Clay Nielsen’s mastery in the high-fashion hair industry began more than 10 years ago when he took a tour of the famous Aveda Institute in Minneapolis. He is a favorite of both editorial and commercial clients alike – often surprising them with simple solutions for complicated hair. He admits that “no one wants to wait for the hairstylist,” and with him no one ever does.
Featured regularly in editorials for magazines including Italian Vogue, Interview, and Harper’s Bazaar as well as working with top commercial clients such as Saks Fifth Avenue, La Mer, Stuart Weitzman, and Lexus, Clay’s collaborative approach has earned him a reputation as an expert in both the art and commerce worlds of the hair industry.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
It’s so different from day to day. Some days I will be in a dark studio doing hair for an advertising campaign, and on others I will be traveling and working at an incredible location. I also am Creative Partner at a salon called Spoke and Weal. I really enjoy helping people. For me, it is more about providing a service not just fashion.
Why did you choose to work in the hair industry?
The hair industry actually found me, and it was a happy mistake. I had dropped out of university and was living in Minneapolis at the time. I thought I wanted to go back to school and study architecture. I walked past this incredible building and I wanted to know what was inside so I called the number on the side of the building and asked if I could tour the facility. It just happened to be the Aveda Institute and the building was a former Masonic Temple. During the tour they started talking about art, architecture, environmental sustainability, and some other concepts that really resonated with me. At the end of the tour they asked if I was interested in applying. I said, "Sure, why not? I don’t have anything else going on." I got accepted and have been doing hair ever since.
What hair products can you not live without?
I love the MALIN+GOETZ sage styling cream. It’s incredibly versatile because it works with so many different hair types and textures. It’s a staple in my kit. I also love the Liquid Pomade from Aveda. I feel like it is an often ignored product because it is marketed as a men’s product. I want hair to look touchable in photos, and using the right products is key to making that happen.
When you think of MALIN+GOETZ, what word comes to mind?
When I think of MALIN+GOETZ, I visualize the packaging. I love clean and simple design, it always feels expensive and beautiful. So the word would be minimal.
If you were going to a deserted island, which MALIN+GOETZ product would you bring?
I feel like I have to pick an obvious one and say the SPF 30 facial moisturizer. I’m very serious about proper protective sun care!
What other skincare products/brands do you absolutely love?
There is an organic lip balm company based in Venice, CA called Lucky Bastard. Chaddy, the owner started it by hand pouring all of the lip balm himself. He’s expanded and now makes organic candles, and reef friendly sunscreen. I also use a beautiful oil on my face every night called Obal Oil. It’s made by this incredible makeup artist – Walter Obal. It makes my skin feel amazing. As you can see I love supporting small businesses.
On life in NYC…
What neighborhood do you live in?
I live in the Financial District/South Street Seaport. No one believes me when I tell them that. Everyone assumes I live in Brooklyn.
What's your favorite local coffee shop?
Birch Coffee has the best coffee in the city. You have to try their cold brew. I buy it two growlers at a time.
What's your favorite neighborhood restaurant?
There is a place near me called Hole in the Wall. They serve great food and coffee during the day. At night they play 80’s films and operate under the name Sugar Mama. The staff is super friendly and I spend a lot of time there.
What does your home smell like?
I love candles, currently I’m obsessed with the leathery, spicy fragrance of Lumira 352. I rotate between that and the Lucky Bastard signature sent, it reminds me of a campfire in Big Sur.
What is your favorite Sunday activity?
Sleeping in, going to yoga at Dharma Mittra, and wandering around the city with my girlfriend. Days off are all about self-care and wellness so that I am able to give my all at work.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I try to find interesting spaces where I can get inspired and completely unwind. Any suggestions? I’ve been reading a lot about North Africa. I really love the colors and design in that region of the world. I think Tunisia or Algeria would be a good choice.
What's your favorite park in the world?
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in Paris. It’s a really magical place. I love sitting on the hill with a bottle of wine and watching the sunset over Paris.
What's your favorite hotel in the world?
There is an architect named Miguel Angel Aragones, I am absolutely in love with his design and the way he plays with space and light. He has a property in Acapulco called Hotel Encanto and another in Cabo that was recently bought by Viceroy. I have visited both and was enchanted.
If you have a dog, where is his/her favorite place to walk?
My favorite place to watch dogs and ask people if I can pet them is Washington Square Park. I do this a lot.
What's your biggest vice?
I’m a candy junky. I love sugar. I’m also obsessed with flossing, so my dentist says it’s okay.
Connect with Clay on Instagram. @thisisclay