2012 December 26
Best of 2012: Didier the Divine
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(NEW YORK) He’s one of the most influential hairstylists of all time, but the under-the-radar Didier Malige prefers to only make waves using his everyday essentials: a pair of shears, a throng of buzzy industry besties, two felines, and a high-powered girlfriend from you-know-where.
BY MARIA DENARDO
True or false: You began your career grooming animals.
I wish I knew how to do a poodle haircut! No, that’s just a rumor. My mother worked as a veterinary assistant, and the famous Carita sisters’ poodles were her clients. She asked them one day if I could apprentice at the Carita Paris salon.
What was the scene at Carita in the mid-sixties?
Most of the slightly intellectual actresses would go there often because at that time people didn’t wash their hair themselves. Catherine Deneuve and her sister came in every two or three days. They all had the same look: a Burberry raincoat and an Hermès bag.
Did you always want to be a hair stylist?
My father had a close friend who was a really good barber, but I don’t know if that influenced me or not. In the beginning, while working at the salon, I took pictures for a little while for magazines. That’s normal for makeup artists and hair stylists, but I never made any money. Instead, I was spending money. I never went to college to pursue anything else!
Do you wish you went to college?
Yeah, I think so. I’m reading a Philip Roth book now about colleges in the fifties. The whole concept sounds interesting, like sharing a room with someone you don’t know. But fraternities scare me!
If you had to do it over, what school would you have gone to?
Maybe Harvard. I worked with Natalie Portman, and she went there. Plus, I watched The Social Network!
What would be your major?
Not science. Probably something like liberal arts because you can always bullshit your way through it.
How did you end up in America in the seventies?
Well, I had apprenticed with Jean Louis David in France, but after five or six years, he decided to use our salaries to buy advertising pages. Freelance didn’t exist in France then, so America was the place to be. When I arrived in New York, I stayed with people I knew from France, including Patrick Demarchelier. We didn’t communicate very much in the beginning, but he was very relaxed. We became friends much later. Now I like to go sailing with him. Patrick is a very good sailor—he’s very safe.
What was the industry like at that time?
We didn’t have to produce so many pictures, and there were fewer people involved on the set. Everyone had more time, and nobody was really driven by money. It was about creating something you really believed in. Modeling was different, too. Models had to gradually show that they were worthy of Vogue by working at other publications such as Mademoiselle or Glamour. Now, a model can book French Vogue as her first shoot. Back then, we never worked with references. Now, it’s always about referencing the seventies, eighties, and nineties.
Who do you collaborate with most these days?
I’ve been working with the same people for a long time—people that have a calm way of getting their result. Others in the industry can be harsher and want things right away.
Annie Leibovitz. There are always photographers who question themselves all the time. ‘Was it better five minutes ago?’ That’s a struggle.
When did you meet Anna Wintour?
In Europe, when she was much younger. Now, you would be intimidated or more reserved to meet her but at that time it was very casual.
You were close with Newton...
Helmut was a big supporter of mine. He was a very generous person with his feelings and his work. We used to photograph in his Paris studio, and if his wife was not cooking lunch for us, we went to a small café on the corner. We’d sit there for two or three hours ordering a great plat du jour or a good poulet. It was typical French cuisine, and we felt very sleepy afterward.
How do you and Bruce Weber like to unwind?
We like to go to basketball games together in Miami. Bruce knows Pat Riley, the owner and president of the Miami Heat, and his wife. We get very good tickets and then go to the VIP area. It’s separate, so there’s no one throwing beer or anything. Bruce is louder than I am! Sometimes Patrick comes, too.
What’s Demarchelier like at a basketball game?
One time we were sitting courtside, and Boris Becker was one or two seats down from us. Patrick was waving and saying hello. I asked, ‘Do you know him?’ Patrick said, ‘No, but everyone who sits here is supposed to know each other.’ I never played basketball myself. It’s kind of violent. My fingers are fragile.
Do you have a favorite team?
I was most interested when the Bulls were winning everything. I don’t own a jersey, though.
Speaking of style—where did you meet your beloved Grace Coddington?
On a fashion shoot for British Vogue. I couldn’t speak English well at the time and she had a boyfriend, a photographer named Duke. We were all friends.
Who asked who out on a date?
It was pretty mutual, but it took years!
Did you follow her as a model?
Not really. I don’t like the pictures of her when she was modeling. They’re too stylish and too dollish—there’s no sexuality in the photographs—but that was the fashion in England.
What was the first thing that attracted you?
Her style. It’s very feminine and fashionable without being too obvious.
Does she help you with your look?
Possibly, but not obviously. If she doesn’t like the way I dress, she will tell me. I wear cargo pants in the summer, and she doesn’t like those. I don’t know why. They’re cool.
How do you work together?
I’m sure Grace disagrees with me, but I can read her really well. She’s not one of those people who talks in circles—she only says a few words, but you know exactly what she means.
How many cats do you have together?
Two—Pumpkin and Bart. Pumpkin looks like a Pumpkin, but I don’t know why the other is Bart.
Where do they sleep?
Indoors. At our house in the Hamptons, they go outside during the day but they have to come home. Their curfew is 6:30 at the latest.
Do you cut your own hair?
I go to a barbershop on Horatio Street. A super stylish guy named Michael does it for $42.
You have 983 friends on Facebook. Is that really you?
It is! I’m on very seldom because it takes too much time.
Is Grace on Facebook?
No, but I think she may have a fan page. She doesn’t know how to open a computer.
What did you think about the way Grace was portrayed in The September Issue?
I thought it was very positive. That’s who she is. I say to the people she works with, ‘Man, she’s really tough.’ They don’t say yes or no!
Has the documentary changed your life?
After that came out, Grace became a star. Sometimes we go out late at night, and we usually take the subway. There are always people coming up to her, asking for photos. People don’t know who I am.
Why have you kept such a low-key profile with such a high-profile career?
I’m not a loud character.
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