How did you get your start in the hair industry?
While I was going to school for business, I bartended at a nightclub in Niagara Falls. The owners of the nightclub owned a hair salon, so we would go in and get our hair done before work. I loved being in the salon environment and I took a liking to colour foils. It was a Fiorio salon in Niagara Falls, and the owner, Vince, started teaching me how to do foils. I brought home a mannequin head and I would practice. So even though I was in school for business, I was obsessed with doing foils.
That’s when I actually took an interest in it and when I started doing it, but my mom knew Gino Cappucci, who owns Cappucci salon, and went to him for years. I was so young at the time but he was thinking of opening a location in Oakville, and my mom was interested in partnering with him. Even though I don’t come from a family background of hair, but it’s been around me.
What does this win mean for you?
I’ve been in the industry for 20 years, but this is the first Contessa that I’ve actually won.
I’ve entered as a newcomer before, and with this being our third location, I’ve entered the salon space three times. As a salon owner, I think it’s a triple threat. We have studios that do great hair, we have an amazing atmosphere and experience, and now, we’re a Contessa winner. What does that mean to a client? They may not be as familiar with the Contessas, but everyone wants to eat at a Michelin Star restaurant, and in my belief, a Contessa is that. It’s the highest accolade of our industry. Canadian hairdressers are amazing and I think means that we’ve completed our triple threat.
What was the vision and inspiration behind your salon’s design?
The studio in Waterloo was inspired by Old Hollywood and boutique hotels. Old Hollywood glam, in a sense of the lighting that’s on both sides of the mirrors. It’s a really soft lighting, so it’s not in your face, but it resembles those cosmetic light bulbs but amped up. Old Hollywood glam but in a modern age.
Tell us about the design process.
I worked with Giovanna from Proggetti Interiors. First and foremost, you need to have a great contractor and a great designer. I think that’s really important because it’s working with someone that can take your ideas and not make it be their idea. I’m not an interior designer, I’m a great hairstylist, so I really believe in surrounding yourself with people that are great at what they do but listen to what you want. It’s no different than being behind the chair—we have to listen to our clients and interpret what they want and what their vision is, and bring it to life. In our first conversation about the studio space, we were throwing around some ideas and she brought some interesting textile and texture components, so that’s where we started the design process. I think that relationship is the most important; making sure her taste is the same as mine, so we’re on the same page.
Then, it’s the floor plan and the flow of the salon. As a hairdresser, I know how a salon should flow, and again, with this being our third location, I know what works and what doesn’t. To give you an example, at our other two salons our hairdressing sinks are against the wall. For this space, we ran all of our sinks down the centre. The reason for this is with colours and toners, I was tired of having colour on my walls. We’re also a huge blonding salon, so we do a lot of toners, and being able to have our colour lab right behind the sinks means we don’t have to go far to mix our toners, and we can come right back to our clients. So, the floor plan was the first and foremost in the design, as well as having a concept, and then we started to look at the different textiles.
Did you learn anything while designing the salon that you can share? Any memorable moments?
Working with a great designer and a great contractor avoids mistakes. We haven’t had to redo anything, so we haven’t necessarily learned from anything. I will say that having the backsplash sealed behind the colour lab—because colour splashes up so we’re not staining—and making sure the countertops we’re working with aren’t super porous are both good. Maybe I wouldn’t do black on the next countertop because it can scratch easily.
I think whenever we’re redoing something like a house or building a business, it’s expensive. You try to save money where you can, so I think everyone’s staff rooms have IKEA cabinets and storage shelves. One thing that I did learn is that I am not a builder, so I should have sourced that out before even trying it myself.
How did it feel when you saw the salon for the first time (after the design was completed)?
I was excited! I got goosebumps. You can picture it; you can picture yourself working in it and your guests in it. I don’t know another word other than excited and almost in disbelief that it was going to be a Studio So Lara and part of our brand.
What is your favourite design element of the salon?
I really love our colour lab. I love the backsplash; it’s a textured tile and it’s really beautiful. I love the arches that we have and how Giovanna incorporated them—our retail shelves and mirrors have the arch, along with our colour lab and the cabinetry. So I think rather than just having an obvious shape, she really incorporated those curvatures really well. I’m not a huge artwork person. I really love texture, and the artwork that we feature in this space is actually over the reception couch, and it’s gold circles that were placed randomly. Those circles are actually recycled oil drum lids that have been refinished. The synergy of all the design elements and those subtle little touches make the space so well thought out.
You have a total of three locations. Why did you decide to enter this salon into the Contessas this year?
Studio So Lara Waterloo opened three weeks before the COVID shutdown, so I didn’t feel like the space was celebrated. I feel that the space is so beautiful, and I think re-entering again this year was a way to have it celebrated. In addition, my best friend, who I grew up hairdressing with, was the manager of this space. She actually was spearheading the location for me, and she passed away at the end of May. She was there with me when I entered as a newcomer in the Contessas. She was there for every Contessa award show and she was my ride or die in hair and in life. It made it a little more special and sweeter that she was a huge part of this studio. For Studio So Lara Waterloo, there’s a missing element with her not in it anymore. So, there is no question in mind that we needed to re-enter.
What do you enjoy most about entering the Contessas?
It’s exciting and I think entering the Contessas requires you to be really vulnerable, since you’re putting your work out there—whether it’s a collection you put together or a space you designed—to your peers to judge, but also to share work because you’re proud of it. The Contessas is an award that’s like the Oscars. So when you put the work out there, it’s something exciting to be a part of.
I know you’ve entered the Contessas before, so why do you think it’s important as a hairstylist to continue entering, even if you don’t win?
I don’t think that if you don’t win the first time, you give up. I don’t think you should do that in any aspect of your life. First off, I think entering the Contessas is a challenge. You’re challenging yourself; you’re putting a part of yourself out there. It’s exploring another avenue of our industry and it creates excitement within the team. With the salon design, it’s something that brings your team together for you all to rally behind, and it’s where you all work, so you should be proud of where you work. In anything that you do, if you fail the first time and if you just give up, you’re never going to succeed. [Re-entering] is how you’re going to get better. You learn by challenging yourself.
How did you and your salon team celebrate this win?
We actually had a Contessa viewing party. It was absolutely COVID safe—we had a rapid COVID testing centre outside of my house. Whether it’s our team events or Christmas parties or even education, it’s really important to me that everything I do for my team should be beautiful—just like our spaces are for our clients. So, we had a little party set up with heavy charcuterie. Our COVID testing centre before people came into the house. A balloon arch, which made my fingers numb for two days after creating it. We just had a great little cocktail party in my house, but brought elements of the salon colours and décor in.
Do you have any goals that you can share?
I’m looking forward to 2022. I think we all are. I’m really excited for us to get back on track and I know [the pandemic] is not going to go away immediately; I know that on January 1st, the clocks aren’t going to roll back, and life is back to normal. But I really do think that we’re going to have some more normalcy come back and we need that. In a salon, it’s been so hard. Not just with the red light, green light [with lockdowns and restrictions] but it’s also a sense that we’re all dealing with our own anxieties about the last two years, and we’re also dealing with our guests who have anxieties.
What hairdressers are doing right now is above and beyond what we’ve ever have, and what I’ve ever seen in my life of being a hairstylist. I think getting back into our education, reinventing how we do education and bringing educators to our space are all goals of mine. I’m really excited to get back into that because I think education is one of the most important things. As for a long-term goal, I plan on opening more salons and having more beautiful spaces. I think we work in the best industry and when I opened my first salon, it was to provide a space where people love coming to work.
What has this year been like for you and your salon?
I think everyone has the same answer: it’s been a challenging year for myself and it’s been a challenging year for my staff. I think, as a salon owner, it’s been extremely stressful. I feel it’s been extremely stressful in the sense of the unknown. This is your livelihood. I think that the one thing that all of this has taught me (and something that I’ve had many conversations with my team about) is this is what it is, so we just have to make the best of it and be chameleons; we’re going to have to do things a little bit differently. There are some things that we started doing differently that we probably won’t change. For example, with other people being able to work remotely from home, evening appointments weren’t as necessary, and I don’t think that’s going to go away. So we actually sat back and thought, “Well, why can’t we have that?” So, we’ve actually changed our staff schedules where we work from nine to five, two days a week. It’s amazing! We still work our Saturdays and have two late nights a week, but I think this whole closure of everything has made all of us realize that we need a little more work-life balance in our world.
The operative word is work, though. It’s not just life balance; it’s having the two. So, how can we achieve that while still having a business and still making money? So, we’ve changed our schedule and we’re not changing it back. We have a lot of young moms that work for us, so the fact that we’re working nine to five, two days a week, means we’re home a lot of weeknights with our kids, which is amazing.
For the staff, I think we’ve all realized how important it is to have team members who are more like family that you can lean on. Say you have to leave, because your child was in a class with someone that had to be isolated with COVID, you don’t have to carry that yourself; you’ve got the team around you saying, “Go, I’ve got it. I’ll take care of your clients.” We’ve always really gotten along and have been a really close-knit group, but I feel like we’ve actually learned how to rely on each other a lot more.
Comments are closed.