When celebrity hairstylist Louise O'Connor set out to establish her career, her personal mantra was "be true to yourself". In the early days of her quest, being true to herself included the fact that she was completely besotted with the world of high fashion photography, giving little or no thought to hair.
Recently catching Louise, "between clients", at her chic new Manhattan Adir Salon (which she co-owns with celebrity colorist Rita Hazan), she agreed to share some insights into her life's journey and how she ultimately emerged as a highly celebrated stylist in the world of hairdressing.
A Passion For Fashion
Born the middle child of ten, in breathtakingly beautiful Galway, Ireland, Louise trekked to London in her late teens to pursue her passion for fashion. Snagging a gig working with a successful photographer, Louise discovered that she was "very drawn to texture". She explained "when the photographer was off on locational shoots" she often "helped out at the salon he was associated with. Louise worked at the salon "mainly to stay busy and earn a little money". Although she wanted to "be useful and bide her time till the photographer returned from his shoots" Louise discovered that, in reality, "she enjoyed working in the hair trade".
But, as Louise confessed, "she fought becoming a hairstylist." After all, it was not what she had her heart set on accomplishing. She wanted to work in fashion, not hair. The fates would not rest, tempting and beckoning to her, until she finally surrendered. Once she got serious about accepting her karma and learning to work with her scissors, she produced some of her first works of hair art and became "completely hooked". Luckily for her many devoted clients, there was no turning back for Louise.
In short order, she transitioned from working in the world of fashion to a full time role as an apprentice at one of London's largest and busiest salons. As Louise explained, "it were considered a privilege to be allowed to labor for the salon in exchange for training". During her three years of apprenticeship she was "required to work very long and extremely hard hours learning every minute detail and step of hairdressing from cutting and styling to blow drying and perming." Fueled by intense determination, Louise confided "being an apprentice was very hard and required a lot of personal sacrifice. To just survive "she had to work at pubs and other part time jobs in the evenings to supplement the peanuts she made as an apprentice".
From those intense and physically demanding days of her apprenticeship Louise nurtured her natural-born talent for designing. cutting and creating spectacular hairstyles. Louise also learned "to tell just by watching how other stylists hold their brushes, combs and blow dryers, whether they are natural hairdressers or not".
Master Of Hair Apprentices
In 1991, upon completing her apprenticeship in London, Louise journeyed to New York where she merged a brief stint at horse grooming along with part-time hair styling, before landing at a Manhattan salon. Discovered a few years later by a press representative of Oribe's, she was recruited to work for the famous celebrity stylist at his Manhattan digs.
Settling in for a brilliant six year run with the celebrated maestro, whom she described as "amazing, simply stunning" Louise's career took off on multiple levels. Not only did she become one of Oribe's celebrated assistants, she became renowned at his Manhattan salon for her own apprentices, that are today some of the best in the hair business. Recognizing her brilliance as a trainer, Oribe drafted all of Louise's former students to eventually work directly for him. Indeed, as she explained, "all the tiniest details about hairdressing that were drilled into her back in her London days, were passed directly to her own students". Teaching them everything from "how to hold a comb and to how to cut", Louise was a phenomenal, highly sought after instructor.
Louise explained that her "years in England along with her time at Oribe have given her a chance to learn so many different hairdressing techniques" from some of "the best in the business". That is "so exciting to her" because she feels that she was "always learning new techniques". She pointed out that her time with Oribe "a fabulous experience" and that Oribe was "an incredible teacher".
As Louise's cutting and styling brilliance at the Oribe salon grew to legendary status, she was in hot demand as a key stylist for high fashion greats such as Gucci and Versace. Joining the wildly crazed and intense world of runway hair design she created spectacular looks that were "true to the fashions and the designer's visions". Many of the models, both male and female, that she styled for the catwalks, also visited her privately for her hair cutting and styling expertise.
Over time, Louise attracted a large celebrity clientele from the fashion, rock and sports worlds that included the likes of Beyonce Knowles, Supermodel Naomi Campbell, hockey great Wayne Gretsky, celebrated hoopster Isiah Thomas, rock world's Cold Play and songstress Dido, whose hair she did for her first CD cover and who "remains a friend".
Following Her Dreams
Although Louise seemed to have reached the pinnacle of success and was becoming increasingly famous for her work, she began to feel that it was time to embark on yet another direction along her path.
Last August, during her annual trek back to visit her beloved family, in beautiful Ireland, Louise spent a lot of time reflecting on her life and decided that it was time for her to move on.
When she returned to New York she confided her latest career dreams to her good friend, celebrity hair colorist, Rita Hazan and the two agreed to create their own salon together.
Once these two celebrity hair wunderkinds agreed to follow their jointly shared visions for a salon, there was no stopping them. Within days, a business plan was created and financing strategies were put into play.
Just a few months later, a trendy location was acquired, construction was begun in January 2003 and the Adir salon (212-734-4757) quickly took form and shape at 16th 65th Street between 5th and Madison Avenues. According to Louise "Adir is the ideal salon experience". From the beautifully appointed intimate setting, punctuated with soothing rhythms, to the hand picked expert staff of eight, Adir (the Hebrew word for "amazing") offers men and women a peaceful escape from life's stresses and strains into a soothing hair and beauty experience.
The buzz about Adir is already growing into a fevered pitch prompting Louise to work around the clock making last minute salon and business decisions along with laying the groundwork for "a very good cutting floor" that is her current focus.
Louise is constantly working to perfect her trade as "a good cutter". She believes that the "foundation of any good style is a great cut". This was the key to success for many of the great celebrity stylists who actually trained under the greatest cutter of all time, Vidal Sassoon.
Louise and Rita work hand in hand with Adir clients to create a synergy of cut, style and color. Louise designs the cut and style and Rita weaves her hue magic to create movement and pizazz. Although Louise is known for her spectacular cutting and styling work, she has a "love for always learning new things." She constantly pushes herself to expand her knowledge base.
Going With The Flow
So what is Louise O'Connor really like? She's a little bit rock n' roll with a fun and funky fashion edge. Louise oozes warmth that is intriguing and infectious. Immediately she puts you at ease with her relaxed manner as if you have been lifetime friends. This is one strong, independent and charming woman who has paid her career dues in spades, knows what she wants and will achieve whatever she sets her mind to.
Louise is uniquely wired with a special talent for whipping up ultra versatile styles that allow her clients to chill and go with the flow of their lives, as well as their locks. Louise believes that "people are tired of the pressures to look perfect". Whether they are going to work or going clubbing, she believes that the majority of "people want more relaxed looks and styles that can easily dress up or down." Totally relating to the change in trends Louise pointed to the "tremendous popularity of Jeans as an indicator of this current fashion phenomena". She noted that the beauty of jeans is that they can offer trendy comfort at work or you add some instant bling with just the right shoes, accessories and slicked back style.
So how does this translate to current hair trends? Louise commented that "in general, men, even businessmen are translating the push for a more carefree mood to "longer, softer and slightly shaggier Bon Jovi type styles". They are ago "very much into color" showing an eagerness to adopt "chunkier highlights and generally lighter colors". Louise firmly believes "more so than ever, men are interested and aware of what is going on in fashion and appreciate and value how it can impact their overall look". Men are searching for "more stylish cuts and styles" and the days of popping into the "corner barbershop for a quick cookie cutter trim, are long over".
Women are embracing their own natural textures from curls to straight strands and wearing it more sensual with an edge. They are also "ditching complicated make-up looks" while gravitating towards "a more hippie/casual look that harks back to the softer 60s when bands like the Rolling Stones were at the height of their popularity". Louise also believes that women are enjoying "expressing a sexy but relaxed type of femininity".
Even more importantly, she loves that both men and women are "being true to themselves" and opting for styles that "honor their unique lifestyles and personalities".
Louise not only adheres to the "true to herself" principle, she likes to help her clients find their own hair and beauty truths. She enjoys "pulling from her artistic nature to create fun, flirty, natural styles that are versatile and easy." Some of her high profile celebrity clients are required by the nature of their work, to be slaves to a blow dryer. She understands those constraints and "works with what they have". For her clients that can ditch the blow dryers, she likes to" design styles built around a great cut that enhances the client's natural texture" and shows them how to use products to achieve their own designed range of "fun, flirty and edgy styles". One of Louise's favorite hair care products lines that she deems "amazing" is the Phyto line. She uses it on her celebrity clients as well as on most of the styles she creates for her clients at Adir.
Building Her Business
Unlike some celebrity stylists, Louise is "always taking new clients". In fact, she "loves the ongoing challenge of working on all different types and styles of hair from naturally curly to bone straight". She "doesn't like working with just one type of style" or one "type of hair" and definitely doesn't want to be pigeon-holed in her work as a hair artist. Louise like to "take it as it comes through the door" and loves to cut, style and work with all types of hair for all types of people. It makes her work exciting. She loves "being creative and loves to design cuts and styles that work with all of her client's natural textures".
Having attracted quite a large "naturally curly haired clientele" she "loves the opportunity of creating a great cut that works with the natural curls" Louise looks at her work with curls "kind of like sculpting clay". After all, "every set of curls is completely unique in its structure and flow." She achieves fabulous results by "chopping into the curls when it is almost dry" allowing the hair to fall into its own natural shape. Louise explained "many stylists don't relish dealing with natural curls, or may not be sure how to work with it".
One thing that Louise believes is losing popularity is "stick straight hair". She suggests that with the abundance of softer, more natural and textured styles, thermally reconditioned hair will start to lose significant ground. As she pointed out, there is limited flexibility with hair that is "just straight with no texture or movement".
Today this genius of precision cutting has the best of the fashion and hair worlds at her fingertips. Some of her most gratifying experiences have included working with hair on some of fashion's best catwalks along with a stint for the renowned Alternative Hair Show, that was created to raise awareness and funds for Leukemia. In her past Louise also had the "once in a lifetime opportunity" to work for the man that started the Alternative Hair show. Louise really enjoyed "the opportunity to create such spectacular hair art". The show, as she explained it, "was more about creating works of hair art than just creating hair styles". It was an "amazing experience" that pushed her creativity envelope a little harder.
Louise had to temporarily stop her work with high fashion hair due to the heavy demands of designing and launching the Adir Salon. Although she has been off the circuit recently, Louise noted that "she will eventually go back to working with high fashion runway hair" because it inspires her and allows her to work with fashion, which remains one of her true loves.
Does Louise have any other unfilled dreams? Well maybe one. She confided that if you make a list of the greatest artists in the history of hair, women are conspicuously absent. Louise hopes that someday she and Rita Hazan, along with their work at Adir, will alter that historically male dominated list to include women like themselves. To achieve such a lofty goal will require lots of determination, hard work and total commitment. But if any woman can do it, Louise O'Connor has my vote.
If you would like to personally experience Louise's brilliant hair cutting or styling genius, schedule an appointment with Louise by calling the fabulous Adir Salon at 212-734-4757. Adir is located at 16 East 65th Street between 5th and Madison Avenues. For more information fax: 212-734-4725