When everybody’s an ‘expert’ these days, it’s rare to chat with a real one. Peter Lamas is one of the few genuine deals. In his time as a top celebrity hairstylist, he convinced Audrey Hepburn to chop her locks, Diana Ross to stop wearing wigs, and was even called by Liza Minnelli to style Judy Garland‘s hair for her funeral and visitation.
As hairstylists do, the man knows things. Wildly interesting things, valuable beauty secrets… a little old fashioned gossip.
He was part of perhaps the most famous moment in haircut history, when Vidal Sassoon hacked off Mia Farrow‘s long blonde locks for Roman Polanski‘s big film, Rosemary’s Baby. At the time, Lamas was Vidal Sassoon’s assistant or, as he says, “human hair clip.” He remembers Frank Sinatra (who was married to Farrow) walking in halfway through the cut and, not knowing how short they were going to chop her hair, turning beet red. “I thought he was going to get up and punch Vidal,” laughs Lamas. The haircut was the last time Farrow and Sinatra saw each other before he served her with divorce papers in front of the cast and crew of the film.
And that’s just the beginning. I sat down with Lamas one-on-one to pick his brain about all things celebrity and his new hair care line, ‘Chinese Herbs,’ that’s now available in Canada.
Every girl wants to know about Audrey Hepburn. Tell me about working with her.
I eventually talked Audrey into cutting her hair off… Givenchy was one of her greatest friends and he was kind of leaning towards that also. She needed to come up to date with her look not only in dressing, but also in hair and makeup. I didn’t do the cut myself, because she traveled a lot, but I hope to be the one who placed the seed on an ongoing basis and one day she got the courage. I think it was in Paris visiting Givenchy that she took the plunge.
That’s a huge step for any woman. Was she nervous?
Oh yes, she was. She told me, “Peter, that was the biggest step. Thank you so much advising me. I took your word, but I needed to get the courage. I just felt so tied to my hair.” And she had fine hair. She couldn’t wear it down because it had no body, so that’s why she always wore her hair up in that famous chignon that she had right from the get-go in her career. It was her trademark, so it took a lot of convincing.
You’re obviously very fond of Audrey, but is there another celebrity client that really stood out to you?
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and I became quite friendly– professionally, but she would have go to her home. She was really my bosses’ client, but he was very busy and he would never go to someone’s apartment and do their hair. So he would send me.
We just got along great. I talked her into getting away from the big tease — in those days we used a lot of lacquer instead of hairspray products — and go more natural because I noticed that her hair was very damaged. It was damaged due to the fact that she would lacquer it like crazy, tease it like crazy, use setting lotions that were gooey and heavy. Hair needs to breathe. I said that’s going away… I talked her into growing her hair longer and not teasing it, but backcombing it to keep it in place with a light hairspray. And the rest is history, because she wore that hair until she was no longer here.
That’s interesting because Jackie O is such a mysterious figure to people. She was so guarded, so private. Can you share any personal moments you shared with her?
The one thing I remember that I will never forget… I’ll share something with you that I heard myself. She was great with her children, and John [Jr.] loved to get his hair cut. He was very into his image and his presence– he knew he was a good-looking son of a gun and he took pride in that. I do remember one day, when he just graduated college, that he wanted to learn how to fly airplanes. And she told him in front of me, “Not while I’m alive will you ever take flying lessons.” She passed away, he took flying lessons, and talk about mother’s intuition. To this day I get chills from that.
Your hair care line that’s now in Canada, it’s based on Eastern Medicine and Chinese Herbs. How did you get into those things?
I did a lot of studying, and one day watching public television there was a special on Eastern medicine. I got fascinated, and the more I watched the series and then did my own research and studies, I realized that there’s three thousand years of documented history when it comes to Eastern medicine.
And how did this interest evolve into a hair care line?
Knowing that the types of products that exist today are laced with chemicals and synthetics… they aren’t good for you. The sulfates, preservatives, parabens, and so many other ingredients will breakdown hair and make it weaker.
With the chemist who I work with, who’s a genius, we were able to put together a formula that I call ‘skincare for hair.’ It works from the inside out. The scalp is the most important thing when it comes to your hair–when the hair grows out, it’s dead. You can’t do much about it. If you damage the hair, the only thing that you can do is cut it. But you want hair growing in so that it can take abuse, so that it can take the beatings that hair does.
Let’s be honest, it can be a lot to ask people to commit to an entire line of products. What are the stars here for you?
The Chinese Herbs shampoo and serum are the two main engines for providing this ability to have good healthy hair growth. The conditioner is great too, but I’m not so tied to it. You can use any conditioner.
Well, a lot of products advertise ‘power ingredients’ like argan oil and fruit stem cells… but people don’t realize these companies are putting in the bare minimum and rendering the ingredients basically useless.
If you remember nothing else from this conversation, it’s about the percentage levels that ingredients have to have in order to perform to the maximum. And I discovered so many companies don’t go to the actual limit of what they need to do in regards to providing the right percentages. For example, the apple stems cells. My chemist who looks at all these products tells me that I’m one of the few treatments that actually give the customer the full advantage of this ingredient.
And the one thing about argan oil that I’ve noticed, they’re using parabens. Products are using red dyes– which women who are pregnant need to be conscious of. I don’t know why they’re doing that because it’s a good product… and you know which one I’m talking about… it’s a very good product, but they need to be more conscious about what goes into a formula.
Your product also helps with hair loss and thinning. Beauty magazines and columns, they don’t like to talk about hair loss. It’s not a sexy topic…
No, but it’s going on. Very high numbers of women — forget the men, men have been going through this for a long time — but women now are coming out in the open and saying “yes, I’m losing my hair.” My wife, she had thyroid problems and she started shedding and losing her hair like crazy. Her doctor had her on minoxidil (Rogaine) for over a year. I kept saying try this, but I’m her husband and she listens to her doctor not her husband. She kept losing hair, so finally she tried it. In about three and a half months she came back to me and said the shedding was almost done with.
But here’s the real question. You have a great head of hair… do you use your own products?
Yes, and here’s why. My father passed away bald, my mother’s side of the family had what I call ‘wimpy hair.’ So I knew genetically, which is one of the biggest factors of all, that I was destined to use my hair. I started seven years ago with this product and my hair has gotten better to the point that I now have to shave my hairline a little bit. It works–be careful what you pray for!
I’m 68-years-old. And yet I have hair that a woman, just two weeks ago at the grocery store, came up and grabbed it while I was in line to pay and asked “Is that a wig?”
One of my favourite movies, 10 Things I Hate About You, the dad is balding and he tries every stupid cream under the sun. None of it works, of course. Do you have trouble making people believe your product works after so many others that made false promises in the past?
No, most people, they will never give up. They will always hope that they’ll find that one product that possibly will work. Because when you’re going through that, what are the options?
How do you feel about being part of the anti-aging industry? There’s so much out there that makes women of a certain age feel self-conscious, even ugly. How do you feel about that?
I wrote an article called Shifting Sands of Beauty. I worked as a stylist with the New York City Ballet for nine years. I got to see these young women losing weight because they had to fit a certain image. My own daughter told me once, ‘Dad, you work with all these famous models, do you think I could ever live up to those ideals?’ And I said ‘Oh my God, my own family… stop the madness!’ You’ve got to work with what you’ve got and improve upon that. Not from the point of view of becoming crazy, but just self-esteem. Take pride in who you are. Eat well, exercise, take care of your body, and appreciate who you are.
Chinese Herbs is available at Shoppers Drug Mart locations across Canada. Products range from $20.00-$45.00.
Sabrina Maddeaux is Toronto Standard’s style editor. Follow her on Twitter at @sabrinamaddeaux.