by Sarah Brown, Vogue
"Mousse, mousse, mousse," says the hairstylist Guido Palau, a smile curling at the edge of his mouth. "It's such a funny word. No one calls it foam. It's mousse."
The shaving cream-like styling whip -- which shot out of a can and expanded into a perfumed cumulus cloud in the palm of one's hand -- was a pillar of the 1980s, in what the hairstylist Tim Rogers calls "the good old days of the scrunch." It was the age of gravity-defying bangs, crispy curls, and teased, tangled hair sculptures no comb could get through. Big hair was everything, and mousse -- weightless, fast-drying, body-building -- was what got you there.
"In the beginning of mousse, I just couldn't live without it," recalls Orlando Pita, who began his career as a hairdresser in New York in 1984, one year before L'Oréal launched its Studio Line mousse in the white can decorated with red, blue, and yellow geometric squares. "Everybody used that product. It smelled great; it was so much fun to play with. It was amazing."
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But then eighties fluff made way for nineties sleek; pomades, smoothing serums, and conditioning creams moved in. People wanted hair they could actually run their fingers through. Mousse acquired "a bad reputation," says Madison Avenue salon owner Oscar Blandi.
Now, "all of a sudden it's the go-to product," says Palau. At the fall collections, he used it to mold the short, punky Edie Campbell-inspired wigs at Marc Jacobs ("It can define a shape -- a body spray wouldn't do the same thing," he explains) and reached for it again at Prada to create the caught-in-the-rain grunge-glamour look that ended up defining the season. "I remembered, in 1985, when you did use mousse, you'd sort of scrunch your hair up and it'd stay half wet, sort of crinkly; so at Prada, when I needed to achieve a wet look -- but not wet, so it didn't damage the clothes -- I just put tons of mousse in the hair, raked it through, and let it dry."
Among mousse's merits: It noticeably thickens limp locks; it decimates frizz. "I don't know anything that spreads in the hair better," says Pita. "In less than a minute, you can get the perfect texture and walk out the door," adds Miami-based editorial stylist Oribe. "Women want easy."
Oribe has lately become so taken with mousse that he has three new versions of it -- one for body, one for curls, another for tousled, beachy waves -- coming out this month. Why now? "It's the first time in 20 years that short hair's working," he says. "Everyone's so tired of that 'glam' hair. Mousse is great for short hair."
As the times have changed, so has mousse. The old, dulling, drying, alcohol-drenched versions -- which flaked off throughout the day, taking your style down with it -- have been replaced by new formulas designed to create soft, shiny, "touchable" hair that swings around the way actual hair should, yet somehow keeps its shape.
Oribe went to great lengths to develop his Grandiose volume-building mousse to "stay intact -- in a ball," like a springy dollop of crème fraîche. "You can throw it up in the air and it will land back in your hand," he says. "It has structure, as opposed to those watery things that run through your hands, which feel dated. This feels futuristic."
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Among the new formulas, many contain ingredients borrowed from skin care (hyaluronic acid in Oscar Blandi's Hair Lift, collagen in Kérastase's Mousse Substantive, argan oil in Moroccanoil Volumizing Mousse); others claim to bring out highlights (Klorane's Mousse with chamomile) and even color-correct -- preventing bottle-blondes and brunettes from becoming brassy (Color Wow). Living Proof's Full mousse contains a "thickening" molecule developed in MIT's research labs. Rogers, the company's creative director, uses it for everything from "the most beautiful, smooth, round-brush blow-out, like 1940s Rita Hayworth waves" to edgier air-dried looks. "I'm all about Daria's haircut -- that wide little bob," he says of model Daria Werbowy's laid-back chin-length chop.
For all of mousse's new magic, it never really went away. In the United States, John Frieda sells four cans every minute. Their Frizz-Ease Curl Reviver mousse -- which Odile Gilbert used to create the rumpled SoCal surfer-girl hair at Rodarte's fall show -- is 20-years-old. Out of 33 products in Redken's styling line, Guts 10, a "targeted spray foam," is the company's top seller.
"I suppose it's the whipped feeling that feels right again," says Palau. "There's a luxury to it." Plus, "I like the sound when it comes out of the can."
Click through the slideshow below for pro tips from fashion's top hairstylists:
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