After seventeen years of being exclusively based in Paris, hairdresser David Mallett did not take the decision to expand westward lightly. For one, most of his American clientèle had no problem flying into Paris for a trim, where his only two salons were (one in the Ritz Paris, another in the second arrondissement). And with European customers like Karl Lagerfeld, Penelope Cruz, and Diane Kruger, who would need a salon in New York, anyway? As it happens, “the reason we came was totally by chance,” he said. He met Laure Hériard Dubreuil, founder of it-girl favorite concept store The Webster, saw the space, and made up his mind. “I said, ‘No,’ but I had seen her office on the fifth floor and said, ‘But if you give me the fifth floor, I’ll come.’ She said, ‘deal.’”
Now, two weeks after the opening of his Manhattan outpost, Mallett is back in Paris, where he’s been the coiffeur of choice for Parisian natives, actresses, and society types alike since his initial decampment to the city. His migration to the City of Light didn’t happen overnight: it was only after doing a hair job on-set with Emmanuelle Alt and photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino that he felt Paris’ pull and decided to stay. He promptly set up shop in 2003. “France has always been a harbor and a safe place for artists and creatives to come and install, and the French have always had open arms for creative people,” he said. “I really love the city, there’s something about this city that pushes you towards excellence.”
That excellence took him to Chanel, where he’s been known to do hair for their runway shows, and even as far as Africa, where he counts riding elephants to do models’ hair for the 2009 Pirelli Calendar as one of the most surreal moments in his career. After acquiring this elite client roster, his influence has been well-quantified. For example, he’s sold out of his $630 bagues de cheveux (or ‘hair rings’ in English), the 18k-gold rings around elastic bands that pack a much more Parisian punch than your average scrunchie. If there’s one thing he’s banked his career on, it’s knowing what his clients, namely women, want. “I can tell you that people that come to us, and our first day we were completely booked out, they come to us for our point of view,” he said.
With the French girl aesthetic ease still booming stateside, he’s simply supplying a demand. “French women love hand-painted color, balayage,” he explains. “French women always pretend they don’t care, so it has to be effortless. And they like muted colors much more than groups of colors.” So, he took his seven best ‘operators,’ and moved them to the New York salon. The idea wasn’t to simply replicate his Paris apartment in New York—“I don’t like the idea of reproduction”—although his hairdressers weren’t the only Parisian imports. He kept chairs, objects, and furniture around the Paris salon before shipping them to New York, making sure it had been imbued with the salon’s energy. Mallett credits this key for a lot of familiarity with the space. “I had one of the guys come in, and he said, ‘Oh David, the salon smells like Paris.’ I was like, ‘Do you know why?’ He said, ‘No.’ Everything was taken from Paris. So when they go, people recognize the objects from the shop.”
After exporting his stylists and his furniture to the U.S., and in addition to his solid base of clients (‘the initiated,’ like he and his team call them), Mallett maintains his focus on the vision for the entire salon experience. Writing off the idea of exclusivity as “boring,” he’s more concerned with seeming comfortable than aristocratic. From ease comes the honesty his clients need to put forth their best versions of themselves. “It’s very easy to pick up on what’s happening in fashion and what’s happening in trends, but the most important person to listen to is yourself,” he says. “I don’t like despotic hairdressers, I want them to be elegant, kind, listen and guide people away from making mistakes and bring them towards beautiful solutions.”