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Vic­to­ria DiPlacido meets her high-tech hairstyling match.

ELLE (Canada) - - Beauty -

The iconic, min­i­mal­ist Chanel No. 5 fra­grance bot­tle is get­ting a lim­ited-edi­tion hol­i­day makeover—and what be­fits the spirit of Coco Chanel her­self more than a fes­tive and fiery red? Chanel No. 5 Red Edi­tion Eau de Par­fum Spray ($198 for 100 mL). For de­tails, see Shop­ping Guide.

LAST JULY, I RE­CEIVED an in­trigu­ing email from Dyson. We’re launch­ing a new, highly em­bar­goed beauty prod­uct, said the pub­lic-re­la­tions rep. Sign this waiver and we’ll tell you more. This wasn’t my first ex­pe­ri­ence with the brand; I knew the drill. Two years ago, when Dyson launched its game-chang­ing hair dryer—the ul­tra­lightweight, quick-dry­ing, fu­tur­is­tic-look­ing Su­per­sonic—it was dis­cussed us­ing a code name, and I was only al­lowed to try it out in the pres­ence of a brand rep. So I signed and re­turned the waiver. The prod­uct was un­der lock and key at Dyson HQ—I’d need to visit to get any more in­tel. We’ll also need a hair sam­ple, added the PR rep. Are you in? †

Two weeks later, I ar­rive at the sprawl­ing Dyson tech­nol­ogy cam­pus in Malmes­bury, a cou­ple of hours drive out­side of Lon­don, where I’m fi­nally in­tro­duced to the mys­te­ri­ous Air­wrap. The sleek de­vice is con­ven­tion­ally de­scribed as a “styling tool”—but that de­scrip­tor, I would soon learn, be­lies the genius of the de­sign.

“We de­velop prod­ucts to solve prob­lems,” says Veron­ica Ala­nis, a de­sign en­gi­neer who spent two and a half years work­ing on the prod­uct. And the prob­lems with tra­di­tional styling tools, it turns out, are nu­mer­ous: scorch­ing-hot tem­per­atures (when hair is sub­jected to any­thing above 150ºC, it loses its abil­ity to re­turn to its nat­u­ral shape), the strug­gle to lock in a style (think blink-and-they ’re­flat curls) and seem­ingly con­tra­dic­tory goals (e.g., smooth hair that isn’t flat). Dyson found that to nav­i­gate these is­sues, most women own at least three heat-styling tools. Its so­lu­tion: one tool that works on damp hair to dry, smooth, curl and add vol­ume, to vary­ing de­grees, with­out ex­treme heat.

So how does it work? Brace your­self for the sci­ence bit: When hair is wet, the hy­dro­gen bonds that line it break, prim­ing it to be styled and set into shape. The Air­wrap is able to keep temps low be­cause it uses a pow­er­ful V9 mo­tor and cus­tom de­sign to cre­ate an air­flow that takes ad­van­tage of a phe­nom­e­non called the Coanda ef­fect, which, in layper­son’s terms, says that high-ve­loc­ity air will al­ways at­tach to and fol­low the curve of a sur­face. IRL, this means hair whips around the curl­ing bar­rel and suc­tions to the smooth­ing brush in an oddly sat­is­fy­ing way that looks mag­netic.

Dyson oc­cu­pies a unique po­si­tion in the world of hair care, pri­mar­ily be­cause it doesn’t iden­tify as a hair brand but, rather, as a tech­nol­ogy com­pany. And just like it em­ploys an in-house army of de­sign­ers, en­gi­neers, mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gists and sci­en­tists to cre­ate bench­mark-set­ting vac­u­ums, fans and, soon, elec­tric cars, it spared no ex­pense (an as­ton­ish­ing $41.2 mil­lion) fig­ur­ing out what goes into mak­ing hair look great. That kind of re­search takes time; work on the Air­wrap be­gan at the same time as it did on the Su­per­sonic hair dryer six years ago. Dyson is rewrit­ing the hair-care rule book—that’s why the com­pany is so in­tent on se­crecy—and the level of in­no­va­tion is re­flected in the price points.

“We don’t just want our tools to op­er­ate—we want them to per­form re­ally well,” Rob Smith, man­ager of the re­search, de­sign and de­vel­op­ment team, tells me and a small group of in­ter­na­tional edi­tors, all of us decked out in white lab coats and arm bands that read “PRESS” lest we be mis­taken for em­ploy­ees as we snake through the cam­pus’ maze­like se­ries of labs. “In or­der for them to do that, we need to un­der­stand, sci­en­tif­i­cally, hair, its struc­ture and what dam­ages it.”

In the metrol­ogy lab, Smith and his team push hair sam­ples to their lim­its—bleach­ing, heat­ing, pulling— and then mea­sure the re­sults. It’s here that I’m handed the re­sults of my own hair sam­ple, which had been placed un­der an elec­tron mi­cro­scope and mag­ni­fied 600-fold so the jagged scale­like cu­ti­cles

on the strands would be ev­i­dent. The goal of tests like this is to cre­ate a bench­mark of the hair qual­ity and en­sure that us­ing the Air­wrap does not cause any dam­age over time.

Ad­mit­tedly, there is a learn­ing curve to us­ing the Air­wrap. The tech­nique is not in­tu­itive. In­stead of man­u­ally wrap­ping hair around the bar­rel of the curl at­tach­ment, you take a sec­tion of hair, hold it half­way down and point the bar­rel to the ends. Ini­tially, I was hes­i­tant, wor­ried it would wrap into some unimag­in­able tan­gle. But dur­ing a demo of the tool in Dyson’s hair lab, hair­styl­ist and Dyson Canada am­bas­sador Matthew Collins prom­ises me it’s not a con­cern and sticks the wand hap­haz­ardly into his shoul­der-length hair to prove his point. (It comes out cleanly, with no hair harmed.)

Min­utes later, I’m a con­vert. I love the con­ve­nience of us­ing just one tool to both dry and style my long, fine hair, and I’m able to get more body and vol­ume with just the smooth­ing brush at­tach­ment than I usu­ally do us­ing my pad­dle brush and hair dryer. The Air­wrap does have its lim­i­ta­tions: Feed­back from users with type-4 hair (that’s the end of the curl spec­trum) said that while the prod­uct helped speed up the styling process, it isn’t a one-and-done styling­tool so­lu­tion like it is for straight- or wavy-hair types.

Cur­rently, the com­pany is open­ing health and beauty labs around the world. The goal is to be ex­perts not only in hair the­ory but in spe­cific types of hair as well. “We will know ev­ery­thing about Asian hair, ev­ery­thing about Latin hair,” Ala­nis of­fers as ex­am­ples. Un­doubt­edly the com­pany is al­ready work­ing on more mind-blow­ingly in­no­va­tive hair prod­ucts, but Ala­nis is char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally se­cre­tive when I ask what could be next. A so­lar-pow­ered straight­en­ing iron? A hands-free hair dryer? What­ever it is, I ea­gerly await the next email from the brand to land in my in­box. ®

Dyson Air­wrap Vol­ume + Shape ($600). For de­tails, see Shop­ping Guide.

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