International hair artist, educator and owner of Denver’s Forma + Collective Salon are just a few titles attached to Chelsea Vonne James‘ name. In addition to receiving major awards and honors, the champion hairstylist secured the win for 303 Magazine Colorado Hairstylist of the Year as announced during Denver Fashion Week (DFW) Spring ’19. The global creative turned heads at past DFW seasons and remains as a top stylist in our city and beyond. Undoubtedly, James is the definition of a leader, teacher and specialized artist that we can all admire.
303 Magazine: Earlier this year, you were selected as the recipient of the 303 Magazine Colorado Hairstylist of the Year. Can you please tell us what getting that award meant to you?
Chelsea Vonne James: This award came as a completely wonderful surprise. It was actually really emotional for me because I think being recognized by your community is such a high honor. I have so much pride for our city, the hairdressers and beauty industry here, and our community in general. I feel beyond grateful to have received it.
303: As a hair artist who has had involvement with New York Fashion Week, Denver Fashion Week, NAHA and numerous other events, can you describe what hairstyling category is your favorite to work with and why?
CVJ: Oh man, choosing favorites, I cannot do. I think doing shows or competition hair probably, purely because I have the opportunity to have a voice. Creatively, I have the most room. Designing everything allows me to share the inspiration on stage or in interviews if I’m nominated. I try to use the opportunity to talk about something close to my heart, raise awareness for a cause, or start a conversation around topics I’m passionate about — like fear, insecurity or identity. Real issues that affect everyone, but are not encouraged to be discussed.
303: In addition to styling hair for runway shows, you also have experience with styling for music videos. Is that process different than runway shows in terms of how the hair is styled and techniques used?
CVJ: I approach all bookings the same. Whether I’m styling for marketing, editorials, fashion week, shows, education, music videos or celebrities, the first question I ask is, “How can I best serve who I’m working with?” The execution or end result may be very different depending on the vision or especially if there is dancing/movement, but ultimately in any collaboration, I start with listening to the vision. I deconstruct the concept and approach my technique from there and it’s always different, which ultimately keeps me, and I think us all entertained and inspired.
303: Can you please describe your process and preparation for runway shows?
CVJ: For fashion week, it’s my job to connect with the designer to help them fulfill their vision. For a hair focused runway show, the creative approach is totally different. Sometimes I get to be completely out there and build pieces with wigs or wefts. And sometimes I design understated but beautiful looks to show off the clothing. When it’s my show or I get to direct creatively, then it’s always my interest to say something with my work that matters. In runway, you work with a team and my approach is to reverse engineer the looks, I create head sheets and demo each look for everyone and clearly breakdown the timing. We have to be on the same page and trust each other to tell a story. Before the show starts, we line the models up for final touches and have a quick celebration before the next show.
303: As the owner of Forma + Collective Salon, do you feel Denver has embraced your entrepreneurial spirit and business?
CVJ: Beyond! It’s very scary to start a business. There are so many moving parts. I think because our mission is rooted in service, education and community it has translated that way. I think we have been embraced and supported by our community, clients and the industry. I’m inspired every day by the people I get to work with, and I think that energy cultivates a place that people want to participate in. We understand our responsibility, that we get the opportunity to help shape the way our guests present themselves to the world. We are honored to be entrusted with this privilege.
303: What made you want to open up your own salon?
CVJ: I opened a salon for many reasons. I am a global educator and spend almost every weekend on the road, sometimes weeks at a time. I wanted freedom in my schedule. I also wanted to work alongside hairdressers that I really admire. I wanted to work somewhere that prioritized advance education and I wanted a space to shoot my own content. I spend so much time at work and I wanted to wake up excited to go. I’m passionate about business and wanted to see if I could create a place to work with those win/win principles. I am also committed to the next generation of professionals and know that the culture we have built at Forma will set them up to be successful.
303: The current “it” haircut for females seems to be the long bob or blunt short cut. Do you think this cut and style will continue to be popular into fall, winter and eventually 2020?
CVJ: This is a huge topic. One that I spend a huge amount of time on. There will always be “it” haircuts, but the most exciting thing to me about this topic is the emphasis on designing a look for the individual. Yes, lobs and soft blunt cuts are trending, but people are becoming less interested in what’s “in” and becoming more interested in embracing their unique traits, texture and style. This is opening up a world that promotes true self esteem and for me, that’s the business I’m in. To answer your question though, I think blunt feels fresh and having a softened edge is modern, we will definitely see this look through to 2020.
303: Are there specific men’s and women’s hairstyles and colors we should know about for the upcoming colder months?
CVJ: Because of social media and the “freedom” it’s given stylists to have a voice, I think people are rebelling against what we usually see in the fall/winter months. Historically, we see longer hair, but I think we will be seeing a lot more short hair, blunt bobs, even pixie cuts than we have in the past. Same with color. Traditionally, we see people going darker, but I think we’re breaking the rule and looking more specifically to what is best for skin tone. Monochromatic dimension is hot right now. I see baby lights and natural contrast that allows for interest, movement and longevity in the grow out.
303: What tips do you have for those who are inspired by runway hairstyles, but want to tone them down for everyday wear?
CVJ: I always recommend people screenshot the image and make an appointment with their hairstylist to learn how to translate and adapt the looks from runway. At Forma + Collective, we offer a service where we teach our clients, with their own tools, how to create the looks themselves to always keep it fresh.
303: Should audiences expect to see you at Fall 2019 Denver Fashion Week? If so, can you provide any exclusive details as to what we will see from you?
CVJ: Not this year! I will be teaching a global master class in New York City for a group of stylists from Japan. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend, but I’ll be there in spirit.
All photography by MJ Kampe.