Atelier Benoît Poirier d'Ambreville

Revolver – Benoit Poirier Comte d’Ambreville

From high fashion model to Santiago’s hottest hair stylist – The amazing life story of hair stylist Benoit d’Ambreville had me hanging from the edge of his salon chair.

He has lived and styled in Paris, London, New York City and Monaco. “And I end up in Santiago,” he laughs, flicking his cigarette, “but I fucking love it here, you know?”

Since moving to Chile two years ago, d’Ambreville has juggled writing his monthly Parati column with styling hair for glossy magazine shoots. He plans the opening of his exclusive Santiago hair salon, Atelier Benoit Poirier d’Ambreville for September 2010.

On top of years of experience with hair, the French stylist has modeled for names including Giorgio Armani Privè, Moschino and Calvin Klein, on the high-fashion runways of the world.

With his looks (think a quirky Jude Law), the London modeling scene was quick to call, and he was spotted by a Models One photographer while working as a stylist at Trevor Sorbie.

Then in ’94, Marky Mark’s famous Calvin Klein underwear campaign exploded onto buses and billboards around London and everything changed.

“Almost overnight, the model-ideal of slender and tall was replaced by rippling and buff. However NYC still wanted a thinner, longer look, so there I went,” he explains.

At 27 he was too old for the runway, but his London-New York modeling career- and the connections it afforded him- gave him an edge over other hair stylists. Holding your own hair station in a top salon takes three or four years in NYC. For d’Ambreville, it took one and a half.

This, says d’Ambreville, caused ‘bad politics’ among the other long-time assistants at Warren Tricomi salon. “But I didn’t give a shit,” he shrugs. Revealing the cutthroat attitude, necessary to survive in such a competitive world he adds, “I was not there to make friends.”

Though trained to cut hair by L’Oréal Paris, d’Ambreville is primarily a colour expert. His highlighting technique -wrenched from the 70’s salons of Europe- is called Balayage.

“This is the only way the stars and models highlight their hair,” d’Ambreville explains, “and I am the only stylist in Chile who offers it.”

I ask if Balayage is similar to foil highlights and he looks at me aghast. “Foil highlights are not natural at all. There is no creativity- it’s just a pattern. Yet women still pay between US$400 to 600 in New York for foil!”

“With Balayage I look at your hair, how it falls, the movement, the plantation, how the light hits each strand- then I enhance it. I paint onto the hair.” He fiddles with my own hair at the front- showing me which strands he would select. “If foil highlights are like buying clothes in a shop, Balayage would be couture.”

He has me convinced, but wary of his high standards I ask about the salon prices.

“At the moment they are lower, because I haven’t opened my official salon” he says. In my apartment in Bellavista I charge from $CP 50,000 (US$100) for a full head of Balayage on medium-long hair.” d’Ambreville – who doesn’t offer a half head jokes, “would you wax half your bikini line, or get a pedicure on only one foot?!”

“I am starting to get elite Chileans coming to me now,” says d’Ambreville. “Before, it was all foreigners. When my salon is open it will be very discreet- for my VIPs- up off the street in a separate apartment, and by appointment only.

I ask if he’d found an assistant that would meet his standards. “No, but I will go to the most expensive beauty school in Santiago. People who go to those schools have to really want it, whether they have found the money themselves or persuaded their rich parents. No one wants their child (especially son) to go into this trade. Mine certainly didn’t!”

I ask if he has styled anyone famous and he laughs at me. “Do you want to know the ones you can write about or the ones you can’t?” I ask for both. “You can print Ricky Martin, Mandy Moore, Karen Carreno and Melania Trump. There are more but I had to sign non-disclosure agreements.”

When I asked why, he tells me many stars – particularly divas of African descent- have ruined their hair. “They are straightening and using so many chemicals from such a young age, it just falls out. There are bald patches.”

“I once styled some Dubai princesses,” he begins another amazing tale, “I had to sign a disclosure saying I was homosexual. Otherwise I couldn’t touch the women.”

So why Chile? With such a sassy exterior, his homely response surprises me. “My sister married a Chilean and moved to Santiago 19 years ago. Then in 2007 my mum moved here. So I decided to finally check Chile out.”

“Basically I saw a lot of potential here. In NYC I couldn’t go any higher. There are only so many elite clients to go around, and there are many big names in hair who made their names in the 80s. You have to wait for someone to literally die so you can get a share of the clientele. I would have to kill Vidal Sassoon!”

“And I saw the spark here in Santiago- people are making money- it reminded me of New York in the 80’s. It has the same energy.”

To book an appointment with Benoit d’Ambreville call +56 985281848

Salon Atelier Benoit Poirier d’Ambreville is officially open. Calle Ernesto Pinto Lagarrigue, Bellavista, Santiago.

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