08/03/2014 Me and Christiaan

During a recent visit to New York City I had the deepest, most consecrated honor to be invited into the home of my personal guru, Christiaan Houtenbos. My brother Brian Anderson, grounding on-set luck dragon force behind sublime fashion photographer duo Inez and Vinoodh, once told me at a party that the way I talk about HAIR was very similar to the way that a good friend of his talks about HAIR. "Whoa", I said. "Who's your friend?" He goes, "This guy Christiaan." At which point I choke on my drink, fix my astonishment on his dream face and sputter "I'M SORRY YOU KNOW CHRISTIAAN?!". At which point he explains that he works with the man on a regular basis as Christiaan is the hairdresser that Inez and Vinoodh choose to work with, on an exclusive basis, whenever possible. I'm reeling at this party, just reeling. -Christiaan's been my hero for a long time, for a multitude of reasons that surpass the usual medicore Hair Hero worship that many hairdressers hold for men who do predictable hair for predictable commercial hair enterprises. Christiaan has, on a relentless basis, never once sold out for the sake of making Hair Spray Money or Hair Spray Fame. This man who is still married to the woman he fell in love with at 19 (Marianne, longtime studio director of Arthur Elgort), this man who took years off of work from the absurdist world of editorial hairdressing to raise his two sons. This man who relies on his divinely sourced intuitive method to guide him, and as a result, has spent five decades consistently breaking ground on the forefront of Hair. His work today is as fresh and progressive as it was when he accepted his position as Creative Director of the salon at Bergdorf Goodman as a 21-year old in 1966.- Brian promises to introduce me to the man someday, and eventually comes through. Six months later he invites me to set and I'm thinking he wants me to meet Inez and Vinoodh, which obviously would have been enough of a cool treat (and it was). I meet them, and then he tells me he wants to take me to the hair and makeup trailer. My heart drops through the soles of my feet and I look at him wide-eyed. We knock on the door of the trailer and it opens to My Man doing Freja Erichsen's hair, beauty mirror all lit up and both of them looking classically serene. He looks over and says "Oh hi you're Ryann?". He stops what he's doing and walks outside to talk with me for a moment and I'm trying so hard to stay chill and not look like an asshole, walk straight and look him in the eye. No words to describe the glow I saw coming off that man's form. I was privileged to meet Vidal Sassoon, I was raised as a hairdresser under Michael Gordon, Howard and Raymond McLaren, I've been around the big boys of hair. None of them even made me flinch, wasn't even trying to cower in front of that game. Having spent 16 years in Catholic school I'd been told all these hilarious stories about encounters with holy entities and what the Light looked like, the Herald of Angels that accompanied it. I'm not about to call this a Religious Experience but I will say that this was the first time I'd had an encounter that came close to the picture that my baby brain had held onto from those early days of wonder-definition. He gave me his email and told me to stay in touch. I went on to publish a book about Conceptual Hairdressing (Regarding Head Shape: Acknowledgement of the Haircut as Form). First thing I did was sign a copy with a lovenote and send it to him. He read it and wrote me back, my heart leaped. We became mellow penpals and he only affirmed my initial regard for his heart and method. Last month while visiting NYC, I was invited to visit him at his home. Got stuck on an (ironically) express train and showed up 45 minutes late, so naturally I showed up looking mortified. He was predictably kind about it although he did point out that being late was a bad habit (haha). We talked for a few hours and I tried not to voyeur too much on the evidence of the rich, full and beautiful familial and cultural history that covered every surface of his home. He drew me a picture of a haircut and asked me to cut his hair "just like that", I did, he gave me feedback, we drank coffee, talked about it. He said I did it perfectly but that I need to "cut with more brutality". Word Up. We looked at various iconic images of his work, (they were rolling through on a screensaver and every now and then he'd be surprised by one and pause it so he could take a photo of it with his digital camera.) At random intervals he'd take a picture of me with it while I was talking and I'd blush like a damn fool, lose my words and have to start my sentence over. He told me about a recent otherworldly haircut that he did on Sky Ferreira, and while he describing it he got this blissful look on his face and looked up at the ceiling, reaching for words to describe his reasons for NOT giving her the haircut he gave Debbie Harry (everybody thought he would give her that one) and instead giving her a mid-length shape that involved long tendrils that snaked out of the mid-length, tendrils that he left because he knew they were necessary. He looked at me to see if I understood the abstraction of this need and I did, and we both smiled like idiots and I knew I'd found a Soulmate, Teacher, Hero. Below please find a casual interview administered to me by a dear friend after my visit with Christiaan. Q: Will you recount for me a bit about the hang out you had with Christiaan? Mostly what he said to you and what you thought when he drew that haircut for you to give him! R: Having grown up as a hairdresser at Bumble and Bumble in NYC, I had some of the biggest (always male) legends in the industry as my mentor figures. I understood that I was expected to aspire to become like these men with these seemingly supernatural hair skills (and supernatural egos to match.) Christiaan had always fascinated me because he seemed to operate as some kind of shamanistic figure in the industry. Having made arguably some of modern (and postmodern) hair history’s most important conceptual and sculptural breakthroughs, this man had been operating in the upper stratas of hair and fashion for decades but- rumor had it- he also operated with some kind of spiritual standard for his practice. He acknowledged the people he worked on- stressed the importance of intuiting their head space before he did his work. Nobody else had ever talked about the importance of acknowledging the spirit of the individual receiving the haircut before, and when I heard this was part of his practice, it struck some pretty heavy proverbial chords and I became fascinated. Years later after I had written this book whose centerpiece concept is precisely this sense of acknowledgement, I mailed him a copy of the book, emailed him and hoped that he would write me back. I couldn’t believe it when he emailed me back, the first time. It was like receiving an email from Elvis! I think I yelled at my computer. We’ve become pen pals since then and the last time I was in NYC he invited me to come over to his house for a visit. We sat drinking coffee for an hour or so and then he quietly took out a pad of paper and started to sketch a head shape on it. My heart leaped thinking he was going to teach me something. He started drawing these beautiful geometric lines following the perimeter of the head and when he finished, tore the paper off the pad, held it up for me and said “I want you to give me this haircut, with clippers”. So my guru wants me to carve some lines into his hair, sure. After a half-second of feeling as if I’d been punched in the stomach I happily said “YES!”. As I was shaving the lines into his head with a surprisingly steady hand he was telling me what he thought of my touch, my control, my method. Cool and compassionate guru feedback. When I cut a person’s hair I feel intimately involved in their well-being so there was this moment when he felt like a little Baby in my hands, and like I was his Mom. Is that weird? Then I realized that I feel that way with everyone I cut. The piece of advice he left me with that resonates on a daily basis with me, and probably will for the rest of my life, was to always, no matter what I was doing or making, base my work from a foundation of Kindness. Christiaan will forever be an actual legend to me due more to his rock-steady spiritual standard of practice than for cumulative number of Vogue covers or famed haircuts on supermodels. Q: Tell me how you approach a new head when it sits in your chair. R: The first thing I do is really softly touch their head with my hands, and feel the surface of their skull. Not in a creepy way, but to sort of ground with them so that we’re “together”. While I do this, I ask them questions about how they’re feeling in their current hair-state and through this dialogue, can start to disseminate the parts of what they’re talking about that lead to sculptural decisions on my part. Like, some things I know they’re telling me out of trauma from a past experience, some things they’re saying out of aspiration from a photo they saw in a fashion editorial (which was actually a wig), some things they’re saying come from a place of misguided self-esteem (usually erring on the side of low). While they’re giving me this verbal blueprint I’m extracting the details I need to give them what I feel is the optimal shape for their singular physical and psychological profile. It usually takes about five minutes for all of this to happen. It’s interesting because once I was cutting with one of the big macho hair guys I grew up under in NYC and he watched one of my consultations with a client and actually laughed at me for asking her “how she felt?” in her current hair. He thought it was ridiculous that I would have that question for her. Haha! I looked at him and realized that no amount of power or success can give you the ability to be an empathetic (and in that way truly successful) hairdresser. He looked like a baby to me in that instance and it gave me allot of valuable perspective on the values systems of the old school male hairdressers I was taught to worship. (No Gods, Guys). Q: Why Marfa? How did you decide to relocate there and start cutting hair there? R: Four years ago, I was working in a salon, having a totally idyllic but completely unchallenged professional practice. I made the decision, on a funny whim, to put my salon life on hold for a summer and move to London to live with a good friend, clear my head, have some parties, shake out the ennui. Halfway there, waiting to connect at JFK airport, I was hit by some kind of intense revelatory bolt of lightening that it was a terrible idea to move to London and that I should stay in the country and go somewhere else. Who was sending me this lighting bolt? And Where Do I Go? Standing in line at the ticket counter I frantically scoured the map of America in my mind and within 30 seconds MARFA, TEXAS sprung into place. I’d heard about it from many friends but never thought I’d have the time to end up in the deep southwestern Texas desert. I immediately knew it was the right move, strangely, only thought about it for maybe ten seconds. By the time it was my turn at the counter I’d made the decision to cancel my ticket to London and change it to El Paso and 2 days later I found myself in a pickup truck driven by one of my now best Marfa brothers, Ross Cashiola, who’d just dropped off Lou Reed at the El Paso Airport after the Marfa Film Festival and was now returning to Marfa with me in the passenger seat. The first night I was there I was drinking beers at the bar and someone said “Hey wait you’re a hairdresser? We all need haircuts.” That was when I realized there was a hairdresser shortage in Marfa and the next day borrowed a bike and proceeded to spend the next 3 months riding my bike around town, cutting hair in kitchens and backyards, forging a very much unbreakable bond with the town and the people. Q: Why do you think people walk away from your hands and feel like they just got the best haircut of their lives? R: I mean, the old school "male-modeled" hairdresser in me wants to say it’s because of my many years of intense technical training with people like Joey Silvestera at Toni & Guy and Howard McLaren at Bumble and Bumble. But the “spiritually involved" hairdresser in me knows that my ability to identify the metaphysical singularity of my clients is what gives me the ability to provide them with a shape that makes them feel wholly acknowledged. Reverence is my golden ticket! Which leads back to Christiaan’s Theory of Kindness, which feels like a pretty cool connection to make. Love, Ryann