Hairstylists and therapists all rolled into one. Four Dubai-based salon stalwarts reveal their trade secrets to Carolina D'Souza

Linda Slater, salon manager and hair stylist of Hair@Pyramids, Wafi City, Dubai

Scottish-born Linda Slater started out as a "boisterous" hairstylist, but with time she learnt the finer aspects of her job – patience and the ability to be non-judgmental.

She says, "At the start, I made snap decisions that would turn out wrong, but I soon learnt to correct this trait. After 16 years, I have developed a deeper understanding of the hairstylist-client relationship."

Hadrian Hernandez/Gulf News
Linda Slater

Slater has been in Dubai for more than three years and says that her clients here are more loquacious compared to those in the UK, where she worked for a good part of her career.

"As most of my clients come from different places, they connect [with me] at a more personal level. There is general chitchat along with an exchange of a few personal details."

She does try to maintain a balance between a professional and personal relationship, but when it comes to a regular client, "it is easy to see this professional relationship adopting a warmer and more personal quality".

The term "regular client" must make every hairstylist proud.

Slater agrees, "When a client visits me, I know she has come from another regular hairstylist. My theory is that she has come to me for a reason. In some cases, it could be a bad experience or perhaps she fancied the idea of visiting a new hairstylist. Whatever the case, I need to find out why and work towards building a good rapport."

More often than not a first-time client grows into a regular one, she reasons.

"Loyalty is something that is a result of several factors, such as a hairstylist's expertise, the ambience in the salon, professional rapport, etc. A client also wants her hairstylist to grow with her; the hairstylist must be able to suggest and implement changes to help her adapt to changing trends."

According to her, a client visits a hairstylist with an image in her mind.

"She is thinking pictures. Even if she insists she does not know what she wants, she has a particular image in mind. My job is to coax her to reveal it. After this step, I can either go along with her idea or suggest an alternative."

This does not mean she doesn't identify with her client's feelings of uncertainty.

"I know it is a ‘big' deal. Sometimes, as professional hairstylists, we tend to forget how important and special this custom [of visiting a hairstylist] is. I remind myself every time."

For Slater, packing in a nine- or more-hour workday schedule is normal. "You have to love your job," she says, explaining it is the only way a hairstylist can do justice to her profession.

"After all, it does take a lot to make clients happy. Sometimes they seem to be more comfortable with the thought of visiting a dentist than a hairstylist!"

Eddie Sanyer, salon manager of Frank Provost, Burj Al Arab, Dubai

Body language is a significant indicator of a client's personality, says Sanyer, an Ecuadorian, who moved from Miami to Dubai less than a year ago.

As a degree holder in mental heath and psychology from New York, he knows what he is talking about.

"The body language gives away whether a client is edgy, apprehensive or confident. It helps me understand my clients better."

Eddie Sanyer

The other not-so-abstract factors that are at play are "physical attributes, condition of hair, and individual lifestyles; the haircut has to complement all three."

Personally, he also asks his client to allow him to feel the bone structure of his or her skull.

"This is crucial because the shape of the skull influences the way a particular haircut would eventually look."

Sanyer's 20 years of work experience in Latin America, Manhattan and Miami's South Beach, has exposed him to a diverse clientele and an attitude that is open to change.

He theorises: "Attending a client is really like providing therapy – the first step is to listen. It lays the foundation for a long-term, trustworthy relationship that is comfortable and interactive. This also boosts my creativity."

Primarily, it is the trust factor that shapes and sustains a client-hairstylist relationship, he reasons.

"Loyalty is built on trust; and trust is built over a period of time. It is the rapport I share with my clients that brings them back to me. Of course, my professional skills also are crucial to the relationship."

Having trained at Clairol and Vidal Sassoon, Sanyer knows the haircutting business is unforgiving to those who refuse to keep up with changing trends.

"Like any other creative field, my trade is constantly evolving and the possibilities are endless. So not only do I have to maintain trustworthy relationships with my clients, I have to work towards constantly exposing them to new ideas so I can introduce a fresh appeal to my work at regular intervals."

However, not all hairstylists work on the same principle, admits Sanyer.

"There are those truly passionate hairstylists who refuse to comply with the wishes of a client if they were convinced that a particular style was wrong, even at the cost of losing business."

"Then there are others – the money-makers, who don't really care about the trade; the authoritarians, who impose their views without allowing the client to participate; and the meek, who will allow the client's wishes to override professional judgment."

Ensuring each client walks out happy must be like trying to achieve perfection, isn't it?

"There is no way to ensure it. We [hairstylists] can only hope that the client is happy with our work. But I measure my success with every satisfied client – if a client walks out with a smile, I feel truly rewarded."

Danijela Tihelj, salon manager and hairstylist of Science and Beauté Centre, Dubai

Tihelj has worked as a hairstylist – both in Germany and London – for more than a decade.

Having recently relocated to Dubai she is enthusiastic about working with a diverse client base.

"Her job," she says, "involves three main aspects – consultation, understanding colour [of hair and skin] and understanding shape [of face and body]."

Devadasan/Gulf News
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