“Do you like my hair blonde or dark?” Chris Appleton asks me in his fifth-floor hotel room.
The English celebrity hair stylist is in Sydney for a string of press opportunities and masterclasses. Between dishing out his sought-after expert advice, he’s found the time to discuss an important matter: hair colour.
I quipped back that he should be the one telling me. But after our short sit-down, I learned that’s how Appleton rolls. He’s extremely charismatic, full of candour and eager to speak to everyday women like you and me about feeling beautiful.
If you’re wondering, I tell him that the Y2K platinum blonde suits this era of his life. Appleton is in a period of his career where his fame isn’t defined by the proximity to his celebrity-studded roster of clients.
Instead, the notoriety that follows him is garnered from his megawatt talent and enviable ability to create trend-setting hairstyles. (Of course, a surprise, leather-adorned, Las Vegas wedding with husband, The White Lotus star, Lukas Gage, doesn’t help, either).
For the uninitiated, Los Angeles-based Appleton is why 90s bombshell blowouts made a comeback and ‘glass hair’ is in the arsenal of every hairdresser. He’s the creator of the world’s most famous ponytail: Ariana Grande’s.
Suppose you haven’t seen one of his TikTok tutorials boasting millions of views or his bicep-laden Instagram feed. In that case, you may recognise his peroxide locks peeping out from behind Kim Kardashian’s glam chair in The Kardashians. Perhaps even the man brushing out Jennifer Lopez’s bouncy curls in that now-viral video from the 2020 Super Bowl.
Having worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, it’s natural to assume that Appleton’s stardom transpired from his in-demand nature. But in the era where celebrity glam personnel are bona fide beauty-lebrities in their own right, there’s lots to learn from Appleton. (And not just how to master the perfect salon-worthy blow dry at home).
After popping a bottle of champagne, Appleton and I sit down to discuss the nitty-gritty details of his life in Hollywood. Discussing how his clients have helped him shape himself into a brand (which sounds like a trick learned from his time with Kardashian) to the meteoric rise to the top of his industry, uncover ahead just why everybody loves Chris. (Including Appleton’s ‘hair bible’)
From Beauty-Lebrity To Certified Celebrity
Some celebrities have monetised the public’s interest in their respective beauty and wellness routines into multi-million dollar businesses. Then, there’s a realm of celebrity stardom reserved for those beauty experts who have worked their way through the ranks to become A-listers in their own right. Appleton is one such guru. He may not have a line of styling products, hot tools or haircare, but at 40 years old, Appleton has converted his know-how into a riveting and tapped-in following.
“It’s interesting because I’ve had this mentioned to me a lot lately,” the ColourWOw ambassador notes. “It’s super flatting being celebrated for your craft. It’s one of the biggest accolades you can get. I love being recognised and asked to take a picture, but for me, the most enjoyment I get is to give real women who may not have glam teams access to how to create those looks.”
What Appleton is doing is democratising the industry. He’s breaking down barriers for more inept beauty lovers to join the conversation, instilling us with expert tips and tricks to use the power of hair to make ourselves feel good. Undoubtedly, a flawless beauty look can help increase our confidence, and Appleton has harnessed this into real-life currency.
“I’ll take that status, but I’ll also take that opportunity to give back to people and make people feel good about themselves. I love to help give people a good hair day because everyone deserves that.”
The Fame Machine
“Not at all did I start out doing it for fame,” Appleton reveals. “But it has been fun!”
Appleton notes that his bubble of fame is expanding, with him captured as much in front of the lens as he was behind it. However, the root of why he does what he does is to help people. “It was organic switching from working for the rich and famous to being regarded like that myself, as crazy as that sounds,” he adds. “I’ve been doing this since I was 30 and every step of the way has just been a building block.”
Appleton tells me that career-defining moments like the Super Bowl or Met Gala have placed him in the zeitgeist, leading to a heightened curiosity in who he is, not just whose hair he touches. “When there’s a bit more noise, people seem to want to know more about the look or want to know more about you,” he tells me. “It’s so funny how that becomes a thing.”
“I used to be known for having blonde hair and I just went brown recently and no one recognised me!” But recognition isn’t the driving force behind his success. “Not that ‘Chris Appleton’ is a character, but it becomes that people know you. So when you’ve got a brand and are known for it, it’s good to grow and evolve, but also fun to stick to your staples.”
The Branding Masterclass
For everyone curious how Appleton made sure his name was front and centre in the lexicon of celebrities and beauty lovers alike, it all comes down to the skills he picked up on jobs. Sure, there are the practical ones of how to turn a look on the fly or ensure his clients’ hair is seen from the back rows of a stadium. But, the crucial lesson has been watching his clientele develop their identities into brands. With access to some of the most successful businesswomen and entertainers, it’s hard not to see his job as a branding masterclass.
“It’s been inspiring to watch them along the way,” he tells me. “Watching people like Kim do SKIMS or JLo do her skincare line, I’ve learned it’s all a building process,” he adds.
“I’ve just been a sponge, sucking up information and looking up to people. Others may see them as successful people, but I see them as passionate, talented, dedicated, and just keep pushing.”
“At the end of the day, we all have life. It doesn’t matter how rich or talented you get; stuff like family, friends, laughing and sharing is all that matters. That’s why I keep my feet on the ground.
“It’s flattering that people want to know more about me, and I love to share my journey, but I run off the philosophy of ‘don’t believe it when it’s too good and don’t believe it when it’s too bad, just keep focused’.”
The American Dream, From An Englishman
Appleton’s meteoric success captures the American dream. Though this ambition was instilled in him long ago by his mother, his first “muse.” Appleton tells me that “when you’re really focused”, you can “often forget” how far you’ve come.
“I’ve worked with a lot of celebrities now, so it’s a very full circle moment to have your own billboard,” he said, referencing his masterclass plastered in the bright lights of Time Square. “When it’s yourself, you don’t like to build the hype up, but my mum was so overwhelmed, she shed a little tear and had a cry and was so proud.
“That’s one of the moments that really grounds you. I thought, ‘Small Chris would be proud,’ and you get to tap yourself on the back. I think that’s super healthy as well.”
The Secret? Perfectionism
“To be good at what I did, I was really hard on myself,” Appleton tells me. “I saw every detail and have that eye, so I can be quite self-critical with that.”
Appleton describes himself as a harsh critic, especially when it came to JLo’s Super Bowl hair.
“It was always good, but I knew exactly what I wanted it to be, so if it wasn’t that curly or bouncy it wouldn’t have been good enough.”
Although Appleton is learning to get to a healthier place with his inner monologue, he also describes this inherent sense of detail as one of the contributing factors to his success.
“Sometimes you’re a bit like a swan, where people see you as graceful and elegant on the outside, but underneath you’re just paddling and thinking ‘what’s next?’. I go more with the flow in that sense, but when it comes to working with my clients or hair, I never wing anything.”
The Recipe For Good Glam
So, how does Appleton do it? I ask him about some of his most memorable beauty looks—including Lopez’s sultry blowout and Kardashian’s signature shiny, straight tresses—to try and understand the process. If he’s spontaneous with the day-to-day, how meticulous is he about the actual work? Are references pulled? Look books created?
“It’s always a deep dive into the sustainability of what you’re going to do for the event and for the audience watching,” Appleton tells me. “We’re always discussing what we’re trying to give and what story we’re trying to tell. Because when you tell a story, you don’t just blurt it out. You plan it and have a beginning, middle and end, so with hair it’s similar.”
He explains that you have to be prepared for anything. “You have to be open to change. Change always happens. You know, the outfit won’t work or the event changes, so you have to be able to work first.”
The secret to good glam? “A combination of problem-solving, planning, executing the look and then being able to execute it again and again. You have to be open and flexible.” Part of this skill set is learning to let go: “I can’t control every strand of hair. There’s a difference between being focused and being obsessed and you’ve got to keep it balanced.”
The Reality Of Behind The Scenes
More so than ever before are people interested in the behind-the-scenes process of getting ready. It’s no longer just about showing up to the event but documenting every stage of how they prepared for it.
As someone who is with their clients at both the major and minor moments of their lives, I wondered if there’s more to the get-ready process than meets the eye (or makes it onto social media). “People would be surprised at the speed of it,” Appleton reveals.
“Yu can have a few hours for glam, but you might end up doing the actual full look in just a couple of minutes.”
But Appleton tells me these stressful moments are where the “magic happens”.
“It’s always the most creative and such a vibe. People may think I go in there and leave, but there are twists and turns wherever. The outfit might change or rip. The makeup might change so you have to change the hair. Most people will be surprised with how we cope under the stress.”
Hacks From The Hair Guru: How To Get The Chris Appleton Finish
“Kim once said to me, ‘I can tell when you’ve done someone else’s hair’ because of the finish and the quality”
Naturally, sitting down with the hair guru himself meant I couldn’t walk away without uncovering how hair novices like myself can emulate the glossy, sexy, beautiful Chris Appleton hair at home. “I’m very about the texture of hair. To create the right texture, it’s all about foundation, so I’m very big on styling products,” he reveals.
“If you think about when someone does makeup, you use so many different products to create these layers. If you just used one product on your face it would be very one-dimensional, so I love to layer products to create a great foundation,” he adds.
“The product that I use on 99.9% of my clients is the ColourWOW Dream Coat because it gives you that really smooth finish,” Appleton explains. “A lot of people don’t use it right. They just put a couple of sprays on top, but the product is as light as water so you have to saturate before blow drying.
“That gives me a great foundation because it has waterproof technology, so it can be resistant to humidity if you’re in the heat. Or, if you’re in the rain, it’s going to have the resistance against the rain, so it keeps your your style in place.”
“I’m also really big on conditioning masks,” Appleton tells me. “That’s why I love my Money Mask. It’s rehydrated and strengthening and it’s universal for all hair types. For each and every one. I wanted something that was fast that just really worked to give you luxurious hair,” he adds.
This article originally appeared on Grazia International