By Daniel Reynolds
Originally published on Advocate.com December 04 2012 5:00 AM ET
Hairstylists Luigi Parasmo and Javier Calvo have been partners in life for nearly 20 years. But last spring, they also became partners in business, opening the Luigi Parasmo Salon in historic Georgetown. The Advocate spoke with the stylists about their illustruous careers styling some of Washington, D.C.'s most notable figureheads, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as well as the politics of mixing love and hair.
The Advocate: Luigi, you’ve styled for iconic fashion brands such as Valentino, Armani, D&G and Versace, but also iconic political figures, such as Condoleezza Rice. What is the difference between styling hair for fashion and politics?
Luigi: Although the style scene is beginning to change, D.C. is still conservative. So many women are still under pressure to look like Margaret Thatcher, so that they won’t stand out too much and will be taken seriously. I advise my clients to wear what I think would make them look hot, sexy and feminine, but it also depends on the person I have in my chair. The biggest difference between styling hair for fashion and styling hair for politics is keeping your limits in mind. With fashion, you can let your creativity go – in politics, you have to be mindful of a more moderate clientele. I can say proudly, however, that my clients rarely go for an old fashioned look.
Do you think it’s more difficult for women in politics to be creative with their looks?
Luigi: A lot of women in politics are not very creative when it comes to beauty because they are in, what they call, “a man’s world.”. From my understanding, this means men make the rules. So if you are a woman and want to be successful, you can’t be blonde, wear red nail polish, or dress girly. This is all traded in for smarts.
Who are some politicians you’d like to style, or could use your assistance?
Luigi: I’d love to style Hillary Clinton and Callista Gingrich. Their outdated hairstyles hide their beauty and femininity.
Who has the best hair in politics?
Luigi: I can’t decide on which one stands out the most, but Nancy Pelosi, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama have a defined style and direction to their hair looks.
What is your opinion of Rachel Maddow’s hair?
Luigi: I think Rachel’s hair should be a little longer, more like an Ellen DeGeneres do.
Luigi: Hillary Clinton’s hair is too long and she needs a trim.
Luigi: Sarah Palin’s hair is frumpy.
What messages are these power women trying to convey with their hairstyles?
Luigi: All three of these women are smart, powerful and attractive. Oddly, none of them really have a hairstyle that goes with their features.
What’s Condoleezza Rice like in person?
Luigi: I really happen to like Dr. Rice. She’s a very smart woman and has a lot of style. I’ve done her hair a few times and I must say, it has always looked amazing. The first time was for President Bush’s inauguration. She’s very proper, very lady-like, and makes it a point to greet everyone.
Does she ask for advice, or does she have a clear vision of her haircut?
Luigi: When I did her hair, she was our secretary of State, therefore a very busy woman. She knew what she liked and came in for, but also wanted to hear my opinion. I appreciated that.
Who are some other famous figureheads you’ve styled?
Luigi: I’ve worked with a number of notable Washingtonians with high positions in the government. Unfortunately I can’t disclose their names.
Earlier this year, a gay New Mexican hairstylist refused to cut his governor’s hair because she did not endorse marriage equality. What did you think of this stance? Would you ever refuse a politician service because of his or her political views?
Luigi: As a professional in this industry and in a city swarming with political opinions, I personally think that our own political opinions don’t matter when it comes to hair. I think the New Mexican hairstylist was inappropriate and unprofessional. Everyone is equal in my chair. Isn’t equality what we’re fighting for? In the salon atmosphere, you must be non-political because it doesn’t ever matter what your client’s view is.
Have you ever “lobbied” or made your political interests known, while a politician is in your chair?
Luigi: I’ve been in the beauty business long enough to know that you should respect every client’s religion, and politics should never be brought up. I never talk about my political view with a client unless I know that person extremely well, and even then, I whisper. I don’t want to offend anyone, and here in D.C. you have to be very careful.
How did each of you become hairstylists? What drew you to the profession?
Luigi: I knew I loved hair as a young child. At age 8, I would play with my friends’ hair. At just 14, I was enrolled in beauty school and working every day. I knew it was something I wanted to do and that’s how I discovered my passion for hair.
Javier: I’ve been in the hair industry for 43 years, and I started at the age of 14 at a family friend’s salon in Madrid. I discovered the passion for hair back then and continued working. I’ve always loved the challenge and meeting different people from all walks of life.
Tell us how you met and came to date. Was it instant chemistry? Or was there a courtship?
Luigi: We met 20 years ago on my first day working at the famous Watergate hotel’s hair salon, where Javier worked as well. He came to the salon on his day off, and I was instantly attracted. I asked him to show me a few D.C. gay venues around the city, and from that weekend on, it was instant chemistry. I then moved from Alexandria, Va. into his apartment building in D.C.. He had his own place and I had mine, but I used to spend more time at his apartment. Six months after moving, we thought it’d make sense to just live together. We’ve been together since then.
Some of our readers might be surprised to learn that Watergate has a hair salon. What was it like working in the most politically scandalous building in D.C.?
Luigi: The Watergate Salon opened in 1969 and was actually one of the very first hair salons in D.C.. Most of D.C.’s top hairstylists started there. The ambiance was a little pretentious and traditional. Since the salon catered to older and rich clientele, hairstyles were extremely old fashioned. I felt like a fish out of the water, having worked in Rome and Milan, the European capitals of fashion. Javier and I were able to build our own clientele, different from the usual customer.
You’ve been together, and worked together, for 20 years. Are there any hazards to mixing love and hair?
Luigi: Mixing love and hair is not an easy thing to do. I remember one time, we went home from work and had a huge fight (the only fight in 20 years believe it or not) over someone at work. We both realized that it wasn’t worth taking work back home and we needed to draw a line. Our agreement was and has been ever since: we have two lives, a working one and a personal one. Let’s not mix them together. We have been very successful in doing so.
Does it get competitive?
Luigi: There’s absolutely no competition between us as we’ve been each other’s biggest supporters.
How do you keep the passion alive?
Luigi: He’s always been there for me, and I for him. There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for each other. I guess what I mean to say is, anyone can keep the passion alive if they wake up every day and see the person they truly love next to them. Relationships are not easy, you must make it happen, negotiate and compromise every day to keep it alive. If someone is still able to give you butterflies in your stomach and make you laugh out loud after 20 years together, I guess we’ve found passion. Also, we’ve always been “relationship” kind-of-guys, so being in a relationship and working at it daily feels comfy.
Where do you live? Where are some good date spots in D.C.?
Luigi: We live in Arlington, Va. We like to explore Washington without necessarily thinking of any one place as a date spot. We usually dine at restaurants in Dupont Circle and Logan Circle. Some of our favorite spots include American restaurant Peacock Cafe, French restaurant Café Bonaparte, Spanish eatery Bodega, Middle Eastern restaurant Neyla and Italian restaurant Il Canale. We also like to stay in the historic and trendy Georgetown neighborhood, where our salon is located.
Tell us about the new salon. Is this your first time as a salon owner? What are some of the difficulties and surprises you’ve encountered in starting a new business together?
Luigi: Having my own salon was always my biggest dream. Because Javier has been in my life all these years, I wanted him to be part of it too as my business partner. After being in this business for 30 years, I just wanted to have my own signature style. I love working for myself and my new employees, who I call family. Witnessing a lack in customer service, poorly run establishments and unprofessional behavior were some of the many reasons why I wanted to go out on my own. I absolutely love having my own salon. The only difficulties we encountered were the construction and building surprises along the way. Gutting the space and watching it develop was very challenging.
Are you fans of the reality television show Tabitha’s Salon Takeover?
We adore Tabitha!
Did you learn anything from the show?
Luigi: I’m confident [that] everything the show teaches, I already know. It’s always good to have a reminder though.
Do you have any advice for people starting their own hair salons?
Luigi: When starting a business, you have to put together essential ingredients. These ingredients include professionalism, customer service, a 100% commitment to your clients, your employees and your business, and absolute dedication to performance. It’s not easy. You have to really believe in yourself and your craft, and you must be willing to make sacrifices.