Red carpet hair can be tiresome. Even Monday at the Met Gala, which is known for bolder fashions and hairstyles than Hollywood awards shows, you could have bet your blow dryer there would be an ingénue with “effortless” beach waves or a more “serious” actress going for the shock of an impenetrably sleek blowout.
That the menu has become as predictable as the one at your local Drybar is disheartening. These are women, after all, who make their money on their image (and, yes, sometimes their talent).
That is, unless you’re a client of Adir Abergel.
Mr. Abergel, a stylist based in Los Angeles, has been steadily leading his roster of actresses down more challenging paths. The simple yet stunning gold-twined braids Saoirse Ronan wore to the Golden Globes in January? Mr. Abergel’s innovative way of eschewing hair accessories.
“It’s about being creative,” he said, admonishing those who reach too quickly for a barrette.
Kristen Stewart’s post-“Twilight” oily strands? The stylist’s personal mission to “bring back grunge and break that mold of classic Hollywood hairdos,” he said.
Or how about the parade of Rooney Mara updos that have ranged from geisha robot to neo-warrior? The result is a mutual collaboration Mr. Abergel is grateful for.
“Rooney likes to wear her hair back — most women don’t,” he said. “You really start to think about form and texture and shape in a different way. She really pushes me.”
A few days before he styled Ms. Stewart’s hair for the Met Gala (a punk-hacker chic coif with bleached white strands defined by a single cornrow), Mr. Abergel, 38, was dressed casually for a late breakfast at Gemma in the Bowery Hotel. His clothes were monochromatic, but he had accessorized with a silver and turquoise statement necklace and gold wire earrings that looped dizzyingly around his lobes like gilded bird nests.
With his anything-goes personal style and ready laugh, it is easy to imagine him cajoling a client into letting her freak flag fly. Why not the leather-bound topknot?
(Or as Ms. Stewart put it in a text message: “Adir has a forward energy. It moves everyone around him.”)
But that is not his sole point, Mr. Abergel insists. Rather, as a hairstylist, he advocates individuality. Not all his of ladies are of the intrepid Ms. Mara variety.
“I have clients like Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Garner who are classic beauties,” he said. “It’s not even that they wouldn’t go there. It wouldn’t fit who they are as a person.”
Mr. Abergel is also forthright. “I know I am a talented hairdresser,” he said, but he also knows that celebrity hairstyling requires additional skills, like being able to bring a difficult actress out of a high-and-mighty funk.
For Ms. Garner, his longest-running celebrity client (they met “when she was just an ‘Alias’ baby,” he said), he stands out because of what she calls his “uncanny ability to walk into a room, read the energy, melt into it and then shift anything funky to fabulous.”
It helps that he has a nurturing personality. “It’s the Israeli-Moroccan in me,” he said. “I grew up with my family hosting a 20-person Shabbat dinner every Friday night.”
Mr. Abergel grew up in Jerusalem and Los Angeles, the son of a human-rights activist and a painter. He took an early interest in women’s hair by experimenting on his mother’s friends. He was sidetracked only temporarily in his early teens by the club scene in New York, where he lived from 13 to 16. (“I wanted to be a dancer,” he said.)
When he returned to Los Angeles, he landed a plum job as an assistant to the stylist Arthur Johns. Only 16 at the time, he had marched into Mr. Johns’s salon and brazenly declared him his mentor. “He was doing everyone from Olivia Newton-John to Chaka Khan to Tina Turner,” Mr. Abergel said.
But it was not only Mr. Johns who taught him “the foundation of hair.” The starry clientele had plenty to say, too. Regulars like Edie Adams (an actress and singer in the ’50s and ’60s who died in 2008) would share the secrets behind their signature ’dos, which became a lasting influence.
“Hair is really about architecture,” Mr. Abergel said, noting that red carpet hair needs to last through the carpet, premiere and after-party. That deceptively simple blowout on his client Gwyneth Paltrow? There are secret daubs of mousse at the roots to create lasting volume.
By the time Mr. Abergel struck out on his own, he had already begun to build a reputation. At 26, he worked in London for a year, assisting European hair greats like Odile Gilbert and Julien d’Ys, and taking on clients like Sienna Miller and Maggie Q. It was in London that he began to realize that Los Angeles stylists lacked fresh inspiration, instead reaching for the same old images of Rita Hayworth and Veronica Lake.
“L.A. doesn’t have street style, which affects the way you interact with your craft,” he said, adding that when he travels, he takes time to sit and observe street fashion and hair trends.
And despite our image-oriented age, he thinks that originality has been lost. If he searches Pinterest for, say, “edgy, structural updos, the images are all homogenized,” he said. “The boards reference the same images over and over.”
Aside from the Met Gala, Mr. Abergel was in New York exploring opportunities for a hair-care line of his own — not just for the money, he said, but to take back some control over his time. (No surprise that celebrity hairstylists are often at the mercy of … well, celebrities.)
“I have my own life,” he said, including a husband, who, as an immunologist, “is actually doing things to save the world.” He wants to start a family. “Being pregnant would be my dream,” he said. (The couple hope to adopt down the line.)
In the meantime, Mr. Abergel has his ladies to tend to, many of whom have become friends, if not nearly family. Ms. Garner said, “I have no secrets from him.”