There's a scene in the movie Grease where Frenchy, the "ne'er do well" would-be beautician, is visited by a crooning angel who tries to get her to wake up and smell the Barbicide regarding her lack of talent in her chosen field.
Not only has Frenchy "flunked shampoo," her failure is further highlighted on screen by the fact that she has inadvertently dyed her hair a bright shade of pink.
Roberto Sinopoli hates that scene.
As director of the newly opened Aveda Institute Winnipeg, the words "beauty school dropout" aren't exactly music to his ears. In fact, he thinks the term "beauty school" itself could use a makeover.
"There's been a lot of negative connotation with it," Sinopoli, 35, says. "Beauty school was very different at one time, so a lot of people think of old ladies getting roller sets and perms. Or that for people who weren't in line or in tune with university, this was kind of their last option."
Even Vidal Sassoon, the British-born hairstyling pioneer who died last week at age 84, leaving behind a multi-million-dollar empire, never felt the profession he revolutionized got the respect it deserved.
"Hairdressing in general hasn't been given the kudos it deserves," Sassoon told Reuters in 2010. "It's not recognized by enough people as a worthy craft."
Frenchy's hot pink 'do might have been considered a beauty-school botch job in the 1950s, when only about seven per cent of American women coloured their hair -- typically to cover grey, and they didn't want anyone to know -- but she was actually ahead of the curve. Today, hair colour is hot, period -- surveys show anywhere from 54 to 75 per cent of women and up to 11 per cent of men dye their tresses -- and mixing and applying it is considered both a science and an art.
Derek Campbell, 27, will learn all about hair colouring (one dimensional, multi-dimensional, corrective, foil placement, bleach/tone, etc.) over the next nine months. He'll also learn about chemical relaxing, "plant aromaology," wet styling, thermal styling, extensions, upstyles, finger waves, braiding, model recruitment, marketing, salon ownership and professional communication.
Oh yes, and he'll also learn how to cut hair.
But it'll be another week or so before his instructors let him snip a single hair on a mannequin's disembodied head.
"We've been shown how to hold the scissors," says Campbell, who is among the 14 members (three are male) of the Aveda Institute's inaugural class, which started hair school on April 17.
The former graphic designer will have to put in 3,000 hours of technical and practical training over at least two years to become a licensed hairstylist. He'll see up to 250 "guests" (what Aveda calls its customers) while honing his skills.
Hair school isn't cheap. Tuition at the Aveda Institute, which has the capacity to train up to 72 students at a time in its 9,000-square-foot premises on the main floor of the Ashdown Warehouse (corner of Bannatyne Avenue and Rorie Street) is $12,000 (tool kit and iPad included). And that's not even the highest rate in the city. (A year's tuition for an arts degree at the University of Manitoba is around $3,000.)
But as Gisella Lacasse, training co-ordinator for Apprenticeship Manitoba, tells a group of senior students during today's "exit presentation," they'll get a $4,000 "gift" from the federal government if they complete their apprenticeship.
The Aveda Institute is located on the site of the former Capelli Academy hairstyling and beauty care school, which Sinopoli's family owned and operated for 15 years. It operates as a full salon -- guests can get services done by students for less than half the normal rate -- and has a retail store which carries Aveda's plant-derived hair care, skin care and makeup products.
The trendy space, with its soothing earth tones -- there are inspirational messages, such as "Challenge boundaries" written on the walls -- exposed ceiling, hardwood floors and gleaming stainless-steel work stations, also houses the Aveda Academy Salon program.
Starting in 2013, graduates from the institute, or grads from any other accredited program who passed their examinations, may take a further six-month advanced hair program where they'll spend three months each on precision cutting and colouring techniques. Up to 12 students can take the course -- for another $7,000.
So much for just taking a little off the top. Campbell, who has dreamed of cutting hair since Grade 5, says the appeal goes far beyond acquiring a marketable skill.
"I've always thought of it as artistry -- the lines, the textures, everything," he says.
There's definitely been a lot more art happening with hair than when she graduated from hair school in 1974, says Rosina Sinopoli, one of Aveda's educators.
"Consumers demand it," she says. "People travel a lot these days and they bring back ideas from other countries. So the image in North America has definitely changed.
"You don't just cut hair today -- you design it based on people's personalities and their lifestyles and body shape. All that comes into play and that's what's being taught."
(Appearance does count for us Canadians, apparently. According to Statistics Canada, we spend an average of $1,200 each per year on hair and esthetic services.)
What's also being taught in beauty school these days is a lot more business and marketing curriculum than ever before. (Career development is a separate category in the Aveda curriculum.)
"In order to make a half-decent living, you have to get yourself a half-decent clientele. And that doesn't happen overnight," says John Unger, a hairstylist, salon owner and educator who has been in the business for 49 years.
He was also the city's last barbering instructor; hairdressing and barbering were combined into a single curriculum about 15 years ago.
Unger, who trained as both, says he entered the trade at an ideal time. Men's hairstyling was just starting to emerge, and by the early 1970s, one out of four male customers was getting a perm.
"That came along with the jumpsuits and the stretch pants and the wild jackets," Unger recalls. "Hairstyling changed when guys started growing their hair longer. Some of the traditional barbers didn't know how to handle it; they thought it was an insult."
Precision haircuts and elaborate styling techniques have taken the place of perms, he says. Unger also says people tend to underestimate the amount hairstylists have to charge in order to make a living in the business. (Hairstylists in Manitoba earn an average of $28,000 per year.)
"People will have no problem taking their car to a mechanic -- right now the shop rate for somebody working on your car is $80 to $120 an hour -- and yet people just can't wrap their head around paying a hairstylist $40 or $50 to work on their body."
Daniel Man, another veteran Winnipeg hairstylist of 33 years, can speak to the challenges of having his career choice validated.
"Being of Chinese background, my parents expected me to be a doctor or lawyer or dentist," he recalls, "and when I said I was going to become a hairdresser, they didn't like it at all. They didn't know what to tell their friends."
And then he ended up on TV and in the newspapers after Bo Derek's iconic hairstyle in the movie 10 sparked a beaded cornrow craze in Winnipeg in the late '70s and everything changed, says Man, who did Gary Doer's hair for some 30 years and has also cut and styled the tresses of Wayne Gretzky, Victoria Beckham, ballerina Evelyn Hart and maestro Bramwell Tovey.
"I think the hairdressing profession has come a long, long way," Man says. "People respect us a lot more. Not only do we do hair, we're like the bartender who listens to people's stories.
"They say only your hairdresser knows, and it's so true."
A thousand cuts
There are between 500 and 600 registered hairstylist apprentices registered in Manitoba in any given year
MC College tuition: $13,000
Aveda Institute Winnipeg tuition (includes iPad): $12,000
Scientific Marvel tuition: $7,327.97
Winnipeg Technical College tuition: $4,700
There are also numerous public and vocational schools that offer hairdressing.
Hairstylist is a regulated occupation in Manitoba; to work as one, you must be a certified journeyman or registered apprentice. The "authorization to practise" license must be renewed every two years.
In 2011-12, there were 127 apprenticeship certifications and 1,464 renewed authorizations
In Manitoba, apprentice hairstylists apprenticeship training has two levels, each 12 months long. In Level 1, an apprentice must complete 1,400 hours of in-school technical training and 100 hours of practical experience in a salon.
A Level 2 apprentice must complete 1,500 hours of practical experience.
Level 1 salary: minimum wage + 10 per cent ($11/hr)
Level 2 salary: minimum wage + 20 per cent ($12/hr)
Hairstylists who complete their apprenticeship are eligible for a $4,000 grant from the federal government.
Most (78 per cent) Manitoba hairstylists and barbers work full time, and 39 per cent are self-employed and rent a chair from a salon owner.
Hairdressers' commissions are usually between 40 and 50 per cent of the fee charged the customer.
In 2011, Manitoba was estimated to have around 3,000 hairstylists -- about 14 per cent of whom are male.
Salary range is $19,000 starting to $42,000 at the high end.
Sources: http://mb.jobfutures.org, www.gov.mb.ca