If the phrase “French Disco” doesn’t immediately conjure an image in your mind, you’re not alone. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the flashy, leave-it-all-on-the-floor energy of disco can coexist with the effortless, unassuming “French girl” vibe. The two aesthetics couldn’t seem more opposite on the surface—but, as any good artist can tell you, that’s where the magic happens.
In this case, the artist in question is master hairstylist Kevin Murphy. For fashion week, he developed a hairstyle that walks the line between artfully constructed and messy-chic, a blend of ‘70s volume and Parisian sensibilities that he’s dubbed "French Disco."
Inspired by the juxtaposed style, we tapped Murphy himself to give us an expert's take on achieving the look at home. And because no themed hair look is complete without a makeup moment to match, we called upon celebrity makeup artist Kenneth Soh to get his take on the cosmetic version of the trend. Keep reading to learn exactly how to nail the French Disco look.
The key to pulling off a disco-inspired moment is first understanding both pieces of the trend and how they fit together. The ‘70s were defined by gravity-defying hair, platform shoes, plunging necklines, and glossy, color-heavy makeup. Look to the likes of Donna Summer, herself dubbed the Queen of Disco, for an easy reference point—Summer's voluminous curls and penchant for bold blushes epitomize the era's glamour. Olivia Newton-John's infamous Xanadu movie, released at the tail end of the disco era, is also a delightfully bonkers primer on 70s beauty aesthetics—roller skates and all.
On the other end of the spectrum, the quintessential "French girl" aesthetic is marked by inherent coolness; the visual representation of, "Oh, this old thing?" Appearing to have put too much thought or effort into your appearance is a cardinal sin, though the irony is that artfully mussed often takes even longer to achieve than some elaborate looks.
Still, perception is reality, and there are several tips the French follow to make sure nothing seems too forced or unnatural. These include small adjustments, like leaving hair unbrushed, and larger beauty philosophies, like choosing not to correct gapped teeth. Model Caroline de Maigret is a walking representation of "just rolled out of bed" glamour, pairing her signature mop-top bangs and minimal makeup with couture and thrift finds alike. French screen star Sonia Rolland epitomizes a similar sort of uncomplicated beauty, preferring close-cropped pixie cuts to show off her bone structure and immaculate, barely-there makeup.
"In the 1970s, Paris was the epicenter of the fashion world," Murphy explains to Byrdie, outlining the creative process behind his French Disco creation. Legendary French nightclubs like Les Bains Douches (frequented by Basquiat and Mick Jagger) and Le Sept, a gay club thought of as the Parisian equivalent to Studio 54, were jammed with international stars and local socialites.
However, as Murphy notes, the party wasn’t exclusively reserved for the A-list. “If you had the right outfit, smile, and attitude, you were in,” he says. “We created French Disco as a nod to that time and the icons present, but also the inclusive nature."
Though Murphy's style was initially dreamed up for the runway, it's eminently wearable and suitable for all cuts, he tells us. Incorporating the volume and shape of '70s hair with the movement of French style, Murphy describes the look as a more put-together iteration of French messy-chic. “It’s kind of like how you might swish your hair around when you’re going out, and you want to look like you care and look a bit more special,” he explains.
Murphy offers the French Disco style to clients at his blowdry salon, but luckily, the Australia-based stylist told us exactly how we can recreate the look at home.
Get the Look
- After washing hair, towel dry it. Prep damp hair with a styling spray (Murphy likes Ever Bounce ($35) from his eponymous line), evenly applying product from roots to ends.
- Blow out or rough-dry hair.
- Using a curling iron, wrap hair around the barrel the way you would with hot rollers. If you're new to rollers, a good rule of thumb is to always curl the hair back away from your face. Murphy says to choose between a medium- and large-sized curling iron depending on how much movement you want (bigger equals more).
- Wrap curled hair in velcro rollers of corresponding size and allow hair to cool.
- Once fully cooled, remove rollers and carefully comb out curls with a wide-toothed comb. Gently back brush hair with a boar bristle brush, then allow hair to rest.
- Cap things off with a coat of hairspray to lock it in, and finishing spray for shine.
Murphy says to avoid using too much product, since you want your hair to move freely and effortlessly—that's where the French element really comes into play. Appropriately, the stylist mainly cautions against trying too hard. Rather, he suggests, let the hairstyle adapt to you instead of the other way around. "It’s about being yourself and not trying too hard, which is something French Women have always done," he explains.
Shop The Look
Once your touchable, volume-filled hairstyle is in place, it's time to focus on makeup. Celebrity makeup artist Kenneth Soh, who works with stars like Winnie Harlow and Phoebe Dynevor, says the idea of French Disco makeup is an immediately evocative one. "As for all things French, fashion and beauty, everything is always done impeccably and to the exact amount of execution so it’s chic but yet effortless," he says.
Soh's vision for French Disco makeup is clear: "Perfectly-lined eyes with drawn-in lashes, framed with perfect mascara’d lashes to give that doe-like look," he describes. As for the skin, he pictures “a perfect complexion with just a hint of natural glow, like they’ve danced all night on the dance floor.” To finish off the look, he recommends “beautifully lined and filled lips in shimmery rouge-red or a light claret.”
Soh also says that the key to achieving a French Disco makeup look is knowing when to stop. As a rule of thumb for beginners, Soh suggests picking a feature to focus on while keeping the rest of the face relatively simple. If you want all the attention on your eyes, for example, Soh recommends some commanding eyeliner with long, wispy lashes. Keep everything else minimal with tinted moisturizer and lip balm. "The last thing I think a French Disco muse would do is pile everything on,” he says.
Get the Look
Before you start applying your makeup, Soh says to lock everything in with a layer of lightweight moisturizer to "keep skin looking fresh all night." For the doe-eyed look, Soh recommends the Eyeko Sport Waterproof Mascara ($24) and the Kevyn Aucoin The Volume Mascara ($28), both of which he calls his go-to mascaras. To line the eyes (if that's your focal point), Soh says he loves the Too Faced Better Than Sex Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22) and the Marc Jacobs Highliner Liquid-Gel Eyeliner ($14).
Soh suggests some of his favorite stand-out shades for a statement lip: Nars Precision Lipliner in Jungle Red ($24), Charlotte Tilbury Pillow Talk Diamonds in Lucky Diamonds ($34), and Marc Jacobs Beauty Le Marc Liquid Lip Crayon in How Rouge! ($10).
According to Soh, the “effortlessly sexy” French disco look is as timeless as some of the classic ‘70s hits. “Hair with volume, soulful expressive eyes, full and shimmering lips—who wouldn’t want that?”