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woman styling another woman's hair in front of mirror

Christal Schanes '99 working with a client in her stuido, CHRISTALine.

Redbird uses hair to create, teach and inspire

Founder of CHRISTALine Studios and the WIGwell campaign, Illinois State University alumna Christal Schanes lives a life that now revolves around custom wigs, toupees, hairpieces, and facial hair.

Schanes graduated from Illinois State University in 1999 with a bachelor’s in visual arts and costume design and has been creating wigs and hair pieces ever since.

“I was always thinking creatively as a kid- mud pies to building clothes for my dolls to cutting their hair off and gluing it back on,” said Schanes. “A bachelor’s degree in visual arts at Illinois State University was a natural path.”

Her creative mind and artistic hands led her to the opportunity of a lifetime in 2005 when she was offered a job at Bob Kelley’s wig shop in New York City. At the time, they were the wig shop that built all the wigs for Saturday Night Live. Accepting that job was a turning point in Schanes’ career and a day that she will never forget.

“The day I was hired at the shop I was ushered to the Saturday Night Live hair room in Rockefeller to meet the wig supervisor,” said Schanes. “I will never forget it. The day was December 16, 2005. Jack Black was the host and Neil Young was the musical guest. I was amazed that in one day, my whole world had changed.”

During her time with Saturday Night Live, Schanes worked as Will Forte’s hair stylist, running back and forth to get him wigs for various skits. The fast-paced work environment suited Schanes well, and she thoroughly enjoyed all the opportunities for problem-solving.

woman holding Emmy statuette.

Christal Schanes holds her Emmy for her outstanding hairstyling for Saturday Night Live.

Being a hair stylist for Saturday Night Live opened many doors for the now Emmy award-winning stylist. Her wig and facial hair work can be seen on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, The Entertainment Weekly cover with Stephen Colbert, The Heart She Holler with Amy Sedaris, and films like Salt and Spiderman 3.

Since graduating from Illinois State, Schanes has not only created, but she has inspired.

“I have never liked [the idea of] charging for medical wigs, so when I founded CHRISTALine Studios in spring 2018, I knew it was imperative to create the WIGwell initiative.”

Schanes’ favorite part of this creative profession is getting to develop new looks in a fast-paced environment. She appreciates creating looks for people with a keen eye on realism, whether it be for film, television, or medical clients. This is why she founded her own studio.

The WIGwell initiative creates custom wigs for women facing medically-related hair loss at no charge to them. The initiative is connected with local hospitals in Schanes’ hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

“Hair loss sufferers and the exorbitant cost of custom, high-quality wigs served as major inspiration to establish WIGwell,” said Schanes. “I am very passionate about producing wigs for a more profound purpose.”

The wigs are custom medical wigs and are built on sculpted blocks so they are sure to not only fit and grip, but be as comfortable as possible. This is an important step for women undergoing medical treatment because they can have increased skin and nerve sensitivity.

Preparation for creating a single wig includes tracing, measuring and photographing the client’s head, and determining hair color, texture, lace tone, and length. This whole process is a $5,000 market value, requires 100,000 hand-tied human hairs, and takes 125 hours to create.

“Symbolically these wigs help provide a sense of normalcy in a tumultuous time,” said Schanes. “A high-quality wig allows them to tell their story on their own terms.”

In an effort to decrease wig building material costs, WIGwell accepts all textures of hair donations of three inches or more. Even the shortest hairs can be used and every bit helps the WIGwell initiative.

From WIGwell, Schanes created the Wacky Wig Challenge. In this challenge, people are encouraged to post a selfie in a “wacky wig” which can be anything from a wig, to a mop, or a funky hat and caption it with #wackywig. This is a fundraising campaign that allocates funds towards materials and labor so more people can have free, custom medical wigs.

Apart from CHRISTALine Studios, Schanes is also a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Arts for the School of Design and Production. It aligns perfectly with her love for entertainment, medical wig building, and even experience with hair and make-up.

“It is incredible to be back and teach,” said Schanes. “The students are very talented, and the bar is raised higher than ever. We teach skill sets with materials and techniques that are used at the top of the field.”

Women standing next to sculpted head bust.

Christal Schanes as a student at Illinois State University.

Schanes uses every chance she gets to bring light and awareness to a situation that is often dark and depressing. Innovative, creative, and inspiring, Schanes has used her passion that she found at Illinois State to change lives and mold minds. Illinois State is where Schanes met her husband, Marek Kwiatkowski. It is also the same place where she started this creative journey that she is still on today.

“ISU is where I found myself,” said Schanes. “It holds big memories for me. It encouraged a broader worldview from incorporating an open-minded mentality to celebrating the boundless potential in all things. It was the base for everything!”

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