Growing up, Marcel Dagenais did a very smart thing—He listened to his mother. Early on she told the self-proclaimed perfectionist and Northern California native who has been cutting hair since the eighth grade to dive into the world of hairdressing. “I didn't realize all the different paths you could take within the industry, so I wasn't sold on the idea when I was younger,” said Marcel. “But, once I realized I could get into fashion, film or television, I started to warm up to it. Mom always knows best.”
In addition to trimming and chopping friends’ hair since middle school, Marcel grew up with two older sisters so there was constant primping and prepping going on around the house. Sibling osmosis coupled with early ’90s West Coast influence shaped Marcel into the master stylist he is today. “Growing up in San Francisco in the early ’90s was a trip,” remembers Marcel. “There was a lot of punky colored hair and goth looks happening. It was a good time to be in that city.
But the East Coast came calling for Marcel, and in 2004 he crossed the country and settled into New York City where his big break would come via one of today’s most well-respected comedians. Louis C.K., who had been a cutting client of Marcel’s for about a year, invited him to head up the hair department for his hit TV show, Louie. “I was an editorial stylist before getting into film and television, so the shift in career direction was interesting,” said Marcel. “I had to start thinking about how hair looks in a moving image, rather than a photograph. It's been a fun, creative journey.”
Nowadays Marcel is regular on set of television’s most anticipated series, including Louie, Broad City and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Fueled by his obsessive tendencies for hairsplitting exactness, Marcel—and his mother—are in the hair game for the long haul. We caught up with the comedian’s chosen stylist to chat about his famous friends, the lifestyle of a behind-the-scenes hairdresser and how Oribe Hair Care is an on-set essential.
Your personal clientele includes some of the best in the business. What's it like to work with the famously funny like Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer, Louis C.K. and John Oliver?
I feel really lucky to work with these talented folks. They are so smart and so funny. Over the years I've gained their trust, so when we work together it's like catching up with a friend and having fun. It's surreal to think about the people I've worked with and connected with over the years. Sometimes I can't believe I get paid to do what I do—it's so fun!
What is life like behind the scenes on a television series?
The hours are definitely long. On average, I work 12-to-14 hour days from Monday to Friday for a minimum of 10 weeks to film an entire season of a TV series. Sometimes that can be longer depending on how many episodes there are in the season. There's a camaraderie that comes along with being with the same group of people for that much time. I always joke that we live the “carnie life.” Going to a trailer attached to a semi truck everyday makes you feel like a wanderer.
What's goes on in the hair and makeup trailer on the set of Broad City?
Broad City is a super fast-paced show. We change their looks multiple times each day as we are shooting several scenes for a few different episodes, so I have to be fast to get them in and out of the trailer and on to set. That being said, there’s usually some bumpin’ music playing and impromptu dance parties when we can squeeze it in. Overall the vibe is what you would expect when working with Abbi and Ilana—good times.
In addition to holding the “Head of Hair Department” title on some of today’s most popular television series, you have a long list of editorial credentials that include V Magazine, Vogue and Rolling Stone. Does one editorial project stick out in particular?
I had the opportunity to assist Orlando Pita when I first moved to New York in 2004. I was in awe of his craftsmanship and his kindheartedness. He taught me proper set etiquette and can effortlessly style a magical hairdo in minutes. It was a dream come true to work with someone who I have so much respect for. I still look back on those days fondly. I never thought I would be on huge campaigns and big magazine shoots six months into living in New York. All the work I have done on my own still doesn't compare to that time.
You’ve been a hairstylist in New York City for 13 years. How have things changed since the early 2000s?
It feels like people want more bang for less buck as the years go by. Sometimes it’s a challenge to meet the expectations of a director’s or fashion editor’s vision. But this keeps me on my toes and makes me think outside the box, which pushes me to figure things out and get crafty, so I don't mind at all.
You regularly style both men and women. Is there one thing that everyone should be doing when it comes his/her hair (or beauty) routine?
In my opinion, the most important thing anyone can do is to eat healthy. Hair strength comes from within, and if you're not taking care of yourself on the inside it will show on the outside. And, of course, use quality products like Oribe.
What are your Oribe favorites and how do you use them on set?
My kit essentials for every job are Superfine Hair Spray and Superfine Strong Hair Spray. I've tried practically every product line that exists and nothing gives me the results that these two products give me. If my client doesn't like hair spray I use Dry Texturizing Spray as an alternative because it gives just the right amount of hold without feeling stiff. I also love Crème for Style; the possibilities with that product are endless.
What is one hairstyle that will stand the test of time?
The bob. There are so many length variations you can do with this particular style. It can be short, clean and classic or longer, messy and contemporary. I recently cut an actress’ hair and now it’s a bit above her shoulders. It's like she was meant to have that hairstyle her entire life. I don't think she'll be going back to long hair anytime soon.
What are some words of wisdom that you live by?
I tend to be a perfectionist, but there are moments on set that are out of my control. I can't jump in to fix everything. A wise costume designer once told me that I can't stress about the things I can't control. Those words come to mind quite often when I'm at work and in my everyday life.
What was the first celebrity hair cut/style you fell in love with as a kid?
I love films from the ’70s and early ’80s. The perfect whipped hairstyles women had were works of art. I’m currently on a show, and I'm pulling a lot of inspiration from that era for one of the main characters. It's such a contrast to today’s natural, no-nonsense styles.
Where do you go for inspiration?
I always reference hairstyles from old yearbooks when I’m trying to emulate a particular year. You can really see what the current style of a certain time period was when you look at senior portraits. It's also just fun to see all those looks.
Who is your dream client?
Probably Bjork—She's experimental and isn't afraid to try something weird and different. I also really love Mia Wasikowska. She is an incredible actress and always has amazing wigs in films. Mia can pull off practically any look, and I hear she is a dream to work with.
How has social media turned the hair industry on its head?
I think it's great! It's awesome to see all my friends posting their new work, and it's cool to have access to everything that is being published daily. I'm an instant gratification kinda guy, so I'm a fan.
Where do you see yourself and your career in 10 years?
Hopefully I will still be working with incredible, inspiring people and creating work I am proud of. I also hope to travel to exotic locations on my time off—I'd be happy with that.