Backstage at the Academy Awards with Hollywood’s go-to hairstylist.
Superstar hairstylist Oribe is no stranger to the Oscars. (He created J.Lo’s famous bubble coif a few years ago, among others.) But this year, the pressure was really on. Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres, her partner Portia de Rossi and nominee Penélope Cruz all enlisted the Miami-based stylist to do their hair for the 2007 Academy Awards. With a client roster like that, the margin for error is nil, so about a month before the big day, Oribe began thinking about the style for each woman, sketching out his ideas. For Cruz, he envisioned a strong look, “somewhere between Frida Kahlo and Maria Callas. I don’t want her hairdo to take over,” he said in early February.
This story first appeared in the April 20, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I want people to see her and her gorgeous dress.” For DeGeneres, Oribe was thinking “clean and easy and stylized. The minute you think about her hair too much,” he said, “it becomes too contrived.” And for de Rossi, the stylist was planning on a statement-making Lady Godiva-esque ponytail. Still, Oribe knows the old adage about the best laid plans. “In my mind, I think about what I want to do,” he says, “but in the end, it’s about making the person who you’re working on feel amazing about herself.”
About two days before the Oscars, Oribe, his assistant and 10 bags filled with hair extensions, styling products, countless combs and brushes, flat irons, curling irons and crimping irons and a new Dior Homme suit (“This is the first time I’ll be backstage at the Oscars and I don’t want to look too crazy!”) hit Los Angeles and set up base camp at the Renaissance Hotel.
On Oscar day, Cruz’s house was the first stop, where Oribe discovered the actress had decided on a different gown than the one he had originally thought she would be wearing. While in the planning stages Oribe had considered crimping Cruz’s hair, then creating a coif; the duo opted to go for an Old Hollywood/Grace Kelly/Evita Perón feeling instead. “It didn’t change, I just rearranged things,” he says a week later. “It wasn’t what I had planned, but I presented her with the crimping thing and she didn’t feel experimental.” Instead, Oribe made an elaborate bun out of two long ponytail extensions,which took a little over an hour from start to finish to complete. “The dress was huge, so proportion-wise, the bun couldn’t be too small,” he says. “We needed something big in the back.” Still, Oribe was thrilled with the outcome: “Penélope looked unbelievable, and even Jennifer [Lopez] said she looked the best out of everyone.”
The stylist did get to take out his crimping iron for de Rossi. “Everyone in her camp thought she should be softer, but I told her, ‘You need a look. It’s a big night for you.’” It turns out de Rossi used to crimp her hair as a kid, so was more than up for it. Oribe crimped the front and then added the waist-length ponytail. Success. “As she was walking the red carpet, Zac Posen [who designed de Rossi’s dress] called and raved about her hair,” he says gleefully.
Finally, DeGeneres. “She wasn’t nervous at all. She was amazing,” Oribe says. After going over the made-to-order suits she would be wearing during the show, Oribe decided to stay simple. “To go edgier would have upstaged her,” he says. “We wanted her to look great and to look like Ellen. She said after she felt great because she didn’t have to worry about her hair.”
As for Oribe, he had as good a time as his clients. “Backstage was amazing,” he says. “You think it’s huge, but it’s really not. You’re two inches from Nicole Kidman or Celine Dion. Every moment, there’s new eye candy to look at.”
Crimp’s My Style
De Rossi used to crimp her hair as a teen and loved Oribe’s plan. Combined with his original idea of a Lady Godiva ponytail, she looked chic and fresh.
Oribe’s original sketch had more texture, but on the day of, he didn’t want to upstage Cruz or her dress, so instead he improvised an elegant bun.
Free to Be
Oribe didn’t want DeGeneres’ hair to upstage her performance or personality, so he played it safe but sophisticated.