The maestros behind Meghan’s ‘messy bun’
Graham Northwood has created her signature style along with Serge Normant who was in charge of her low chignon for the wedding ceremony
The stylist responsible for Meghan’s evening wedding-party hair was George Northwood, a 39-year-old superstar of the hairdressing world.
Eleven years ago, he began chipping away at the ends of his friend Alexa Chung’s long tresses, ultimately shaping them into a “bed-head bob” that became one of the most-googled haircuts of the century. At the height of the Chung hair frenzy, he was seeing 18 clients a day and got RSI in his thumbs.
There have been at least half-a-dozen iterations of the “Messy Meghan Bun” so far, including Saturday night’s charmingly “undone” up-do, a nicely judged contrast with Serge Normant’s magnificent, tiara-friendly structure for the wedding ceremony and breakfast.
And according to the stylist who did the low chignon which she wore to walk down the aisle, Normant, she has been a dream to work with. Normant told reporters that they only did one hair trial before the big day.
In addition, the actual style itself took less than an hour to complete. Which, for an event watched by millions across the globe, was an amazing feat but was thoroughly in line with the new royal’s clean, simple style.
And here’s the thing: since the Messy Bun debuted in January, when Harry and Meghan visited a Brixton radio station (the acme of royal style dilemmas: how to look dignified but down with the people), it has become the most searched-for hair term on Pinterest. So the fact she incorporated it into the wedding day may be some kind of statement of intent.
When I catch up with Northwood, he is far too discreet to tell me whether he has been behind Meghan’s previous Messy Buns – but I’d be amazed if he wasn’t. They bear all his hallmarks: centre parting, a few strategically dislodged strands to frame the cheekbones, faintly tongued, they look as though the breeze was responsible; a light gauze of Sam McKnight hairspray, and backcombing only nerds would notice – not to create a helmet but to give the head a flattering upward tilt and make the neck look longer.
It seems simple but is steeped in skill, featuring a repertoire of increasingly twisty chignons, from the “did-she-do-it-herself?” to “pulling-out-the-stops”.
Meghan’s choice of Northwood, an engaging, dimple-cheeked Londoner (he was brought up in Bedfordshire but lives in Queen’s Park, west London), for her party hair is telling.
Her new sister-in-law was a regular, even in her 20s, at Richard Ward, an upholder of big, bouncy, Mayfair blow-dries.
The Duchess of Cambridge subsequently engaged Amanda Cook Tucker to tame her mane into the kind of sculpted, never-a-hair-out-of-place structures beloved by many of Europe’s female crowned heads (favourite tool: the hairnet).
It is don’t-rock-the boat, Queen-in-waiting hair.
In marked contrast, Northwood, with a buzzy, quasi industrial looking salon in Fitzrovia, is a darling of the fashion set, only fluent in the language of editorial hair (the kind seen on catwalks and in magazines).
Northwood also understands the semiotics of a hair-do, and how much it can communicate, particularly when the client in question is constrained in what she can say publicly.
Meghan’s decision to go with him raises the interesting possibility that even post-marriage, she intends to strike a different note in the regal choir. I doubt we’ll be seeing a Markle mohawk any time soon. We’re talking nuances, but important ones. Northwood’s Messy Bun tells us that Meghan is determined not to slip out of the fashion hemisphere, even while she respects The Firm’s rules.
She may now be bound more tightly by protocol than the average stylish 36-year-old, but the signs are she plans to use all the wriggle room she has. She has an identity and she doesn’t want it completely subsumed in that of her new family. That’s not a bad lesson for generations of wannabe princesses.
If she continues her hair journey with Northwood, she’ll have found a trusty ally. Like her, he works within a framework – the limitations of his clients’ hair and their styling abilities at home.
“My nan was a hairdresser and a devoted monarchist,” he says. “I was fascinated by the relationships she had with her clients.”
He has her name, Tess, and that of his three other grandparents, tattooed on his fingers.
Back in his grandmother’s glory years, in the ’60s and ’70s, perms and blow-dries ruled.
“I grew up with the smell of perm lotion permeating everything,” he adds. “The cut was secondary. My mum would walk out of the salon with this amazing bouff, but for the next five weeks it would look diabolical, because she couldn’t recreate it at home.”
He always knew he wanted to be a hairdresser – to free women from all that hair anxiety – although he played the piano and went to drama school initially.
“The piano was tough. Hairdressing came naturally. But I wasn’t ready to ‘come out’ at 18 and I thought hairdressing would give me away as gay,” he explains.
Still, the dramatic training came in handy.
“In a way, I’m having to perform.”
When he started out, working in Bristol, there was a lot of boundary-stretching. It was the early noughties and hair everywhere was being ironed.
“I don’t think there were any curling tongs in the city,” Northwood laughs. He began scrunching, twisting and liberating hair from its limp straitjacket.
His cheery openness is remarkably contagious. It’s probably why Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz want him for their red carpet appearances – that and his knack for creating a universally appealing glamour that is rooted in an artless, apparently effortless, very British sensibility.
The new Duchess of Sussex has chosen well. – The Daily Telegraph