When it comes to making stars gorgeous, Mark Townsend is a Hollywood legend. Working with numerous celebrity “It” girls, Townsend has coiffed the tresses of Jennifer Lawrence, Lea Michele, Michelle Williams, Cate Blanchett, and the Olsen sisters, just to name a few. The Dove Celebrity Hairstylist is known for his soft approach to hairstyles and sexy, touchable textures that are always on trend. Now that red carpet season is over, we sat down with Townsend to chat about his work with Jennifer Lawrence (obviously) as well as his new gig taming Michelle Williams’ grown-out pixie.
Townsend filled us in on some of his behind-the-scenes moments with Lawrence, the fact that Lea Michele’s bangs were actually fake for months until they went for the real cut, and his best hair trick below!
Beauty High: First, can we talk about Jennifer Lawrence, of course?
Mark Townsend: My favorite subject!
Everyone’s favorite. Do you have any favorite hairstyling memories from the red carpet season, or any great moments with her—or any funny backstage moments?
My favorites? Well, this whole season, because I’ve done awards seasons with Jennifer before, and she wasn’t totally confident in her own self at the time. She hadn’t learned what she loved yet, but she has now, so it was such an amazing collaboration this time. She’ll say, like, “Mark, I might be crazy, but what do you think about some kind of neon,” or I was obsessed with Rihanna’s hair, the long hair but shaved on the side, and that’s how we came up with her SAGS look, she wanted some back but pinned underneath and I flipped one side back, and pinned it underneath, and left the whole other side down off her face, and I loved that. My personal favorite was the Oscar luncheon, with a Bardot moment—the French twist that we pulled down into a side pony, and that hair was everything to me. I love that texture, it had a modern moment so that was my personal favorite.
Does Jennifer come to you with ideas for different styles she wants to try?
That’s a really good question. She’ll say something like, “I definitely want to wear my hair down with this dress.” She has a tendency to hide behind it, so there’s that fine line of not letting it all fall into her face, but I just think this time we showed how a young woman should look. At [the Oscars] she wanted to wear it up with that dress. Every moment with her is fun, there’s always those great stories that happen somewhere. I mean she’s a total klutz so no, I wasn’t surprised that she fell. But that’s what makes her so endearing, and I think everybody knows that.
Totally agree. Out of everyone that you style (it’s a long list), who tends to be the most opinionated with their look, or who knows exactly what they want?
Lea Michele, but in a great way. Lea and I will go back and forth – she’s more of an options person, she’ll email the dress she’s wearing and she’ll say “What do you think? Up or down?” or she gives me a timeline about it, and says that she brought pictures. The thing about Lea is that if she wants the look, she’s more like working with a model. She gets the importance of versatility. Lea knows what she needs for her brand and the advantages of working with her look. Maria Menounos said once, “I love Lea Michele’s bangs!” And I said, “We clipped them in, they weren’t real!” We couldn’t do it because of her show, but she put them in every time she got dressed, so everybody got used to her with bangs, and Ryan Murphy eventually said, “I love you with the bangs, let’s wear them next season” So we finally cut them, and then the next season, as soon as it became her “look” she was like, “Let’s get rid of the bangs now!” So she would have them every week on the show, and we would hide them on the red carpet by pushing them off of her face. She knows how to be versatile.
Do you have anyone who just tells you to take the reins to create something amazing?
I think the have the best moment was with Cate Blanchett. She’s really smart, she would always have the dress hanging so that we could draw inspiration from it, but she’ll just say, “I think up,” and that’s all she would say, and I would just start sculpting and playing, and she really … she’s wearing art. The only time that she really said, “I want this,” was when she was nominated for “The Aviator.” She was wearing this insane gown. She literally told me, she said, “I don’t want it to look like I spent the day on my hair and makeup, I want it to look like I threw on the dress and I walked out the door” and I was like “done.” So we had a nice loose, soft wave, and she’s not used to textural hairdos, so it was such a change for her, too. That was the only time she changed it.
They trust you.
With Michelle Williams, I had never done her hair before, and I got on a plane going to work with her. And she just said, “What do you think?” And I did her hair afterwards.
What’s your plan with Michelle Williams to work with this pixie as it grows out? Do you have any plan for her going forward?
Patience is number one. We have to take two approaches: Either she’ll be trapped in hats for four months or talk to her stylist, and do cute little haircuts along the way. So I told her I thought she should grow it out gradually, keeping the back short, while she’s growing the top, until it’s a bob. But she’s done working for a long time, so she’s going to hide out and just grow it out.
Ha! Hide in your apartment and grow your hair, pretty much the best way to do it! Lastly, do you have any one great hair trick over the years that you’ve learned and that you find you keep suggesting?
My biggest tip is that, it’s all about the details, the small, tiny details. I do soft hair that’s soft but holds, but to really pull that off it’s in the details. When I want Jennifer’s hair to look like it would practically fall out, like at the Oscars (she’s so sick of me doing this)—I wanted her bun to be super soft. I’m sure she set off the metal detectors I had so many pins in there but to make it look like it could almost fall out, but the thing is, I live for natural bristle toothbrushes. You spray a bit of hairspray on the toothbrush and flatten down the flyaways on the top of the head and the back of the neck. And, when she fell, her hair didn’t fall out! Also, a lot of people ask me how to take your hair from day to night, and because soft hair is my thing, When you’re doing a ponytail, take the time to take a piece out, wrap it around the elastic, secure with a bobby pin, and then take that natural bristle toothbrush and brush down the flyaways.