Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Jean-Louis Desforges

Is haircutting art? When I was young, I didn’t think so. Getting a haircut was usually the most traumatizing event of my childhood. Going to the dentist made the haircut at the barber look like a walk in the park. Fortunately, I have since overcome my fear of the scissors, and have established a friendly rapport with the hairdresser back home.

Now, looking back on the experience that I had at Jean-Louis Desforges, I might think otherwise. The salon is linked to a large haircutting school, whose students practice on (un)suspecting patrons for a cheap haircut. In fact, the school is called an “atelier” or a workshop, rather than a school. This suggests that the school offers the same creative and artistic space where its students study from more experienced haircutters. Although I did not visit the workshop, I was able to ask my hair stylist, Laurent, about the program in order to better answer the question that I posed in the beginning of this post.

According to Laurent, the workshop was created in order to better train students about the art of haircutting. Or rather, a better term is “hair stylist.” This new nomenclature hints at the creative aspect of haircutting. At the workshop, students and experienced hair stylists work together to discuss the haircut that they are currently working on as well as develop the skills of the young haircutting student.

One of the key lessons that Laurent emphasizes is one that teaches the importance of the form of the haircut. The customer should be treated with respect, and this respect should be directed towards crafting the form of the haircut. The customer does not merely go the salon to have his hair cut in that moment, but rather he or she comes to have his or her hair cut in such a way that the hair can be well styled one or two months after the haircut has taken place.

Laurent executed this idea well. Before any cutting took place, he asked me about problem spots, how I usually styled my hair, and what haircut I wished to have. During the haircut, he did not use any razors. In his extraordinarily simple usage of scissors, he crafted and sculpted my hair. In a sense, I was his living tableau.

Others have similar ideas to Laurent’s. Mandy Dietz has created a website called haircutart.com, in which she posts before and after photos of SuperCuts customers. In her portraits, I can sense the dichotomy of order/disorder and space/non-space. The hair of those in “before” portraits is much more disordered and voluminous that that of the “after” portraits. In the after portraits, we can see how the hair is shaped and given form. This idea is also echoed in the title of an ezine article called, “The Art of Choosing an Appropriate Hairstyle For Your Face Shape.” In addition, in a performance art piece (see video below), Bilal Ghalib recruits passersby to cut his own hair. He plays with the idea of having one artist determine the form of his hair, and suggets that many anonymous artists can do just as good a job. Finally, Dailey Lungrin, who the BBC calls “an exceptional barber,” reinforces this idea. His haircuts are very unique which take into account composition, proportion, and shades. I can see the time, effort, and artistry in his haircuts. After having considered these ideas, I can see how haircut is art.


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