BEIRUT: The trendsetters of Beirut’s coiffure culture are found not among the elite clubs or high-end shops in Downtown, but throwing back Almazas in the pub-lined alleyways of Hamra, dancing in basement parties, and likely driving a hand-me-down car that can barely chug up to Harissa.
“You can see it, the trendy haircuts come from the street,” said Charbel Kairouz, hair stylist at Hair Dreams Beauty Lounge in Dbayyeh. “Now it’s coming back, the short cut on one side, or a very short crop in the back.”
The beauty scene in Lebanon remains largely dedicated to the pinup perfection of its lady pop stars: pouty lips, long blown-out hair and dramatic eyes. But a subculture of edgy, androgynous and more natural beauty is taking hold amid the ultra-femmes who have typified Lebanese style for generations.
Handfuls of modern young women have donned the ultra-short pixie cut. Others have shaved part – or in very rare cases all – of their head. Even men have taken up the shaving trend by creating a dramatic, artificial part on the side of their heads.
“It’s definitely getting more trendy,” said Joelle Chemali, a 20-something consultant at Lush cosmetics in Beirut Souks. Chemali’s hair is styled in a short pixie cut and died a light brown.
Her colleague Samah al-Hamawi said she too had very short hair that has since grown past her ears. The young women agreed that Lebanon’s elderly and narrow-minded often found their look audacious.
“It was mostly old men or very young children who would come up to me and ask, ‘are you a boy or a girl?’” Hamawi said, lightheartedly.
While their numbers are growing, hair stylist Kairouz said the percentage of his clients asking for very short hair or edgy cuts is still very small. And most women are looking for ways to keep a degree of femininity in spite of short hair.
For instance, Kairouz will keep the hair long in the front around the face, but cut it very short at the back of the neck, he said.
The girls at Lush said many will turn pixie cuts more girly by adding very large faux-flower accessories, which have become popular for all hair lengths.
For some occasions, the pressure to conform to traditional beauty standards can override even the edgiest short do. Kairouz said women who have a short haircut often opt for a more traditional look for weddings, going to him for hair extensions before these kinds of special events.
The pixie cut is not for every woman – head shape, ear size or other points of insecurity can discourage the look.
For those keeping their long hair, some opt to shave a patch above one of their ears. Others are following pop star Maya Diab’s lead and coloring their hair a dark sandy blonde, instead of platinum. Still others have embraced the ombre trend – a dark base that halfway down the head lightens gradually to a blonde.
But beauty experts say women are taking up subtler rejections of Lebanon’s nip-and-tuck culture.
For example, Kairouz said brides and younger wedding-goers are increasingly interested in looking more natural.
“We had many weddings this year, the brides are asking for very natural things, sometimes hair styles with just two clips,” he said.
“I think, ‘no, you’re [the] bride, you have to look different.’ But they are not used to doing a lot of styling.”
The bustling Lebanon branch of Lush, a U.K. brand of all-natural beauty products, points to a growing interest in not only a natural look, but also all-natural cosmetics, said Lina Tannir, vice chair of Lush Lebanon.
“They are more aware of the health hazards,” she said.
The women at the shop agreed that the most popular cosmetic items among the rainbow of vibrant lipsticks and eye shadows on offer are a subtle gold shadow, “Ambition”-red lipstick and a sparkly purple liner.
“Mostly customers want colors that are long-lasting and very natural, lots of pinks and browns,” Tannir said.
Chemali offered one explanation for red lipsticks flying off the shelf: A trend of pairing dramatic, lower-lid eye makeup with dark red lips and un-rouged cheeks.
The delicious-smelling shop also had completely run out of its mascara, which has only one preservative in comparison to the standard eye-stinging, highly chemical tubes in pharmacies, Tannir said.
And Lush’s line of vegan shampoos and conditioners are attracting the country’s scarce number of eaters who eschew all animal products. “I didn’t even know there were vegans in Lebanon until people came to buy these,” Hamawi said with a laugh.
Makeup artist Talal Morcos said most of his clients ask to look their best regardless of the trends. He’s seen little-to-no interest in a particular makeup look, except that Lebanese women prefer a Goldilocks approach to makeup: Not too much, not too little.
As for tattoo makeup, which has undeniably taken hold in the country, Morcos discourages it. It dulls with time to unattractive colors and the skin can reject it and scar, he said.
So for now, like any growing subculture, edgy coiffure and natural makeup remain dominated by the traditional conception of beauty: Go ultra-feminine or go home and change.