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Suelyn Farel: High-End Salons are Alive and Well

Lifestyle

In a recent article on BeautyMatter entitled Is The End Of The High-End Salon Near?, the idea was proposed that the high-end salon is about to die, for the following reasons:


Deal Chasing: Services like Gilt, Groupon, and LifeBooker are giving smaller salons offering steep discounts a competitive edge, taking business from higher-end salons.

DIY: YouTube and Instagram how-to content are replacing the advice and guidance of high-end stylists.

Beauty Bars: Hyper-focused boutiques specializing in facials, brows, waxing, blowouts, and lashes for a fraction of the cost.

On Demand: Where-you-want-it, when-you-want-it services appeal to the Uber generation.

Salon Culture: Approximately 60% of hairstylists are freelance, and salons have a reputation for being mismanaged and run poorly. On the other side of the equation, startups like Drybar and Glamsquad continually invest in stylist education and technology.

As I am married to a man whose family is a distributor for Aveda and owns high-end salons (Paris Parker, multiple locations in Southern Louisiana), no sooner had he read this article that a fierce conversation ensued. It helped that just a few days ago we had cocktails with Suelyn and Julien Farel, of Julien Farel Salon, in NYC, discussing the pros and cons of $1,000 haircuts. Indeed, Julien had just told us that “In a well-done, high-end salon there will always be an elite clientele who will go there, who will not settle for a Number Two, Three or Four level experience, or a quick-stop type of store.”

Before I could even start asking Suelyn specific questions about the BeautyMatter article, she had some thoughts and counter-arguments, suggesting that the high-end salon is alive and well, and here to stay.

“My first take on the article is that if you have a good business model and if you run your business in a way to meet the needs of a changing business environment and you are innovating, then your business will survive and thrive through anything because that is part of navigating the waters of business. This is true in any industry, and has been true in other times. The high-end salon model is unique and specific—and it does not cater to the entire market. You are catering to a very specific clientele who is a luxury-demanding client. You have to anticipate their needs and wants and be ahead of the curve."

“We launched our business in 2001. Before it was a must, we incorporated express checkout in our experience. We kept our clients’ credit card information on file, asked them if they automatically wanted to add a 20% tip, and merely emailed them an invoice so they could reconcile their statement.

We saw the need because we are in NYC and everyone is busy and doesn’t have time to “check out the normal way.” We were meeting our clients’ needs from the beginning. Of course, today, digital has facilitated mobile booking and checkout even further. Our business model is, and has always been about keeping that super-high level of service while anticipating the needs of our guests. We know what they want and need before they do.”

Photo Courtesy of Salons in Boston

I then asked her about the specific five points referenced in the BeautyMatter piece. Here are her responses:

DEAL CHASING

“We don’t do deals. We are like Hermès, we don’t discount. It has always been part of our model. Once you start undercutting and discounting, it’s a slippery slope. We tried once at the early onset of Gilt around 2010 and our clients hated it and anyone who saw it was appalled that we were trying this and it just didn’t work. That was a live-and-learn, and a mistake we only made once. Why erode your margins? We are delivering quality at a specific price and once we discount it tarnishes our brand image.”

DIY

“We like to include some DIY in our digital strategy. It is great if you have the patience and can’t afford to go to the salon—but DIY is overall not customized enough for our guests. DIY does not address two key pieces. The first is that it’s all about relationships, about a touch-point at every visit.

When you come in for a cut and/or color, we also address your scalp concerns, your hair concerns. DIY becomes like a medical self-analysis when what you really need is an expert. A quick braid is fine, but in terms of longer-term healthy beautiful hair, transforming your hair into something you want it to be, you need the expert. It is not an easy quick fix.”

BEAUTY BARS

Specifically, DryBar. “The blowout bar phenomenon has not cut into our services. We do know that some of our regular clients use DryBar, and I think Ali Webb is an incredible visionary. It is a great way to offer the in-and-out quick service—and it is in addition to what our clients come see us for, not instead of. That is an add-on. Maybe it’s on their block, maybe it’s their go-to while they are on the road—there is a convenience and consistency factor there. We have H&M and we also still have Hermès. I would suggest that at Julien Farel our blowout lasts longer, without fizziness in the roots, and our guests like to know the stylist they are getting in advance. We compete price-wise for blowouts—$50 on Park Avenue. Also, at the highest end of the market, people want one-stop shopping—that is their definition of convenience. That is one of the biggest differentiators: people want to be pampered and want to have everything done without having to go to 6 different places and have to book 6 different appointments. What if their schedule changes? They have 6 appointments to change, 6 places to call. Instead, we will move things around for them once. Mani and pedi while they’re in the chair, they are running to a wax while they have color in their hair.”

ON DEMAND

“One of the things we are well aware of in NYC, many people do not want you to see where or how they live, people don’t want to have someone come to their home to be let into that privacy. Also hair color is messy. Do you want to really do that at home? You have to be careful. So at-home services are not for our guests. On the contrary, our guests like the beehive and the buzz of the salon and the activity that is going on. Also, we are in a hotel, there is a bar downstairs, you can meet friends, have a breakfast or lunch or a cocktail. We don’t cater to a millennial crowd.”

SALON CULTURE

“We are employee-only, and we don’t do booth rental. For us, it is about building our technicians up to become the best that they can be and to grow into a career with us. When you have freelancers, if they are making more with an outside booking, they will be quick to change their book at the salon—and that impacts your business negatively. The freelance model has never been ours, because at the high end it is about relationship, loyalty, and team building. We are building your personal brand for you, alongside our brand. Our stylists want to be part of something that is larger, more corporate, and more meaningful. I truly believe that a long-term salon business with freelancers is not going to work.”

Julien concludes, when speaking about his team: “When building my team, I have always had a philosophy about pricing. It is good when techs are very busy to increase their prices. The industry likes to think that this will cause clients to drop off, but it is the opposite. It confirms the excellent service and level of talent provided, and often makes them more desirable, more in demand. When you are good, you are good.”

Culture

A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.


Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.