What does winning this award mean to you?
I was up for three [awards] and Salon Team was the one I was really after. I’m super stoked that we finally clinched it this year.
I think this one takes on a completely different meaning for us. As a team, we were very anxious to do something that was positive—with all of the negativity surrounding us [due to the pandemic] for the last two years now. We wanted to concentrate our efforts, and focus and direct our energy onto something positive, like the Contessa process. That’s what we call it—the Contessa process. It starts with the ideas; storyboarding what we think is trending and colour work that we want to try, because it’s really a time for us to be experimental. With that, there’s a natural creativity that comes through.
Tell us about your team and how you worked together on this collection.
There were four primary people who worked on the collection. There’s myself, my wife, Adriana, my father-in-law, Pino, and my mother-in-law, Melina. It really was a family affair. I hinged on those three people, primarily because of the relationships that we have and each one of us brought different strengths. I think it worked quite well and the proof is in the pudding. Basically I was able to be like a quarterback and ask for help where I needed it. Collectively, we came up with an award-winning collection and we’re very proud of it.
What was the inspiration behind your winning collection?
While we always pull from tear sheets and things like that, our approach this year was a little different. I personally wanted something a little bit more organic. I didn’t want it to be overly confined; I just wanted to create something for ourselves. Yes, we were shooting for Contessa and wanting to win was our ultimate goal, but this year was more about just feeling better.
The true beacon for me has always been my salon and my team. I wanted to celebrate what the salon has given me over the years. We celebrated our 25th anniversary in August, and I started entering Contessa since I opened the salon. [Contessa] has been our measuring stick. We need to be at the dance, I say. We need to be with the cool group. At the end of the day, the body of work that comes out of the Contessas year after year is getting better and better, and the bar is being raised higher and higher. It’s always progressively moving forward in a positive way, and we just wanted to be part of it this year.
I know you’ve competed in the Contessas in the past and had a huge year in the early 2000s when you won three awards in one year. You’ve taken a break from competing for a while and returned to it. Why is competing important to you?
I did take a little bit of a break because my wife and I got married, and we have two young kids. I was so excited and overwhelmed [when we won] that I actually forgot to dedicate my award to my daughter and son. They inspire me more than anything and anyone in this world, and I wanted to show them that their mommy and daddy were able to do this collection and win with hard work. It’s a life lesson I wanted them to know; to work hard at anything you do, but most importantly is to actually find something that you love. If you love something, you have passion for it. If you have passion for something, it’s contagious. People want to be around you, with you, work for you and clients want to get their hair done by you. The underlying common denominator in all the work that I do is just passion.
What was it like to shoot a collection during the pandemic?
We were very diligent with social distancing and masking. It was difficult. It was another layer and challenge. However, in the middle of the storm of ugliness and negativity, I went right back to what I know—what my passion and beacon of my life has been over the years, which is my work and salon. To be able to do it—not just by myself but with my team—is even more important than winning an award just for myself.
I think we needed to, sort of, make ourselves feel like we could be in a “normal” world, even though we aren’t at the moment. When we shot it, we were at the height of everything. The models and photographer had masks. It was challenging, but when you have passion you’ll find a way to do what you need to do. That’s the moral of the story; work hard, stick to your guns and just keep going. The storm is going to pass.
What are some of the hair techniques you used to create this collection?
We used a lot of elements of classic hairdressing. Pin curl sets, finger waves, rick-racking. Very classic haircutting patterns. For me, it’s about returning to your fundamentals and your roots.
In order for you to do something that’s haute couture, you need to be focused on your fundamentals and classic techniques that you learned back in the day. Without that, you really can’t produce anything that’s more avant garde or progressive. Classic elements of hairdressing with very current colouring patterns. I think the combination of classic hairdressing with current colour patterns—smudging, blurring and feathering—really made the whole collection very cohesive.
I wanted the models with their clothing and makeup and everything to whisper. That’s how I would describe it. I wanted the photos to scream hair and whisper everything else. I wanted to show a lot of versatility.
Daniel Grieco from your team won the award for Freestyle. What was that like to see?
At the end of the day, we’re happy when any one of her team members gets recognized. That particular body of work was a while ago but was beautiful and timeless. I think that’s another thing that’s pretty important—in order for a collection to stand out against so much beautiful work is the timeless factor. It’s something that you could look at in 100 years from now and it still looks current. It boils right back down to the fundamentals. When you try to do something that’s a little bit too out there, you can get tired of looking at it.
For Freestyle, it’s almost unclear as to what the category is. It’s free, so you can just be creative and do your thing. There were a whole bunch of other images that we were considering entering. We all sat down together and had our own little judging panel. We make it a very fun exercise for everybody. It brings the unity back to the salon. It’s not just a job or a photo shoot. It’s all in the planning and execution of the work.
What has this past year been like for you in the salon?
What I really learned through all of this is to keep things positive, and that communication with your team is vital. Listen to your team and what their needs are. A great salon owner is only as good as his or her team is.
Focus on tomorrow. If you get stuck on what’s happening at the moment, you get lost. I think that’s why [our salon] has been around for so long, because I try to be a bit ahead of the game and try to think about what we can do tomorrow instead of what we’re doing right now. What we’re doing now is very important, but also thinking about how we can reinvent ourselves. How can we talk to clients when we’re unable to see them? We used a lot of technology like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to stay in contact with our clients and coach them through hair disasters that happened and all of that. My key takeaway was communication and staying positive while focusing on tomorrow.
What’s next for you? Anything you’re working on or goals you have that you could share?
Quite honestly, I’m 51 years old and I feel like I’m just starting. You mentioned the three awards I won in one night, and I remember my friend asking me how I was going to top that. And my answer was, “Just watch me.” It’s important, again, to think about tomorrow and plan ahead.
Right now, we’re in the process of celebrating what we won. There’s nothing on the table yet, but I can promise it will be bigger and better because that’s the only way we can progress forward. So we’re concentrating on celebrating what we were able to do, keeping the business moving in a positive manner and are definitely going to be doing other photo shoots. I now teach for L’Oréal and I came up with a class on how to properly do photo shoots, which I will be sharing with my students. It’s all about education, education, education. Knowledge is power, so the more knowledge you have under your belt, the better off you’re going to be.