Hairstyling is soon to become to become the next big reality TV craze, judging from Oxygen’s newest reality show, Hair Battle Spectacular (below), which premiered on August 10. The show promises to take viewers behind the scenes in the largely unexposed world of fantasy hair design, and the contestant who creates the zaniest hairstyle will be awarded $100,000. Shear Genius, another reality show that wrapped up its third season in April, aimed to find the best hair stylist in the U.S.
The Hair Design Institute in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, affiliated with the Long Island Beauty School, is the training ground for various aspiring hairstylists and cosmetologists around New York City.
Upon arrival, visitors immediately enter a waiting area buzzing with neighborhood people in need of a haircut. At first glance, it seems more like a salon than a school, but for its students, the salon is their classroom.
Many students enter the school with a long-time interest in the beauty industry and even some haircutting experience. While studying at the Hair Design Institute, they fine-tune their skills with professional instruction and graduate with a career-centered goal and confidence in their abilities.
Lucille Deleonard, now in the senior level at the Institute, is one such student. “I’ve been doing hair since I was 13 or 14,” she said. “It makes me feel good knowing I help people look beautiful.” Since entering the program, Lucille underwent a transformation from a teenager with a hobby to a young woman well on the way to her career. “I am a very playful person and love to make people laugh,” she said. “I’ve learned to be more professional and how to carry myself in the workplace.”
This transformation was, at times, nerve-racking for Lucille, especially when it came to cutting hair, but now she is self-assured and cutting is second nature.
“I was nervous and scared that I was going to mess up,” Lucille said. “I cut myself a few times, but once you master it, it’s easy.” She credits her improvement to her instructor, Mr. Lawrence, a “pro with cutting” who often helped her out.
Lucille exudes the gracious character people seek in a hairstylist, evident in her current life-changing project—styling a wig for a woman named Julie who recently came out of chemotherapy. Since Julie specifically picked her for this task, Lucille has been diligently working on the wig, creating an attractive layered style. With little over a month left in the school—her graduation date set for the end of September—Lucille has already used her talent and passion to make a difference.
Like Lucille, Shasta Spicer (left), a beginner student, experienced insecurities at first. During a student exchange day (during which students at the Institute style each other’s hair), she worked with a person whose hair type she was unfamiliar with. “I was a bit concerned about how her hair would react, but when I finally did it, I was comfortable,” she said.
Although she is relatively new to the school, Shasta already notices a change in herself. “I have more experience, I’m more confident, and I’ve grown to learn how to meet with different people and network,” she said.
Tinesha K. Martin, an intermediate student, had been styling hair long before she started taking classes in the field, but came to the Institute simply to get the paperwork she needed to break into the industry.
She takes many hands-on courses, learning aspects of hair design ranging from press and curl to roller sets to updos. Tinesha values the time she spends styling her fellow students’ hair during student exchange time, and especially enjoys the opportunities she has to go onto the senior floor and work with clients.
However, the Hair Design Institute’s curriculum is not all hands-on. Like any other school, there is studying involved, and Tinesha is willing to take the time to crack open the books.
She recognizes her strengths and is also aware of her weaknesses: “I had my own setbacks that I had to work on, as far as I want to get a little better with cutting, my color manipulation, and just refining my haircuts,” Tinesha explained.
The graduation dates for students at the Institute vary depending on how much time they want to devote to the coursework and whether they are full-time or part-time, but the usual duration of the program is between seven and 12 months. As in any academic setting, students get out what they put in.
After graduation, all three students have set professional goals for themselves. “I recently got a part-time job,” Tinesha said. “My goal is to get into the industry more, get more clientele, get out there and eventually open my own business.”
However, graduation doesn’t mean their education is over. As new styles and techniques evolve in the industry, they need to learn them. Shasta knows exactly how she plans to accomplish this: “I will take specialized classes, watch videos, reach out to people who can help me, build my skills, and seek an apprenticeship,” she said.
Students at the Hair Design Institute completely bury the stereotype that cosmetology is the industry for dropouts—those who can’t cut academics or make it elsewhere. “It’s a last resort for [some people], but it’s an opening door for me,” Lucille declared.
Tinesha (left) pointed out that hair stylists are the ones who make doctors and nurses look beautiful, and there is no way around that—even if they decide to do their own hair. “Unless you go to a licensed professional, it’s not going to come out the same way,” she said.
Shasta enumerated the science-based courses students have to take at the Institute: chemistry, physiology, and biology of the scalp—all of which are put to practical use in the salon on a daily basis. She has a unique view about the beauty industry and considers hair stylists experts in many professions.
“There is physical work being done,” she said. “We are a combination of scientists, medical doctors of hair, artists of design, and intelligent because we have to communicate with people every day.”
The Hair Design Institute offers various services to the public—including haircuts, styles, and coloring, eyebrow tweezing, and manicures. Because students perform all the services (supervised by licensed professionals), the prices are affordable, including haircuts for as low as $5. Despite the low cost, clients receive high-quality styles, reflecting the motto that appears on the Institute’s brochure—“Look Lovelier for Less.”
Hair Design Institute
6711 5th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11220-5447