Synonymous with supermodels, big hair and outsized glamour, celebrity hairstylist Oribe Canales was also remembered on Monday for his irrepressible spirit, generosity and wicked humor.
Canales died at age 62, a spokeswoman for his company confirmed. He died from “natural causes” in New York on Dec., 16, she said.
Canales was best known for the big, sexy hair he created in countless photo shoots, advertising campaigns and for celebrities, including Jennifer Lopez. He was responsible for many of her looks, including the “On the 6” album cover, “Play” music video and her Sixties-inspired partial updo at the 2002 Academy Awards.
As makeup artist Daniel Martin put it — “that beautiful, bouncy, sexy, kind of f–ked up hair was kind of his thing.”
Donatella Versace and Marc Jacobs were among designers who posted tributes on their social channels. I had the great honor and good fortune to know and work with Oribe since my early Perry Ellis days (1990s),” Jacobs wrote. “His extraordinary and unique talent, along with his incredibly handsome, good looks and his room-filling charisma and charm made Oribe so wonderfully special and singular.”
Canales came to fame in the Eighties, when big hair was all the rage.
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“He took that big hair and made it even bigger and beautiful,” said Cindy Crawford.
She recalled an American Vogue shoot she worked on with Canales on the North Shore of Hawaii. “They had surfers there, and they wanted me to paddle out on a surfboard with one of the professional surfers and then climb on his shoulders and surf in, which already was like, are you kidding me?” Crawford said. “But then, they’re like, ‘Oh, and try not to get your hair wet.’ Oribe and I just looked at each other like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.'”
That shoot ended up being on the beach, not in the water, Crawford said.
“There was a childlike fun quality to Oribe. He had a wicked sense of humor and [was] just really fun. As a model, you spend so much time in the dressing room with the hair and makeup artists, so when they make you feel beautiful but also are entertaining, that’s the best situation.”
On that very trip to Hawaii, Canales created one of Crawford’s signature looks — the chunk of blonde hair.
“He took me to his salon, I think it was his salon, and I had this chunk of blonde hair in front — the kind of hair that didn’t really look good in real life, but was great for pictures because it grabbed that highlight,” Crawford said. “I kept it for two years, it was kind of my look. So many colorists have come up to me since and they’re like, ‘Do you know how many women came in asking for that chunk?’ Still to this day, people talk about the chunk and I’m always like, that was Oribe, putting this blonde chunk in your hair. I just trusted him.”
Naomi Campbell said she met Canales in December 1986 for an American Vogue shoot with Meisel.
“It was like I had walked into another world, basically,” Campbell said. “He was the most elegant, proud, a prankster, loved to tell jokes. He would sometimes put the pin in your head so hard, he was like, ‘Oh, is that you?’ He was really a very happy person, never complained, never, never, always good, enthusiastic, creative, there’s nothing he wouldn’t do, couldn’t try to make it all work. Just a really exceptional human being. We just lost an angel today and I really feel now that when someone like that so close goes, it’s like you feel like your family member’s gone.
“He’s someone to be celebrated because of what he did in terms of giving other young hairdressers opportunities,” she continued. “All of the people who worked with Oribe went on to be big hairdressers in their own right. He could only have been proud of that. Each and every one of the hairdressers who worked with Oribe in the Eighties are now big hairdressers on their own. That says something.”
When he started, Canales was helped along by those more established than him.
Garren, hairstylist and cofounder of the hair product line R+Co, discovered Canales as a promising 16-year-old beauty school candidate. It was Garren who recommended Canales go to beauty school and obtain a license in New York — Canales had wanted originally to move to Miami. He ended up working for Garren from 1976 to 1982 at his namesake salon in The Plaza hotel.
“He wasn’t my assistant,” said Garren. “I groomed him and we worked together on shows — I felt if he started as an assistant, he was too good to have that hurdle to cross over from doing salon work to doing editorial. He ended up picking up all the editorial I wasn’t able to do.”
Garren described Canales as hard-working and always cheerful. “I don’t think there was one model or person who really had a problem with him. He just fit in — he had that excitement and made everyone feel great,” said Garren.
In 1991, Canales, a runway veteran by that point, and the up-and-coming French expat Frédéric Fekkai, both opened dueling salons on New York’s Fifth Avenue. W Magazine, then part of Fairchild Fashion Media, parent of WWD, shot the hair maestros together, back-to-back and wielding blow-dryers, as if in preparation for a duel.
But in reality, Fekkai and Canales weren’t fiercely competitive. The two were both in-demand hairdressers in New York, but they maintained opposite mentalities when it came to their craft. “They were so different,” said Linda Wells, chief creative officer of Revlon and founding editor in chief of Allure magazine. “Frédéric Fekkai opened at 7 a.m. for all these movers and shakers — [like] Tina Brown and Martha Stewart — for a haircut and quick blow-dry, and they’d race out the door.”
Oribe took a more fashion-forward approach, creating elaborate, editorial-inspired styles for clients like Linda Evangelista and Donatella Versace. “With Oribe, everything was ‘wow.’ It was big, it was fabulous, it was appropriate for a runway or a red carpet. It was this wonderful extreme,” said Wells.
Wells remembers Canales and his flair for glamour and opulence as being enmeshed in “this whole beauty and fashion culture…this moment of largeness,” that was occurring in the Eighties and early Nineties. “It was the era of silk prints that Donatella is reviving now, all the supermodels like Cindy and Linda. It was super everything — supermodels, superdesigners, huge expense accounts and wild colors and money dripping off of everything. It was very thrilling and he was definitely at the center of that,” said Wells.
Wells was still at the helm of Allure when Canales launched his self-named product line, a venture with Miami-based Luxury Brand Partners. “The products were superluxe, really true to his aesthetic and taste and his to desire to not in any way compromise luxury,” said Wells.
The first time Fekkai met Canales, he was “mesmerized,” he said. “I say this with a grain of salt…I was just in New York for a few years and I was mesmerized. I was a little preppy and people would make fun of me for being too well-dressed and too French, and he had a T-shirt with the sleeves [rolled] up…and big muscles…and big tattoos and hair pomade,” Fekkai said. “When I saw it, it was almost like Ken — like, Barbie and Ken.”
That was in the late Eighties, Fekkai said. “We knew we had different skills,” Fekkai said. “He had a great sense of style, and really, this was a time where the hairs were groomed so he knew how to do hair very well-groomed — updos and great French twists and ponytails — he was really about dressing women very glamorously.”
Andrea Lieberman, the A.L.C. creator who worked with Canales during the rise of J.Lo (she was Lopez’s stylist), described Canales as “a master.”
“He was a visionary, he was a rebel, he was an artist of incredible depth,” Lieberman said. “I had the unbelievable pleasure of traveling the world with him in our time working together with Jennifer Lopez and I can say without hesitation…he was extraordinary.”
“He loved women so much and he made all women he came into contact with feel sexy and powerful and confident — any time he cut my hair he just made me feel so amazing. That was part of his talent,” Lieberman said.
Canales’ success was not without drama. In a 1993 interview with WWD, he frankly described seeking help for a drug problem, saying he interrupted a shoot for a Versace ad campaign to check into Hazelden, the Minnesota rehabilitation center. He was back to work at the Elizabeth Arden Salon after about a week. “Chen Sam, Liz Taylor’s publicist, drove me [to Hazelden] herself,” Canales told WWD at the time.
More recently, he battled through a reality television-related lawsuit that erupted between him and the then-owners of his brand. It was eventually settled, and Luxury Brand Partners sold the business to Kao for more than $400 million.
At that point, Canales told WWD he was looking forward to being involved in the brand again. “We’ll continue with all the great innovative and interesting and new-to-market products, and it’d be great to continue with development but have more resources,” Canales said at the time of the transaction.
No matter what was going on behind the scenes, Canales presented a positive front, said Paul Cavaco, stylist and founder of Studio Cavaco, who worked with Wells as Allure’s creative director for years.
“If you went to the studio on-set with him, you knew you were going to have a really good time and the hair was going to be great and he was going to elevate the whole set with his happiness,” Cavaco told WWD. “Whatever was going on with Oribe [personally] — good or bad — you never knew, because he didn’t bring it to set. He just acted happy, and gave off that vibe.”
In a rare interview, François Nars was emotional when he spoke to WWD via phone about the loss of his longtime close friend. “I’m devastated,” the makeup artist and Nars Cosmetics founder told WWD. “He was one of my best friends for 30 years.”
Said Nars, “There was only one Oribe — he was the kindest, sweetest person, the brightest and most talented. We always laughed so much together.”
Nars and Canales met on a shoot, and became frequent collaborators, working often with the photographer Steven Meisel. Nars described a friendship that turned into something like family. “We were not just working together, we would hang out and we became really, very, very close friends — like family, the whole team, with Meisel and Oribe and myself, we were inseparable.”
Nars, Meisel and Canales became close with their supermodel clients, including Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington. They’d often spend time off set as a group — hanging out at each other’s apartments watching movies, or going out to clubs. “All of us got along very well — we were always on the same wavelength, always laughing,” said Nars.
“His sense of humor was sometimes dark, but always cheerful no matter what,” said Nars. “People have to know he was an amazing person — the best. You couldn’t not love Oribe, he was a very lovable person. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.”
Nars and Canales remained close throughout the years, linking up for shoots in New York or Los Angeles or visiting each other at their respective homes in Miami and Tahiti. “He was extremely special and an incredibly talented person,” said Nars. “I did some of my best work with him on photo shoots. Everybody appreciated his talent and knowledge of how women want to look. It was a dream to work with him and spend time with him. I’ll miss him so much.”
Makeup artist and brand founder Pat McGrath offered condolences to Canales’ family and friends. “Not only was he a true master, he was a warm, funny and beautiful man that elevated every room he entered. His genius will be missed, but his extraordinary body of work will live on forever.”
“It’s obviously undeniable the impact that Oribe had on the beauty industry, and style as a whole, but the man and artist that I knew was way more than that,” said makeup artist Mally Roncal. She met Oribe on set with celebrities like Lopez and Celine Dion she said, and while the jobs could be a “whirlwind at times,” Oribe was the type of guy to know how to make it fun.
“You were always excited when you knew Oribe would be on a shoot. You knew that you were going to have fun, obviously have iconic hair, and it would be sprinkled with a little bit of naughtiness and a whole lot of laughter,” Roncal said.
Deborah Lippmann, a manicurist, remembered Canales as talented, hilarious and a team player. “He gave me so much guidance in my life and in my entrepreneurial career. Oribe was extraordinarily gifted and had a love for life, for what he did, and for people that was so contagious and inspiring to me. It’s an enormous loss not only to our community, but to the world — and I consider myself one of the luckiest people to have known him,” Lippmann said.
Nail artist Jin Soon remembered Canales as someone who “truly enjoyed being creative,” she said. “I was always fascinated watching him transform models on shoots. He had his own distinctive style — iconic glam — that made everyone look like a supermodel.”
Hairstylist Ted Gibson said Canales was known for creating “some of the most iconic looks that inspired every generation of hairdressers.”
“I had the opportunity to have dinner and chat with him and we had so much respect for each other. This is what a true professional in the fashion business is about,” Gibson said. “I am saddened and heartbroken by the loss or Oribe. The world will never be the same.”
Makeup artist Daniel Martin said he met Canales when he was a hair model for him in the late Nineties. “I don’t know how I wound up being a hair model for him to launch his pomades, but I wound up being a hair model,” Martin said. They reconnected about two years ago, working for a private client. “When I saw him, I was just kind of awestruck. Like, ‘Oh s–t, do I share this funny story that I was a hair model for him 20 years ago?’ And I did, and it was the icebreaker,” Martin said. He described Canales as funny, warm and charming.
“When I got married, he came to New Hope, Penn., and did my hair for the wedding,” said makeup artist and entrepreneur Bobbi Brown. He did it for free, and stayed for the whole event, she said.
On set, Canales would walk around with a comb, a Mason Pearson brush and a can of L’Oréal Elnet (before he had his own brand) and “literally made the shoot,” Brown recalled. “Any big job I ever got, it seemed like Oribe was there. I never got as big as Oribe, but he was always so incredibly kind and grateful and always got involved with what makeup I was doing that would work with his hair.”
“He’s not only going to be missed by many, but his style is going to end up being an adjective,” Brown said. “‘Give me Oribe hair’ — which no one can do.”