Balmain's Master Hair Designer on the Cut of the Moment and Why You Should Bring Gelato to Your Next Consultation

Nabil Harlow has a lot of great ideas—especially about ice cream.

Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid
(Image credit: Getty)

With the international launch of Balmain Hair Couture this week—the same historic atelier that makes those strong-shouldered, nipped-waist dresses celebrities of all genres have been fond of wearing lately—the world just got a little bit chicer/better smelling. This is in large part thanks to Nabil Harlow, 31, who recently made history when he was appointed the house's master hair designer. (Do you know of any another brand with a creative director of hairstyling? Didn't think so.)

In honor of his new gig (not to mention Balmain's Silk Hair Perfume becoming available in 170 countries), we sat down with him to talk what he even *does,* the cut of the moment, and the surprising job he once took to pay for extensions.

Nabil Harlow

Just guess.

(Image credit: Terry Tsiolis)

Master Hair Designer—what does that mean?

"It's about creating trends. We're doing a new image for the brand for hair, and we going to come up with a new campaign that we're going to shoot very early July that's launching in September. And we're going to do a new trend book as well. For now, I've been working on a lot of extensions, hair products, shampoo.

It's a challenge for me because I'm a hair stylist, and now, I'm stepping into art direction and making a campaign and putting my vision completely in this—so how I see the woman, how I want the woman to be."

What's your idea of Balmain Hair?

"The vision for me is a woman who is very natural. I don't like things when they're too done. I like beautiful texture, and I think it's very important to have healthy hair. So many girls want to keep their hair very long, but the hair is damaged and they don't take care of it properly.

I like hair when it's full. I don't like hair that's too layered—we've seen that a lot the last 10 years, and I think to have very thick, nice hair is the thing right now. We don't care about the length—the length is about how you feel—but to have some very graphic, full hair is the best right now. Like a long bob touching the shoulders. I think that's very sexy."

And what about color?

"I like colors to be natural. You can be a brunette who is a blonde, but it has to look like a nice blonde. I don't like highlights, like all the streaky highlights, the foil work. I like some natural balayage. I'm definitely over ombré. I think it can work on a few girls—it's really that girl who is bohemian, like Vanessa Paradis. Ombré really looks natural on them—it looks like they were in the sun and that's it. But to actually go and do an ombré right now—people need to get over that. I'm ready to see the girls get their colors back, like a nice, warm brown. I want hair to look like ice cream—like when the texture and color fold and curve like an Italian ice cream you want to eat because it's so nice."

Who would be in your Balmain army?

"That I can't tell yet because it's a surprise, but I really love celebrities and performers, and I love whom [Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing] loves too. But I also want to work with people I love who are very important to me. Winona Ryder—I think she's one of the most inspiring actresses from my generation. Do you know Dracula? It was genius. She was perfect—the way she moved, her hair, her makeup, her clothing. She's a great actress."

Uh, I've noticed a few modeling photos on your to explain?

"I did a little bit modeling back then. It was to pay for school—I never had any interest in modeling. I didn't want to go into that. I did it because it was very convenient, and you know hair is very expensive. When you start doing hair and you have to buy all those wefts and extensions and wigs, you have to find the money somewhere. So for me, it was the easy way to make some money to get where I am now."

And look where you've gotten. What do you hope to accomplish?

"For now, what I want to achieve is to do my job and to do better than what they expect of me. I'm very excited about this project right now. To be honest with you, I think about the future, and I'm like, "What am I going to do next, what am I going to do next?" But for now, I'm so into this.

Olivier did such a great job and it helped me because he opened the door and people love Balmain. I hope people will like what I want to provide and that they will understand the message I'm trying to give to them. I just want people to see what I see. For me, there's not a hairstylist who's better—it's just someone having his own vision. Someone can like it. Someone can not like it. It's about taste—the only thing you can't change is taste."

Chelsea Peng
Assistant Editor

Chelsea Peng is a writer and editor who was formerly the assistant editor at She's also worked for The Strategist and Refinery29, and is a graduate of Northwestern University. On her tombstone, she would like a GIF of herself that's better than the one that already exists on the Internet and a free fro-yo machine. Besides frozen dairy products, she's into pirates, carbs, Balzac, and snacking so hard she has to go lie down.