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There’s Shampoo, and There’s Naples

They’ve heard it all. the funny. The poignant. The quirky. The spicy.

The hairstylists of Southwest Florida see a parade of human experience pass through their magic chairs, where clients often let their hair down in more ways than one. It’s not the same kind of “personal service” Warren Beatty provided his clients in the 1975 farce Shampoo. Yet, somehow, cutting and styling someone’s locks can also unlock their lips.

Stylists wind up doubling as confidants or therapists—hearing more than they may want to know.

 “The chair is the great equalizer,” says Cynthia Sullivan, owner and stylist at Studio 41 Salon in North Naples. Everyone who sits there is the same, she says. Whether rich and powerful business owners or ladies who lunch, they’re all dealing with the same thing: life. And most of them want to talk about it—more freely than anywhere else.

“We have them in the most vulnerable situation. They can’t escape. We have pointy instruments,” Sullivan jokes. “I learn something every day.”

As many as 100 people a day come through her salon, saying things like: “Don’t tell my wife I talk this much. I never talk this much at home.” “I just had this horrible fight with my spouse. I’m glad to be escaping here.” “I’m going to ask my girl to marry me.”

Clients have burst into tears at the simple question, “How are you?” when dealing with a life-threatening illness or loss of a loved one.

She’s shaved the heads of those undergoing cancer treatment and looked into the eyes of the newly widowed. They’ve taught me so much about life,” she says.

Clients share all the moments of their lives—funerals, births, weddings, proms—and you never know who will sit in your chair next, she says. She remembers one woman who was about to celebrate her 90th birthday by jumping out of an airplane. But the trip was canceled when her skydiving partner passed away, Sullivan says.

Another single woman “was very proud of the fact that she was a cougar,” Sullivan says. “She was all about the younger men, and she was well into her 70s.” At bars, the woman would act as a “wingman,” chatting men up and bringing them back to her friends. She was having a ball, Sullivan says.

Maybe shampoo is a kind of truth serum, absorbed through the scalp.

Maria Ferguson, a stylist for 32 years, also works at Studio 41. She remembers the client who gave her nightmares.

“He was not overly friendly, and slightly odd,” she says. “One day he told me he had a dream about me. He dreamed I was his girlfriend and I cheated on him, so he cut off my arms and legs.” Ferguson says she tends to wear her heart on her sleeve. “The look on my face must have said it all,” she muses. He never called back for another appointment.

Dariel Saiz, owner of Dariel’s Hair Salon on Eighth Street South in Naples, says it’s all about fun and beauty. Customers come to his salon to relax and disconnect. And to open up, says salon manager May Rivera.

“We had a customer who comes in and changes the décor,” Rivera says. “She brings CDs. She brings her own cup to drink her coffee with. We just laugh. She feels like she is at home. That’s who she is.” She’s even rearranged furniture. The client, it turns out, practices feng shui. “She was trying to change the energy,” Saiz says.

The fact that Southwest Florida draws people from all over the world makes for a broader clientele, Sullivan says. Tonya Iannone had just started working at Studio 41 when half a dozen Canadian men, in their 40s to 60s, came in after playing golf—and drinking—all day. One had just sold his company, and one was getting a divorce.

The men sent the shampoo girl out to the liquor store for more wine. The more they drank, the more vulgar they got. The more vulgar they got, Ferguson says, the higher the price went for services.

The men got haircuts, manicures, pedicures; the works. The ringleader wanted blond highlights. Another one wanted red highlights but fell asleep, bumping his head against the dryer hood.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, is this what guys do when they go on a trip?’” Iannone says.

One man told the stylists he had the logo of his business tattooed in the small of his back—and he dropped his pants. “We saw everything,” Ferguson says.

The group came back to get their hair done again, she says. “When they weren’t drunk, they were very nice.”

Another customer of Iannone’s was a well-to-do lady in her late 50s who had three homes, one in Naples. Her husband came home one day and told her he wanted a divorce.

Every time she became angry at him during divorce proceedings, “She put his pants on eBay and sold them for $10 a pair,” Iannone says. “Someone asked her, ‘Why don’t you burn them?’” The client refused. She didn’t need the money. She needed the revenge.

Sometimes being a stylist who cares can pay unexpected dividends. One day, Iannone got a call from the son of a customer, telling her that his mother had passed away. Iannone told him she was very sorry and that she thought his mother was a lovely person.

“She thought of you the same,” he told her. “She put you in the will.”

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