I signed two nondisclosure agreements, flew seven hours from New York City to London, and took a two-hour bus ride to bring you this story. Welcome to Malmesbury: population 7,181, and home to D9, one of the biggest innovation centers in the beauty space.
The D refers to Dyson, the inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner and the brand that made “airwrap” a verb. D9 is just one small part of the company’s 75-acre technology campus. At Dyson’s invitation, I visit an acidic-smelling room filled with millions of dollars worth of 3-D printers; met a scientist who grew his hair down to his shoulders to self-test everything he’s developing; and eat in the company cafeteria, where there is a pizza oven enameled in the exact same shade of fuchsia as the brand’s hot tools.
For the last six years, “Project 553,” now known to the world as the Dyson Airstrait, was coming to life here. Former jet engine and automobile engineers worked on the handheld tool, which went through thousands and thousands of prototypes—all made on those 3-D printers—and harnessed 25 years of airflow research started by the brand’s founder, Sir James Dyson. (Dyson was knighted in 2007, and in 2019, Queen Elizabeth II was photographed at Buckingham Palace with a Dyson fan in the background—which proceeded to sell out almost instantly.)
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Airstrait is a straightener-like device that’s not really a straightener. It’s made for someone who wants straight-ish hair (like if your go-to look at Drybar is the Manhattan) without the risk of damaging it. “There’s nothing else in the world like this device,” says Dyson’s head of product design for hair care, Sam Czerpak, as he’s unsnapping the locks on a black safety briefcase. Inside, the Airstrait is perched on a foam cushion, and at first glance, the blue-and-copper device doesn’t look that much different from the straightener I have waiting for me back in my hotel room.
But once I hold the Airstrait in my hand, there’s clearly something missing: hot plates. If you’ve ever used a straightener right out of the shower, you’ve probably ended up with fried, or literally sizzling, hair. When hair is wet, it’s in its most fragile state, and applying hot plates can break the bonds beyond repair.
But that’s not something to fear when using this device. Instead, the Airstrait employs Dyson’s signature air manipulation. Grab a section of wet hair, and in the second it takes for you to clamp the 2.27-pound device across it, the engine switches from passive to active mode, moving air across the heater until it reaches a non-damaging temperature of 175°F. The air hits hair strands at precisely a 45-degree angle, which tests found was “crucial to being able to straighten and dry at the same time,” according to Czerpak. In development, when the angle was too steep, hair was smooth but took a long time to dry; too shallow, and it dried quickly, but the results were frizzy. (Note: While there might not be a device exactly like Dyson’s on the market, fellow British hair care brand GHD has its own wet-to-dry device, the Duet Style. The difference is that the Duet Style relies on low-temperature hot plates in addition to airflow.)
While its designers tested Airstrait on all hair types, it may be less ideal for those with curly or coily hair. During the tour, my group stopped at Dyson’s on-property salon, and I was the first U.S. beauty editor to try out the device for myself. I sat near curly-hair content gurus and Canadian sisters Mell and Amanda Guido (whose total audience numbers 1.8 million people) to see how it worked for them. They first applied a leave-in conditioner and detangled their hair before using the device, hit the dry setting to finish, and completed styling with a serum. It took Mell 45 minutes to style her 3B/3C hair, while Amanda’s 3B curls (and much longer hair) took an entire hour. Still, those results saved them styling time. My chin-length Italian bob hairstyle? A breezy 15 minutes.
Regardless of hair type, the finished look with the Airstrait is a softer take on straight hair. Think less the pin-straight hair seen on Dua Lipa on the spring 2022 Versace runway and more the bodified Gigi Hadid style seen at the Versace Los Angeles show. “We saw a need for those who wanted a natural straight style and didn’t have the necessary time and skill set to style their hair in a traditional way,” explains senior design engineer Low Chen Nyeow. “It’s a breakthrough for gymgoers, moms, and anyone who wants to look styled.”
At the end of 2022, Dyson announced that it was investing another half a billion British pounds into the beauty space and planning to launch 20 more products in the next four years. There’s a whole lot more innovation waiting for us in D9.
A version of this story appears in the June/July 2023 issue of ELLE.
As ELLE’s beauty editor, Margaux wants to try it all and do it all…and she does. She’s not afraid to chop, slather, dye, swipe, inject, and more—and if it’s worth your time and money, she’ll rave about it here.