The Alchemists

Who doesn’t believe in the transformational power of good hair and makeup? In Hollywood, this idea is taken up a notch: beauty professionals are true magicians, who hold the power to contribute to a star’s mystique. They become celebrities’ best friends and confidants and are elevated to the position of legends in their own right. SOMA catches up with Michael Canale and Ida Gal-Csiszar, two veteran industry insiders in Los Angeles who have perfected the science of beauty.

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Michael Canale

What do Jennifer Aniston, Shakira, Penelope Cruz, and Heidi Klum have in common? They entrust their enviable heads of hair to Michael Canale. The go-to colorist for a long roster of celebrities has been working in Hollywood for thirty years. He believes that a large part of his success stems from the fact that, unlike some colorists, who take a more loose, artistic approach to mixing and applying hair color, Canale prides himself on “being conscious and organized.” Indeed, Canale is a scientist by training and appears to remain one at heart. Starting off his trajectory as an engineer, he eventually changed course: “Due to the layoffs in engineering in the late 70’s, I decided to refocus,” he explains. A chance meeting with “a girl who worked at John Peter Salon” introduced Canale to what would become his passion: “the technical side of the industry and the chemicals.”

Though the earliest years of this new career were spent partly on New Wave music video sets, and on creating the extreme looks that went with that genre, meeting glamorous yet natural stars such as Farrah Fawcett and Morgan Fairchild marked the beginning of Canale’s preoccupation with maintaining healthy strands and his focus on preserving the integrity of the hair.

Talented as he is in his own right, Canale thrives on working with others. As he quips, “teamwork makes the dream work!” He regularly partners with stylists such as Byron Williams and Enzo Angileri, but legendary haircutter Chris McMillan, who has worked on some of the industry’s biggest stars, and with whom Canale once owned a salon in celebrity-heavy Malibu, may well be his favorite collaborator. “I love working with Chris McMillan- he makes the most beautiful haircuts, and allows me to enhance them. I’m sure he feels the same way.” McMillan and Canale have collaborated for twenty years on the holder of the most consistently admired head of hair in Hollywood: the aforementioned Jennifer Aniston, she of the most preternaturally perfect tresses in the business. Since co-creating the infamous “Rachel” style, a layered cut enhanced by face-framing and illuminating streaks, the duo has continued to take Aniston through several permutations of the signature look, keeping it current via changing lengths and subtle variations in shade.

The one constant in Aniston’s hair, which is a testament to Canale’s talent, is the appearance of health and shine, and the fact that the color is always natural, never brassy or dull. Aniston’s trademark shade, a caramel tone that oscillates between brown and blonde, also known as “bronde,” may look artless, but it is actually quite challenging to achieve. Canale explains that it helps that he specializes in corrective color, excelling at “a technique specially designed to lighten or darken hair without producing warm tones.” Also, the perfectionist insists on using foils, never balayage, as the result is more precise and more subtle, easier on the hair, and infinitely more consistent. With Aniston, he will often highlight more heavily along the part and around the face while leaving other sections darker, but only slightly so: no ombré or visible roots here. Again, “natural” is the key word: despite the Hollywood stereotype of extremely blonde starlets who must eventually resort to extensions due to the breakage brought on by bleach abuse, Canale favors a less harsh look that brings out a woman’s beauty while respecting the integrity of the hair, gradually blending in subtle highlights and avoiding all over color whenever possible. Many of Canale’s clients, inspired by the beach lifestyle, are interested in pursuing a naturally sun-lightened look, and according to the colorist, this can be achieved with minimal chemical bleaching, harnessing the sun’s rays to naturally lighten ends without excess oxidation or breakage.

Though he is a seasoned globetrotter, with frequent travel between clients in Paris, London, and Gstaad, and maintains a monthly schedule that regularly sees him rushing between New York, Washington DC, and San Diego, copious amounts of sunshine, and the celebrities for whom his services are in high demand, ensure that Canale’s base remains firmly in Los Angeles, between his flagship salon in Beverly Hills and a freshly opened new space in Pacific Palisades. “Hollywood is the most iconic location in the world for a hairstylist or a hair colorist,” he enthuses.

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Ida Gal-Csiszar

You know you’ve made it in the beauty business when Hollywood makeup legend Max Factor asks you to personally blend his wife’s signature lipstick, a creamy formulation in a very specific shade of orange-red. Yet for Ida Gal- Csiszar, that was merely the beginning of her amazing adventure in cosmetics. The charmingly accented Hungarian émigré adds to an impressive list of Eastern European cosmetics professionals such as Factor, Estee Lauder, and Helena Rubinstein, who have shaped the industry. “The difference is, they came with loads of money. I arrived in America with an empty suitcase,” she laughs. Landing first in New Jersey, Gal-Csiszar started out at Johnson & Johnson. Her ambition and dreams of colors and creativity soon called her out West. She vividly recalls her arrival in LA, in 1973. “I was starving to do what I loved to do. When I walked into Max Factor I felt I was in heaven.” She was hired on the spot, and eventually became the head of research and development. “Max Factor was the biggest schooling I could have. I learned a lot of things. It’s hard to explain that feeling when you love something so much. They had to chase me out of there every night. Back then there were only several colors used (…) I was always pushing the envelope. I was too modern. I wanted to show them that there are other colors out there, new formulas, new packaging. I wanted to express my personality.”

Ida soon graduated to her own factory, launching her business, Classic Cosmetics, in 1988. The company has formulated products and fulfilled orders for lines such as Tom Ford, Stila, and Smashbox, which incidentally was created by Max Factor’s grandsons, who largely credit Ida for their success. But Gal-Csiszar’s passion couldn’t be fueled merely by making products for others. “I made so many other companies billionaires, and I thought, why not me? I want to put my name out there and prove that I can make my line as successful as other ones I launched.” Gal- Csiszar initially tried to embark on her project 10 years ago, but it wasn’t the right time. Now, says Ida, “this is it. I still have time and hope. We have everything in house, and I now have the help I need.”

It’s no surprise that Ida might need a little help: in addition to keeping the factory running smoothly in its day-to-day operations, the scientific visionary is “always busy working on new formulas. I give the idea to the chemists, which sometimes they can’t deliver.” Not to mention, the ever-active Ida, who keeps a notebook by her bed in order to jot down the cosmetics ideas that regularly strike at 2 a.m., is also hard at work on a memoir. Enter Hillary Clark, the well-connected and well-informed celebrity makeup artist who is helping Ida to develop and launch her passion project: the high-quality, luxurious line, which will be called Gallany Cosmetics. “Hillary is an asset, I love that girl,” says Ida. Clark is in charge, among other things, of tweaking colors, of naming them, of looking at packaging, of filming video content, and overseeing photo shoots. One of her favorite parts of her job, though, is that she gets to spend a lot of time watching and learning from Ida in the lab: “It’s like watching a magician,” says Clark.  “We are so desensitized to the complexity and science behind beauty, it’s just breathtaking to watch it come together.  For me, it’s like watching Creation at the hand of a Master Creator- which Ida is in the lab.”

Clark underlines the major advantage of having a full lab and factory at one’s direct disposal: there is significantly less turnaround time and expense when creating samples, which allows drastically increased creative freedom. Also, with Ida’s long history in the business comes priceless expertise: “Sometimes samples will come out differently than expected, but Ida can tell just by looking at a formulation what’s happened: whether it’s been overheated, or mixed differently.”

Ida’s extraordinary life and unique style are also the inspiration behind many of the products: Though she has always loved to push the envelope when she concocts cosmetics, Ida’s signature daily makeup is a glamorously classic constant: she has always favored a pure red on both her lips and nails. In fact, “Ida Red” is slated to be one of the offerings in the Gallany lipstick line. Also in the works, hopefully, is that custom shade Ida mixed for Mrs. Factor.

text by Karena Gupton Akhavein
photograph by brittany jurgaitis