Every woman knows her hair is a matter to be taken seriously (and every man who knows what’s good for him does, too). But few men in the community know better than these fabulous four how to make women’s hair look good … really, really good.
We slipped into their highly coveted chairs to find out who they are, why you have to make an appointment with them up to two months in advance and what the bonding is like in these most personal of relationships.
When you consider that Dariel’s Hair Salon in downtown Naples is just a hop, skip and a jump away from tennis (Cambier Park is across the street), shopping (there’s no better place in Southwest Florida) and an easy caffeine fix (Starbucks, just a few doors down), you’d be hard-pressed to find a more happening location for a salon.
There’s no lack of entertainment at this one, either. "His shop is sometimes a bit like a soap opera," client Adria Starkey dishes. "One woman was getting her hair colored, and another came in to get a blow dry, bragging about her very hot date … which, as it turned out, was with the first woman’s husband. The entire shop was squirming, but Dariel handled it all so well."
But as any good pal would, he does his friends favors and does them discreetly—like when Scott Lutgert was planning a surprise birthday celebration for his wife, Simone. Dariel made several calls to Simone to get her to come in for a blowout—without giving away the reason—because he wanted her to look her best when she made her entrance at the party.
Early starter: I grew up in Cuba where my grandfather was a barber. When I was around 14 years old, one of my friends asked me if I could color his hair, and I made a mistake and destroyed it. After that, my grandfather explained [how to do it properly], and I started doing color for my twin brother, my older brother and the rest of my family.
How do you create a style that will enhance a client’s features? If someone has a long face, for example, I’ll want to give her bangs to complement her face and make it more balanced. But some people want to stick with what they feel comfortable in, and in turn, they make their faces look shorter or don’t do what’s best for their features.
How long is your waiting list for appointments? One to two months. It’s longer when there’s an event coming up or there are more people in town.
Did you design the interior of your salon? Yes, I did everything. It was all in my mind. [I used bright colors, like orange and blue, because] I love orange; I think it’s a happy color. [There are large rectangular-shaped holes in the wall between each mirror] that imitate the look and size of the mirrors and allow you to see the whole salon from the front desk. It makes the space look bigger, too.
The client comes first: Sometimes my customers have to fly out of town, and I have to come in on my day off to open the salon. Or sometimes I know I don’t have the time to squeeze someone in, so I have to work extra hours or open early. The customer is the whole thing, so we make it work.
When Vinnie ventured to Fort Myers from Philadelphia 15 years ago, he set up shop at a little salon called Top It Off with just two other hairdressers and a nail tech. One of his first clients was NBC2 news anchor Kellie Burns. The two have been together for more than a decade, during which time Vinnie’s business grew and merged into a full-scale salon and spa, La-Te-Da.
Their start, however, was rocky: Kellie called for a nail appointment, and he happened to answer the phone. "Are you the girl on TV? On the weekend news?" he asked. Yes, she affirmed. "Your hair is way too brassy and bleached out," he told her.
"I was so mad, I hung up. But at my next hair appointment with my regular stylist, I realized he was right and called him back for an appointment," she says.
Fitting for a long-term relationship, the two are past the stage of sugarcoating. "Right after I turned 40, I must have been feeling old, because I decided to wear my hair in a ponytail on the air," she says. "As soon as I got off the set, there was a message on my cell phone from Vinnie: ‘Honey, you are not in high school anymore. Lose the ponytail!’"
How did you get your start? It was either become a cop or do hair, and I chose to do hair. It’s something I’ve always liked.
How did you land your styling gig with NBC2? I’ve been doing Kellie Burns’ hair for 15 years, and that led into a contract with NBC to do all of the anchors. She must have looked good.
At what point in your career did you know you were in high demand? I was about seven or eight years into it. Before then, it was easier to get an appointment with me, and then one day around the seventh year I realized, Wow, I don’t have any appointments open for a month. And then it became, Oh, I don’t have any appointments open for two months. I think it’s all about being good at what you do, enjoying it and making people feel good about it.
What have been the most requested styles lately? Victoria Beckham, Katie Holmes and Rihanna. They have that same stacked bob. It’s kind of getting old.
What’s your forecast for up-and-coming styles? I think you’re going to see more wave and full-bodied looks coming back instead of flat looks. Not perms—just getting that natural-bodied look to the hair again.
Honesty is his best policy: If I had a client request a hairstyle that I knew wasn’t the best look for her, I’d tell her straight up that I wouldn’t do it, and then I’d show her three or four other looks that might work better. I’ve been accused of being brutally honest at times.
Gary will tell you he’s not much for advertising; word-of-mouth is his thing. When Linda Harden moved to Naples, she visited three or four salons that were "just OK—barely" before she was referred to him by a friend with particularly fantastic hair. As she’s learned, he doesn’t just do great work. His dedication knows no hours.
Gary promised to style her hair before a Friday night vintner dinner she attended with her husband during this year’s Naples Winter Wine Festival. It so happened that the salon was moving to its new location that day, and when she came in for her appointment, all the hair-washing stations were gone. "Not letting anything stand in the way of me looking wonderful that night, Gary and his assistant, Deborah, managed to wash my hair in the utility room sink. And then Gary did my hair as things were being moved around us."
His background: When I first acquired my license, I went to work for L’Oreal, doing classes on weekends. Then I worked for Redken for about 15 years, and I traveled nationally and internationally with them.
How do you guide clients to their best look? Most clients get frustrated because they never have anybody to listen to their needs and give suggestions as to what’s best for them. We find out about their lifestyle and their styling habits. For a haircut, we consider the texture of the hair, body shape, their lifestyle, what’s achievable, what’s maintainable. If it’s hair color it’s the same thing, and what goes with their skin tone. Our job is to take pieces of the puzzle and put them together for the client to come up with a hairstyle and a hair color that makes the most of her.
On styling the jetsetters: We have a lot of clients who, because they’re here seasonally, may not be able to get back every month. Flying is not as big a deal for a lot of people as it used to be. When clients leave in May and come back around October, they don’t want to spend four or five months getting their hair corrected from what happened in the summertime.
…while keeping it hush-hush from their husbands: I had one client who decided to come back every month during the summer. She was trying to think of excuses to give her husband as to why she needed to come back down the next month. One morning he said, "Please be honest with me. Are you seeing somebody in Naples? I don’t understand why you need to keep going back." And she said, "Well, yes, I am. I’m seeing Gary." "Why didn’t you just tell me?" he asked. "Because," she responded, "you wouldn’t have understood."
Vincent is somewhat of a trailblazer in Southwest Florida. He doesn’t mind that Fort Myers isn’t New York, Chicago or Las Vegas because he brings in all the goods from those cities. He partners with Redken to bring some of the country’s top hair educators here to work with his staff, and he recently installed i-vu—the new, interactive, touch-screen technology that streams the latest in fashion news—throughout the salon.
Entire businesses have taken notice of his reputation for innovation. Eighty percent of his clients schedule their appointments for the entire year, so one local corporation took the initiative to book a block of appointments with Vincent and post it on their calendar at the office. Instead of trying to finagle a precious time slot, employees needed only visit their neighbor in the next cubicle to trade an appointment time—that is, if the coworker was willing to give it up.
How did you get into the business? It was a spoof. I was 17 or 18 years old, and there was a [hair-styling] class that mainly women were taking. The policy was if you signed up for the class and decided at the end of the month that you didn’t like the beauty business, you would get your money back. So I went and got a bunch of friends. It started off that way, but when I got into it, I really started liking it. My father was a professor, and I had to go home and tell him I wasn’t going to American University; I was going to beauty school instead. He thought I was kidding.
Do you have a specialty? I know color, but I’m primarily a stylist. I’m one of the old school guys who departmentalize. I look at the overall picture and give the hair style and shape, and then we use color to enhance that style.
Fashion inspires hair: Hair always changes in fashion. In the industry we see colors and clothes that are coming down [from New York], and we dress the hair to that clothing. I’m not going to say we’re not a trendy salon; we’re very much aware of the trends, but we focus more on fashion, what people are wearing.
On being a friend: I’ve had clients come to me before they went home to tell their husbands they had cancer. It’s a humbling thing. You don’t realize how close you’ve become to your clients until they tell you things like that, that show their complete confidence. It’s not about their hair; it’s about being able to come to someone they’ve bonded with or someplace that’s in their comfort zone.
He’s a guy’s guy: I’m pleasantly surprised by the number of men who come into the salon. When [trends in men’s] hair got longer, it forced them to stop going to barber shops, and what forced them back into barber shops in the last five years is when hair started getting buzzed. But now that it’s getting longer again, we’re starting to see more and more men come in. Thirty percent of our clientele are men, and more so with me, because I’m primarily a cutter.
Creativity is key: It’s fun when you have people come in and say, "Do whatever you want." I love that.