Hair Apparent

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Men’s haircuts are suddenly going to extremes. Blame it on Instagram (and Kanye)

By Merle Ginsberg

Photographs by Jason Pietra         Styled by Rodney Hall

Photograph Jason Pietra

In Los Angeles, if bodies are more important than faces and cars, then hair is more important than all of them. Angelenos make hair contact before they make eye contact. But it used to be that a quick scan of the crowd at the valet stand would yield only two choices for men’s hair: short or long. Not anymore. Blame Instagram, which changed the way we eat and vacation (Did we ever “plate” our homemade food in the past? Is it possible to picture yourself on the beach without your bare feet in view?), and is now pushing us to ever wilder extremes at the barbershop. Celebrities have always been in the mix how many pompadours were inspired by James Dean or shags by Shampoo – era Warren Beatty? But their exploits are now amplified by social media, creating a virtual Sharknado of out-there hair headed toward mainstream America.

Photograph Jason Pietra

The man bun—the first men’s hairstyle to be immortalized multiple times in New Yorker cartoons since the magazine discovered the mohawk in 1992—was merely a gateway drug to the asymmetrical, altitudinal, zigging and-zagging cockscombs sprouting up these days. “Yes, hair sculpture’s definitely a ubiquitous trend,” says Sean James, hair stylist for clients Chris Hardwick, Rufus Wainwright, and Eugene Levy, at Santa Monica’s Matthew Preece Salon. “It has a lot to do with Instagram and barbershop posts; there are more images of men’s hair than women’s.”

Photograph Jason Pietra

Game of Thrones is a definite influence, ushering in a profusion of Viking braids (Jason Momoa, for instance, is a full-time hair barbarian). Carved-out high fades reminiscent of the ’80s are also in, but they’re now more elaborately and skillfully landscaped. (Kanye West regularly uses hishead as a billboard to display shaved-in scribbles of all kinds.) “Those clippers by Wahl have very fine blades; you get a sharper line,” says James, talking about carves that go way beyond anything Kid of Kid ’n Play ever imagined. “There’s a real crossover of cultures haircuts that look like drawings or etchings.”

Photograph Jason Pietra

Both hip-hop and basketball lead the way: A$AP Rocky’s braided checkerboard, Fetty Wap’s dyed dreads, Stephen Curry’s temple-fade taper, and Jeremy Lin’s spikes have repeatedly inspired rip-offs. And soccer stars, who have to work harder for attention, go the extra length—see Beckham’s ever-changing fauxhawk and Cristiano Ronaldo’s engraved fade. Did it help Neymar negotiate his quarter-billion- dollar contract with Paris team PSG when he recently ditched a look that had become iconic (spiky, frosted tips combed forward, faded sides) for one that adds big, bushy curls to the mix?

Photograph Jason Pietra

L.A., where busloads of hopeful newcomers arrive daily, is the street-level epicenter of this movement. Baristas blend Viking-braid fauxhawks with undercuts and fades. The Viking trend has even blended with the neo-Nazi school-boy look. It’s insidious. Hair stylist Walton Nunez is known for his work with Andy Samberg and Eric Dane, as well as ad campaigns for Twitter, Coca-Cola, and Jet Blue. (He created the extreme looks photographed here.) “In L.A., you get people more open to experiment,” he says. “They want to stand out. They’re more glam. Particularly performers. And on men’s runways, the fashion industry is suddenly rewarding individualism; they’re taking 16-year-old kids and saying, ‘Be who you are. Stand out.’ They want a spectrum of looks now, not one art-school coif.”

Photograph Jason Pietra

With men’s clothes tending toward uniforms of skinny suits or jeans, going big on hair is the new peacock loophole that a flashy watch or colored frames used to be. Even agents—the best dressed but most conservative class of men in L.A.—are getting the message. “I get CAA agents, doctors, and lawyers asking for these looks, showing them to me on their phones,” said James, referring to modified fades and short sides with longer, spikey tops. “Today I gave Chris Hardwick a choppier top. These guys come in every two weeks now.” And, in the words of Karl Lagerfeld—a lifelong fan of extreme and iconic hair styles —“Vanity is the healthiest thing in life.” Call it healthy extremism—it definitely beats boring. (Though it may be time to retire the man bun for good.)

Henry Giardina | FourTwoNine

Hair by Walton Nunez for The Brooks Agency using Davines | Hair Assistant Tracey Hussey | Grooming by Michael Chua using Caudalie and Face Atelier | Models Kacey Jeffers. Chris Bunn, Peter Finn & Zane for D1 Models, Cesar Nunez & Dallas Alberti for REDNYC

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