Life and Hair Lessons from French Hair Guru Christophe Robin
The stacks of riotously patterned, brilliantly colored silk kimonos, tucked behind banquettes and on side tables in Christophe Robin’s new 2nd Arrondissement Paris salon, kind of say it all. So, too, does the gigantic clam shell—which is actually a sink—where you can stroll in off the street and have your hair shampooed for free.
The world-famous hair guru’s career began at age 15, when he apprenticed with an old-school colorist in the small town of Bar-sur-Aube; by the time he turned 19, Stephanie Seymour, Elle MacPherson, and Linda Evangelista were flying to Paris to have him color their hair. Several years later, Claudia Schiffer recommended him to Catherine Deneuve, who’s remained a lifelong client. Politicians, rock stars, and actors all seek him out, but it’s the person in off the street who intrigues him—hence the welcoming shell/sink. “I’m thinking of this girl, maybe she doesn’t have the money to have a full-blown appointment with us, but maybe she’s got a date, or she wonders what all the fuss about my hair products is for, or maybe she just wants to feel like Venus on the half-shell,” says Robin. “So she runs in and we wash her hair for her, and she gives herself a blowout in front of the mirrors.” (There are vanities stocked with dryers, curlers, brushes, and the Robin’s line of styling products—as well as bottles of perfume from his friend, Francis Kurkdjian—all set out to be used, gratis.)
At every price point, there’s the clinical, chic-factory model of hair salon, and there’s the eclectic, Steel Magnolias type. Robin’s new salon falls decidedly in the latter camp. Passing through it, if even for a free shampoo, you experience a rarer, more intimate side of French life and French people than you might at the string of popular restaurants, must-see shops, and museum shows that comprise even the sophisticated tourist’s itinerary. It’s a place to take as long a pause as you like and soak up the wild luxury.
Step past the shell sink, deeper into the salon where the actual coloring (and cutting, styling, nail-polishing, et al) takes place and the feeling is just as generous and personal: pale-pink coloring chairs, red-velvet curtains, deep-taupe walls, splashes of color from lamps, paintings, and pillows (Tony Duquette style), fresh flowers everywhere…even the product line comes in gorgeous color. People rush back and forth, laughing, gossiping. Joie de vivre might be the most cliché borrowed-from-the-French term, but it applies here, from the willowy bride and her stressed entourage visibly relaxing and slowing down, to a famous dermatologist in to see the couture shows sinking into an emerald-green-and-fuchsia banquette, to the quintessential French girl in striped shirt and moto boots exclaiming over her evening plans.
Left, the façade at 16 rue Bachaumont;
above, the free-shampoo shell/sink and
blow-dry area at the front of the store.
Le maestro, Msr. Robin just
inside the front door of his
new, eponymous salon
Inside the salon, a
gorgeous jumble of
flowers, and of
course, the products.
You’d expect this full-on celebration of femininity to reside perhaps on the Rue St-Honoré, a few doors down from Hermès, or perhaps across from the Ritz or inside the Meurice (where Robin indeed had a salon for many years), but instead it’s in the up-and-coming, unstuffy, still-a-little-raw 2nd. “I’m from the country,” shrugs Robin. “I love to walk around in this neighborhood and discover things, see real people. I want that girl to walk in off the street!” Robin discovered the neighborhood four years ago when his boyfriend, a talented jazz singer, bought him a scent from the encyclopedic Nose fragrance store (few places on earth sell more varieties of perfume), now down the street from Robin’s salon. “I loved the scent, so I had to go to the store, and then I just fell in love,” he says. His rabid fans happily followed. “People come here and they love it,” he says. “They’re surprised—not everybody’s already been here.”
The hair, in any case, is gorgeous: The color suits each woman beautifully, and the level of shine, bounce, and healthiness is awe-inspiring, no matter the age or hair type of the women in question. “Coloring is really tough on hair,” says Robin. “You have to really, really take care of it.” The magic he works at the salon is one aspect, but Oxidation—the same thing that turns a slice of apple brown—is speeded significantly by the process of coloring, so keeping brown brown or blonde blonde is made even more difficult that it already would be. Robin is full of advice on the subject of how to make color last—and last more beautifully; his product line avoids synthetic detergents (he says his was the first no-poo formula on the market), parabens, and phthalates (though not fragrance) and incorporates natural ingredients from prickly pear to vinegar (after learning how healthy it is to drink vinegar from his nutritionist, Robin developed vinegar sprays for hair, which leave amazing shine). He’s also full of advice—mostly by example—on how to enjoy life in general. Below, the Cliff’s Notes to having not just a better hair day, but a better day, period, à la Robin’s easier, less formal Paris:
The Robin Rules (for Hair-color, Decorating, and Beyond)
Beautiful color should never dominate.
“It’s about a beautiful woman, with beautiful hair, not beautiful haircolor,” says Robin. Looking around his salon, color is everywhere, but each plays off the other, rather than taking over.
No detergent, ever.
“Detergents corrode hair and hair color,” he says. Oils and natural ingredients like salt or lavender do a gentler and more beautiful job.
Moisture, moisture, and more moisture.
Robin started making hair oil in 1999. Today, he’s a huge believer in prickly pear seed oil, as well as buriti; he infuses natural oils into even his hair-coloring products.
“Hair-coloring can leave people’s scalps itchy and really uncomfortable. We found that scrubbing with salt helps—and so developed a salt scrub for hair that leaves the scalp healthy and soothed, and leaves your hair soft and healthy.”
Use as few chemicals as you need.
“Hair-color involves a lot of harsh chemicals. Adding more in where you don’t need it makes no sense.”
Take care of yourself.
It’s basic, but the moments of self-reflection you get when making yourself and your environment beautiful are an antidote to the no-time rush of most people’s lives today.
Swan around in a silk kimono and take a minute for yourself—feeling the full force of your femininity can be energizing and healing.
Pour your glass of wine over a big tumble of ice “à la piscine”. Arrange a beloved piece of art and some gorgeous flowers with a golden dildo.
Walk around your neighborhood.
Trailing after Robin’s tall, lanky frame as he dips into this pastry shop or that hardware store, greeting everyone and checking in, maybe Instagramming one beautiful thing he sees (as opposed to everything on the walk) is pretty inspiring: Give yourself some of the moments you’d normally hand over to Instagram or Snapchat.