Feature article: Lucire magazine

First published May 2004
View original article at Lucire


More, brighter, bigger

Sought-after international hairstylist Brent Lawler speaks to Clare Marshall, who looks at his origins in New Zealand, his association with World and working half of each year in Paris

Brent Lawler has come a long way from giving girls impromptu bathroom haircuts at his high school in Hamilton, New Zealand. As an international hairstylist, he now works alongside some of the biggest names in the business—and on some of its most famous heads. Best known in New Zealand for his fantastic runway creations for avant-garde fashion house World, Lawler has established himself as one of the top session stylists in Sydney and is steadily forging his reputation in Europe working under hair maestro—and personal mentor—Eugene Souleiman.

Lawler began his hair apprenticeship in New Zealand at the age of 16. ‘All the crazy, cool people in Hamilton, dressing like Spandau Ballet and Adam Ant, were hairdressers,’ he recalls, ‘and I wanted to be a part of that.’ At 20, Lawler moved to London, where he embarked upon a successful salon career with Vidal Sassoon. Three years—and three London winters—later, he returned to the relative warmth of New Zealand, running his own salon in Auckland for two-and-a-half-years before being installed as creative director for the Seville franchise.

It was on his return home that Lawler became acquainted with World designers Denise L’Éstrange-Corbet and Francis Hooper—long hailed as the enfants terribles of New Zealand fashion. A true meeting of like minds, the friendship quickly developed into one of the most dynamic partnerships in the New Zealand industry. As Creative Director for the brand’s legendary runway shows, Lawler has sent everything from Peking opera stars and cubist-faced ingénues to last year’s slick and sleazy sailors down the runway. When World showed in London in 1999, Lawler’s exquisite Swarovski crystal-encrusted face made the front page of The Times, sparking off copycat versions for years to come.

Lawler remains as passionate about his partnership with World as he was at its inception, more than a decade ago. ‘It’s rare to find designers who always want more,’ he says. ‘If I create a two-metre-high hair piece for World they’re like, “Can we make it three metres?” For them it’s always more, brighter, bigger, wetter, juicier!’

But—as he is quick to point out—his work is never about ‘creating a show from the neck up.’ The clothes themselves are always the starting point; the silhouette, texture, and colour of the garments inevitably inform the way in which they are framed. ‘Brent has a very, very high standard of excellence and integrity,’ says Hooper. ‘In the international fashion week bull-shit, you need someone like that on your team.’

This sensibility has seen Lawler flourish in an industry with more than its fair share of divas. Since moving across the Tasman to Sydney seven years ago, he has emerged as one of Australia’s most in-demand session stylists. A favourite of Australian Style, Vogue and Oyster, Lawler’s high-level editorial exposure has earned him advertising work with Australian institutions Country Road and David Lawrence, and department store giants David Jones and Myers Grace.

As his profile has grown in Australasia, so has the number of international contracts coming his way. Lawler’s work has graced the pages of InterviewHarper’s Bazaar Singapore, Vogue Hellas, Elle Italia, Marie Claire Nippon and GQ Deutschland, to name but a few.

For Lawler, the upside to juggling prestige editorial work with more lucrative advertising contracts has been an increasing amount of creative freedom. ‘I used to just do everything,’ he says, ‘whereas now I can almost pick and choose my projects.’

Lawler currently spends half of each year in Paris, working the European shows under the direction of hairdressing supremo Eugene Souleiman. A noted innovator in his field, Souleiman is the darling of cutting-edge designers Yohji Yamamoto, Viktor and Rolf, and Hussein Chalayan. In 2003 he was named one of the fashion world’s 30 power players for the year by The Observer, who noted, ‘If [he] makes a statement for hair on the catwalk, you can guarantee it will become a major trend.’

Lawler describes Souleiman as ‘a genius [who] gets outside the square. He stays up all night in his lab mixing strange concoctions to spray, melt, or weld onto his models’ hair.’

Interestingly, the words Lawler uses to describe Souleiman’s work could easily be—and in fact are—applied to his own. ‘Genius’ was the word of choice used by journalists to describe his kaleidoscopic handiwork at last year’s L’Oréal New Zealand Fashion Week, and frequently passes the lips of Francis Hooper when describing his friend and collaborator.

With his challenging and eclectic aesthetic vision—preferring excess to subtlety, and individuality to the look of the moment—Lawler seems set for greatness. The pomp and pageantry of his runway shows has spurred offers from theatre companies and filmmakers, eager to bring his work to new audiences. But while Lawler is always keen to broaden his repertoire, his first love remains fashion: ‘Film is such a lengthy process, with its continuity issues; you lose the immediacy of a shoot or show. I’m already bored of the look I created in the first scene by the time I have to re-create it eight weeks later.’