Ilham Mestour is a perfectionist. Her attitude to hairstyling is based on the definitive principles of technique and craftsmanship. “Everything has to have a synergy and look right. Every detail has to work, every hair has to be in place,” she explains. It’s no wonder then, that the one hair trend she would like to see disappear is the “just got out of bed” look. In her two decades in the industry, Mestour has worked alongside the best of the business, from designers to celebrities, showcasing her talents and helping to develop those of the future.
She was born in Casablanca, and her family moved to the Netherlands when she was still a baby. They returned to their hometown when she was eight. They spent the following six years in Morocco, and Mestour fondly remembers her grandfather’s work ethic and how he used to make fun of her as she struggled to brush and blow dry her aunts’ hair after hamman. “I was raised in a culture where women spent a few hours a week at the hairdresser. My belief is that hair is the most valuable asset of every woman,” she says. After moving back to the Netherlands for school, Mestour joined an academy for hairdressing.
“Working every day on your hobby is anything but a punishment,” she explains of her decision to pursue a career in hairdressing. However, it wasn’t until she spotted a flyer promoting a course for fashion session hairstyling that she was introduced to a whole other world. “Arriving to the class, the educators introduced themselves and showed us pictures of the fashion shows in Milan and Paris,” she says. “I remember thinking to myself, this is not hairstyling, this is art!” She asked to work for her teacher on minimum wage, and ended up in a saloon frequented by the Dutch fashion industry, including models, photographers, and actors. By delving into the history of bygone icons and learning different haircuts along the way, she soon discovered the work of legendary hairstylist Luigi Murenu.
Her big break came a decade ago, with a chance to prove her skill to Murenu and work in his team. Her first show was Viktor & Rolf; ballroom-like chignons the look du jour. After learning the style down to the last detail, Mestour was shocked to discover that she wasn’t allowed to touch hair. Instead, she was to hand hairclips and spray to senior artists. Staying sharp, she persevered, and an opportunity arose to jump in. Murenu declared her work “perfection” and she was given another model to work on.
Fashion weeks became a marathon for Mestour. She learned how to perform under pressure and to stay calm and focused. In her eight years working in Murenu’s team, she found herself backstage at Gucci, Valentino, Rick Owens, and Zac Posen. Murenu also introduced her to Naomi Campbell and Mestour started to work and travel with her. Opportunities with Queen Máxima of the Netherlands and models Imaan Hammam, Doutzen Kroes, Linda Spiering, and Marie-Ange Casta followed. Spiering in particular inspired Mestour. “We started to talk about her career and working with the legendary Azzedine Alaïa,” she says. “She introduced me to Alaïa and I got the chance to be chief stylist for a special charity project.” This led to working as head stylist on designer Sophie Theallet’s shows in New York, alongside makeup maestro Tom Pecheux. “In life, you find people on your path who you can learn from. Also people who believe in you, reach out to lend you a hand, and give you a chance,” she says.
She’s sharing this knowledge with young talent in the industry, as host and judge of the TV show Next Hair Guru. As global artistic director of Keune Hair Cosmetics and global beauty expert for Philips Haircare, she’s keen on developing young talent and offering them opportunities. “I want to show the next generation that there are still people who are welcoming and willing to give you a chance,” she says.
Photography, Duy Vo; Hair, Ilham Mestour; Makeup, Kathinka Gernant at Unspoken; Style, Jetteke van Lexmond; Nails, Jessica Scholten at NLC; Models Cato van Ee, Kim van der Laan, Mandy de Wolff, Lieke van Houten at Paparazzi Model Management
Originally printed in the November 2017 issue of Vogue Arabia.