THE HG Hommage: Christiaan

THE HG Hommage: Christiaan

When it comes to hair, stylist Christiaan Houtenbos has always been fearless. Which is how he wants all of us to feel, too.

Volume 8
Volume 8


Marianna is Arthur [Elgort’s] agent. “Arthur, we need a few pictures for Interview. I want a picture of the back of Marianna’s hair. Because that’s gorgeous right? And I can make my hair look good.” So we get those two pictures. Half an hour, it’s done. You get asked all the time by magazines, “Can you do something about hair?” At that point I look at myself and I look at Marianna: I’m so proud of her hair. I was such a fan of this as opposed to the straight blah. Marianna is such a good example of a woman who is in complete control and charge. That is my dream come true. That became the mission of my life. Make people comfortable with their hair.


Christiaan Houtenbos believes that everyone should shave their head at least once in their lifetime. It’s not that he doesn’t like hair. Quite the opposite. You’d be hard pressed, in fact, to find another living being who loves hair more than Christiaan. His entire life from the age of twelve, when he learned to wield the clippers in his dad’s barber shop back in his native Holland, has pretty much been devoted to hair: Runway shows for Calvin Klein and Stephen Sprouse and Comme des Garçons; countless magazine covers and editorials with, among others, his longtime collaborator the photographer Arthur Elgort; Debbie Harry’s shag; Grace Jones’s flat top; Andy Warhol’s wigs; free “digit” cuts in Central Park (a jagged freehand affair involving scissors but no comb)...These are just some of the highlights of a decades-long, head-turning career. 

But the desire has never been glamour or fame (though he’s had his share of both). No, Christiaan just wants people—women, men, old, young, black and brown and white, everyone—to love their hair, too. (Really.)

“That whole thing started in my head when I was doing my military service as a marine,” here calls. “I was stationed in Aruba and I would go to a fancy hotel and there were the American  women in the pool. But they wouldn’t go swimming. ‘No my hair, my hair.’ What the fuck? That is where a screw went into my brain that never left. Doing hair has made me a gorgeous life. But I’m in it for a woman who can fall in a pool and not feel bad ever. And jump into bed and not feel bad ever. That became the mission: Make people comfortable with their hair.” 

Even if it means shaving it all off. Just once.



Oh this? Styled by Polly Mellen, on the balcony rooftop of the Crillon. My legs look fabulous. It’s Claude Montana: Hat Claude Montana, dress Claude Montana and my T-shirt. It’s a Dutch T-shirt that I made. I don’t have it any more. I’ve bitched about it. Arthur [Elgort] took a great picture of Linda [Evangelista] wearing it. She said “I want to wear that T-shirt for the picture” and she goes out the door with it. She said I’ll send it back tomorrow. Did she? No.



This was for the first issue of Vogue China, maybe 12 years ago, 15 years ago. Gemma Ward. It’s her hair and some extensions. I put that big tail in there and I wanted more hair in the face so I just started cutting. It looks like a knife but it is a scissor. And Patrick [Demarchelier] and Carine [Roitfeld] see that, they are like 20 feet away, and Patrick gets up... And while I’m doing it, that’s that picture. It’s just a spectacular picture. So funky, punky, crazy. That kind of picture only happens if it’s set up now. These pictures were not set up. You understand what I’m saying?



Grace and I know each other from the early ’70s when she was like a 15 year old model. A Dutch boy from Holland, I was floored! We were friends with young models in those days. She’d been to my apartment a couple times, and one night she comes over in the middle of the night and said, “I want it all shaved.” It’s not like it was a brilliant idea of mine. The brilliant thing was that I was there and I could do it. I didn’t have clippers. I’m a hairdresser. I coiff! I’m not a barber. So I did it with a scissor. You can imagine it takes fuckin’ forever! In the meanwhile, she gets up to talk to Marianna who’s in bed trying to go to sleep. It’s already two o’clock, “You wanna drink?” When I had the whole thing pretty much off I got a regular Gillette, one of my own razors. Then there was the top. She said just make it flat. We made it flat. That was Grace. Still super lovely.



This was ’84. By then I’d had enough of the Bill Blass ladies and the Oscar de la Rent a ladies and having to do the Yves Saint Laurent chignons for French Vogue because I could never get a clean line in the back. So I told Bonnie [the model] what if we take this whole part off? This was the second time I did it. The actual moment was on a shoot for Vogue in a fancy hotel room in Milan where I had scored from the barber shop downstairs a clipper thing which made enormous noise. [Vogue editor] Polly Mellen walks in. She sees what’s going on and she freaks and we didn’t see her for the rest of the day or night. The next day we had to fly to Paris to do this fashion show for Comme des Garçons. Of course Rei loved it so Bonnie was the star of the fashion show. By the time I got back to my hotel, the Crillon, there was a line of people saying “Can you do that to me?” That was the kookiest thing that ever happened to me—in that respect anyway.



Steve and I practically grew up together. He was like the godfather of my kids. He was asked to do a pop-up collection for Target and it was about July 4th. That’s how I got to stars and stripes. Stars and stripes. He loved it. He made some drawings but he said better ones to come soon. And the better ones are these. Stars and stripes. Stripes and stars. And it’s so normal now—these kinds of haircuts. But not in the ’80s.




goes to show you that I’m Jekyll and Hyde! That’s pure hair. Also not very photoshopped. It’s probably cleaned up a bit. Was this Avedon or was this Arthur? I’m not sure. But that was the hairstyle. No one told me to do that either. André Leon [Talley] was her best friend. “Christiaan, you can do it. Make something glorious!” You do things, when there’s nobody standing over you saying do it this way or that way. I can’t explain it other than, shit happens. They probably cleaned it up a little but you can see it’s perfectly coiffed. And there’s no hairpiece in there. It’s all her hair.



Rei was like a lightning rod in my career. I did a job with Arthur Elgort for Marie Claire and the stylist that came over turned out to be Rei’s right hand in Paris. There were these fabric hats that went with the clothes and she was impressed with how I finagled fabric on the head—which is always a favorite of mine in any case. She must have told Rei, this guy knows what he’s doing. Then Rei comes to New York, on a November day, I remember that, up on 72nd Street in a funny apartment building and I was called in. I go visit Rei there and I’m soaking wet and we have a moment of this and that and the next thing you know I’m booked to fly to Paris for the next fashion show where those fabric hats were the thing. That started me off on a seven year run with her.