A statuesque model stood on stage wearing a geometric headpiece with long, dark tresses cascading over her face as longtime Houston-area stylist Dennis Clendennen clipped away at her hair, creating the final, bold look in a national hair show.
This finale won Clendennen the title of national Hairstylist of the Year at the sixth annual RAWards. He was surprised, but after almost 30 years in the business and 25 seasons of participating backstage at New York Fashion Week, such an award-winning showcase should not have been unexpected.
"I had the opportunity to create a show of just what my insanity could create,” Clendennen said.
“After years of doing fashion shows, hair shows, shoots etc... all the rules were not in play; I had the opportunity to create a show of just what my insanity could create,” Clendennen told CultureMap.
The annual RAWards is a show put on by RAW Artists, an organization devoted to celebrating the diverse independent art community in over 54 cities worldwide. Every year artists display their work in a local competition, spanning nine categories, including visual art, fashion, music, film, makeup, performing art and photography.
After online voting, the top three winners are chosen in each city, and from there a national panel of judges selects one national winner in each category.
Clendennen’s journey began when he was approached by Sammy Mazur, past director for RAW Artists Houston, to participate in the showcase.
“I decided to do the unexpected, creating elaborate hairpieces for two of the models was several weeks of trial, error, destruction, reconstruction, evolution and finally a finish,” Clendennen said. “The entire show was a mix of the hardness of angles, inspired by various frames of bridges, houses, towers, etc.. with the soft femininity of the models.”
Open mind and pair of scissors
Raised in Corpus Christi, Clendennen served in the U.S. Army and worked in the oil & gas industry before deciding to become a hairstylist. "Growing up I never had an inspiration to be a hairdresser. In south Texas going to the 'beauty shop' on Saturday morning with my mother watching people in rollers was not exactly an 'aha!!!' experience," he recalled.
Clendennen believes his longtime experience at New York Fashion Week has had a great influence on his aesthetic.
While getting a routine haircut, he was approached by a friend who suggested that he consider a career as a hairdresser. With an open mind and a pair of scissors, Clendennen decided to go for it.
His formal training began in cosmetology school at the Ogle School of Hair Design in Arlington. Since then, his career has been a mix of traveling for Aveda as an educator and platform stylist, editorial photo shoots, working full time at his salon, Dionysus, in The Woodlands for the past 18 years, and trips to New York Fashion Week, where he has worked with top hairdressers backstage for major runway shows.
Looking back on his career, Clendennen believes his longtime experience at New York Fashion Week has had a greatly influence on his aesthetic.
"Seeing the story behind the collections when testing with the designers, the collaboration of hair makeup, and wardrobe styling in the creation of the looks for the show is similar to conducting a symphony — so many different aspects of the show come together to create the fifteen minutes of magic that walks the runway," he said.
"Money cannot pay for the education I have absorbed from those experiences. Seeing the ways that different people understand, use and created has expanded my creative process of thinking."
In addition to his regular styling duties at his salon, Clendennen has several projects in the works, including one collaborating with a designer in Paris later this year.