The Hair Artistry of Vivienne Mackinder
The lyrics “I’m every woman, it’s all in me” might as well have been written for Vivienne Mackinder. She has probably achieved what every woman would wish to accomplish in her career, and definitely what every hairdresser, man or woman, dreams of achieving.
Mackinder’s creations have graced the covers of many fashion magazines, and she has designed hair for runway fashion collections in New York, Paris, and London working with Jean Paul Gaultier, Hermes, Anna Sui, and Rifat Özbek to name a few. She was named one of Harper’s Bazaar’s top five stylists in the U.S. and keeps collecting award upon award, the latest being last year’s prestigious Visionaire Award from Intercoiffure.
Rightfully, Mackinder qualifies for the “hairdresser’s hairdresser” label because, apart from being sought after for her fashion editorial work, she also tirelessly dedicates her time to nurturing upcoming talent, all the while designing her own collections as well as squeezing in time for personal clients.
She spoke to Epoch Times about her work and the energy that fuels her ongoing passion for hair.
“The thing that never tires for me is seeing that sparkle in the eye when you get it right and she feels so good—whether she’s a professional model or a client. That really excites me,” said Mackinder.
Her decision to “do hair and make-up” came by default after years spent on the stage as a dancer from the age of 6 until she was 19.
As a child, Mackinder was always intrigued by how someone’s personality would totally change when they put on a costume and do their hair and makeup. Then they would change again when they got back into street clothes. And she says that in both instances we assume roles.
There is drama in everyday life after all, and it is obvious that Mackinder is still keenly tuned into it because this theatricality is evident in all her work. It also translates perfectly into the world of fashion. But there is also a sense of refinement and restraint that stems from more time-tested principles.
Mackinder pays meticulous attention to the whole person before she dives in for the final creative act.
She explains that in the context of a fashion editorial shoot, a whole team creates a beautiful and inspirational story that she takes cues from.
But when working with a private client, she has to uncover the story of the person, which takes patience and consideration of a different kind: “I want to dip into the landscape where they live and really find out how I can make somebody feel beautiful and look beautiful from the inside out,” she said.
Principles to Work By
Mackinder grew up in London, where she attended the London College of Fashion and then went on to work at Vidal Sassoon, eventually becoming an artistic director in 1990. The time spent working with Sassoon remains as the most memorable in her career.
The days of highly polished hairstyles like those worn in the 1960s are gone, but certain principles remain and continue to inform the creativity of great hair artists.
She concedes that part of being creative is about breaking the rules, but she also knows the boundaries, no matter how fine they are, between creativity and “bad taste” or “inappropriateness.”
“Because my canvas is a human being, the honor and the integrity of what I do is critically important. Their opinion is really important,” says Mackinder.
Her motto to young hairdressers and stylists is “Increase your skill set. Raise the bar.” She lives by no lesser edicts herself.
Part of what makes Mackinder’s hair creations so arresting is her solid sense of proportion. She explains that she pays particular attention to depth:
“My secret is: I always look at the profile of somebody and pull the hair away from the face making sure that the chin and the forehead are in a straight line. And if they’re not, I balance my hairstyle to make it appear that way, because then you have a beautifully balanced face. My goal is always to create a perfect oval face shape and a straight profile.”
Mackinder uses the golden ratio when designing. By applying this rule, it allows her to detect where she needs to compensate with volume so that the overall look is harmonious and balanced.
“If someone is a pear face shape then I build out their narrow area,” Mackinder said.
When we get to the topic of current and hairstyles and trends, Mackinder sees micro trends where no overall fashion really sticks out. She attributes this to the lifestyles we lead and how we gather into tightly knit like-minded groups of friends.
“People ‘hang’ in tribes anyway; when you see women out at a bachelorette party, they all kind of look the same because they’re all part of a ‘tribe,’ so that’s what I see more and more today,” she says.
In the celebrity sphere, one trend seems to engulf all long-haired screen nymphs, according to Mackinder. She says that if you Google “long layers” you will get every celebrity with long layers come up on the screen and they all look the same.
“I love long layers, but I think you’ve got to make it your own signature, make it special, whether it’s styling or color—that little statement is very important so that you don’t get lost in the sea of sameness.”
Layers and Bobs
If long layers are the default celebrity hairstyle, I offer that the bob seems to be the default style for the rest of us.
“I think that the bob is just a timeless classic, hair hitting just above the shoulders is such a flattering length for so many women, but it’s about making the bob look fresh and relevant today,” says Mackinder.
But we both agree that the dreaded “bowl haircut” is never coming back and hopefully neither is the technique of achieving it—putting a bowl on a child or teenager’s head and proceeding to cut as if trimming a hedge.
What of today’s hair fashion?
“Right now we’re in a very comfortable place with hair where it’s easy to wear, it’s slightly lazy,” she said.
“There were hairstyles that we did when I was in London years ago when a woman would walk into a room and you’d go ‘Oh my goodness that’s so fabulous’—so I miss that. I think it gets a bit boring when everyone is wearing the same style,” she says.
This season is all about what Mackinder calls “loosened glam.” Women are embracing curls again, but they are much more relaxed. It’s summer after all, and let’s not forget that those long layers have now spawned and given way to “beachy waves.” Looks like the “sea of sameness” is inescapable.
Still, there is a lot one can do with hair. Then there’s Vivienne Mackinder who dares to go where your garden variety hairdresser would falter, because apart from daring and imagination, one would also need a special kind of finesse and empathy. The latter is the mark of a great human being—hairdresser or not.