February 2004: Debra Messing's stylist, Luke O'Connor

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We hope over time to interview all the members of our Hair Fans' Hall of Fame, to gain personal insights from the women you consider to have the best hair. It began with Bonnie Bernstein in December. Now we move on....

DEBRA MESSING was inducted into the hall in 2003, after five years displaying bouncy curls on the TV comedy Will & Grace. They've impressed Hair Fans so much that they've voted her two Crown Awards for "Best Curls" of the year. But as we write this, Messing is quite pregnant - and even if she wasn't, this is a case where the stylist deserves as much credit as the woman for a head of hair's success.

LUKE O'CONNOR has worked on Hollywood productions for years. He also runs the all-comers salon Lukaro with his wife Rona, that's "nestled in the heart of Beverly Hills" as their on-hold phone message puts it. Luke was honored to talk with us by phone about not only Messing's hair, but other celebrities he's handled with care:

SUPER-HAIR: From what we see of Debra, it must be a lot of fun working not only with her, but with her hair as well. Is it?

LUKE O'CONNOR: It's a lot of fun, because she's really into how she looks. I don't mean that in terms of sucking up, but in a professional way. She wants to look her best, so we'll talk about her hair. She uses it as a acting tool. For instance, if there's a scene coming up where she'll have to look really vulnerable, we'll discuss: What does that mean? And we'll come up with something. Or maybe she'll need something cute, something sexy; that's another example. Or if she's going to have her hair pulled, we get ready for that....

S-H: How long have you been working with Debra?

LO:  Eight years.

S-H: Did it start with Will and Grace?

LO: It started before then. I didn't work with her in the salon, or on her old series Ned and Stacy. I worked with Brooke Shields on Suddenly Susan, and she was working on a short-lived series called Pray for ABC. She was doing seven episodes on the Warner Brothers lot, and when she was about to start the first episode, she did not like her hair. She wanted to do a new look. The Pray stylist asked whose hair do you like? And she said, "I like Brooke Shields's hair...."

My wife Rona does her color. She arranged to come in on a Saturday. Debra came in at six in the evening, and we created her curly red hair. At midnight she emerged as a new character....

S-H: It took that long?

LO: It took that long -- because her color was very complex. She was a medium brown, and we use six different colors in her hair. We were talking her into going curly, because she has naturally curly hair....

S-H: We've been confused about that question, a pretty basic one. Is Debra's hair naturally straight or naturally curly?

LO: Naturally curly. Due to her profession, she has a lot of work done with chemicals and whatnot, so it's important to keep it healthy. We assured her we could do it soft with no frizz, so she can take control of the amount of curl with curling irons.

S-H: How would you describe Debra's current style?

LO: Very loose. We're in our sixth season now, and it's gone from curly to less curly to loose, soft curls, loose soft wavy hair. Because of her pregnancy, we're keeping it on the straighter side -- with a lot of body.

I'll give you an example. I use a 1 1/4 inch curling iron. I spiral-wrap hair around the iron, and as I take the hair off the iron, I slightly stretch it as it cools. That creates a very loose wave. I do it in small sections -- sometimes with a little more curl, or a little more volume.

S-H: It's somewhat random?

LO: Yes, somewhat random. It took its toll from all the work she's done, so we've taken precautions to keep her hair healthy. When we started, we were using Thermasilk products, Helene.Curtis Thermalsilk, because they're guaranteed to work with heat. They're activated by heat, so it's kept her hair healthy.

S-H: Do you still use it?

LO: I still use it. I also use deep conditioning with Kerastase.... Masque Intense, a deep, deep conditioner. We use that once a week.

S-H: We saw Debra a couple of weeks ago [mid-January] on the Tonight Show with a great straight style. It looked a bit winged at the side. Did you develop that look for her?

LO:  I didn't do that one.... I'd worked with her that morning on Oprah. The cast of Will and Grace was in Chicago, and we were on the big screen, by satellite.

S-H: Oh, that's right. Oprah's on at nine in the morning in Chicago....

LO: So at 4:30 a.m. we were working on her. I think I straightened it, and didn't even use an iron.... so I think she just took it out of the ponytail, to tell you the truth. During rehearsals sometimes, we put in in a ponytail. Then you pull out the top to give a different softer look, or if you wish, you can put it up in a bun for a fuller, more wavy look.

S-H: So how you pin up the hair can determine how it looks hours later?

LO: Yes, it can.

S-H: How long does it take to prepare Debra's hair for a TV taping?

LO: Forty minutes! We have that down to a T, so I work in small sections, using a curling iron on her entire head....

S-H: And how long does a look like this last? Can it hold up for hours at a time, and in the elements?

LO: It holds up OK. We do touch it up in between shots. If she's in the next scene, I won't mess it up with it again, but it will fall or drop under the lights. The hot lights make it fall. And there's air conditioning in the soundstages. It's very cold, and that can take all the moisture out of the air, and that makes it fall. So we do have to curl it up in between scenes, and that means it's vital to use right product.

S-H: If someone wanted to copy Debra's curls, how would you suggest they go about it?

LO: Both for naturally curly hair and for straight-wavy hair, I'd get a variety -- I'd recommend two different curling irons: one-inch and one-and-a-quarter inch. Then you take the hair in sections, about one-inch sections, and you spiral wrap hair around the curling iron. The big tip is what I said earlier: when you take the hair off the iron, stretch it out a little. You vary that tension with each section you take, and it gives you an inconsistent wave. Else it looks fat, and doesn't look natural.

S-H: And then you work around the hair....?

LO: You work around it. A lot of curly-head clients who've come to me with curly hair -- some of them have hated it, they say it's frizzy. And they ask, how does Grace get her hair? When I say use a curling iron, they ask, why use it? You can adjust the curl, to smooth it out, to lay the cuticle down, to polish it up and adjust the curl. With curly hair it's less damaging; you don't have to hold it up that long -- don't have to hold the iron on the hair that long. I always recommend you use an iron with a thermostat, to control the heat.

S-H: We noticed online you work other celebrities. Let me ask you about Brooke Shields. She has very thick hair...

LO: It's very thick. There's a slight, slight, slight wave to it. Brooke loves to do everything every way but the way it is naturally. She loves texture, so I'll curl her hair the way I curl Debra's. But I prefer not leaving it so curly, because when she's on a TV show all day, it drops into a loose wavy look rather than curls -- even when you start out with curls.

S-H: And what about Lucy Liu?

LO: Her hair is straight, but it has some wave to it. It has body, so it does a lot lighter texture.

S-H: Is thick hair that's straight heavier? A rather basic question there.

LO: Heavier, yes. It's thick and curly, with a lot of body.... Heavy hair isn't necessarily a problem, if you wear it how it will hold up best. It's best to use your natural texture, and try to enhance that, rather than go to far away from that and fight with it all day.

S-H: How long have you been in hairstyling?

LO: Thirty years.

S-H: Is there one woman you've never worked on who you dream of getting your hands on and working with?

LO: Julia Roberts! People ask me that - and I love that question. It's Julia Roberts. That's my kind of hair; it's what we call hairdresser's hair. It's a loose curl, so you can loosen them up as I described; you can do so much with it.... I don't think her hair has ever been done to its fullest potential. But that may have a lot to do with her. She's natural, she's down-to-earth, and doesn't really care -- but I would love to get my hands on her hair.

S-H: What advice in general would you give someone who wanted to develop Super-Hair?

LO: I would say find someone who knows how to cut hair, because it all starts with the cut. Then the rest is common sense, like you hear in the commercials. A lot of hair products are out there; it's just a matter of finding the right one for you -- and using proper shampoos, maintenance at home.

Find a great salon and someone who will consult with you on what cut looks best on you, and howto maintain it. And once they're through, walk 'em through it, how to style it. The stylist will want to do that -- because it's like that old Vidal Sassoon thing: if you don't look good, we don't look good. And that's true.

S-H: Who would you consider to have the best head of hair you've ever seen?

LO: Julia -- You know what? In her younger days, Farrah Fawcett. I used to work with her, but that's different now....

S-H: Turning 57 today [day of the interview]. Hard to believe.

LO: You know, one of my clients is Lee Majors. I've never told him I used to work with Farrah....

S-H: He probably would forgive you at this point! (Laughs)

LO: He probably would. Also, I've worked with Jennifer Aniston on occasion -- and she's also the best hair to have. If you've ever seen it naturally dried and wavy -- that's the best hair to have.

SUMMARY: Luke O'Connor revealed some things we never realized before - perhaps more importantly, how Messing can look only slightly messy on TV. Careful planning can create a loose-looking style, and even one that looks like it's not styled at all. We hope Luke inspires many women to develop better quality curls, even if their hair is straight. And don't overlook how hair is pinned up on "rest days" - because as he pointed out, that can make a difference.

P.S. A year-end review by TV Guide named Messing the "best hair" on television for 2003. We hope O'Connor gets a plaque of his own to display -- for he deserves it!


Super-Hair Q&A Archive:

December 2003 -- Bonnie Bernstein

November 2003 -- Kienji's colossal curls

September 2003 -- Aimee Myer, Aspiring Teen Model

June 2003 -- Deborah Gianoulis, Jacksonville Journalist

May 2003 -- Allison Curran, Best Hairstyle in Athletics

February 2003 -- Danae DeMasi, 2001 Newcomer of the Year

December 2002 -- Shannon Oliver of "The Bachelor"

October 2002 - Carolyn Hughes

August 2002 - Lynne Russell

June 2002 -- Eva Chavela, Rock Singer

April 2002 - Susan McGinnis, Best Bangs/Best Short Hair 2002

December 2001 - Rachael Nama and the "Locklear Look"

November 2001 - Onnie Willis, Gymnastics Champion

August 2001 - Yolanda Davis and The Flip

July 2001 - Miss Georgia 2001, Emily Foster

April 2001 - Cindy Hernandez's Cut of Controversy

November 2000 - Gina Tognoni and the Swing*

July 2000 - Britney Spears "FAQ's"

May 2000 - Shania Twain*

March 2000 - Jessica Simpson*

* Interviews with expert stylists about the woman's hair.

Do you know a woman who's willing to share her secrets of hair success? Is there a particular woman you'd like us to interview? Do you have a question we should ask? Simply e-mail us: .

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