The following is an interview with brow expert Cheryl Renella of Channing’s Salon & Spa, in Chicago, as told to Megan Cahn.
I started my beauty career at the young age of 16, attending cosmetology school while I was in high school. Shortly after I graduated, I apprenticed at several salons in Chicago to hone my skills. I also spent time training in Hollywood on movie sets with the makeup artist Syd Simon. Little by little, I saved in the hopes of opening my own salon. At the age of 24, I was able to open Channing’s and have been on Oak Street, in Chicago, ever since.
When I entered the beauty industry in the ‘80s, the brow-care routine only consisted of waxing. It was originally done to remove unwanted hair and consisted of a client sitting up with a technician at his or her side. This made no sense to me! I see brows as a work of art, not to mention one of the most important features on the face, so I set out to change this. Brows became my specialty and I was inspired to break the traditional method. I began Corrective Brow Shaping — in which every brow job is different, based on bone structure and shape of the face — which has now been a service for my clients for over 30 years.
I'm Every Woman
Over the years, I have worked on the brows of celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts, and Teri Hatcher, but my most memorable experience was with Whitney Houston. She visited me in Chicago and New York when our schedules meshed — we had such a great rapport. She was the only celebrity who did not have an assistant make her appointment and even used her real name to book the services! Whitney never gave me directions on how to do her brows, she said that she was on my table because I was an artist and she knows that artists don't take direction well. She always had a long list of items that I needed to have on hand for her services, like crystal glasses and a specific cranberry juice. She was a diva, but always brought the spa to life with her energy.
Celebrities Are Not Just Like Us
My worst brush with a famous person was when a certain celebrity made an appointment under her alias. When she came in, I didn’t recognize her and she was greatly offended. She made such a fuss about it that I asked her if she wanted to leave. She ended up staying, but insisted that I understand the importance of knowing who she was.
There have been some uncomfortable, non-celebrity related moments, too. I once had a client reach back as they were lying down on the table and feel me up — I had no idea that was coming! I removed the woman's hands and continued the service as if nothing happened. She tried to come in again (several times), but was never welcomed back.
Once, I also I received a cease and desist order from a West Coast brow guru’s lawyer, telling me to stop doing any eyebrow shaping and positioning myself as a brow expert. I took it as the ultimate compliment to be recognized by someone who was famously known for brow shaping.
In this industry, you quickly learn that not everyone will be thrilled with their services. Once, I had a client get angry when I refused to tweeze her eyebrows too thin. The woman had large features and demanded that I take off more of her brow than would look best. It would have looked terrible on her. I just couldn’t do it, so she huffed out of the spa.
This "skinny brow" request was in 2005. The trends have been moving toward thicker and fuller brows since then and continue to stay thick with different shapes and arch variations. Right now, the trends are a square, highly-groomed brow; a round natural shape; or the combo of a square front with a round arch. But I always go by age and face shape to dictate what is best for my clients and there are always exceptions to the rule.
The worst pair of brows I ever had to fix was a brow transplant. The transplant technician took hair from the back of the head and inserted them into the client’s eyebrows. The hair was kinky, one-inch long, and unruly! It reminded me of a bad perm from the ‘80s. I spent 45 minutes trying to shape them. This was years ago, but brow transplants are still around. I do not recommend it, though, because they tend to look unnatural — it should be a last resort option. The most common mistake I see though, is over-waxing the brows into a comma shape. It drives me crazy. It is an unflattering shape for any face.
Not Just Brow Therapy
I am very close with many of my clients. Some of them have been coming to me for over 30 years. We have laughed, cried, and grown old together. I am now serving the third generation of clients' families, an accomplishment I’m so proud of. My clients open up to me like they would with their hairdresser — my room is a safe space to open up and relieve the stresses of life.