This is the first in an ongoing series of features about some of the top curl stylists. We take you behind the chair to experience a day in their life. This month, we get up close and personal with Christo, global artistic director at New York's posh Christo Fifth Avenue, a salon catering to the world's curlies, including a long list of celeb clients.
"Half businessman, half artist," that's how Christo describes himself. To his clients, though, he's all charm.
Christo is "half businessman and half artist."
"Christo rocks!" one long-time client blurted out with a smile on a recent wintry day at Christo Fifth Avenue Salon in New York. She is one of a dozen curly clients Christo will style, cut or color on any given day. Working nonstop for hours on his feet is far from easy, but Christo makes it seem as welcoming as a tropical breeze.
So, how does he do it?
To find out, I spent a day shadowing the curl expert. Despite his veteran status, he not only continues to take clients, but also runs his salon with a crew of 10 stylists, manages his own product lines (with new ones in the works) and designs one-of-a-kind, lavishly upscale (read: $300 to $4,800) cuff links.
Christo is somewhat of a walking showcase for his jeweled baubles (and for the latest fashions) and he wouldn't have it any other way. During my visit, he wore a custom-made Italian designer suit, Ferragamo belt, and perfectly polished Bruno Magli shoes.
"My wardrobe is fierce," he acknowledges. "I like to wear designers' [clothing] and I'm a designer."
In fact, outside the salon, Christo often collaborates with fashion designers to create hairstyles for the Fashion Week runways. He also takes private bookings for celebrities and the political elite. (Whew! Just rattling off his list of to-dos seems exhausting.) Before noon on this biting-cold Friday in early December, Christo has already gently ushered a few clients in and out of his chair.
He effortlessly flits from brief chats with his marketing executive ("Do you need me?" she asks) back to his chair ("If you have time we should do a Deep Therapy Masque," he suggests to a client with dehydrated curls) to even supervising the assistants in charge of shampooing. Christo doesn't assume assistants will choose the right shampoo and conditioner for each client. "I tell them specifically what to use," Christo says. He monitors it all, but without too much hovering.
With his customary kiss on each cheek (mwah-mwah!) and a hug, he welcomes in his next client with shoulder-length raven curls. Within minutes, this long-time client is in his chair, chatting on her cellphone. He's already getting started, scissors in hand. She doesn't flinch.
"Are you going to talk to her about what she wants?" I ask.
"I already know what she wants, and sometimes I don't let them choose," he says with a chuckle and a smile.
In the midst of the trim, Christo's personal assistant quietly steps in to ask him to confirm a time for his upcoming trip to Washington. (He signed on as the stylist for a few dozen celebrities arriving in the nation's capitol for inauguration parties in honor of President-elect Barack Obama.)
He confirms and goes back to his scissors for a few more finishing snips. Then, he's off again. "Excuse me for a second," Christo says, as he makes his way to welcome the next curly client, a twenty-something redhead whose thick, fiery curls seem to float down her back.
With another mwah-mwah welcome, he starts to send her to the back for a wash, but she stops him to quietly ask if he can blow it straight today. "Well, that's an extra charge," Christo says, encouraging her to keep her curls intact. "Your curls are beautiful." She skips the blowout.
Back to the raven-haired client. "Would you like some coffee, tea?" he asks, then sends her under the dryer.
The fiery redhead is cleansed and seated in Christo's chair for a trim. They chat and laugh, with the familiarity of dear friends. "You need an updated picture of your daughter," she teases. "It's at least six months old!"
After cleaning up the ends of her mane, she's off to be styled and set under the dryer.
Christo continues to shuttle back and forth between clients, skips lunch (which he says is common) but doesn't complain.
The curly redhead is back in his chair for a final style check. "It looks great," he says, reassuringly. She then turns to me: "He tells me you have to make your hair happy." She smiles and out the door she goes.
Christo focuses his attention now to mixing color for his next client, Karen Goldstein, who lives in California but only colors her curls when she is able to make a trip to New York to see Christo. Today it's low-lights.
"Make sure you cover the gray," she says.
"Well, we can do a glaze between the foils, but I don't think you need it yet," he says.
"Okay, I trust you," she responds, then turns to me: "He's been doing my hair for 10 years. My relationship with Christo lasted longer than my marriage!"
As the day goes on, Christo is finally able to relish a few free moments after learning that one of his appointments cancelled. An assistant immediately steps out to retrieve one of his favorite treats: an extra-strong, extra-hot chai latte from Starbucks. While sipping his only nourishment for the day, he briefly meets with his publicist to make corrections to his regular column he'll submit to Cyprus Mail, an English-language newspaper in Greece.
Another three clients have been moving through the salon, from the sinks to Christo's chair and then the dryer. Not all are exactly chatty, so Christo morphs into a chameleon and adjusts to their more subdued temperaments.
"Everyone has their special needs and I try to accommodate them as best I can," he says.
One restless client tells him she's in a rush, but it appears she may simply want a bit of extra attention.
"Sometimes, clients don't want to share you," Christo says.
Fielding a few more questions from his publicist, Christo answers a quick call and then confirms his attendance at a party to be thrown by an ambassador to Qatar. It seems Christo is in demand almost as much as the high-profile clients he styles. Still, he says he always manages to find balance in his charmed life. Sundays are always reserved for his family and, to stay even more centered, he practices Tae Kwon Do (he has a black belt) a few times a week in the evenings. Aside from martial arts, his passions are watches (he owns more than two dozen, including a Rolex), fashionable clothing, fast cars and, of course, styling curly hair.
"I don't see this as work," he says. "I see this as coming to a place, doing what I love and getting paid for it."