You can't know fashion without knowing Oribe. The man who, in the 1980s, made runway hair as talked about as the clothes, has collaborated with the world’s top designers (Karl Lagerfeld, Commes des Garçons, Gianni Versace ) and photographers (Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Steven Meisel, Annie Leibovitz). With Meisel and make-up artist François Nars, he practically invented the supermodel, many of whom, like Oribe, became one-name wonders. From skyscraper hair to grunge styles to neon-bob wigs, Oribe was the mastermind behind the looks that had tongues wagging and the media begging for more. After 30 years, he’s still going strong with his Miami and New York salons, a line of carefully edited products, the Oribe Agency and Oribe Education. Master colorist David Stanko caught up with him between travels for a stylist-to-stylist chat.
Stanko: You’ve got one-word-name fame—in a documentary on Sting, he said only his mother calls him Gordon. Does anyone call you something other than Oribe?
Oribe: When Tom Ford sends me something, it is always addressed to Mr. Canales. Growing up in North Carolina, the Cuban Or-ee-bey, became Oribe, so that’s how the world knows me now.
Stanko: What was so missing in the world of styling products that you decided to create your own line?
Oribe: It was just a natural evolution of a career. Over the years, I developed my own concoctions that worked for me. I saw there was room for an exclusive line with the best ingredients that made no compromises, because it was a line by a hairdresser for hairdressers.
Stanko: Speaking of careers, who influenced you the most in yours?
Oribe: My father would be on the top of my list. He gave me confidence. Professionally, Steven Meisel exposed
me to fashion.
Stanko: When you travel for photo shoots, you take tons of hair and wigs with you. How much money in hair do you have in those suitcases?
Oribe: There are things in my kit that are priceless! I have one-of-a-kind hair extensions, hand-ventilated wigs, and baby hair—I love my little girl hair. I also have a collection of vintage ‘60s wigs that’s like a library of hair. Kenneth (Jackie O.’s hairdresser) had them, and I was lucky enough to get them at auction. The materials they used in the ‘60s were different—these wigs were rare in the ‘60s and they’re even rarer now! Depending on the shoot, I might have 40 suitcases of hair with me, and they all have names, like ‘Tahitian.’ I have archives of J.Lo’s hair from 10 years of the creation of her persona. I’d say give me ‘Play’ or give me ‘Gypsy.’ At any given time, I easily have $100,000 worth of hair traveling with me.
Stanko: What’s the one thing you can’t live without?
Oribe: I’d have to say my ponytails! Some I’ve had for 10-15 years, but there’s one in particular that has incredible memory. All I have to do it let it dry naturally....Personally, there’s a Versace cologne I’ve been drenched in since the ‘80s. Now, it’s off the market, but I searched the Internet for it and stocked up.
Stanko: What about your own products—what are two favorite Oribe Products you can’t do without, and how would you briefly describe them?
Oribe: First is Oribe Dry, I’d call it glamorously volumizing. Second is, Royal Blow-Out, it’s volumizing soft.
Stanko: What was your biggest nightmare on a photo shoot or with a client?
Oribe: I was working on a blonde for a Clairol shoot, and I had my scissors in my pocket. When I put my hand in my pocket, I almost sliced off my finger. (Makeup artist) Kevyn Aucoin did the most incredible patch job. Blonde and blood don’t make a good blend!
Stanko: Your wild past is legendary. At one time, there was a rumor you had your leather pants oiled down by an assistant before you want on stage. Any truth to it?
Oribe: (Laughs). There was a Chicago Hair Show in the ‘90s that was really wild, and they were calling me the Lenny Bruce (the groundbreaking, X-rated comedian) of hair. I had this Blue Pomade and someone patted it on my leather pants. That started the rumor.
Stanko: If you could be a hairdresser during any time period, which would it be?
Oribe: The ‘60s! They were extraordinary times for hair and for women in general. Diana Vreeland was at Vogue... She was so spectacular; I read her book over and over for inspiration. I just read it again before my Vegas event; I wanted it to be peculiar. I find in her book, words that stimulate my imagination.
Stanko: Peculiar, love that word. Which brings to mind: Does it seem like there’s a fine line between The Housewives of wherever and RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants?
Oribe: The drag contestants have a lot more imagination with their hair. They’re more interesting. At lot of times, the housewives are like replicas of what they saw on the cover of Star magazine—they’re boring. The drag queens are more individual and they take more risks.
Stanko: Would you rather be seen on the Red Carpet or Page 6?
Oribe: Red carpet seems more fun. I never went after publicity. I wasn’t eager to be famous. When magazines do those 15 most famous hairdressers of all times, I’m there with Sassoon, Alexandre, Kenneth... and it’s flattering. Of course, scandal plagued my career. I had a racy and amazing career, and it’s important to be racy. The worst thing you can be is mediocre.
Stanko: If you hadn’t been a hairdresser, what would you have been?
Oribe: A movie star
Stanko: What would your porn star name be?
Stanko: What would people be the most surprised to know about you?
Oribe: That I’m a regular guy. I’m not intimidating and I don’t have much of an ego. I stick to the beauty school rule that the client is always right. I do what the client wants and do my best to make her feel beautiful, even if I don’t agree with her. That’s what makes a successful cutter or colorist.