By now, we all know what to expect -- beauty-wise, at least -- from the Oscars: smoky eyes, understated lips, sheer nail polish, and Old Hollywood waves. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I can’t be the only one who wishes there were a bit more risk-taking on the red carpet, can I? It would just be refreshing to see something different, that’s all.
The Oscars are beautiful, but they are the least exciting event for beauty inspiration. Everyone looks lovely, and nobody but maybe Helena Bonham Carter looks edgy, and so there’s not that much to talk about. It’s all a little...well, not boring, but safe. Predictably pretty -- which isn’t a bad thing, but if Hollywood’s biggest night doesn’t deliver, what will?
I wondered if I was just being cranky, but then I got the chance to sit down with Ben Skervin, Vidal Sassoon Pro Series Fashion and Celebrity Hairstylist. He’s worked red-carpet magic for stars such as Olivia Wilde, Naomie Harris and Claire Danes. (He has nothing but sincere, effusive praise for his longtime client Keira Knightley.) He’s warm and quick to laugh, doling out doses of dry English humor. And, like me, he’s feeling a little uninspired by much of what we see on the red carpet.
“I’m so bored of seeing the soft waves and the braids,” he says. “They’re all really nice, but it’s been a good two years now. Let’s move on. Don’t get me wrong, I have done them and I love them, but I think it’s time to step it up now. I feel that people have lost the edge.”
Right on, I think. See? I’m not alone in my yearning for an off-kilter look or two. Maybe we don’t need to go full-on Cher-in-Bob-Mackie, but a little shakeup would be welcome.
At the same time, though, I can’t help but imagine the immense pressure to look flawless on Oscar night. Nobody wants to hit the red carpet and be the butt of 20,000 mean tweets. So, on some level, I get why actresses don’t make drastic changes around Oscars time. “People have become so scared of being judged,” Ben tells me. “[With ‘safe’ hair] They think, ‘I know I can’t go wrong with that.’”
“But,” he continues, ”I’m hoping we’re going to see a little bit of variation this time. Because it is the Oscars, isn’t it?”
Ben doesn’t yet know if he’s going to do anyone’s hair on Sunday night (a lot of this stuff is decided last-minute) but he does have some ideas for freshening up the red-carpet coiffures. He picks up his iPad and walks me through a few ideas. Think deep side parts, slicked-back short hair, jewelry worn in the hair, and the faux bob.
This last one gets me excited. The faux bob is a pretty brilliant option for Oscars night, because it’s the ultimate fake-out hairstyle, and you immediately get a ton of press. Imagine it: You hit the red carpet, and even if Angelina Jolie stepped on it immediately before you, everyone is suddenly craning their necks to see your new “haircut.” (This, of course, assumes that you’re famous in the first place. I could be naked, with flaming dog poo on my head, and people would still be looking at Angelina.)
Obviously, Ben’s a fan as well. “It’s Hollywood glamour for me, but in a modern way,” he says. And generously, he offers to create it on me. This is particularly delightful because my own faux bob efforts have always crashed and burned. My hair’s too heavy, I can’t tuck well, the pins fall out, and I eventually just toss my hair up into a haphazard ponytail. So as Ben gets to work, I literally take notes on what he’s doing.
After brushing my hair to get out the knots, Ben spritzes Vidal Sassoon Pro Series’ heat protectant spray all over. Then, with a large barrel curling iron, he adds waves throughout. It’s all Nellie Oleson ringlets at first, but Ben brushes them out into a soft, even wave. So far, so good.
Then, Ben reveals the secret to getting this right. His explanation is one of those eureka moments for me. Ready for it? You tuck the hair under in multiplelayers. “I take a horseshoe shape at the top, back-comb the underneath, and roll and pin,” he says. “Then you take the next layer, back-comb, and tuck it into the roll you’ve already done.”
So I watch him do this in the mirror, and it all seems completely do-able at home. I even learn from how he gently back-combs into the wave of the curl; I’d always done it loosey goosey, snarling up my hair in the process.
Slowly, as Ben pins one layer and then a second, my “bob” all comes together and feels completely secure. It’s got a ‘20s vibe, but the curl gives it softness. It looks simultaneously classic and modern, and definitely different from the long locks I woke up with. I like.
While I don’t have a red carpet to walk down, I do have somewhere to go that night. After thanking Ben, I rush 50 blocks south to a friend’s birthday party, and swear to god, people don’t recognize me at first. Then, it’s all, “Oh my gawd, you cut your hai-ir!” When people learn that it’s just (ahem, “just”) amazing hairstyling, they’re beyond impressed.
“Someone should totally do that for the Oscars,” one friend says. And if someone does, I know at least two people who will be very, very happy.