Meet the Legendary Serge Normant
Photos: Serge Normant
Serge Normant was born in a suburb of Paris in 1965, now he’s one of Hollywood’s favorite hairstylists. He’s built faux mohawks on Sarah Jessica Parker, iconic braids on Blake Lively, and most recently, beautifully soft hair on longtime client Julia Roberts for a stunning portfolio in WSJ, the Wall Street Journal’s magazine. Below, he explains how he got from point A to point B—and spills the secret to loving your own hair.
I wish I had an interesting story, like I wanted to be a doctor or something, but I have to be honest, I always loved texture. I was very intrigued by sculptural shapes, even as a kid, without knowing exactly what that meant. I grew up in a Paris suburb, exposed to the amazing architecture that the city had to offer, and what was appealing for me was women’s hair. I liked guys’ hair too, but the truth is, growing up in the ‘60s, there were just so many major fashion moments and women really dressed to the nines. They really had a do—not just a wash and go—and glamour was actually a daily routine. I loved the ephemeral part of it all, that one day you can have one look and the next day it could be very different. Of course, I didn’t know the amount of time it takes to do that look, but it looked to me like you could do something totally new in two seconds.
My mom was very brave to let me do her hair; I was 12. I was obsessed with that one haircut that was very much like a bowl, that Vidal Sassoon kind of thing, and I remember using a pair of scissors that she used to cut clothes to cut hers. In my memory, it looks amazing. The reality was probably something else, but I was very proud. I remember my mom showing it to my dad and the reaction was mixed. I think he was a bit in shock since she had long hair and it was quite different for her. But she asked for more and I just kept playing with it.
A lot of my friends were doing other things, pursuing real studies, and a part of me wanted to try and do both—school studies and hair—but when you commit to something so specific, especially in France you where you have to go to hairdressing school for three or four years, you have to make a choice. So I finished school a little early, at 15, and went on to do an apprenticeship at the salon where I used to get my haircut as a kid. I did almost three years there, and it was an amazing school for me because it was someone who really liked and trusted me and let me do so many things. When you work in a neighborhood salon like that, people don’t have specific things they do, like just a blow dry or shampoo, you have to be introduced to everything that is part of the life and function of the hair salon.
I could not believe that I would actually be able to do as job what I loved doing as a hobby. I remember my first day at the coat check at the Jacques Dessange salon in Paris, saying no to the tip, thinking I didn’t deserve it, and just walking through and loving the smell of the salon.
At the same time, I wanted to go to the US. I started working for French ELLE, it was the magazine my mom had at home and it’s still an institution. Then, when I turned 22, Bruno Pittini, had opened a salon in New York City. I asked him to take me to New York and I came with my portfolio in hand. That was the mid-‘80s, more like ’88, and it was an amazing time. It was right before fashion started taking a great turn and I decided to go freelance, spending half my time in the salon and half doing shoots—that’s when I met Bobbi! She used to work with Walter Chin a lot and he was very instrumental, taking me on a trip Paris to shoot couture for Italian Vogue. Then I got my break working with Steven Meisel on Italian Vogue covers and the Dolce & Gabanna campaigns. I was replacing another stylist who needed the time off, and as soon as those editorials and campaigns came out—I was very young, and hadn’t paid my dues—I was noticed. Chances like that don’t happen anymore, you know? I got very lucky. We made amazing images that launched my career, between Walter and Steven, the beginning of the top model, we didn’t really know what was coming.
I remember at the time you either did fashion or celebrity. You’d have a massive movie star on the cover of a magazine, but then the next three covers would be models—Linda, Naomi. I’m just a hairdresser, so if I’m asked by a great photographer to do the hair, I never want to say no. There was a shoot with Julia Roberts, who had just finished Pretty Woman and was filming The Pelican Brief, and the fashion editor at Vanity Fair booked me with Herb Ritts. Julia was one of the first I really connected with; she was funny and fun and everyone loved each other and I remember those two days of shooting as such a beautiful moment. I felt extremely lucky to be involved in such an amazing thing. I still did a lot of fashion, but I didn’t restrict myself; I wanted to experience as much as I could. When people ask me what my plan was, I didn’t have one! Here’s my plan: I want to work with amazing people and participate in creating gorgeous pictures.
A lot of women will not tell you that they love their hair, but they love their color, or their cut, or their texture—they’ll love an element of it. There has to be something that you like, figure out what it is, and then work around that. Healthy hair is the most glamorous thing. We treat our skin with great care, why don’t we do the same with hair? A great mask, not just a deep conditioner, is the key to a great foundation.
I’ve loved working with Blake Lively, she has a great sense of how she likes to wear her hair that isn’t contrived, but makes a statement. I loved what I did on SJP for the Met Ball this year; she’s very open. There are plenty of people I’d love to work with—Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe—but as long as the person is nice, I’m willing to work with anyone! That’s a priority in my life, being surrounded by people who really care. They don’t need to be the most gorgeous, or have the best hair.