Kaia Gerber Reveals Her ‘Hidden Identities’ With Hair Transformations By Guido Palau

When the hairstylist Guido Palau travels the world to create transformative looks for A-list celebrities, fashion houses like Miu Miu and Alexander McQueen, and magazine covers and editorials galore, he always makes sure to pop into a wig store or two. “Throughout my trips to different cities—Paris, New York, Milan—I look to buy wigs, but I never know what they’re for,” Palau says on a recent afternoon over Zoom. “When I see them, though, they’re little characters in their own right.”

Now, a handful of the wigs Palau has culled over the course of his 40-year-plus career have found their way atop the head of model and actress Kaia Gerber. In a new project titled Hidden Identities, Palau customized sculptural and statement hair looks for Gerber, much as he has for her mother, Cindy Crawford over the years. It was Palau, after all, who did the hair for George Michael’s “Freedom ’90” video starring Crawford alongside fellow super models Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Tatjana Patitz.

Working with his assistants, Palau put Gerber in each of the wigs and shot video of her with their iPhones, shaking the devices while doing so. They took screen grabs from the footage, then ran those images through an app. “I can’t even tell you what app it was,” Palau says with a laugh. “The whole thing was very lo-fi, very ad-hoc. The images were blurry and pixelated, which I really like. I sent them to Kaia to edit so she could dismiss anything she didn’t want.” The resulting photos were put together into “a book, a document, whatever you want to call it,” Palau says. “They’re not really photography books—they’re more like scrapbooks of what I’m feeling at that moment.” But the more esoteric meaning of this project surrounds themes of identity, womanhood, and paradigms of beauty. “I’m not a woman, but because I’ve been around so many women and talked to women so much about their hair, I feel I understand them in that way,” Palau says. “How a woman has all these sort of fights about her identity, all these different sides of her, and how hair represents and can bring out the different dimensions in a woman.”

Below, the hairstylist tells stories behind five looks featured in Hidden Identities.

Palau and Gerber have worked together “since she started modeling,” Palau notes. “Along the way, we’ve made a friendship and have a mutual respect for what both of us do.” Having witnessed the 22-year-old coming into her own as an adult, he aimed to play with her public persona for Hidden Identities. “I imagine her image is quite American and classic in a way,” he adds. “I didn’t want to do a pretty book of Kaia looking how we know Kaia the model to be. I wanted her in a situation where, all of a sudden, she is a character that does not feel like her at all. And she liked that. She was challenging her own idea of herself in these pictures. I don’t think she’d have liked it if I said, ‘I’m going to do five different hairstyles, all with your hair. She’d have been like, ‘I do that all the time.’”

Instead, the looks are overall “a little bit more questionable,” Palau says—including this curly blonde wig. “It actually came with that side ponytail attached to it—that wasn’t my styling,” Palau says. “But if you change your hair in even a subtle way, you act differently.”

Such was the case with the above hairstyle, which Palau loves for its “Dolly Parton-ness.” Each time Gerber put on a new wig to shoot, she began posing, vamping, and pouting in the mirror of the beauty chair in new ways. “She might see a wig and be like, ‘Oh my god!’” Palau recalls, imitating Gerber’s incredulity. “And then she would get into it. It could easily have gone the other way. She’d often say, ‘Oh no, this is so great.”

The western theme for this look was key. “Those country singers from a different decade had an innocence to their whole persona, but their hair was always so extreme,” Palau says. “They think it’s ultra pretty and big, but it’s almost punk. The look has a perverseness to it.”

But the hairstylist, 62, says calling beauty standards into question is one of the key parts of Hidden Identities. “In this day and age, we’ve let go of the parameters of beauty a bit—thank goodness,” he says. “Besides, what are the rules of good hair and bad hair? I don’t even know anymore. As long as you feel happy with that hair, then that’s good enough. Society’s idea of it doesn’t really matter anymore.”

But back when Palau was starting his career in London in the 1980s, what was considered stereotypically beautiful was underlined in clear ink—and worn by all. Take, for instance, this hair look, which Palau regards as an homage to one of the most popular hair colors of the late ’70s and 1980s: burgundy. “When I first started hairdressing, this red-magenta was a really big hair color. All the girls had burgundy, and perms—and burgundy perms,” he says. “The stacked-out hair I did on Kaia was permed, which also gave me connotations of Kate Bush.”

“Today, we’ve become quite sophisticated in our tastes: we air dry or slightly blow dry the hair for a softer, more natural look. If you didn’t have your hair big and colored and dyed, you were no one in the ’80s. Maybe the people who see this book are a younger audience and don’t even know that that was a thing. But I’m old, so there you go.”

While the permed burgundy look made Gerber pose “in a more witchy” way, giving her the distinct likeness “of a banshee,” the model embraced a 1960s mod Parisian persona in this orange bob. “She’s overly pouty here and the hair is quite French, but it’s all wrong because of the colors,” Palau says. “I love the girl who would wear her hair like this, with a very low bang that’s kind of provocative. In all these images, there’s a juxtaposition of good and bad taste, which I’m always very drawn to.”

“Here, Kaia looks like a little Liz Taylor or something—it’s almost Warhol-esque,” Palau says of the soft curls that evoke an Old Hollywood style. “Those sort of characters he put in his movies who were put together, but were disturbed or you felt they were a bit off.

“To be a great model, you have to be something of an actress,” Palau continues. “All the best models I’ve worked with over the years have been able to take on a role. You have to personify the character—and that requires a creative skill to realize who you are, who you’re being made into. Obviously, Kaia’s one of those people—she understands the process of making pictures and she’s fearless. She’s always very game to change. That’s the mark of a great model. They take on what you’re doing to them and then they project it.”

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