Oribe Canales passed away on Sunday, at the age of 62. According to the New York Times, the cause of death was from liver and kidney failure after receiving cancer treatment last month.
Known to the world by his first name, Oribe was a modern-day hair artist and disruptor. He treated it like sculpture to mold and reshape, backcombing it into “Hairspray”-high bouffants for a 1992 Chanel show, only to subsequently topple it or dirtying it up at Marc Jacobs for Perry Ellis’s now iconic grunge show. And let us not forget the nearly steroidal Belle du Jour coif he created on longtime muse Jennifer Lopez for the 2002 Academy Awards.
Oribe moved with his family from his native Cuba to North Carolina when he was 6 years old. Struck by the glamour of television, the strikingly handsome young Oribe had dreams of becoming an actor. He moved to New York in his late teens, found some work as a dancer/waiter, but his focus shifted when he got a job as a receptionist at a hair salon.
Acclaimed hairstylist Garren met the then-16-year-old during a visit to his hometown near Buffalo.
“He had these big eyes, and he hung on to every word I said,” he said. “He had all these magazine tear sheets [of hairstylists like] Suga, Christiaan, and myself so I said, ‘Go to beauty school, see if you like it, and when you’re done, come to my salon at the Plaza.’ When he showed up, he’d matured and changed his whole look. I knew my clientele would be drawn to him, so I put him on the floor, and all the girls loved him because he was into that whole glamorous, done/undone kind of hair.”
It was on a shoot for GQ where he met editorial stylist Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele who took a shining to him and his work. This led to shoots with Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, and Steven Meisel, who brought him in to join de Dudzeele, makeup artist Francois Nars and the OG Supermodels Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell on what would become a vast portfolio of work, largely for Italian Vogue from the late ’80s to the early ’90s. They pushed the envelope, in both beauty look and concept, Oribe often implementing wigs (Diana Ross taught him how to properly affix one) and extensions in the process (he even brought rollers back into style.)
Of the millions who took notice was Jennifer Lopez, who, after admiring his work in American Vogue, hired him for her first album cover for On The 6 in 1997. Throughout the next decade, the two worked together to craft the “J.Lo” persona, from the teased cascade that accompanied her plunging Versace gown to the diminutive and sleek low chignon she wore to the 2001 Academy Awards. Lopez posted a tribute to Oribe on her Instagram account yesterday, saying, “He made me love the glam part of things. Bc he loved it so much and saw it as a powerful tool to empower women. He loved beauty and wanted women to feel beautiful and sexy.”
“His work has always been a major inspiration for me,” says hairstylist James Pecis, who joined the Oribe brand in 2015 as global ambassador. “It is impossible not to come across his work when researching and referencing iconic work. Every hairdresser has been influenced his his touch, and fashion photography was shaped by the hair he did and people he touched.”
Oribe had a little salon tucked within the clothing store Parachute in the early ’80s, but closed shop when Elizabeth Arden tapped him in 1991 to open high atop Fifth Avenue. The huge space was lavishly decorated in Versace-like opulence with rows upon rows of hair stations. A second location followed four years later in South Beach.
He also took his first stab at hair care around this time, but it eventually disappeared (and, mysteriously, locating a shot of these proves pretty impossible). The second attempt proved a charm, though, when he launched a high-end collection of 20 products. It was, pretty much, an overnight sensation, and more than ten years later, thanks to acclaimed favorites like Dry Texture Spray and Gold Lust Oil, the Oribe collection remains one of the most luxurious and highly regarded hair-care lines in existence.
In the past decade or so, the sexy stud in the black leather jacket eased into more of that of a gentleman barber. Wearing his signature thick black eyeglass frames, his hair still chicly gelled, Oribe was often seen nattily dressed in a tweed vest over the crisp white shirt rolled up to reveal peeks of his signature full-sleeve tattoos.
It’s almost laughable to imagine this man possessing diva behavior. In fact, Oribe was always cheery and welcoming on set, bearing a perpetual calm smile that seemed to appreciate the good fortune his talents and hard work had brought him. More recently, whenever I’d see him at a product launch, I always marveled at how kind and even somewhat quiet he was when explaining a new hair spray, styling cream, or mousse.
But that was the essence of this massively talented man. It was never about him. It was always about the hair.