What do the likes of Meghan Markle, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Alexa Chung, and Alicia Vikander have in common? Well, aside from boasting luscious locks, they all have the same hairstylist on speed dial: George Northwood.
The man behind some of the most iconic hair moments of recent years – including that show-stopping twisted topknot at Cannes – you know he’s a big deal when the Duchess of Sussex handpicks him personally to tend to her tresses while she travels the world. Need we say more? Our Beauty Editor-at-Large sat down with Northwood to talk all things hair, from how to recreate his signature loose waves to the insider secrets he’s picked up from his A-list clientele. Listen in.
Help! It’s getting so hot and humid. How can I save my hair?
I used to have long hair and it was so frizzy, so I spent most of my life trying to combat frizz! Firstly, blow-dry your hair really well – get it sealed in and use a good anti-frizz product. I use the Pureology ‘Super Smooth Serum’. You really want to blow-dry that into the hair. Also, use a smoothing and anti-frizz shampoo and conditioner — every big range has one. You can use a smoothing mask to soften the hair, too.
You’ve really got to bake the hair down; if you leave any dampness, that will contribute towards it frizzing up. I recommend flat ironing for that. Another way to seal it is with hairspray. Spray some onto a hairbrush, or even a toothbrush, and smooth it over the top layer. It acts as a barrier and glues hair down. It’s great to tackle flyaways, too. Just make sure you have a separate toothbrush for your hair – imagine if your husband starts using it!
If your hair does frizz up when you’re out, just change your parting. Hair usually frizzes along your parting, so if you flip it over, it’ll look much better. Hats and headscarves will always help if it’s a really humid day, or you can tie hair up off your face, using hairspray as a barrier. Tying it up and wearing it sleek is a good look. Rosie [Huntington-Whiteley] rocked a slick, deep side part at the Vanity Fair party, and that’s a great look for humidity, as if you properly slick it down with some grooming cream or serum, it isn’t going to go anywhere! The more your hair is out, the more it’s prone to frizz.
What advice would you give to people tempting to cut or color their hair at home while salons are closed?
Err on the side of caution when it comes to home haircuts. Less is definitely more. Where possible, just remove the very ends – the smallest trim will refresh it. Now isn’t the time to attempt something bold like a complete restyle! Just keep your existing style ticking over until you can get back into the salon. As far as color is concerned, there are some great non-permanent root touch-ups on the market, which can bridge the gap when color is growing out or a few grays are popping up. But approach any permanent home coloring project with caution!
(If you are about to hack your own locks, head over to Northwood’s YouTube channel where he reveals his top tips whilst walking Alexa Chung through an at-home trim.)
What’s the biggest mistake you see women making with their hair?
The biggest mistake is people using shampoos and treatments that are too rich for their hair. That causes buildup on the hair, and once you have that buildup, it always feels a bit greasy, and the products you use won’t really do much. People say, “Oh my hair is really dry” so they get a deep conditioning treatment or a really rich shampoo, but it’s the same if your skin is oily and you think it’s dry and you use the wrong moisturizer and it causes a breakout!
Another thing I’d say is to be careful having layers. Many people get layers to create body, but a lot of the time layers can make the hair get bigger and go crazy in humid weather. Always think through having layers, because a lot of the time you’re better off having the weight from all the hair. Sorry, that was two mistakes! Using the wrong shampoo, conditioner, or treatment, and lots of layering that I think is unnecessary.
We’re being warned to steer away from shampoos with sulfates. Do you agree with that?
I think it’s okay to use shampoos with sulfates, but at the same time there are so many good sulfate-free ones out there now, so why wouldn’t you use them instead? The sulfate-free shampoo we use in the salon from Pureology is so good and everyone raves about it. So, I’d say go onto sulfate-free because the products are out there and they’re really good. Saying that, sometimes you can get a better cleanse by using a shampoo with sulfates, so maybe – if your hair has a bit of buildup on it – use a deep-cleansing sulfate shampoo once a week. But as a general rule, try to go sulfate-free.
Is there anyone you haven’t worked with whose hair you’d love to style?
Kaia Gerber, because she’s just so cool and of the moment. But then also Julia Roberts would be great, and Angelina Jolie would be amazing. Sarah Jessica Parker always has really great hair. I also love Lily-Rose Depp, she’s really cool. There are the iconic women like Julia, who I’d love to work with, and then there are the up-and-coming women I always have my eye on, like the Kaias and Lily-Rose Depps.
What’s your favorite hair look to create?
I’m really known for that signature undone, cool-girl hair, so I’d have to say that. It’s my go-to signature wavy look. Something very natural, a bit loose. But not necessarily down, because I love creating shape and updos that still have undone texture in them.
Everyone wants to know how to create that undone wave! Can you share your secrets?
It’s really simple! First, rough-dry the hair and create lots of body by stretching it up at the root. It’s really important to get that root lift but then to blow-dry it quite flat around the face so you get that sweeping effect. Then, take your wide-barreled tongs and tong random sections. Around the face, always tong the two sides away from the face.
Wrap the hair around the tong but leave the end and the root out. Then, when you take it out of the tong, pull it straight. That way you’ll get a really loose, soft wave. Make sure you opt for a tong around about an inch in diameter. Finish with a texturizing spray or a dry shampoo to give some added texture.
Speaking of volume, what’s the best way to get it?
I always recommend a good volumizing spray as you can direct the product a bit more. I use Redken’s ‘Rooftful’, but whatever product you use, you want to get it in at the roots because that’s where you want lift. Rough dry your hair upside down, using your hands to stretch your hair up from the roots. When you flip your hair back up, you’ll have all the body in it, so just smooth the mid-lengths and ends – don’t try to do too much at the top. You want to keep that body that you’ve created.
The key to body is more in the rough dry and stretching when you’re drying hair from wet. Then I just go in at the ends and smooth them. If you’re going to wear it tonged, rough dry it and make it really wild and just tong a few bits. Don’t flatten it because then you’re helping it shrink again.
Dry shampoo is also good for volume. Bleach and highlights are good, but I’d say avoid balayage as that’s about color on the ends. You want color at the root to give you that lift and extra volume. Also, don’t condition your hair too much, and when you do, use a really light conditioner. You can even use a volumizing shampoo and then no conditioner if you can, as that will really help. Just use a Tangle Teezer to comb it through.
What’s the best way to wash hair?
If you wash your hair every day, because some people feel they need to, then one cleanse is fine. However, if you wash your hair two to three times a week, then two cleanses are good. The first cleanse removes the superficial pollution etc., and the second cleanse will really get in and clean the hair. Then condition afterward, but only use your conditioner on the mid-lengths and ends, not on the roots. That makes it greasy. Comb your conditioner through with a Tangle Teezer, and then end with a cool rinse with cold water going down the hair shaft. That’s a really nice touch, as it closes the cuticles and helps add shine.
Like I said before, also make sure you use the right shampoo and conditioner to suit your hair’s needs and also do a good mask or treatment once a week. Try and do that in the bath, because the steam from the bath helps open the cuticles so the treatment can really get in there.
Speaking of treatments and masks, are there any DIY remedies that actually work?
I’ve heard that eggs are good, but I’ve never tried them. I don’t really like the idea of putting eggs on my head! Avocados are also supposed to be good, but I don’t really know of one natural remedy I’d use… eggs because of the protein maybe?! If I’d seriously heard of one that works then I’d recommend it, but I haven’t, so…
The challenge is to meet and even exceed your client’s expectations, but also to satisfy yourself and to know you’ve done something you’re really happy with.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as a hairstylist?
As a hairstylist, you want to do what you want creatively, but at the same time, you want someone to be really happy with what you’ve done. So, the challenge is to meet and even exceed your client’s expectations, but also to satisfy yourself and to know you’ve done something you’re really happy with. I always see a haircut as a collaboration. It’s about what the client wants and what they aspire to look like, meeting those needs, but not compromising your own stamp. Sometimes people want something that you know just won’t look good, so you’ve got to find that middle ground where you’re both satisfied. At the end of the day, it’s their hair, not mine – but I still don’t like to feel like I’ve done something I don’t think will work. You have to keep everyone happy! That’s the biggest challenge, I would say.
Where’s the craziest place you’ve done someone’s hair?
In a tiny toilet cubicle in an airport, with no power, having 30 seconds to make something up. We had just got off a plane and it was a big red-carpet moment where all cameras were going to be on them. It was really scary! I’ve done hair in some tiny spaces, but I do yoga, so I think that helps to keep me flexible – and calm!
If you could banish one hair trend forever, what would it be?
Oh, that’s a good question… it’s hard because everything kind of has its moment. I wouldn’t go back to those old-school perms that made the hair look really frizzy and awful. They can go away forever; I’m not interested in those. People used to color and perm their hair, so it was like a brillo pad! I know they’re trying to formulate softer, wavy perms now, and I’m all for that, but tight spirally ones can go. Also, an overly layered bob – I’m not really into that. A bob is a one-length cut, so as soon as you add layers it defeats the point of it. Get it chopped into, but not layered.
Have you ever picked up hair tips from your celebrity clients?
Always! The toothbrush with the hairspray on was from a client of mine. I probably can’t say who that was from though, sorry… I can tell you one though! Alexa [Chung] taught me ages ago, super early on, that if you rotate your tonging, you get more body. So, if you tong in the same direction it’s more of a ‘Marcel’ wave, but if you alternate the tong’s direction, you get more body on top!
What’s your favorite hair trend at the moment?
I’m loving the whole 90s hair vibe thing that’s coming through right now. That really cool one-length 90s bob with no shape, really architectural. That feels really fresh to me, I’m really into that.
What do you think will be big in the hair world over the next year?
I think there’ll be a continuation of the 90s trend, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what people will interpret as noughties hair. Some have already started getting into that stripy hair look that Geri Halliwell rocked, like Dua Lipa recently, and I think will really come back. Also that blonde on top and dark underneath look — that All Saints, Spice Girls vibe.
I can see the ‘Rachel’ cut making a comeback. I just did a modern interpretation of it on Alexa [Chung] but it’s quite hard because things are usually brought back in a tongue-in-cheek way and not in a literal way, as that looks a bit weird! I remember I used to do a lot of red and blonde stripes like Geri had, but red and blonde just don’t work together, so I really don’t want to see that!
What three must-have products are always in your kit?
Tongs – I don’t go anywhere without them. Dry shampoo, because then you’re prepared for anything. And some grips, so I can put it up if I need to. With those three things, I can do any kind of updo easily, and if it’s down you can just tong it.
If you weren’t a hairstylist, what would you be?
A therapist! I’d love to have been a counselor. I’m really fascinated by mental health.
Debunk the biggest hair myth you’ve ever heard.
When people say stop washing your hair and eventually it will clean itself. I’ve never seen that be successful if I’m honest! Usually, it just looks greasy. I’ve never seen someone stop washing their hair for years and coming through the other side with hair that’s fresh, clean, and not smelling… maybe I’m wrong, but I’m yet to see it happen!
Complete the sentence: To me, great hair is…