Chris Appleton doesn’t get frazzled easily. In fact, the celebrity hairstylist admits that he works best under pressure, evidenced on Sunday evening as he floated between styling hair on models, sitting down for this interview then walking through choreography on stage. Appleton was in town to pass down the techniques behind his red carpet ready looks--coveted by over one million Instagram followers--to nearly 400 Gene Juarez Salon and Spa employees at a seminar and fashion show hosted by Color Wow at Fremont Studios.
The British-born innovator boasts an impressive resume, preparing him for his high-powered career. He started working in salons and went on to dream up looks for catwalks in Milan and Paris, which then led to creating editorial coiffures for glossy fashion magazines. In 2018, he helped made the phrase “glass hair”—a look characterized by a mane of sleek, glossy strands—a household phrase.
Seattle magazine was offered an exclusive backstage interview with Appleton where he talked about upcoming trends, his creative process and why he thinks Seattle is very “personable.” The takeaway? When it comes to the art of high fashion hair, we really are comparing apples to oranges.
Seattle magazine: How are you liking Seattle so far?
Chris Appleton: This morning I visited Pike Place Market--and nearly got hit with a flying fish--and stopped by the first ever Starbucks. Seattle feels very personal and [I] thought to myself that I should come back. There is a cozy, nostalgic feeling that I love. I’ve traveled for the last nine years of my life and visited many cities in the world and don’t usually connect with them because I’m always in and out so quickly.
SM: What’s your go-to coffee order?
CA: Large Starbucks cold brew with almond milk.
SM: What three hair-related products can you not travel without?
CA: I always pack a moisturizer. I also really like those face and eye masks--the ones from Iceland. And Color Wow shampoo in the travel size. I’m a simple guy.
SM: Your recent viral parking lot hair trim for Kim Kardashian West made me think about modern expectations for customer service. How can salons elevate their standards to cater to modern clients?
CA: Customer service is all about making someone feel like their needs have been met. Excellent customer service is going beyond that, you almost have to learn their love language; do they want to feel cool, sexy or confident? I also love finding out who their alter ego is and what their ultimate hairstyle would be. When Kim wanted to go blonde we actually talked about it for a long time, including the fact that she didn’t want the shade to be too yellow, which morphed into a conversation about creating a new type of blonde that hadn’t been done before.
SM: What is your favorite hair trend right now?
CA: To me there isn’t a specific look anymore, instead there is change and people want to alter their look on a daily basis. I’ve always had a natural need to push boundaries with hair and individualizing the experience. In the past couple of years more people recognize my work because of who my clients are. This also coincided with the culture of social media that demands new, fresh looks constantly.
SM: You have described your creative process as a collaboration with your clients, and you absorbing inspiration from your surroundings. But, once the look is solidified, how do you go about bringing it to life?
CA: If I’m really honest I tend to work best under pressure. If I have too much time, I tend to overthink things. So while I don’t get caught up in the process I do plan ahead. I prepare for a project by making sure that I have the inspiration for the look, the hair and products that I need and an understanding of the overall vibe. But this doesn’t always work out. I was hired to work on one of Jennifer Lopez’s music videos and the vision was all about black and white hair. But when I arrived on set Jen walked in and said she wanted the look in her own color. So then we had to make it work with only two hours before the first take.
SM: What is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to styling their hair?
CA: I always want people to express themselves and that’s why I love what I do; when someone wears a look with confidence and you can bring that out it’s quite magical. I don’t like it when people don’t meet their full potential.
SM: What beauty look do you think should come back in style?
CA: I really love Marilyn Monroe’s look. It has to been done very well or else the roller curls can look a bit “granny,” [but the style] looks so good on a platinum blonde.
SM: What trends can we look forward to in 2020?
CA: Color options are really evolving like Kim’s chocolate brown. It’s very hard to get a cool brown since there is usually a red undertone. Luxurious hair styles are coming back in, too.
SM: When you are not working or traveling--what would we find you doing?
SM: We read that your first ever "client" was your mother. What was the best advice that she gave you?
CA: There was a time when I was going to be either a hair stylist or an actor. When I told my mom this, she asked me if I could act like the prime minister and how could I make the impression different. I think that’s what stuck with me; always thinking how I can stand out above the rest.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.