On Oscar night this year, almost as memorable as Julia Roberts' dazzling smile and vintage Valentino gown, was a little-mentioned accessory -- her hair, swept back and sealed in a tight, gorgeous bun.
It was a look that conveyed elegance and old-time glamour with a modern twist, a hairdo that Roberts had called on stylist Serge Normant to create in preparing for her big night.
"There was something timeless about the dress," said Normant, a New York-based celebrity hairstylist who took just 40 minutes to coif Roberts the day of the ceremony. "I wanted to convey '60s glamour, something like Audrey-Hepburn-meets-Julia, a look that gave people the impression of going through time, without knowing exactly what time period it was from."
Since moving from Paris to the U.S. 13 years ago, Normant has made a name for himself as a hairstylist whom celebrities turn to for a dramatic new look. When Sarah Jessica Parker recently decided to lop 10 inches off her hair, she called on Normant.
In working on magazine shoots, runway shows and events like the Oscars, he has made retro-inspired celebrity hairstyles his signature for success.
He's given Britney Spears a Natalie Wood innocence and swept up Heather Locklear's wispy blond hair into a contemporary version of a '50s-style chignon, both for Allure magazine. In a new coffeetable book -- Femme Fatale (Viking Studio, $35) -- Normant showcases these hairstyles and others that have been prominent throughout the last century, using pictures of stars like Roberts and Susan Sarandon styled in Betty Boop bobs or '80s Mohawks.
Normant wanted to do the book to stress that women should strive to use their locks to unveil different facets of their personalities.
"I look at hair as an accessory," Normant, 36, recently said over a late lunch of eggs Benedict and cappuccinos in a trendy Chelsea eatery.
"You buy clothes from Gucci, you buy clothes from [Yves] St. Laurent, and they have a definite look," added Normant, who looked every bit the hip Manhattan stylist in his black collared shirt and dark jeans. "Does that mean you're going to wear it all the time? No. Next year, you're going to change your wardrobe, or the year after. Hair should be the same way. You should evolve with it."
He also wanted the book to remind people that glamour exists in many hairstyles -- even contemporary ones.
"When we talk about glamour, we always refer to the old glamour, glamour in the past," Normant said. "We feel nostalgic about the past, and people feel that to be glamorous, we have to repeat some type of glamour from Hollywood that has disappeared. But we've learned a lot from the past, and we can adapt it to looks right now. I wanted to show the range of glamour that has been introduced in the last couple of years."
In his book, Normant makes this point through glossies of model Alek Wek's short hair, elegantly cropped close to her head, former MTV veejay Ananda Lewis with her long, curly tresses tossed about her face, and Christy Turlington with her hair slicked back in an angular David Bowie look. Several who make appearances in the book, including Roberts, Ellen Barkin and Elizabeth Hurley, are friends and longtime clients.
Normant was drawn to hairstyling when he turned 13 and began cutting his mother's hair. He started apprenticing in Paris salons three years later, and by 19 was known as one of the top stylists at the chic Bruno Pittini Salon.
In the late 1980s, he moved to New York to teach styling at Bruno Pittini in Manhattan but left soon after to become a freelance stylist. Since then, he has regularly styled celebs for magazines like Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and W. Designers like Ralph Lauren, Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta also have come to lean on him season after season, using him to style their models backstage during their fashion shows. Normant demurred when asked about his fee, but the stylist reportedly charges $6,000 to $8,000 for a day's work.
Paul Cavaco, creative director of Allure magazine, said Normant has gained respect in the fashion industry for his "great eye for composing hair for photographs."
"When we did Heather Locklear for Allure, we did a sort of like Hitchcock-meets-black-and-
white-television-in-the-'50s," Cavaco said. "He did her with a very severe French twist, which would have made it very Hitchcock, but he modernized it by pulling out all these pieces in it so it wasn't a strict chignon. It became a little more modern, a little freer, a little crazier. You're used to seeing Heather Locklear as a very pretty American woman, but he turned her into a mad character, which was great."
Of his many assignments, Normant said his favorites are studio shoots for magazine spreads.
"I'm a little bit of a control freak," he said, smiling. "The place where I feel the most comfortable is a controlled environment. When we do a shoot, I can control everything."