The Man Who Created Disco Beauty
Ara Gallant was the hairstylist-turned-photographer who pioneered the glamour of the 1970s. From Anjelica Huston to Veruschka, VIEW OUR GALLERY of his outrageous styles.
When it comes to glamour, the 1970s can be distilled into a few simple highlights: dangerously red lips, after-hours glitter, and really, really big hair.
The man largely responsible for it all is Ara Gallant—the hairstylist turned photographer whose work filled the pages of Vogue and Interview from the late '60s to early '80s. Images of his styles, which ranged from the artistic to the erotic, are now collected together for the first time in Ara Gallant, a glossy new book.
Gallant upended the bobs and hair helmets of the '50s and '60s, turning hair into something that occupied space, possessed internal movement, and defied gravity—whether that meant fanning backward like a velvet cape, as it did on Veruschka in a spread in December 1973; growing in a braided beehive behind Twiggy in 1968; or exploding into a million little curls on the head of Apollonia Van Ravenstein in 1975.
Click Here to View Images of Ara Gallant's Work
Born in 1932, Gallant remained a libertine club kid most likely to be seen on the arm of Anjelica Huston or Veruschka skating in and out of Studio 54. If not there, then in Andy Warhol's Lower East Side Factory or in Richard Avedon's studio on 75th Street. (His collaborations with Avedon earned them the nickname "Aradon.")
Gallant may be most known for his work as a hairstylist, though hair artist is more befitting. "Ara Gallant isn't really 'hired' for shootings," wrote Blair Sabol in the Village Voice in 1970. "He's almost 'commissioned'—like a Lichtenstein. He works strictly on his terms." Just as Andy Warhol was blowing up photographs downtown, Gallant was creating explosive hair: large, bold, and avant-garde. He pioneered the trend of "flying hair," and with wigs, hairspray, and a little jumping, could transform his models into anyone from Venus de Milo to Marie Antoinette.
Though Gallant's styles on the pages of Vogue dictated the trends, according to him, they existed separately from real life. "Who the hell cares about hair-dos? I don't," he once said. "And I really hate falseness. That's why I despise the whole wig and eyelash routine…That's why it's so scary for me to see some of my painted Vogue faces on some of the street people walking about. It's groovy for fantasy, but for reality… I wonder."
Born Ira Gallantz in the Bronx, he quickly changed his name to Ara Gallant—which, as his friend Barbara Lantz writes in the book, was choice he made to make himself seem "more exotic." Gallant was, indeed, a product of fantasy: his name, his creations, even his appearance. He wore a tight black beret—a "Japanese school boy's hat"—which was covered in gold charms that jingled as he walked. Long sideburns accentuated his cheeks and, at night, black eyeliner rimmed his eyelids. Gallant wore long, flowing shirts that flapped opened to reveal his stomach, and high-heeled cowboy boots with metal toes.
"Facially he resembled no one as much as the Indian monkey god Hanuman dressed, as it were, for a date with the Hells Angels, all leather and silver and black jet," Huston remembered. Added Lauren Hutton: "He was the first leather queen in New York City or any place in the world that I had ever seen and I had never seen anyone as unusual as him."
Said Lauren Hutton: "He was the first leather queen in New York City or any place in the world that I had ever seen and I had never seen anyone as unusual as him."
But by the early 1980s, Gallant's fast-paced life began to decelerate. He grew restless and decided he wanted to become a filmmaker. After years of gallivanting around town, his social life began to pale. According to the model Penelope Tree, Gallant's apartment, known widely as "The Pussy Farm," transformed from the stomping grounds of the in crowd to a locus of drug-fueled tedium. "The dinner parties became agonizing after a while," Tree wrote. "The mirrored dining room, the glass table, the perfect food, and the killer weed, they were all conversation stoppers. As time went by the dinners became less spontaneous and more about the drugs and the famous guests… I began to feel very uncomfortable and alienated by the whole scene."
In the end, Gallant battled depression—and developed, in some way, into a casualty of his own excess. He retreated from the limelight, bought a house in Silverlake, Los Angeles, and began using drugs heavily. In 1990, he committed suicide by attaching himself to the exhaust of a car in a garage in Las Vegas.
Huston writes in the book that Ara Gallant was "an influencer, a mentor, an advisor, a director, a comrade in arms." With Ara, she said, "it was not so much about hair and much more about creation of a fantasy."
Isabel Wilkinson is an assistant editor at The Daily Beast based in Los Angeles.