PEOPLE: Chanel Croker on the importance of creative expression, building her career, and her love for ‘bad’ hair
Photography: Saty+Pratha, Cy McLellan, Erika Kamano, Angella Choe
Hair: Chanel Croker
Interview: Katharina Lina
Chanel Croker, otherwise known on Instagram as 1-800-Chanel, is an in-demand session stylist working between Toronto and LA, and responsible for some of the freshest editorial hair work you’ve seen circulating online. Growing up in Toronto, Chanel started working in salons at the age of 15 and spent several years learning and apprenticing until she felt ready to move up and create her own space.
Together with her partner and creative director Cy McLellan, Chanel founded DNS, which within the space of five years gained so much traction it was named the “#1 hair salon in Toronto”. As her work started to be more widely recognised, session opportunities started pouring in, but the salon life took up all her time. “Jobs would come up and I would have to turn them down because I was booked with salon clients. I started taking time away from the business and travelling to LA.” She loved the people and the work so much, taking the next step felt natural. Three years ago she moved to LA to pursue session work full-time, but continues to travel and work between both cities. With 22 years of hair experience in the bag, a successful business, an influential clientele, and recognition in the editorial world, Chanel is not slowing down anytime soon — watch this space.
We’re currently in the middle of a scary and uncertain time due to Covid-19, with our lives on hold to some extent. Has this time in isolation given you a chance to pursue any personal projects? I think that it’s important to take this time to be productive in some way if you can. It’s actually pretty inspiring seeing what people are creating and working on while alone in their apartments or houses. I’ve always wanted to develop a product line and I’ve been using this time to work on that. I wouldn’t say that this has been a welcomed break but it helps to find ways to make it purposeful. Sometimes the best ideas come about in times of stillness and reflection rather than times of action.
There are many people who may not be creative in their day-to-day who could potentially benefit from getting stuck into a project right now. What would be your advice for getting into the right mindset? The best way to be creative is to get inspired, to find something that interests you and then to follow it. It could be anything in my opinion as long as you’re excited by it. People are creative when they are expressing themselves in some way. I think this can take on many forms and isn’t exclusively related to art. A creative practice could include a physical activity or experiencing nature. A person’s culture is also a huge part of their creative expression. I think that everyone needs to express themselves in order to feel happy and purposeful.
“Sometimes the best ideas come about in times of stillness and reflection rather than times of action”
Before moving to LA you ran your own successful salon DNS in Toronto. Can you tell us a bit about the time leading up to owning your own salon; and also how becoming “Toronto’s #1 salon” came about? I was working for a hairstylist named John Steinberg at his salon in Toronto. John had been doing hair in London in the late 1950’s and 60’s and eventually found himself in Toronto during the height of punk and 80’s glam. He had this legendary salon called the Rainbow Room and was one of the first people to bring Manic Panic to Canada. I learned so much from John, he had seen everything and was endlessly excited about people and hair.
Over time I began to find my own voice as a stylist and it made sense to start something on my own. We opened DAY+NIGHT which evolved out of the desire to work with people with a shared vision. We would host parties and events with other artists and there was so much creative energy around what we were doing, that it just kinda blew up!
Eventually as I became more interested in session styling, my partner Cy and I decided to move into a warehouse loft space and change the name to DNS (Day Night Studio). We had a salon and photo studio on the first floor and lived on the second floor. We spent a few days a month focusing on shoots to showcase our more creative work. Cy did all the casting and photography; it was cool because it was all street casting. We would bring in teenagers who wanted to do interesting stuff with their hair but couldn’t afford it. I think this was one of the things that made the salon so popular and accessible, the fact that we were capturing and sharing our work in this way.
View this post on Instagram
@grimes for @crack_magazine Photography: @charlie__chops Photo Assistant: @moragamii and Christopher Joseph Production: @lmcworldwide Production Design: @kctarricone Styling: @jessica.worrell Makeup: @anthonyhnguyenmakeup Hair by me #grimes #crackmagazine #missanthropocene #viviennewestwood #editorial #editorialhair #hairbychanel
You’ve worked with Grimes a number of times over the last few years. I imagine seeing as she is such a highly-stylised artist, the work probably offers a lot more creative freedom than many other commercial projects? What is the creative process like working on a project with Grimes? We started working together 5 years ago when we shot her music video for Kill V. Maim. It was such a crazy couple of days; we shot in a haunted abandoned subway station and an empty warehouse that must have been an old meatpacking building because there were giant meathooks everywhere. There were so many friends and dancers and fans in that video, we basically created a giant vampire blood rave and it was incredible! After that we shot her video for Venus Fly with Janelle Monae and we just kept working together after that.
“I’m interested in beautiful hair that has a subversive element. I’m also interested in taking from history and re-contextualising it with my work, mixing styles and eras to create something new”
Grimes is a really interesting and impressive artist because she has such a clear concept of the work that she wants to create. From music, to videos, and her image, down to every detail. She is so involved in every creative aspect of what she does – it’s actually insane. Collaborating with her has always been effortless in a way because we have always been on the same page about her hair. I know just from working on countless sets and with other artists, photographers etc., that it’s rare for that to happen in a creative collaboration. So I feel very fortunate that we have a shared vision for her hair. We have developed so much trust throughout the years that it’s really an ideal relationship.
There’s a really nice balance of classic beauty elements mixed with subculture or era-specific beauty elements, giving the references in your work an updated feel – how would you describe your aesthetic or work style? I think that hair should be beautiful but not basic. I once worked with a hairstylist who said that ‘when you’re not sure what to do with the hair just make it beautiful’. The simplicity of that always stuck with me. Sometimes as hair stylists, we can overthink things and overwork the hair and it loses something. But of course beauty all on its own isn’t very interesting and can be stuck in the tropes and clichés of what it actually even means to be beautiful. I would say that I’m interested in beautiful hair that has a subversive element. I’m also interested in taking from history and re-contextualising it with my work, mixing styles and eras to create something new. For me its about finding the right combination of these things that’s really exciting. I would describe my aesthetic in hair as eclectic and futuristic.
How do you navigate finding the ‘right’ people / creatives to work with, whose work compliments yours and vice versa? A photo shoot is such a collaborative process and it’s so important that you work with people that have a mutual perspective. It’s a fine balance between having a goal or an idea with what you want to create and then also being flexible and malleable with what’s working and what isn’t. You have to have a plan but then also be willing to change the plan at the last moment.
A lot of people find each other through social media or you get booked on something and continue to work together when you can. I think you know if it’s a good fit almost instantly when working with someone. I’ve been working a lot with the photographer Charlotte Rutherford. Charlotte is such a unique talent and always has such clear and strong ideas about what she wants to create. At the same time she is open to suggestions and other possibilities which makes her a very generous and collaborative artist.
Do you believe in ‘good’ or ‘bad’ hair? I love bad hair! There’s always a special place in this world for just really outrageously so-bad-it’s-good hair. The only kind of bad hair that I don’t believe in is chemically damaged hair. There’s just no excuse for that.
What are some standout projects you’ve worked on, in terms of having been especially fun for you and your craft? The best projects are when you get to work with people who trust you and make it easy for you to do your thing. I recently did a shoot with the artist Dain Yoon for King Kong Magazine that I thought turned out really well. For one of the looks Dain had painted her face with 15 self-portraits in the style of a photo gallery layout from an i-Phone. I wrapped braid extensions around the perimeter of her face so that her face was at the centre of a circle of braided hair. That look was a lot of fun!
Another project that I loved was a photoshoot I did recently with Sanam Sindhi. I’ve been colouring Sanam’s hair for a while and we had this idea about doing a Marie Antoinette style bouffant with coppery orange and lavender. We did the shoot with photographer Angella Choe, makeup artist Paige Marton and nail artist Sojin Oh. It makes it really easy when working with such talented people who are also good friends. It was one of those special moments when everyone is just having fun doing what they love and magic happens.