Luigi Murenu

Interview by
Gert Jonkers
Photography by
Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin


Luigi is a forty-year-old coiffeur from Sardinia who lives in the heart of Chelsea, New York. Well, that’s when he’s not rushing around the world to do the ’do of Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Chloe Sevigny or some other celebrity or supermodel. He does almost all the hairstyles for the covers of the fashion magazine W, he’s a consultant for L’Oréal and Kerastase for all sorts of new shampoos and stuff, he does the hair for Helmut Lang’s, Viktor & Rolf’s and Chloé’s fashion shows in Paris, for the ad campaigns of Miu Miu, Missoni, Valentino, and so on and so forth...

Gert: So you have dogs?
Luigi: Yeah, I have two dogs, Kiko and Albertine.
Why are they called Kiko and Albertine?
Kiko is a white American Eskimo Dog. “Kiko” means “coffee bean” in Italian, and since he’s totally the opposite of a coffee bean… In Italian you can also call your baby “kiko”. Albertine comes from Marcel Proust, of course. Albertine is this very very naughty character in Proust’s book. He doesn’t exactly say so, but it seems like Albertine is a lesbian, although, of course,
I think in real life Albertine was a man: Proust’s gay lover.
And what kind of dog is Albertine?
A Brussels Griffon.
Are you saying that Albertine is a pedigree dog? She’s pretty ugly, if you ask me.
Yes, don’t you think she has a funny face? Look, she keeps licking yourhands. She’s trying to kiss you! She loves you! Her breed used to be trained, believe it or not, to chase rats.
That’s very handy. How old is she?
She’s four, and Kiko is seven. Kiko is such a sweetheart. All my friends love him. Well, except Madonna, she hates Kiko. And Kiko hates Madonna too.
Why do you think that is?
Kiko growled at Madonna at her 40th birthday party. She had rented this huge mansion and I said I’d only come if I could bring Kiko. Then Kiko made the stupid mistake of falling into a pond, so she was all black and dirty when we got there. Madonna still wanted to be nice so she sat on her knees and said ‘Hello Kiko’ and then Kiko growled at her.
I’ll bet Madonna’s not used to folks growling at her.
No. But Kiko is a very special dog. I used to take him with me everywhere I went.
He’s not that small.
Well, he’s a medium-sized dog, but I always tried to fit him into a bag. Kiko loves to travel so much that he gets into the bag by himself, without any problem. I leave him at home these days, but he really misses the travelling. That’s what the psychic told us. We went to a dog psychic.
My goodness, how do you think the psychic ever found out that Kiko misses travelling?
I have no idea. He also said that we have to keep reminding him that he’s beautiful all the time. Because we always tell Albertine that she’s beautiful, because she needs that support. Look at her — she’s too small for this world. Anyway, now we have to tell Kiko that he’s beautiful too. Otherwise he gets depressed.
Do you do their hair?
All the time. Like I give them little ponytails, or… Albertine looks really nice with this 80s hairdo, with these long locks in her eyes.
Do you cut their hair?
Not Kiko’s, because he has fur, not hair, so it won’t grow back if you cut it. He’s from Alaska. He has a cousin who’s in a Russian circus. He plays on the football team there. They’re a very special family.
And, what about shampoo? Do they have their own special type of shampoo?
Yes, it’s a special anti-tears shampoo. And Kiko has this Jean Harlow type of hair that needs to be really white, so I use a special blue shampoo. Kiko keeps himself clean, so I only wash him once a month. But Albertine can look gorgeous and then ten minutes later be a total rag. She’s very intelligent, whereas Kiko may be less intelligent, but he’s more poetic and sensitive. For instance, if my boyfriend John and I have an argument, he’ll stand between us.
I think dogs are extremely intelligent anyway, contrary to what lots of people think. And they came into my life for a reason.
Oh? What reason?
For me to be more patient. With the job that I do, I’m always on the run. I always have to be fast, have to do the hair fast, have to catch the plane fast, have to dress fast, have to think fast, have to meet a million people. With a dog, you can’t do all that; you have to be really responsible. You can’t say “Yippie! I’m done, see ya!” to a dog. I’ve changed, like some people change when they have kids.
Interesting. So what exactly is your job?
I’m a hairdresser.
Oh, okay. I was wondering what to call it.
Yeah, hairdresser. I love to do hair. I can talk for hours about hair, so much so that people around me get totally bored. It’s so funny, sometimes people say, “My god, Luigi, if I had the money, I would produce a TV show with you just talking about hair all the time”. I love to go on TV and talk about hair. I really enjoy it.
So you wouldn’t ever in a million years want to be a make-up artist?
No! I love hair. I mean, I know how to draw a line or how to do a red mouth, but I’m totally not a make-up artist. You have to give Caesar what belongs to Caesar.
What the hell does that mean?
It’s an Italian way of saying, you know, you have to do what’s closest to your heart. I guess when it comes to hair, I’m Caesar.
You’re the best hairdresser on earth?
I wouldn’t say I’m the best. No one in the hair world can be the best. People are constantly asking me, “Are you the hairdresser of the moment?” I hate that. You can be a good hairdresser, but you can’t be the best. I would never want to be portrayed like that.
If you can talk about hair for hours, what is important to know about hair?
Hair is more complicated than make-up.
For photo shoots, it’s easier to find a good make-up artist than a good hairdresser. Melanie Ward, Helmut Lang’s stylist, once told me that the most important things
at a fashion shoot are the right pair of shoes and the hair. And I was like, “You’re right, girl!”
Can you judge people by their hair?
I must say I don’t have any preconceptions about hair. But yeah, it definitely gives me a certain vibe in my bones when I see a great hairdo. It definitely makes an impression. Like, if I look at your hair, I think it’s cool.
So what would you change about my hair?
Nothing. Your hair is perfect the way it is.
Oh, don’t try to be nice. If you had cut my hair, you would have done something else with it.
Possibly. But let me put it this way: I would hate to change your hair.
Is men’s hair different from women’s hair?
Yes. There aren’t many designers or photographers who understand a man’s body or a man’s hair. Men can so easily be very camp when not done properly.
What did you do first? Men’s hair or women’s hair?
Women’s hair. I started in Sardinia, 23 years ago, in the local hair salon. And then I left for Paris when I was eighteen. Well, first in Italy I hung around with this group of friends who were very New Wave, they were all into music, art, performance, dance. They always thought of me as a performer, and I thought so too. I wanted to be an actor. But for some reason I decided that I didn’t have the patience to be an actor. As an actor you have to be pretty stupid sometimes… I mean if you think too hard, it’s hard to be an actor.
So you, eh…became a hairdresser.
Yeah. Which may seem pretty silly too. It took me a long time to get anywhere. Sometimes people say, ‘Oh Luigi, I’m so happy for you and what you’ve achieved’. But I’ve been here for such a long time. In the beginning I was just too nice, I think. Maybe it’s because I’m from an island where life is very simple — we don’t put up a persona or have an agenda to promote ourselves. It took me a long time to be able to be pushy. But because of that, I developed very good survival skills. I’m very strong in the long run.
What are you best at with hair?
I’m a very good team player. I love working with photographers and stylists. It’s important to respect the feeling of the shoot. The hair should always complement the picture.
But what’s your actual skill? What are you good at? Like, are you very good at washing hair, or drying hair, or shaving…
The biggest skill is knowing about texture and how to create texture, which is the basis of a hairstyle. Texture and shape.
I compare myself to the old hairdressers of the 60s and 70s. They had very strong techniques. You have to understand natural hair.
Are there hairstyles that you really hate?
I’ve never been into mullets. To me, the mullet is just a trend. There’s nothing classic about a mullet.
In the New York Times I read how, for women, this is the season of so-called ‘bad hair’. The ideal hairdo is a mess, they said. Have you had anything to do with bad hair coming into fashion?
Oh no, that’s just a trend. It says nothing about style. I don’t follow trends; I follow instinct.
But your instinct today could be a trend tomorrow.
I don’t know. People have said that I started the ‘big hair’ trend, but I don’t think so. So many people before me did big hair. And I guess I did it because at the time it was perfect for the shoot and the clothes and the photographer. The hair never stands on its own, unless it’s a hair story.
Do you read hair magazines?
Really? You’re not subscribed to mags like Hair World and Hair Vogue and Hair To Stay and…
No, they don’t exist. I wish there was a good hair magazine, but all hair magazines I’ve seen are terrible.
Do you do any ‘normal’ hair? I mean, like people’s everyday hair, in a salon situation?
No, I stopped doing salons ten years ago.
I had beautiful clients, but I didn’t enjoy it anymore. Fashion gives me the freedom to dream and to express myself, which is what I want to do. Sometimes I’m sad, and I want to show that in the hair that I do. And sometimes I’m happy. And sometimes
I just want people to love me for something beautiful that I have created.
What does sad hair look like? Is it kind of flat?
I guess sad hair is more like sensitive hair. Not as frivolous as happy hair. But I’m very unpredictable. I’m a Gemini.
What’s your favourite hair colour? Blonde?
I love blonde! Recently I was very into Germanic looks. I did a story in which all the girls looked like young British queens. But I like all kinds of hair. Thick, thin, black, red, blonde…
And how is Madonna’s hair? What’s special about her hair?
Madonna has beautiful hair. It’s very thick and wavy. She takes good care of her hair. She is one of the very few people who can listen to me talking about hair for hours.
Really? One would think she’d never have time to listen because she’d always be busy with a lawyer and a manager, an agent and a chef, three nannies, an assistant and a driver and a jet, a trainer and a butler and a bodyguard or five, a gardener…
Oh no, she really likes to hear about hair.
What hairdo does she have now? Did you do her hair for her current tour?
No, I was in Paris doing the Helmut Lang show, so I couldn’t go to Los Angeles to do her hair. But I don’t think there are too many hairstyles in her current tour. It’s not very complex. For her last tour, I made a wig for her, which took me ages to make.
When did you start doing her hair?
Ten years ago. I was doing a fashion show in New York, and my agent called to say that Madonna wanted to see me in London. I had to rush out to catch a plane. In London I went straight to the BBC studios where she was playing Top of the Pops.
I sat there waiting in a room and I was so tired that I fell asleep, and the next thing
I remember, somebody’s touching my leg and I open my eyes and it’s Madonna. She says, ‘Hi, I’m Madonna’. She was so cute. She has these beautiful big eyes. We bonded straight away, but after the interview I didn’t hear from her for a year and a half, until she contacted me to do her hair on her world tour for Evita. Anyway, I’ve worked with her ever since. I was there when she won the Golden Globe, when Lola was born, when she was in the hospital with Rocco. We’re still friends. I was just talking to her today.
On the phone?
No, through email. She’s in Florida. She’s hard to get hold of by phone, but she emails a lot.
Is her email address something like That would be hilarious.
No, but it is something similarly simple.
Have you ever ruined Madonna’s hair?
Are you kidding me? I save her hair! Doing hair is a whole process of paying attention and understanding what you’re doing. It’s like driving a car: you’re careful. You can only really ruin someone’s hair with a perm or with acid.
You’ve never done a hair book, have you? Like Luigi’s Fabulous Hair?
No, that’s such a cliché right now. Like, “Hey, I do make-up, here’s my book”. I think my work speaks for itself without a book. I could do a website with my work, but I’d rather put up pictures of my dogs. I’d love to do that. My boyfriend John and
I are always fantasizing about writing a book on the misadventures of Kiko and Albertine.
What would that be about?
We’d tell about how the two of them get in trouble. Like, they go to Paris where Kiko starts working as a chef, and Albertine is just running around all the time with her girlfriends, getting in trouble. Then Kiko loses his job, and Albertine has to become a can-can dancer, but she loses her job too cause she goes to work drunk and she falls off the stage. And finally they go to St. Petersburg together.
To do what?
We don’t know yet, that part is still a bit unclear. I think in St. Petersburg they’ll find out what happened to their parents. Something like that.
How do you like being forty?
I love it. I feel like I’m much more in touch with my body, like I understand my body much better. I feel more sexy. I think when you get older, you know how to move better, how to dress better, how to use your body language. I feel much more confident. I wish I would exercise a bit more, but if
I go to the gym, everything gets magnified.
I become too beefy. So it’s good like it is now. I feel very complete.
Is that a new feeling?
Yeah, I’ve had it for a year or two now. Also being in a relationship for five years has changed me a lot. This is my first long relationship. When you have many lovers you get distracted a lot and you have so much choice… I’m glad to have time to spend with one special person, instead of being distracted all the time. John is the opposite of me. He does theatre and knows only a little about fashion. He’s from Wisconsin, which is the opposite of Sardinia. He’s very interesting. He’s so
different from me. But I try never to have preconceptions anyway. I like to be open.
If you say that you don’t have preconceptions, do you mean that there’s nothing you instantly dislike in a man?
Right. Although I must say that I don’t like cowboy boots. I’ve never liked them. Nor the rest of the cowboy outfit. I like the theatrical side of men.
The dandy?
Yeah. Like, I find men in a knd of French-Revolution look extremely sexy.
You’re kidding! French Revolution? Layers and layers of dirty, puffy, chi-chi clothes?
No, just the white socks and the buckled shoes and the wig, ha! Imagine a naked man with a wig like that! Wouldn’t that look amazing? I also just love men in skirts. A boy with nothing on but a skirt? I find that so sexy. Women in men’s clothes, and men in skirts. Or is this too perverse?
Perverse? Not at all. Do you wear skirts yourself?
But you’re not very hairy, right? Is that your feminine side? Have you waxed off all your body hair?
I do wax sometimes, yeah. I started waxing when friends of mine once enrolled me in a stripping competition. It was the first time
I stripped, but, believe it or not, I won.
Wow. What was your secret? Did you put a lot of drama in your striptease?
Drama? Ha ha! The trick with stripping is to put the balance in your hands. Same as with belly dancing.
Hey, and if you like men in skirts, are you the sort of person who walks around in a sarong when you’re on holiday?
No, I always walk around naked when I’m away. I love being naked. Direct contact with nature makes my spine tingle. I like extreme things. So that’s what I’m going to do next month: go to Hawaii and be naked.
Will Kiko & Albertine join you there?
No, we’re getting a babysitter for them for three weeks. You know, they’ll have their three walks per day, they can play and sleep in their own beds.

Originally published in BUTT 11