There are moments in my career, or in life really, that help me refocus on what’s important, and help define my passion and what type of stylist I want to become. One moment has followed me for years, and really taught me a lot about how deep my personal connection to my job is.
I had just finished working a really exciting and beautiful Thakoon show for New York Fashion Week a few seasons ago, and I was feeling great about how it had gone, but relieved to be sitting and decompressing in a taxi. As the buildings flew by, I was recapping the frantic prep time and hectic backstage energy in my mind, and a passing image stuck out for a minute. I had noticed a model crying because her head hurt from the last show. These poor girls run all over the city doing show after show with no idea of what's going to be done to their head, whether that's extensions or spray paint. The stylists at my Kerastase show would never do anything rough or painful to her, we're like the holy grail of hair-health and concern for models (I meeean who else would care about heat protection backstage?! I love it), but she had had enough of being touched and it was obvious. Generally I like working on models. They're professional and paid to be opinion-less creatively, which is a strange but fun contrast to what I'm used to day to day in a salon. It's never fun to work on someone who's unhappy, though. So much of what I love about my job is making people feel good, even more so than making them look good. This was the day I realized how intensely I mean that.
I got back to the hotel and noticed I had a voicemail from a client. Usually I don't give out my personal number, but this client and I had gotten close over the years and I told her to call me if she ever had trouble getting an appt, etc. She sounded strained in her message so I called her, even though I was packing and distracted. As soon as she told me why she had called I stopped what I was doing and gave her my full attention. When you have long term clients, especially ones you do time-consuming color services on, you get to know a lot about their lives. This client in particular, “Erica", we'll pretend her name is, has a sharp wit and a tongue to match, and I think she's hilarious. When she first came to me a few years ago, she was newly pregnant and in love with her husband and I heard so much about her wonderful life and was so happy for her. Since then I've slowly watched her marriage deteriorate from behind my chair, and each visit I was more and more hesitant to ask how things were going. It was like I was looking into little windows of her life every eight weeks, and each time she seemed sadder and more exhausted. This update was different and much worse though. Things had exploded between them, to the point of him attacking her violently, and then emptying their bank accounts. She was still in shock and she started to cry as she told me what had happened. She told me she was calling to explain why she had to cancel her upcoming appointment. She didn't want me to think I had done anything wrong, but she couldn't even afford babyfood at this point, let alone me.
"Well just come in anyway and let me take care of you this time, we'll figure it out after that," I said. She immediately protested and assured me that wasn't why she had called, she just hadn't wanted to disappear on me. But I was so angry for her, and for some reason the idea of her going and facing that asshole at her first court appointment with dark roots and split ends seemed so unjust it sickened me, especially after she had been such a loyal client and referred friends. I matter-of-factly told her to shut up and come in anyway (subtle, as always), because I might not to be able to fill her appointment slot with this little notice anyway, and then told her that after this appointment she was going to start coming to the assistant classes that I was an educator for, and I would give her one of the most advanced and talented assistants who I would train ahead of time and supervise, so that I could keep an eye on her hair indefinitely, and for much less money, until she got back on her feet. She started crying even harder and said something I will never forget…
"How fucked up is it that my hairstylist cares more about me than my husband?”
I pretty much lost it soon after that and got off the phone so I could cry.
That situation made me feel like no matter how dissatisfied or critical I can be of myself, my work or my career, I’m on exactly the path I want to be on. I want to be an artist, but I also want to contribute to other people, and put out love and positivity into an increasingly negative world, as cheesy as that sounds, and I’m in a career uniquely appropriate for that, especially in a salon, where I’m surrounded by other stylists each with hundreds of clients they connect with. If I focus only on the art, it will never be good enough for my crazy mind. I will always see that one backlit flyaway, or that damn bobby pin that shone through a curl in the flash and couldn’t be blended away by a hazy instagram filter. I will feel bored with braids my fingers still love but my eyes are sick of, or whatever pinterest picture I’m recreating for the 10th time on a bride, and I'll wish I were cutting a blue pixie instead. That type of intensity is good for creative growth but notsomuch for general life happiness. However, when I focus on the actual people I’m working on, when I see a face light up in the mirror or get texts or posts from clients weeks later sending love and continued excitement about their hair and confidence, or thanking me for the pressure I put on them to ask for the raise they deserved (Lean in, bitches!), that’s when I finally feel finished and fulfilled. A sweet bride/younger sorority sister whose wedding I worked recently told me she felt like I made her entire pinterest board come to life (which brides obsess over all year, no pressure though), and I was so flattered and happy she will always look at her pictures that way. Suddenly those updos and braids felt new and special to do again, because I knew they would be special to her.
Now I know where I stand. I am not a stylist who makes models cry, and I never will be. I am still an artist for me, but I will never brattily poo-poo an updo as too “pretty” or too “bridal” like some of the editorial stylists I know, because I know how pretty hair feels to a woman, the challenge it is to replicate something someone has dreamed of forever, and the connection you feel to clients during important moments of their life. There will always be blue pixies, too. I saw Erica only a few times after that visit before she moved away for good, and changed her number. I still think about her and I’m still sending her love from behind my chair.