Color Takes Me Up – A Q&A with Master Colorist, Ellie Coates

In 2002 Ellie Coates became ARROJO’s first Hair Color Apprentice. Now she is our leading Master Colorist with a global reputation for the florid beauty of her work. As the brand has grown, she has grown. This interview peeks into her heart and mind... 
Ellie, growing up in Wisconsin, what drew you to hairdressing?
As a teen I traveled to Chicago for the club culture. I noticed how different club-goers looked to people at home. I found image and identity inspiring. After creating artwork, hairdressing appealed because rather than being by yourself and waiting for a spark, you have your client, your muse right there; and you can help to define their identity. 
So you moved to Chicago to begin your career?
No. Wisconsin is one of only two states where you can apprentice in a salon as a way to get your license, which is the path I chose. Once in a salon I found that, like music, color takes me up. I focused on it and soon after I was doing the salon owner’s color work. 
We value education so much here. Was it difficult beginning your career without a formal education?
After my apprenticeship I decided to go the Aveda School in Minneapolis to get strong foundations. I loved Aveda. It was run by Horst Rechelbacher’s (founder of Aveda) proteges and it combined discipline with creative learning. It was truly inspiring.  
How did you come to be the first ARROJO Color Apprentice?
To scratch my wanderlust I worked as the stylist on a cruise ship. Afterwards, I remembered meeting Nick back at Aveda. His passion was stirring and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should be working for him. I plucked courage and gave him a call. Before I could say much he told me he wasn’t hiring any more cutting apprentices. I told him that “that’s fine because I want to do color!” 
Image from the Reverb collection, colored by Ellie
From Apprentice to Master, Tell us about your journey at ARROJO
I must thank my friend and mentor, James Edick. He has had a big influence on my career at ARROJO, for his technical and creative skills, and for his integrity and willingness to share. To be part of what Nick has achieved is remarkable. From six chairs to a multifaceted, pioneering company –– incredible. I teach, travel, present in front of thousands, develop new trends and techniques, and work with so many wonderful New Yorkers on their hairstyle. I never dreamed I could do so much. 
In the twenty-first century, what has changed in hair color?
Digital media created big change. Through social profiles celebrities can instantly post a new look, and their fans can instantly see it. It means trends move faster and the client is more clued in. 
Does this make a colorist’s life more difficult? 
It’s challenging because Rihanna may post a new hairstyle in the morning, and not only does your afternoon client want her look, she expects you to know about it. Another challenge is that bright contemporary shades are difficult to achieve if the hair type is unfavorable or has an extensive color history. It can be a complex process because we always want to maintain the integrity of the hair. But it keeps the job exciting and forces us to work hard to stay on top. I enjoy the challenge. 
What about hair color technology. How has it changed over the years?
We now have better delivery systems, increased durability and intensity, and more go-to products. Years ago we might have blended six colors to make pink; now we have pink in a bottle. 
Does this detract from the craft of creating hair color? 
It adds to the craft because we can enhance colors more and create more customized effects, which is empowering and creative. We can create different types of finishes; we have more control.   
Image from the Cellophanes collection, colored by Ellie.
How do you feel about hair painting versus traditional foil applications?
It’s great to have new trends and techniques to work with. Foils are classic, conservative, and able to create bold dramatic color. Hair painting is visual, youthful, gradated, and more economical. The economic crash helped to make hair painting popular. There is less demarcation, which means colors grow out with less maintenance required. 
What color trends do you see for 2015?
Color will become a status symbol again. We are moving towards glamorous, luxurious-looking Park Avenue hair. Colors will look more polished, more professional. 
What can a client expect when they come to see you?
For new clients, a thorough consultation. I ask questions because I want to get to the heart of each person’s desires –– what do they really want because judging color is subjective. “Red” could mean cardinal or cerise, carmine or coral, or any other of the twenty-plus red tones. I also pride myself on building client relationships and maintenance of hair over time. After coloring for 15 years I am comfortable with what I am doing and that tends to rub off on the client, making for a fun, professional, and relaxing experience. 
What are some of your own favorite hair colors?
Tilda Swinton’s icy Nordic blonde has incredible ghostly elegance. I love Julianne Moore’s classic red; her color is always beautiful, shiny, and healthy. For me, I love doing brunettes, especially with highlights. So many brunettes want that smokey couture effect epitomized by Anne Bancroft in The Graduate but, at the same time, they don’t want to see any red in the tone. That’s difficult to achieve, unless you produce a superbly precise technical application. It’s one of my great strengths; I have clients that come from across America to see me for smokey brunettes. 
Ellie Presents Color Trends at Expo Chicago
And some of your career highlights?
Getting to work with Nick on What Not to Wear was an eye-opening and exciting experience. I learned a lot in a sink or swim environment. This year I enjoyed presenting at Expo Chicago; it was like going back to my dance party roots, and combining it with hair color. Teaching alongside John Simpson, Goldwell’s Global Color Master, is another highlight. John has so much knowledge and an infectious passion for the craft. 
Finally, ARROJO is about to expand into Tribeca and Williamsburg. How do you feel about it? 
What Nick did and what he asked us to do was to be the best and the most passionate and, most important, to always be nice to people. The expansion is so exciting and a testament to his vision. To be part of it is amazing. I can’t wait to move in! 
Ellie is a Master Colorist at ARROJO NYC. For appointments, please call: 212 242 7786.