Olly Alexander Talks Hair Transformations Above and Below The Belt

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Below, Alexander talks with his friend and long-term stylist Nick Royal about their no-limits approach to beauty and fashion.

Olly Alexander: I'd never met a stylist like Nick before. Instantly, I was very attracted to his way of just telling a story, describing clothes and images in a way that's passionate and considered. He’s got a special brain. We just bonded straight away, didn't we?

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Nick Royal: You get that nervous feeling before talking to a client for the first time.... You're a bit like, "Fingers crossed they're not going to be a nightmare." And as soon as we spoke, about four years ago, it really felt like talking to a friend. Everything was originally informed by this massive [mood]board that Olly made, full of Jean Paul Gaultier references and a lot of the things that I'd thought of myself. I was like, "Okay, this is going to really work."

Royal: A lot of it surprises us as well. Like, for the ["Crave"] video, we had been focusing so much on what everybody else was wearing around you, that on the day of the shoot, you were like, "What am I wearing, babe?"

Alexander: The director, Tom Beard, referenced a scene from this movie Pink Narcissus, and he said, "It could be a cool idea to paint you green." And you heard that and went, "He absolutely cannot be green."

Royal: I thought you'd look like an elf because you've got red hair! I was like, "It can't be elf-y. It has to be godlike."

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A teaser image for Alexander's new Years & Years single, "Crave."

Alexander: Jimmy Owen Jones, who we worked with on all of the makeup looks [for that video], has got such a good eye for color. He painted me blue.

Royal: Lots of things really come from the hair and makeup team. Beauty is really important—especially hair and aspects of it, including pubic hair. Like for the Numéro cover, you had that Gucci G shaved into your pubic hair [a nod to Tom Ford's famous 2003 ad for the brand]. Loads of people have been like, "Did you do that in Photoshop?" But Shiori [Takahashi, the hairdresser] just got down on her knees and shaved it in.

Alexander: Shiori also dyes and cuts my hair. [Editor's note: on his head.]

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Royal: I remember when we first started working together, wondering if you'd be up for doing red-red hair. And everybody around you wasn't sure.... Then on that first phone call you were like, "Yeah, totally." You were only brunette for an hour of me knowing you.

Alexander: The pop star powers are in the hair [now], so if it grows out or changes color, am I still a pop star? Do I have to dye it again? It's fun to wear different characters. Off-duty Olly wears the same stuff that I've had for years. When I'm going into Olly-mode, even before I walk out the door, I need to put on jewelry. Then when I go onstage, it's more jewelry, more outfit, and then my final form is the superhero with everything going on. Recently, I've been having my nails painted. I used to paint my nails and wear a lot of eyeliner when I was a teenager, so I'm coming back to a lot of the things I loved when I was first exploring my identity. I had to learn to do my own makeup on tour and I got really into just doing good-looking, natural, my-skin-is-just-amazing-and- glowy makeup. Then there was stuff I just never even thought about, like taking care of my eyebrows.

Royal: I love your brows. I love any time we bleach your brows.

Alexander: The first time I had it done, it was quite insane. They had to be bleached eight times for it to go white enough. And the next day, I was going on [morning] television and I showed up and they were still halfway between bleach and brown, so I did a backstage dye job just before I went onscreen. It was quite traumatizing.

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Royal: It felt like it was a moment for [morning] television because there wasn’t really much [else] going on...

Alexander: Most dudes dress boring. Well, most people dress boring, I hate to say it. So it's always an opportunity for us to just try and get people talking about what I'm wearing, because why not? That's just fun. And I like to embody a bit of both energies, masculine and feminine, and give out something that feels a little bit intriguing.

Royal: I remember after one of our first red carpets you said that if you were younger and saw somebody wearing [what you were] it would make you feel okay, like you could relate. You've got to think about that little 14 year old who sees a picture of Olly wearing a big feather cape and it's a bit like, "Fuck you! I'm allowed to be who I want to be." — As told to Dianna Mazzone

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