“Hair is not meant to dominate, it’s meant to be part of the character” – says Kerry Warn on the invisible art of hair styling
Kerry Warn is the envy of hairstylists everywhere. He’s the guy behind the lavish hairdos in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby; he helped transform Nicole Kidman into Grace Kelly in Grace of Monaco; and most recently, he was nominated for a BAFTA for his subtly futuristic hairstyles in Blade Runner 2049. And yet, oddly, he never intended to go into film. It just sort of happened one day when he received a call from one Stanley Kubrick, who, at the time, was prepping his seductive swansong Eyes Wide Shut.
Before that call, Warn had only done a couple of movies – the Kevin Costner thriller Revenge, and the period piece Naked Tango, both released in 1990. But that was nine years prior to Eyes Wide Shut. They were one-offs. Or so he thought. He hadn’t planned on doing another film, partly because he’d invested so much in the fashion world, doing shows in Milan and advertising in New York. He knew all too well how that world worked. “As soon as you’re out of fashion for a little while you’re quickly replaced,” he explains. “I thought, ‘am I damaging my regular clients by doing this?’”
Ten minutes into his first meeting with Kubrick, Warn – who’s been doing hair since he was 17 – found himself surrendering to the maverick moviemaker, saying: Oh yes, I’d love to! “He was a very persuasive man,” says Warn, “although I didn’t realise it would take two years of my life!” Concerned about stepping back from fashion, he asked Kubrick, ‘How long is it going to be?’ ‘Oh, five months,’ Kubrick said. Warn thought: Yeah, probably six or seven. Whatever. I’ll do it.
The next few years of Warn’s life were consumed by movie projects. During this time, he came to see styling hair in movies as an invisible art. “Hair is not meant to dominate, it’s meant to be part of the character. It’s not a hair show,” he says. “I see it as an accessory, like a great bag or a pair of shoes. It’s another accessory that you can play with. It can compliment a character and say so much about them.”
One thing you notice looking through Warn’s IMDb credits is the amount of times he’s worked with Nicole Kidman – 18 in total, including The Hours, Cold Mountain, and Dogville. For their first collaboration, Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick wanted Kidman’s hair down in most scenes. “Stanley said to me: I want to see all those red curls, that’s what I love about her: those red curls and that fair skin.” But Warn had another idea. “I said, Stanley, can I just show you something?” Warn took Kidman’s hair, twisted it up and said: You’re losing all the neck, that great neck, the skin, the jaw. “Stanley said, You’re absolutely right.”
Since then, Warn has continued to work as Kidman’s personal hairstylist, which is not so strange in the movies (Warn explains that on Gatsby DiCaprio had his own hairdresser, despite Warn designing all his looks). How did that ongoing relationship with Kidman happen? “I guess she liked what I did, and we get on very well. I saw her the other week and I said, ‘You know, we’ve been working together 21 years?’ And she said, ‘Kerry, I think it’s longer!’”
The hairstyle that Warn is most proud of is Kidman’s 1930s throwback in The Others. “No one had ever really seen her like that before,” he says. “We made her into a dark ash blonde, sort of 1930s like. She looked like Grace Kelly, she looked so beautiful like that.”
For Warn, working on period projects like The Others was a dream. He loves the 1920s universe of The Great Gatsby, too. That was one of the biggest projects he’s ever worked on (he personally cut 200 wigs for the extras). Then something entirely different came along: Blade Runner 2049. “I was sort of a little bit out of my depth,” he explains. “Friends would always say, ‘Oh you always do those glamorous films, you love glamour,’ and I do love glamour. And so I thought: Right, this is something that I really need to do just to prove to myself that I can do it.”
While it’s true sci-fi was out of his comfort zone, I point out that he did have a small credit as a “consultant: future” way back in 1989, on Back to the Future Part II. For that, he says he was basically pulled into meetings where he would say, ‘In the future, I think it would be this, this, and this.’ Then some someone would illustrate while he was explaining, show it to him, and say, ‘Is this what you mean?’
His role as hair designer on the recent Blade Runner sequel, though, was far more ambitious. Looking at the hair – choice cuts include Robin Wright’s slick-back style and Ryan Gosling’s normcore chop – the first thing you notice is how un-whacky it is. It’s not off-the-wall futuristic, like The Fifth Element. It’s not a constant stream of never-before-seen looks. It’s low-key sci-fi style, against the backdrop of an almost identifiable world that you can almost relate to. The idea, he says, was “to not jar the eye, to feel like we may have seen this before.”
What you might not know is that Warn took influence from England’s early 70s skinheads. “I thought, that’s a great look,” he says, pointing out the skinheads’ “aggressive haircuts with those nasty little fringes.” He decided early on, too, that because Blade Runner’s post-apocalyptic world is dark and dank, he would take the blonde out of the hair. “It was a discussion I had with [Denis Villeneuve, the director] and he said you know there’s no light in LA anymore. So we decided, let’s take the blonde out of LA.” They basically made everyone’s hair a sombre colour. “Even the girl who’s a prostitute with the dirty wig on – I wanted it to look like she picked that wig up off the street,” he explains.
Warn’s leap into unfamiliar territory paid off, of course, with a BAFTA nomination (his second after 2014’s The Great Gatsby). I wonder if he now has the desire to leap into something completely different again. “I’m interested in doing any project that makes you stretch your imagination,” he tells me. “I’ve always wanted to do a big 18th-century number. But I mean, it’s been done so well…” He pauses. “I’ve never done it, though, so it’d be something interesting for me to do.”
Though Kubrick helped change the course of his career in movies, Warn never quit the fashion world completely. In fact, he has his fingers in all the pies. Right now, he’s packing to go to Milan for the launch of the new Pirelli Calendar that he worked on. “I still love doing editorial,” he says, explaining that cinema is far from his only interest. At one point in his career, it may have seemed as though it was either/or. Fashion or movies? Now, thankfully, he’s found a way to do both.