Adrian Elwell specializes in styling and color in San Francisco.
Only Adrian Elwell knows how to keep Chrystabell’s hair the “color of freshly spilled blood.”
Tasha Love: It’s clear you are talented by watching you work and seeing what you create. Tell us – why hair? How did you get here?
Adrian Elwell: It’s been a long, indirect journey to get here, for sure. I always knew I wanted a profession that allowed me to interact intimately with people in a one-on-one way. I liked the idea of developing a rapport with those individuals over time, so I was in search of a profession where I could interact with clients. But I also loved being creative and working with my hands- that is my happy place. So I’ve been fortunate to have two careers in my lifetime to date.
It started with hairdressing when I was still in school, but it was a different time and a different place in the early 90’s. My friends suddenly started getting sick and I reached a point where I needed to follow a different path. So while doing hair by day, I finished my Human Services degree part time at night. I left hairdressing for 7 years to help others during the AIDS epidemic, which ultimately brought me to San Francisco. Those were painful years, but it was incredibly meaningful and gratifying to have that sense of purpose.
After the AIDS crisis subsided, I decided it was time to feed my creativity energy again, and hairdressing is that expression for me. It felt so good to return to hairdressing! I get to work with my hands and be with people in one-on-one interactions that I find deeply satisfying.
I love haircutting and hair coloring equally. Many advanced courses at Vidal Sassoon Academy have shaped my approach to both cut and color.
Tasha Love: What is the most common misconception about personal hair care that you encounter and can you share your wisdom on avoiding/addressing it?
Adrian Elwell: For me, I think the most common misconception is that beautiful hair has to be a lot of work and high maintenance. A really great precision cut makes an incredible difference, and so many people have never experienced an exceptional haircut that looks good through different stages of growth.
Another misconception that I hear often from clients is that medium length hair (bob/lobs) are boring and high maintenance. The truth is, at these lengths, hair comes alive with body, and can be super easy to maintain with the right precision cut.
Tasha Love: Say you are going to teach a course on color and the focus of the talk is ‘the artistry of color,’ what might be your main point?
Adrian Elwell: The “essence” of good design, in my mind, is that form and function are one. That would be my main point. It applies to hair design as it applies to architecture, art, and evolution. There is tremendous, authentic beauty that flows from that simple principle, which is a very practical one (think of how beautiful a giraffe is, because it’s form has evolved for an essential function, which is to be able to graze on food that is high off the ground – that is form and function as one thing).
With hair, it goes beyond suitability for just that initial moment in the mirror. That is to say, a great hair design, inclusive of both cut and color, succeeds because it functions. It flatters the architecture of the face, but in the case where it is long, can have a direct effect on someone’s body proportions and can accentuate or detract from an overall look. It’s dynamic. Perfect form and function is beautiful when the hair is done and also when it is more tousled/undone. In my opinion, nothing is sexier than hair that looks good when it is tousled/undone. Hair that is done, is just so sexy when there is a confidence that undoing it isn’t going to diminish it. It’s dynamic, malleable, and not this rigid thing that you’re afraid to run your fingers-through. Hair functions for us, not the reverse.
The function of the color, first and foremost, is to make the skin look healthy and youthful. The perfect hue and depth of tone works wonders. Color that makes the hair damaged and unruly can look good – but it’s not effortless. And it’s not necessarily sexy when it’s undone.
The best trends are born from marriages of both form and function. Think of the “lived in” look with color that is so popular now. Roots are a little darker, which is incredibly functional design, because the color lasts and lasts without looking like the person is overdue for a retouch. Hair can be done or undone and still be beautiful and sexy. So for me, the artistry of color at this point in time, has to do with keeping the hair healthy, and focusing on limiting extreme lightening to mainly the mid-lengths and ends of the hair. Retouches are then needed less often, and there is a practical aspect that results in this sexiness that just works, done or undone.
Tasha Love: What is your favorite cut and style to do and why?
Adrian Elwell: Ultimately it’s the best cut and style that suits my client’s look, personality, and hair texture. But if I have a favorite, it’s precision cuts with strong geometry that offer versatility to the individual to look good in multiple ways.
Tasha Love: What are the challenges a stylist/colorist faces as a working professional and how do you manage them?
Adrian Elwell: I find the biggest challenge is coming to a mutual understanding of the limits that can be accomplished in one appointment, when it comes to making a big color change, while keeping hair healthy. I manage this by really taking time with my clients during their consultation to find out what elements are most important them, and addressing reasonable expectations for that appointment. I also always address long term goals and the best maintenance practices.
Tasha Love: How and when did you first meet Chrystabell? (and/or) How and when did you first begin doing Chrystabell’s hair?
Adrian Elwell: I first met Chrystabell when she made an appointment on my calendar and sat in my chair almost 5 years ago. I have been cutting, styling, and coloring her hair ever since. I love every visit, sharing in the adventures of her career as they unfold. I’ve come to feel like a participant in it (just a tiny bit), as our friendship has developed. And as her friend, feel an enormous sense of pride for her.
I am seriously just beaming right now for her. It just so happens that I am a huge movie lover and a huge David Lynch fan. So needless to say, we hit it off right away. I am very grateful for that first day she popped into my life..
Chrystabell and Adrian at the Festival of Disruption. (Oct 2016)
“Tailoring a signature look that uniquely suits the individual energizes and inspires me. To create it, I look at the whole person, who they are, how they live – and marry those elements with a precision style, cut and color that reflects their individuality. Beautiful hair is personal. It’s my job and my joy to make all the ingredients work together.”
– Adrian Elwell
Tasha Love: You’ve designed a signature color for Chrystabell. What is it called and tell us your inspiration for it.
Adrian Elwell: Until recently, we’ve kept her hair a consistent shade of deep mahogany red. I forget which fashion magazine described it as the “color of freshly spilled blood,” but we have kept it super healthy and color stable – with touring, it can be a long time between retouches.
It’s been very important to keep her hair healthy and keep it from fading so it looks consistent during filming a television series over the last year.
With a break in filming and an emphasis on concert performances, I proposed that we shake things up and go for more pop with the color, not messing with her base color of course, as it has been her signature color for so long. I knew she wouldn’t want to mess with it too much, so recently I used a hair painting technique to lighten some of the mid lengths and ends. I then colored them with a lighter, brighter and slightly warmer shade of primary red. And we achieved a bit more pop with some interesting color variations.
Keeping the hair healthy, and neatly shaped with a precision cut, we are very pleased with the result. Chrystabell is able to mess her hair up on stage and it always looks great, done or undone. She loves her hair, and that brings me great joy and tremendous satisfaction.
Tasha Love: Tell us about your approach to Chrystabell’s hairstyle for the Red Carpet and World Premiere of Twin Peaks. Include any fun facts/stories/challenges you’d like to share.
Adrian Elwell: Two objectives came together that day in the most amazing way. Of course, retouching color and styling for the red carpet was number one. Because Chrystabell was touring and couldn’t make it up to San Francisco. I agreed to come down to LA to do that, so color and styling was the first objective.
The other was something we had been discussing for some time: creating a short video of Chrystabell’s color & styling featuring her favorite color line, Davines hair color. Davines North America hooked me up with Jen Bender at M Bird Studio, which was a beautiful and spacious salon with great natural light, which was ideal for this project.
Chrystabell on the Red Carpet at the Twin Peaks Premiere. (Jun 17)
I wanted Elias Tehan to do the video because I watched him take the most amazing images of CB when I did her hair at her Hollywood Forever concert. So when Joey Skorman [Panic Productions] came on board to direct everything, all the pieces fell into place like magic. We even had a last minute dress fitting in the salon by the very talented Nima Shiraz.
It was truly a cinderella moment that we were able to create and capture on film. Truly a dream to be among so many talented artists working together until the last moment when we put CB in the car, still in her salon robe, to do final preparations.
With so many images, one that captures the day best is the one of CB in the back room with her hair in a towel, with Nima fitting that gorgeous dress, and the salon’s hair mannequins lined-up on the shelf behind her. It was a surreal visual effect.
Visit Adrian Elwell’s website is http://www.adrianelwell.com/.
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