As a backstage stylist at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week for nearly a decade, Houston stylist Dennis Clendennen has worked with just about every type of hairstyle imaginable. At the recent New York collections, where Clendennen styled models at such cutting-edge shows as Rodarte, Jason Wu and Sophie Theallat, he discovered that simple is the new ornate.
"This season we worked with center parts, simple hair that people could actually do themselves with a little effort, and very 'organic' hair," Clendennen said. "Hair is becoming more of the accessory to a designer's look and not so much as the eye-catching styles we have created in past seasons."
To contrast with the ornately beaded designs at Jason Wu, Clendennen and a team of Aveda stylists created a center part and a sleek braided ponytail for each model. The ends of the hair were coated in 24-karat gold leaf in the shape of a feather to accentuate the gold accents and feathers in the collection.
The Rodarte show was inspired by a girl in a wheat field, so the hair was very natural, with a swooping side part and a handcrafted tree branch or leaf barrett to accentuate the look. No brushes were used to create the swept-over style.
"That was fun, but it was insanely simple," he said. "Looks that simple are the hardest because everyone has to be consistent."
The Sophie Theallat show featured a center part with the hair flat ironed very straight, pulled back and tied to the back of the head in a ponytali, with a ribbon of fabric tied around the neck and and hair. A black beret completed the "bad girl muse" look.
Braids were popular in the fall shows just as they were at the spring collectons, said Clendennen, who takes time off from his two Houston studios, Dionysis in The Woodlands and in Midtown, twice a year to work as a fashion week stylist for Aveda. At each show, he works on anywhere from eight to 14 models, depending on the size of the show and the size of the backstage space.
When he first started fashion week styling in 2002, "I didn't know what I was doing," he said. "It was very stressful. You have three hours from start to finish. And a lot of times models come in late from another show, with grunge in their hair."
But now he thrives on the excitement, where the backstage scene sometimes looks like a production of Star Wars, with stylists waving curling irons like light sabers.
"That last 15 minutes is the my favorite time," he said. "It's pandemonium. Those at the end always have the best look. It's pure energy."
In situations where models have gunky hair from a previous show., Clendennen sometimes uses up to a dozen bottles of water to wash out the hair because there are no sinks in the temporary tents. "You squish it out, put conditioner in it and blow it dry," he said. "You have to be resourceful."
Over the years, Clendennen has mingled backstage with such notables as Beyoncé, Courtney Love and Jack Nicholson (whose daughter Jennifer is a designer). Before the Christian Siriano show last month, he styled Mena Suvari's hair, giving the actress a soft, manageable wave.
His favorite part of the experience is getting an advance look at coming trends."You get a six-month forecast of all the clothes and hairstyles that are coming up," he said.
The spring looks, shown in New York six months ago and in stores now, featured simple, clean, soft hair. "We didn't do any crazy hair," he said. "I think it has a lot to do with the economy."
That trend carried over into the fall collections, which he can't wait to discuss with his Houston clients.
"The whole Texas big hair thing is a stereotype. We don't do a lot of big hair in my salons," he said. Especially this season, the looks are easy to translate. They want it to look like the girl did it herself. It's very easy to translate it to everyday hair."