If ever there was a symbol of larger-than-life glamour, Oribe Canales fit the bill. If you’re looking for a symbol of hairstylist-as-celebrity, that’s Oribe, too. His over-the-top looks were matched only by his equally ebullient personality, bringing his deeply personal take on femininity and sensuality to every model he worked on.
Coming of age in the Naomi/Christy/Linda-dominated ’80s, Oribe understood better than anyone that the perfect shot was a three-way partnership between model, photographer, and stylist—and that as the stylist, his ability to create the right mood on set could make or break the end result. “Oribe was a life-enhancing, beautiful guy who brought positive energy and massive amounts of creativity to every shoot,” says Barneys New York’s Creative Ambassador Simon Doonan. “He was adored by everyone.”
Throughout his enviable career, Oribe collaborated with the likes of Bruce Weber, Irving Penn, Steven Meisel, and Richard Avedon, deftly creating elaborate hairstyles that would live on forever in the photographers’ iconic imagery.
Born in Havana, Cuba, Oribe moved to North Carolina at age 6. As a young adult, he spent a few years in Miami with the aim of becoming an actor, before discovering his true calling cutting hair. As his popularity grew, so did his confidence in exploring bigger, sexier versions of his signature feminine style. The Barneys 2015 Better Than Ever campaign shot by Bruce Weber allowed him to realize his efforts to their fullest.
“I’ve worked with almost all the girls for years,” Oribe told The Window at the time. “But for this, I loved that I was able to add something to a Bruce Weber photograph—beautiful, sexy women. Barneys delivered the amazing roster, but then I got to exaggerate them, to bring out even more of what you expect each of them to be.”
During his career, Oribe was known for his openness and availability to everyone he worked with. “My interactions with him were limited to when I was starting out in fashion as a set assistant 15 years ago,” recalls Barneys Creative Director Matthew Mazzucca. “He was a teacher to us even then, inclusive on the project regardless of hierarchy or the ‘rules’ of fashion.”
Makeup artist Gucci Westman also remembers his inclusive, generous nature fondly. “I was fortunate enough to work with him on a lot of jobs—the most memorable one being a week in Saint-Tropez with Puff Daddy on a yacht. He was the most sarcastic, charming, devastatingly handsome person, and generous to a fault. He was always such fun, but the work was always the most important. His talent, passion, and positivity…these are just a few things that myself and so many others will miss about him,” she tells The Window.
His line of shampoos, conditioners, and styling aids including hair oil and texturizing spray launched in 2007, pairing old-world techniques with new-world technology and featuring rare ingredients. “After years in the industry and working on sets, you get to be a bit of a chemist,” said Oribe. “You mix things to get the desired effect, so eventually you know what works.”
Then again, it was never just about science for the celebrity stylist. Asked to explain the huge popularity of his products and the obsessive devotion of adoring fans, Oribe replied: “If you hope for the best and put your heart and soul into something, you’ll find that it usually works!”
Oribe passed away on December 16, 2018. He will be deeply missed by the Barneys family and all that knew him.