Our ongoing Q&A series features Leonor Greyl superfans who share our passion for luxurious, healthy hair. We talk about their career paths, celebrity encounters, style secrets, and more.
Meet sought-after stylist and salon owner Christopher Downs, who brought his New York City sensibility and style to coastal Northern California.
Christopher Salon & Home has two locations just north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in the wealthy enclaves of Tiburon by the bay and Mill Valley. Each intimate salon doubles as a home and fashion boutique curated by Christopher’s business and life partner, Paul DeMartini.
Christopher sat down with us for a wide-ranging chat about his start with Vidal Sassoon, styling the likes of Nicole Kidman, leaving the Big Apple for California, and the pandemic’s continued influence on emerging hair trends.
Leonor Greyl: Did you always want to be a stylist?
Christopher Downs: It’s always been a passion from a young age. I always felt that hair was a material I could manipulate. I would look at someone and think about how I can enhance their look. In high school, I started cutting my friends’ hair. As soon as I turned 18, I moved from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to New York City to become a stylist.
LG: Where did you study and train?
CD: I started at Vidal Sassoon NYC, and it was amazing. I actually got to work with Vidal Sassoon at one point as an apprentice. Their technical training was unbelievable. It basically was like enlisting in the Army. I mean, they’d make you do everything from holding the door open all day for clients in the winter to finally getting a position as an assistant. It was grueling, but I would not give it up for anything.
I accelerated through the program in under two years and got a job on the floor. I’d just eat, sleep, and breathe it. It wasn’t really a job – it was a passion.
LG: How long did you stay with Vidal Sassoon?
CD: Four years. During that time, I got involved in all aspects of the industry, including styling hair for Vidal Sassoon photoshoots for their print ads and commercials. I also worked fashion shows for designers like Issey Miyake. Then I started branching off and doing more photoshoot styling for different magazines and commercials.
When I left Vidal Sassoon, I joined (celebrity colorist) Louis Licari’s salon in New York City. I continued styling for photoshoots during the day and cut clients’ hair in the evening.
LG: Wow, you were busy…
CD: I was just having the best time of my life! By doing photoshoots, I was able to travel the world on someone else’s budget. I got to see amazing places, experience different personalities, and see all aspects of the industry. But I always came back to the salon because I love the personal client experience.
LG: After staying with Licari for several years, you opened a boutique salon in Chelsea…
CD: I wanted to create an intimate experience for my clients, more of a one-on-one invitation-only appointment. I wanted the client to feel as if they were in their own home in a very safe, protected environment where they could let go of their insecurities.
LG: You styled several VIPs…
CD: I worked with many celebrities on photoshoots and fashion shows, like (designer) Donna Karan and actresses Candice Bergen, Sally Fields, Peggy Lipton, and young Nicole Kidman, who was this shy person at the time. I worked with supermodels Elle Macpherson, Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington. I would have a photoshoot with Christy, and then we’d sit and have lunch together. It was a wonderful experience because, when you break it down, you can find something in common with anybody.
LG: Do you still have frequent celebrity encounters?
CD: I lived that life, which was wonderful. But I wanted to settle into my relationship (with Paul) and develop a home.
LG: What brought you to California?
CD: Paul was offered a major position with Williams-Sonoma. We came to San Francisco for a weekend to look around. When Paul drove us over the Golden Gate Bridge to this sunny place called Marin County, my mouth literally dropped open. It was so beautiful with the bay and green hills. I looked at him and said, “You’re taking the job.”
LG: Any regrets about leaving NYC and starting over?
CD: I had lived in New York City most of my life, and it’s an amazing place. But you’re also living that pace 24/7. I also loved the challenge of re-establishing my career on the West Coast. I knew what my hands could do, I knew I’d be fine.
LG: When did you first fall in love with Leonor Greyl products and decide to incorporate them in your salon?
CD: I did my research. I visited several salons in San Francisco and saw everyone carried the same brands. I tried them, but they didn’t do it for me. I wanted a high-end curated line. I like a smaller family brand with quality control and attention to detail. Also, I found that Leonor Greyl listens to you if you give them feedback. I’ve just been blown away by their product.
LG: What are your go-to Leonor Greyl products?
CD: Their shampoos are unbelievably rich; you almost don’t need conditioner after using them. My two favorites are Shampooing Crème Moelle De Bambou – I could use it on everybody and get amazing results – and volumizing Shampooing au Miel with honey.
For do-it-at-home deep conditioning, I always recommend Masque Fleurs de Jasmin and Masque à l’Orchidée. I tell clients that if they have an afternoon off, they should shampoo, comb the mask through wet hair, pull it into a nice knot and spend the afternoon relaxing in their backyard. Or if they are going to the beach, they should bring the product, comb it through wet hair after a swim and leave it on for a conditioning sunblock.
For styling, the alcohol-free Mousse au Lotus Volumatrice is unbelievable.
I could use that on fine hair, on thick hair, curly hair, straight hair. My other go-to is the lightweight Sérum de Soie Sublimateur.
LG: What style trends are you seeing for Fall?
CD: After 18 months of COVID and not having their hair touched, people want change.
We’re moving into stronger lines, sharper edges. A lot of clients want to cut their hair off. They just want to get rid of the last year! We’re lifting it to the shoulders or doing a sexy pixie. We’re bringing in bangs again. And clients want to dress their hair instead of wearing it natural.
It’s like we’re opening up people’s faces, which have been closed off with long hair and masks for the last year and a half. It’s like lifting a veil!
Did you miss our latest conversations with other Leonor Greyl ambassadors and superfans? Check out our Q&As with Alexandre Chouery, L.A. celebrity stylist Adrian Castillo, and beauty expert Eva Scrivo.