CAMBRIDGE — Poor Jennifer Aniston was miserably cold, but at least her beloved tresses looked fantastic.
Sitting in what will soon be a hybrid lab and retail space in Kendall Square, Aniston was wearing a little black dress, but it was covered by a borrowed track jacket. Her hands gripped an oversize cup of tea.
Aniston was enduring the damp chill of Cambridge last week to check the progress at the first retail space of the hair care company that she co-owns. Living Proof is currently sold online and in stores, but the company is opening its first free-standing store in Kendall Square at the end of August. It’s not opening here because Aniston is a fan of our delayed springs, but because the formulas used in the shampoos, conditioners, and a host of styling products, were developed by an MIT scientist.
When she enthusiastically explains how it all works, the ghost of Cher’s 1990s hair care infomercials with Lori Davis comes to mind. But this is Aniston after all, a woman known for sporting the biggest, most popular hairstyle of the 1990s: The Rachel.
“That somehow happened . . . yeah,” she said of her hair icon status. “I didn’t want to feed into that so much, but this was different. I was asked to partake in the ownership so I would have creative input. And having sat in a chair for the past 25 years getting my hair styled, I’ve seen everything. This was different.”
Aniston was at a loss to describe the technology behind the products, but it happened something like this: MIT Koch Institute professor Robert Langer teamed with fellow scientists to create Living Proof. A team of medical, pharma, and biotech scientists from outside the beauty industry were brought in to look for new solutions to hair care problems. In 2008, the team discovered a humidity-blocking molecule. That was the breakthrough that convinced Aniston to get involved a few years later.
“I just watch them,” she said of the scientific team. “I go into the lab. I see them explain about the molecules and we see the demonstrations of the dirt tests. It’s all so fun and fascinating. It’s like having your own little science channel right in your room.”
Aniston has been focused on the design of the Kendall Square space. In addition to the retail space, there will be a “beauty test kitchen,” where customers can come in for hair consultations. The appointments include washing and styling, in some cases with products that are not yet for sale.
The store and lab are being designed by Boston architectural firm Hacin + Associates, but Aniston also takes credit for the look of the place.
“They came to me and showed me the space and the drawings and the materials,” she said. “There was a lot of metals and lacquers. I said you have to warm it up. Hair salons in general have a little bit of a warm feeling to them, and something that I love so much about [celebrity stylist] Chris McMillan’s salon is that it has wood floors, brick walls, and a fireplace.”
Aniston has no professional background in interior design, but sees herself an amateur decorator.
“I’ve done interiors in my own houses,” the actress said. “I’ve even said if I didn’t love my job so much that this would be a hobby. An expensive hobby, but I really do love it.”
Aniston recently underwent a make-under while filming the drama “Cake,” in which she plays a woman who becomes fascinated by the suicide of another woman (Anna Kendrick) in her chronic-pain support group. The movie, which finished shooting last week, had Aniston in long brown hair and wearing drawstring pants.
“It was a relief not to have to go through the usual hair and makeup routine,” she said of the filming. “It was very liberating to be that vulnerable in such an unglamorous way.”
But during her recent Cambridge visit, Aniston was looking glamorous again, wearing a chic asymmetrical bob. It’s one of the reasons why haircare companies have been looking for her endorsement since her “Friends” days.
“Bob Langer has been curing cancer and heart disease for years. All of the sudden he wants to cure women’s hair problems,” Aniston said. “I asked him ‘Why this?’ and he said ‘I just love to problem solve.’ How could I not be a part of that?”
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.