To get an understanding of the topsy turvy, endlessly inventive work of provocative American hair stylist, Bob Recine, consider Gaga’s Boudoir, his free standing collaboration with Lady Gaga for the 2011 Barneys Christmas windows. There he constructed a surrealist take on Gaga’s own boudoir entirely out of hair, populating it with sly references to fashions and hair styles from her past. Says Recine of the experience, which drew record audiences to this festive tradition, “It was just another level of exploring the evolution of what I do, not only as a hairdresser but as explorer. The enjoyment came from watching my team understand that what they were doing was really changing something in their attitude and about their place as hairdressers and image makers.”
In fact it is this very attitude that elevates Recine’s oeuvre beyond mere tradesman connotations to something approaching art, displayed authoritatively in his monograph, ‘Alchemy of Beauty’ released last year. Featuring a mix of unpublished and editorial work for magazines like AnOther, French and American Vogue and V, his work can be ravishingly simple, like a white blonde Pamela Anderson for AnOther or defiantly sculptural – deploying found objects and offbeat styling tools like cellophane, hairclips, play doh, plastic, clumps of headphones and even fashioning a crown of bobby pins for Sasha Pivorova for Vogue Italia. In the end, it all comes back to Warhol whom Recine met when he was a punk musician. He recalls, “He was an artist that was social, so we met in the clubs and events of New York at the time. He was quiet and mysterious and always impressed and surrounded by youth. I was just one of many of those kids. But the thing I got from Andy was there is only originality, good or bad didn't matter, originality did.” Warhol also introduced him to the legendary hairdresser Jean Louis David, evincing a change of career. “I realised that hair is art and it was just another way for me to translate my concept of manipulation of fabrics.”
"The thing I got from Andy Warhol was there is only originality, good or bad didn't matter, originality did.”
Decades later, he is still aiming to fracture and subvert conventions, most notably in a 15-year collaboration with photographer Mario Sorrenti. “Opposition is true friendship - not only are we close friends, we are close collaborators I think in both alchemy and collaboration which I view as the same thing. You need opposites to create the power of creation through collaboration.” But the search for the new has also seen him work with a younger generation, collaborating with AnOther’s contributing fashion editor, Robbie Spencer on a number of shoots for Dazed and Confused. “Robbie is amazing, not just by the fact he is a new generation. It’s always disappointing when people lose that initial vigour; I've never understood why most lose that original concept and rebellion that gives the present time its identity. But Robbie is in that moment.”
As for the future, he’s tackling the windows of Barneys again for a display of vintage Chloe pieces in March and continues his boundary-pushing work across all mediums. He says, “My only challenge is to keep reaching those new levels of understanding and creating the power and magic of beauty. When you do something for a long time, it’s only the abstract that stimulates and renews you and the abstract is infinite.”
Alchemy of Beauty is out now, published by Diamani.
Text by Kin Woo