro ‘do (which, with the sides shaved off, is a punk revival of Johnny Depp’s hair in John Waters’ Cry Baby, Le Mindu’s favorite film and a constant source of inspiration) is a prime example of his nostalgic tendencies. And behind his shocking materials, rainbow dye jobs, and surreal wigs lies an uncompromised loyalty to tradition.

To describe Le Mindu’s childhood as unusual would be an understatement. Born to a Spanish gypsy father and a French drag king mother (one of the first in the country), Le Mindu’s youth was filled with reluctant rugby matches and trips to watch his mother work the stage at gay nightclubs. “My mother always reminds me that, from the age of six, I wanted to be a hairdresser,” says Le Mindu, who got his start playing with Mummy’s locks and shaving the hair off his Barbie dolls. “I wanted to make them look like lesbians,” he quips in his frank, utterly French, and often unintentionally funny tone.

Le Mindu’s introduction to the world of coiffure was at what he describes as a “countryside salon for grandmothers.” “I was about 13 and I wanted traditional training,” he says. “I didn’t want anything fancy.” It was during this time that he met Caroline Martial, the lead singer of French electronic music duo, Kop Bambino. She took Le Mindu under her wing and introduced him to all that was cool, relevant and fashionable: Vogue, Madonna, and Cher, whose red wig, along with his grandmother’s purple rinse, was integral to the formation of Le Mindu’s aesthetic. “I was so gay, and I didn’t know anything about these things,” chuckles the designer.  “But she got me into them, and that was that.”

Having grown tired of teasing gray hair in the country, Le Mindu moved to Berlin when he was 17. He had 500 euros in his pocket and spoke neither German nor English, so he resolved to ask the owner of a French gay club if he could cut drag queens’ hair on Tuesdays to earn some cash. “It started like this and soon enough, I was cutting hair in a different club every night of the week,” says Le Mindu, who also developed his signature wig skills while trying to amplify the drag queens’ coifs. Nonstop techno fêtes were also a central component of Le Mindu’s Berlin life. But after four years of club-cutting and partying, the stylist was overcome with an unbearable sense of ennui (oh, to be French!) and headed to London.

Covered in tattoos (he has “love” written across his right knuckles, “cunt” across his left, a pigeon asking “Where’s my kebab?” on his right hand and “Gypsi King” across his eyelids—partially because of his father’s background, partially because of his “mixed feelings” about the ’90s band) and cheeky demeanor, Le Mindu fits right in with East London’s quirky creative and club kids. And he’s found a great deal of success in the city. He (un)tames the manes of everyone from Lana del Rey to punk rocker Peaches, has come to work closely with L’Oréal (in fact, he launched a special edition L’Oréal Infinium hairspray in June), and began his own cheveux-centric fashion line in 2009. What’s more, Le Mindu was recently appointed the Avant Garde Director of Harrod’s buttoned-up Urban Retreat salon.

“I was a bit hesitant at first,” says Le Mindu of his new post. But from his pastel dip dyes to the leopard-print smocks and human hair hats that adorn his Harrods station, it seems Le Mindu’s unbridled eccentricity is just the thing to shake up the place. “My perfect client would be an older woman with huge, pink, blown-out hair. John Waters style,” he giggles. He’s also looking forward to presenting his upcoming spring/summer 2013 collection, which is based on his childhood experiences and his mother, as well as the October launch of his affordable cartoon-inspired wig line.

Naturally, Le Mindu is not your traditional hairstylist. But he embraces a certain nostalgia and infuses his off-the-wall looks with an old-world sensibility. Exclusively for Interview, Le Mindu has detailed how to achieve four updated classic styles, which focus on volume. “I think beautiful hair and volume is going to come back,” says Le Mindu. “Along with the shoes, hair is the most important part of a woman’s look. After that, they can be naked. And they’ll always look good.” Browse our gallery and learn how to create a new pumped-up style. Whether or not it will include clothes is up to you.