John Dellaria, Diego Messina and Frank Xavier not only styled the best hair, they groomed the next best generation in hair. If you’re a stylist, you want to work with them and if you’re a client, you want them working on you.
Although their cutting, coloring and styling techniques may vary, these hairdressers share more than they realize. From the common theme of entering the industry to get girls, to evolution, education, and of course, their mentors, Boston’s savviest names in hair share their success stories in the industry. With the majority of the salons on Newbury Street, it is no wonder that “the Street” is often referred to as “hairdressing heaven,” yet veer off this main hub and there are two names that expand Boston’s stylist reputation. A reputation that was created by the original generation of hairdressers that not only transformed Boston’s salon scene, but also the quality and technique of hairdressing; an intricate and ever-evolving industry, these 12 stylists were trained by the best, to be the best and keep the legacy of Boston’s salons intact.
Serge and Sacha Safar
“We came, we opened, we stayed,” says Serge Safar in the very spot he opened 45 years ago. “We look at what’s coming in—people, styles, fashion—and evolve from that.” Serge opened Safar Coiffure with his brother, Gaston, when they came to Boston from France. They aimed to bring the fashion, art, hair and culture of Europe to Newbury Street, therefore, they designed a salon with a Euro cafe to combine cafe culture with the social aspect of hairdressing on one of Boston’s most desirable streets.
Offering their own technique of cutting and styling, Serge runs his salon on the principles of evolution and customer service, explaining that, “A great hairdresser always needs evolution.” For the Safar family, this evolution became a part of the family principles—something the brothers were able to instill on their sons, who now work side by side with their fathers—Sacha at Safar and Alex at Salon Àcôté.
“I always wanted to work with my father. There was almost no thought of doing anything else,” says Sacha on growing up with his father, uncle and cousins in the salon atmosphere. He recalls his first memories of enjoying the salon with the social aspect, perfectionism and catering to a client’s requests. “We have a large enough staff to accommodate everyone’s specialty and that’s the goal of the salon.” With his specialty being long hair, Sacha also loves to set realistic expectations for clients, giving them the most honest advice. And as someone who grew up around a generation of hairdressers that are recognized for their true professionalism, Sacha wants to continue this. “For me, it’s not a job so much as it is a passion. That was really instilled on me from my dad starting from the bottom and making it a work ethic.”
235 Newbury Street
Boston MA, 02116
Gaston Safar, Alex Safar, and Vincent Cox
Gaston split from his brother and Safar in the 70s to focus on real estate. Although he veered toward a different path, he still focused on salons, opening one in South Beach, Miami, which his daughter now runs, and further down Newbury, with Salon Àcôté, run by his son, Alex. “I told them, if you do something, do it best,” says Gaston. To his joy, what both children chose to do best was follow in their father’s, and rest of the family’s, footsteps.
Their passion and involvement has kept Gaston traveling back and forth between cities and salons. Gaston brought the cafe atmosphere that was originally established at Safar to Àcôté, offering an espresso bar by morning and wine bar by evening. “We brought the international flare from there to here,” says Gaston, referring to the French culture they’ve been able to spread. He also noted how salons used to be separated by gender but they were able to integrate this back in the 60s. Now, 45 years later, Gaston discusses the important factors that kept his family’s businesses relevant, “Colors change all the time, highlights, Balayage, Ombre…so you have to be on top of it all and be a complete hairdresser.”
“When I was a young hairdresser, my dad and uncle, Serge, were always talented but that was less important,” says Gaston’s son, Alex. “I loved the way they interacted with the client, almost in a romantic way.” It was this attention to detail and type of personal affection for each client that intrigued Alex as he thrived off the feeling of people choosing him to transform them. He claims this was a natural realization, with the talent and fervor of styling as an innate instinct that runs in the family. Alex hopes his own son will grow up with a similar natural passion but adds, “I will never force him. I do this because I love it.” He smiles and continues, “I still run up the stairs in the morning and look forward to my day.” In such an evolving profession, Alex enjoys growing as he goes, especially with the opportunity to work under his father and Vincent Cox, former owner of Àcôté. “I can balance old and new styles. Plus, working with Vincent is like working with another father figure.”
Vincent Cox is a master stylist with over 35 years in the business. Much like the Safar brothers, Cox has an unmistakable passion for the art of styling and everything hair. The key word here is, art, as Cox came to Boston from London to attend art school before he started working with Diego Messina. As Cox progressed in the hairdressing, rather than hair cutting, part of the industry, he traveled with Clairol to teach color and style shows. “I liked the versatility—coloring one day, a photo shoot the next, wedding, events. It kept it interesting.”
As the former salon owner, Cox, understands the importance of “keeping things interesting” by adjusting his work to suit the styles and fashions that change regularly. “You see a lot of people come in but to stay in business for 10, 20, 30 years, you have to reinvent yourself,” Cox explains. “If you’re not progressing style yourself, how can you style other people?”
132 Newbury Street
Boston MA, 02116
Salon Eva Michelle
Eva Mustafai and Michelle Lee
Hailing from Albania and New York, Eva Mustafai and Michelle Lee first met when they were working at James Joseph Salon. The two traveled together as they were both interested in expanding their styling knowledge, a principle they designed their salon around. “We bonded over good food and continuing education,” Lee says. The two were at a conference in Chicago when they became more serious about opening up as their own entity. Five years later and the ladies have a shiny, chic salon, combining Euro vision with city flare; yet, at the end of the day still feels like home. “When you come in, it’s kind of like coming into our house,” says Lee with Mustafai continuing, “Our staff is homegrown from assistant to stylist, so we’re like a family.”
Also at the forefront of their business, is giving back to the community. Charity and community are aspects the two women are serious about, with past work to support non-profit cancer and heart foundations as well as children with disabilities. The two attribute this trait to the inspiration that their kids bring them, daily, as well as the teamwork within the salon industry. “It’s one of the things people miss out on when we don’t work together. Here, we don’t think of it as a competition,” says Lee on working with other companies in an infamously competitive business.
The five years of quick ascend for the salon reflect that even though the pair is a new age of stylists on “the Street,” they are here to stay and here to continue the legacy, to live up to the standards set before them.
Salon Eva Michelle
118 Newbury Street
Boston MA, 02116
Having trained under Frank Xavier and worked with Marc Harris at Eco Centric, Jerel DeFrancesco is another name to come from the golden age of hairdressers. “Those guys [Xavier, Dellaria, Diego] they raised you, molded you, groomed you,” he says. “Xavier taught me everything I knew. He was a true craftsman, which makes me a true craftsman.”
Growing up in a family of masonries and pilots, DeFrancesco went to commercial pilot school, but was ultimately inspired by a friend to attend hairdressing school. “It was just my avenue to pursue,” he says. So, after a couple years at Eco Centric, DeFrancesco opened his own salon at age 24. “I was scared but it felt great. I had a core of loyal clients and stylists.” This offered him a sense of comfort and confidence to make the leap to open his own salon that he ran with a partner for 12 years. In 2006, DeFrancesco branched off and downsized to a smaller salon. Now, 11 years later, he’s just as successful.
“There’s like 12 hair salons on my block,” says DeFrancesco with a chuckle. “But what makes mine stand out? I’ve been seeing clients since I worked for Xavier.” One of them being a celebrity figure, who he remembers stepping in for one day when Xavier was running behind. “Just have the kid do it,” the client said—and DeFrancesco has been cutting his hair ever since. Cutting celebrity hair is a test to DeFrancesco’s craftsmanship, as well as the convenience he offers by bringing the cut to his clients. “I go to people’s homes if they need services and can’t get to me.” Whether it’s a matter of privacy or medical issues, DeFrancesco prides himself on taking the scissors, spray and products to client’s houses for trims to full coloring. “It’s like when I go home, I cut my ma’s hair. I keep it personal with my clients.”
Jerel @ 119
119 Newbury Street
Boston MA, 02116
Beaucage Salon and Spa
Dean Boudreau has been at the “beautiful cage” that is Beaucage for 27 years. Although his name isn’t on the door, there’s no doubt Boudreau is the brains and business behind the salon. “I wanted everyone to be able to share the same last name… Dean at Beaucage, Deborah at Beaucage.” This humility and security is at the forefront of the salon’s foundation, something Boudreau learned from the masters whom he studied under. “Nothing was more important than the hair,” he says. “You didn’t sacrifice relationships.”
For Boudreau, this meant sharing not only the name, but the space and time equally for all assistants and stylists with a seven-day-week schedule. “I fashioned my model from what I learned at Dellaria: We build hairdressers.” Out of 25 hairdressers currently at the salon, 22 started as assistants. “I take care of people. If they’re not successful, we’re not successful and I have an obligation to my community.”
Although many of the employees are the original staff, Boudreau knows that being at the same “cage” for 27 years means not only keeping technique fresh, but also reinventing the salon space to maintain modernity. Boudreau typically renovates every six years, telling, “I go for a whole, new look. It’s not just a fresh coat of paint.” This relates back to Boudreau’s attention to a strong foundation from within the salon’s talent to within the salon itself.
71 Newbury Street
Boston MA, 02116
Salon Marc Harris
Part of the ‘old school’ kings of Newbury, Harris grew up in Southie. As a kid raised in a competitive neighborhood, he developed leadership skills and an edge that permitted him to stick out in a crowd. “I always had a sense of style, a sense of self,” he says. “I was always out of the box.” This unique spirit spilled into playing sports, dressing differently and, by proxy of suave style, getting his hair done. It was sitting in a salon chair one day when Harris looked around and thought, “Wow, I could kill it in here, the gorgeous girls, the music the vibes. I was fascinated with the whole vibe of it being a work place—I didn’t want to leave!” So, he found a way to stay by attending hairdressing school and beginning his career under one of the biggest names on Newbury.
“I was with John Dellaria until the late 80s, early 90s and was the last person to assist with him before he moved to New York,” Harris remembers his time with the hairdressing legend, along with the opportunities he had as a result of working with Dellaria. “He meant a lot to me, I feel so blessed for my relationship with him.” Harris spent time traveling, assisting and styling with Dellaria until he left for New York City and Harris began managing the salon at 22 years of age. “I was the youngest in the salon, and I was the leader.”
Harris spent his time traveling between Boston and New York to do shows with Dellaria but remained at the salon until he left to open his first salon with Vincent Guarnotta in 1990, Eco Centric. This only made sense as a driven Harris says he’s a “70-hour work week guy” and had come into this skill set so quickly. One day, the team came in and suggested he change the name of the salon. “I was reluctant at first because I’m a team guy,” says Harris, who ultimately agreed as a way to build the brand and not just a salon.
Although the brand was built, with two salons in Boston, two in New York and a partnership with Equinox Sports Club, Harris remains true to his humble roots and the day he changed the name of the salon. “I still point to the sign [Marc Harris] and say to my employees, ‘Hey, I work for that guy too.’”
Salon Marc Harris
115 Newbury Street
Boston MA, 02116
Different than the sleek “Street” salons, Shag Boston prides itself on being just that: different. Set in a spacious, Southie loft, the salon is compartmentalized into cut and color stations between three massive rooms. The combo of brick and glass ensure the focus of natural light and airy feel, exactly what salon owner, Sandy Poirier, envisioned when he moved into the single loft, from which he expanded over the past 12 years.
The Rhode Island owner, stylist, photographer, and now videographer, began his hairdressing career on Newbury, studying under John Dellaria. Poirier moved out to a bigger space as he says, “There was no creativity and it was too claustrophobic.” For a character as gregarious as Poirier, he wanted to create a unique space in a patterned career.
So, he made Shag come alive. Witnessing the colorful personality traits and vibrant physical accents of the stylists, they reflect the refreshing vibe that Poirier has achieved. The separate rooms almost encourage a type of happy hour between the clientele where, “Instead of just looking in the mirror, we make it like a lounge, so you can mingle with other customers,” explains Poirier.
With a salon in the double digits and career even further along, the original reason of “getting into the business to meet girls” has proved to be a success for Poirier and all the risks he took. “Hard work and long hours pay off. There’s no quick route to success in the hair, or any other industry.”
840 Summer Street
Boston MA, 02116
Mitchell John Salon
Growing up in Connecticut, surrounded by family and friend stylists, Mitch DeRosa had an insider’s view on the hair industry from a young age, traveling into New York City frequently with his father and studying in the Empire State building on weekends. When DeRosa entered the business, he remembers it as “a really cool time to come into hairdressing” since products were becoming more prevalent, and there was a shift toward geometric shapes and precise cuts. With new angles, came new education, which DeRosa appreciated because he didn’t just have to figure it out, he could learn and study these up-and-coming techniques.
As he pursued education, he traveled, looking for new opportunities and found himself in Faneuil Hall one day. After walking into a salon and speaking with the owner, they offered him a position on the spot. Although DeRosa had never been to Boston, he accepted the offer and planted his roots in the city. He quickly realized Newbury Street was the place to be, however, DeRosa also built a business clientele around the Financial District, so when a small space came up on “the ghost town street” of Broad Street, DeRosa set up shop and stayed until the present day.
In the 30 years of owning and operating Mitchell John Salon, the stylist has worked on editorial teams, at shows in NYC, Milan and Paris and with photographers, including Peter Lindbergh, and models such as Gisele Bundchen, but most notably, in this time, DeRosa created a product line—Living proof.
“A client brought a CD on technology and the mapping of human genomes back from Hong Kong,” says DeRosa. “The human genome was finding a way into every business.” DeRosa brought this to his business partner, who had access to MIT scientists, and DeRosa noted his “Aha!” moment to solve beauty’s biggest problems by creating a product line that uses lab-created molecules. Now, one of the biggest names in hair, DeRosa has a product and salon that he created in a city opposite to where he studied. “Even though my parents had a salon, I was naïve, it was difficult but that spark of educational expression I had at the beginning of my career never died.”
Mitchell John Salon
67 Broad Street
Boston MA, 02116