Malcolm Marquez brings legendary hair into the future

Describing Malcolm Marquez as merely a hair stylist is not only inadequate – it’s quite honestly a rude understatement. Yes, he does incredible hair: an online dive will unearth an incredible array of some of the most memorable pop-culture hair moments in recent years. The list of his collaborators and muses reads like a who’s who of the most exciting and boundary pushing talent around. But the world Marquez has built around him goes beyond a stylist making his talent look flawless, his work often references important cultural moments that in his hands morph into a celebration and is often deeply emotional. And while he is not always looking to the past, he is 100% operating in the future of hair.


Can you talk a little bit about your journey as an artist – when did you realize that you were a creative and how did you figure out what medium would best suit you? I would like to understand that journey

My artist journey started quite young, before I even knew really. As I get older and deeper into my career I’m constantly reminded of pieces of my childhood that influenced the artist I am (and am still becoming) today.  I’m thankful to have grown up in a space where my creativity was celebrated. I was always painting, drawing, (trying) to sew my own clothes, I just enjoyed working with my hands. There was no moment of realization, rather just a continuation of my creative output through different mediums. Discovering fashion was how I discovered hair. As a teenager I would watch old haute couture runways on youtube and be mesmerized by the beauty. I loved the theatrics and storytelling that took place without saying a word. This was also during a time when I was I was experimenting how I wanted to present to the world . Hair happened to be the thing I found the most power in. I started doing hair because I wanted to share that same power with the people around me. I believe where I am today is just me authentically wanting to make art and empower people through this medium that helped me find myself.

A lot of your hair designs to me feel like an ode to black women or to the 90s and early 2000s (the flips, the colors, the updo’s and 27 piece like designs) If I am correct in this observation, can you touch on why this style and this era has been a source of inspiration in your work? 

Absolutely! I think there’s several reasons why I’m inspired by these eras. First off I believe black hair simply has the most range and depth. I think there was something really incredible happening during those eras specifically in how we chose to style our hair. The hairstyles for both men and women were maximalist and playful. I love to play with those techniques in my work today to both pay honor to, but also reimagine the look as something modern/futuristic. Using the tools to build something new. I think in a way I’m also playing with the inner child who was too young to really see some of these hairstyles out in the streets in their heyday. 

I’ve been in awe of the hair dresses, hats and other hair garments you have made, can you walk us through the creative process of something as out of the box as that?

In the last few years I’ve been more inspired to take hair off the head and move into wearable art. It started with hat-like pieces to create an extension of the hairstyle. Fashion was my gateway into this world and I didn’t feel like I had to box myself into just creating hairstyles on the head. Designers like Phillip Tracey and McQueen inspired me early on to think about how to use the body as a canvas to tell stories. For me the process of creating those pieces is pretty organic. They usually start as an exploration of a texture, color, shape, ect. I just begin to play and build whatever comes out of my hands. I find inspiration as I work-rather than planning out every single piece ahead of time. I find that’s how I feel the most authentic about what I’ve created. Too much control can stifle the creative process. 

What has your journey in this industry been like being both black and gay?

It’s been lovely. Black people more than ever have become the trendsetters of fashion and beauty. Queer people have always been the force behind social progress and evolution. I feel honored to be sitting proudly in both identities. What’s important to me is maintaining that sense of community preservation while I move through this industry. Black trans women and black gay men were some of the first to believe in my talent and uplift me. I do feel a responsibility to protect and preserve these communities on an ancestral level. 

When I look around the industry, I see so many talented black hair and makeup artists. However, I don’t see as many agency signed black hair and makeup artists. Can you touch on your journey of finding the right agent and your experience of being signed as a black artist?

I think you’re absolutely right. My current agency Opus approached me towards the end of 2020. Up until then I had been very hesitant about working with an agency. Frankly I didn’t trust someone else handling my money and clients. LA is a very commercial environment and I was worried they would want me to water myself down. I had heard so many horror stories of artists being taken advantage of, overworked, underpaid, ect. I was surprised when I met with Opus and saw how well researched and intrigued they were by my work. They saw my individuality as a strength which was affirming. I didn’t need to sell myself. The work load was also becoming overwhelming so the decision to work together was pretty easy. This was also towards the end of 2020 when there was a big spotlight on BLM and representation was a hot topic in the industry. More black models on set means someone needs to be able to do their hair. I hear stories constantly from models about the ways non black people have disrespected their hair due to lack of knowledge or covert racism. It’s also wild to me how many non black artists get away with being extremely successful while not even knowing how to do simple straight backs on 4C hair. Yet those artists are the ones who end up signed and paid.  (That’s a conversation for another day) I cant say I know why agencies don’t sign black artists as much, I think that’s a question for their end. The talent is out there.

However I do believe the way we have been excluded from the industry (unless it’s to steal and appropriate our looks) is to everyone’s detriment. I’m grateful for the shift that’s happening, I’m grateful my agency has let me be the type of artist I want to be. I’m extremely open with them about things that make me uncomfortable which I think has made our relationship strong. I’m only one person though and I want that value given to all black hair and makeup artists from commercial to editorial. We keep up the trends and have specialized skills that some of us have been practicing since childhood. Having an agent allows more space for me to be an artist while they manage logistics. At this point I don’t think I could do it all on my own. However as a whole I think the industry has a long way to go. Signing a few black artist and mixing up the castings isn’t enough for me. There’s still some uncomfortable truths that the agency side of the industry needs to work on if we’re going to create permanent change – NOT just checking off the representation boxes to alleviate guilt and avoid accountability. 

If you weren’t a hair artist, what else do you think you would be doing?

I was a gymnast and a dancer before hair took over my life. Movement still informs so much of my personal work today. I miss dance everyday. I like to imagine what that life path would have looked like for me. I also could see myself as a sculptor just using a different medium. I don’t really see a reality where I’m not an artist. 

How do you keep yourself healthy spiritually and mentally that you find help to elevate your creativity?

I do believe taking care of the mind and body is crucial to staying sane in this industry. I do pull my own Oracle cards whenever I feel like I need direction or to connect with source. In the last year I’ve gotten into using frequency healing with meditation or even while I sleep. For more practical healing I talk to my therapist or just go to the gym. I don’t really feel like any of these necessarily elevate my creativity but more so keep me balanced. Happy or sad, I’m still going to create. I just prefer to create my work from a healed place. 

As we all become more aware of how wasteful and toxic our tools and practices can be in the beauty industry, what are your thoughts on sustainability as it relates to hair and the future of the hair industry?

I think packaging creates some of the most waste for me on a daily basis. Products are frequently overpackaged or there’s an unnecessary use of plastic or other materials toxic to the environment.  I hope that as we progress as an industry and there is more accountability on environmental impact and ethically sourced ingredients. I see it with some brands from time to time however there is still a need for improvement.  I’m hopeful with some of the heightened conversations surrounding climate change in the last few years that this can be at the forefront of brands’ core values. I think now more than ever people are wanting products that are both of quality and feel less guilt about environmental impact.

Have you been taking steps towards a more sustainable approach – and if so, what are they ?

I will admit it’s a challenge when you’re using a high volume of product but I try my hardest. I keep close tabs on my kit, just to make sure I’m not overbuying product which leads to waste when they don’t get used. Things I won’t be using I end up giving away or donating so at least the energy used to produce and ship that product isn’t thrown out immediately. Beauty is such a fast paced industry meaning that we’re constantly having to use what’s now and quickly onto the next. So much goes into creating one look to create one image that can potentially just become waste when it’s finished. I’m also constantly recycling hair and random supplies in my kit. I love taking something I have and upgrading it – continuing the story if you will. So much energy is consumed just to get these tools to us that it’s important to me that it doesn’t just all end up in a landfill but can be used to create longer lasting art.

How do you define beauty?

Beauty is feeling in your skin, feeling activated through your physical presentation. It’s feeling fit for the moment, whatever that calls for. 

What projects are you looking forward to for 2022?

I’m looking forward to continuing to grow both personally and professionally. I’m feeling more affirmed than ever lately which is driving me to chase after exactly what I want. I’m looking to expand into the art world. I’m excited about the continuation of my long term collaborators who have seen me since day 1, as well as some of the new faces who inspire me. I try not to set too many hard goals or expectations but rather to listen to where I’m being guided and moving with intention. I can’t say I know what 2022 holds for me but I do know it will be fruitful. 

What do you want your legacy to be?

Another one I think that I try not to put too much pressure on myself for! The story really writes itself, I don’t have to. Right now I want to inspire other people to feel limitless. To not feel boxed into 1 dimension of our creativity or sacrifice your creative spirit in the name of success. Authentic is the most valuable thing you can be, that’s what creates longevity and pays the bills. You can take your art into whatever spaces you want to exist in, whether you’ve seen it before or not.