Born in Holland to a Barber father, Christiaan’s first experience with hairdressing started from an early age. As the oldest of twelve children, he was taken out of school at the age of fourteen to help his father in the family Barbershop in the small farmer’s village Bovenkarspel – he has already been sweeping the shop floors since he was twelve, but now he was responsible for “soaping up the farmers”.
“My father wanted me to take over the family business”.
So he sent me to a women’s beauty school in Amsterdam to learn how to cut women’s hair, as he wanted to expand the services to women in the village too. But then the military service called – I picked the Marines, because they go out of the country! So I became a Marine… They sent me to Aruba, Curacao and the Dutch Island.
Then fate took over…
A women took a liking to Christiaan whilst he was a Marine and he did her hair. After two years of service, the woman told him: “You’re good, you should go to America”. She wrote a letter to the Editor-in-Chief of Glamour, Amy Greene. Luckily for Christiaan, the woman had the exact same name as the most famous Broadway actress in NYC at the time, Lotte Lenya – so she replies, thinking the Lotte Lenya is writing to her from vacation in Aruba, agreeing to meet Christiaan when he arrives.
New York, New York
Glamour magazine had sent a limousine to collect Christiaan from the airport, followed by a busy schedule for the week ahead – each day was spent in the top five NYC salons, where he was first exposed to celebrities and experienced what it was like to work alongside the industry’s best, like Vidal Sassoon.
After a brief trip home to Holland, he returned to New York to accept a job offer at the Kenneth’s beauty salon based in Bergdorf Goodman, Coiffures Americana.
What was the turning point in your career?
“I was Creative Director for Bergdorf Goodman, and that partly entailed going to shoots with models and performances with actresses and singers – that never happened before. And then I got fired! I was out on my own, but all the beauty editors I knew Started calling me anyway, so I just went to work on my own. It was much simpler time…
I got very lucky you know – I landed where I landed, my confidence grew quickly and I had the attitude that I wanted to conquer. Not stardom, but conquer being able to do any kind of hair. Nothing propelled me; it was a very gradual situation where one thing led to another. In the 1970’s the whole freelance thing was very personal – it related to people you knew, it wasn’t about business at all. And I very quickly had a great group of friends around me of photographers, art directors, creative (my wife Marianne was an Editor at Harper’s Bazaar) and you become kind of a club. And you work together”.
What were your goals in the beginning?
“I had this vision of being able to do any bodies hair well, all the varieties of hair – Japanese, African, black hair, white hair… I just wanted to never be scared of standing behind someone and not having a clue of what to do. I wanted to be able to do everything well. So I never shied away from trying anything, I tired everything on myself too! I’ve had long hair, dreadlocks, shaved, bald all colours… That’s how you perfect it”.
“I got my first covers very quickly – this is my first Harper’s Bazaar cover from 1972. I was big in Mademoiselle Magazine, which was a funkier glamour look. It took me a couple of years before I got my first American Vogue cover.”
From Christiaan’s early cover to his amazing recent work, look how far he’s come!
“I have a really tight relationship with Arthur Elgort – we were basically the first photographer-hairdresser team that stuck together. Getting liked by Vogue Editor Polly Mellon was a defining moment – then getting picked up by Calvin Klein for a whole bunch of years. Working with designer Rei on Comme des Garçons… Donna Karan… Becoming best friends Stephen Sprouse after meeting through Debbie Harry and Grace Jones… I had all these situations that didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but when I look back, they were”.
What photographers have influenced your career?
Arthur Elgort, the late Chris Von Wagenheim, Deborah Turbeville and Hiro.
Watch out for Part Two of my highlight on Christiaan’s talent and career coming soon…
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