May 02, 2023

The Best Gels and Hair Tools for Resurrecting The Matrix’s Liquid Hair Looks in 2021

By Arden Fanning Andrews

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The first witnesses to the world's most famous liquid-effect hairstyle recognized its immediate appeal. "Carrie-Anne [Moss] loved her look—it was sharp and sophisticated for the time, but also allowed her a softness without being too girly," remembers Nikki Gooley, the hair designer for 1999's The Matrix, speaking about the actor's transformation into her character, Trinity. Gooley credits the film's writers and directors, Lana and Lilly Wachowski, as visionaries. "The Wachowskis were so well prepared with details of looks. It was a great collaboration," she says, underscoring how precise the styling needed to be to create an alternate reality. "It needed to look modern."

At Saturday's San Francisco premiere of The Matrix Resurrections, the franchise's anticipated fourth installment, attendees like designer Marc Jacobs and actor Madelyn Kline wore slicked-back styles in true Y2K spirit, while Moss's patent-finish hair was designed as a 2021 update, according to Los Angeles–based hairstylist Sunnie Brook. "We wanted to incorporate a nod to the original character," says Brook of the decision to keep the look "feminine but also strong." Meanwhile, futuristic spin-offs of the style have been seen on the recent runways, too, from Eckhaus Latta in New York to Balenciaga in Paris. "The Matrix is so iconic—combining technology, ideas on futurism, transcendence, and, most important, major fashion looks," says hairstylist Tamara McNaughton, who created aerodynamic gelled hair for Eckhaus Latta's block party-style presentation. "We all collectively feel a little sci-fi," says McNaughton of life in 2021. "The ideas of personal strength, pushing boundaries, and forging new paths seem fitting."

From left: Elliot Page at this fall's Balenciaga show. A slicked-back look from the spring 2022 Eckhaus Latta runway. Carrie-Anne Moss at the premiere of The Matrix Resurrections.

Ahead of the new film's December 22 premiere (in theaters and on HBO Max), here are 13 products and tools for resurrecting The Matrix's liquid-hair moments—from the actual pomade used in 1999 to today's runway-tested formulas.

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Carrie-Anne Moss Nikki Gooley, Lana Lilly Wachowski, Marc Jacobs Madelyn Kline Sunnie Brook. Tamara McNaughton, Holli Smith Elliot Page, Ella Emhoff More Great Stories From Vanity Fair