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Exclusive interview with Robert Allicock, stylist to the stars

26 Oct 2008

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Born in Guyana, Mr Allicock is known as one of the most prominent hairstylists in the world. Versatile, he can work with any type of hair: african, caucasian, etc. He provided services to stars such as Queen Latifah, the staff of The Cosby Show, Vanessa Williams, Kerry Washington, Denzel Washington and others. He worked on movies as a hairstylist for The Bone Collector, Love Song, Abandon, etc. 

He was reviewed in several magazines such as Essence, Panache, Share and in the book Who’s who in Black Canada (by Dawn P. Williams). He wrote also many articles as a freelance beauty journalist for Montreal’s Community Contact newspaper. We met him at his salon in Montreal for this exclusive interview.

Q.  How old were you when you discovered you had a passion for hair?  Did your family or entourage support you in becoming a professional hair stylist or did they tend to encourage you toward a liberal profession?  

A.  I was about 22 years old when I discovered that I had a passion for hairstyling. But as a black man, my parents did not agree that I should be part of that industry. They wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer and to have a 9 to 5 job with a stable income. I remember that as a child growing up, my grandparents used to have their own businesses. So I reminded my parents that my grandparents were entrepreneurs. I mean, they sold papers and different things. They were doing very well. So I guess it is in the family and in our blood. I used to be a banker. I did this for twelve years.  But as you get older, you have to follow your dream, your passion.

And your heart.

Definitely, and my heart.  And I decided it was time to live my authentic life.  So, I just decided to go for it. My parents still did not agree when I decided at the age of 35 to change my career but I said to them, “Mom, dad, it is my life.”  Now, they are happy.  It has been thirteen years now that I opened my salon (in 1995). They are very proud of my accomplishments. It has been thirteen blessed years. 

Q.  Can you share with us your migratory journey from Guyana to Canada on a personal basis (if you so choose) and on a professional level?

A. I arrived in Montreal in 1982. Prior to that I visited Toronto several times on vacation but I fell in love with Montreal on my first visit. I felt welcome here; comfortable, despite the initial language barrier (Mr. Allicock speaks mostly English). I love the warmth of the people. It makes me feel at home.

I first worked for the Black Theatre Workshop as the business administrator, after that I gained permanent employment at the bank of Nova Scotia during which I took some business courses at Concordia University. I also attended College Inter-Dec where I did my first Hair dressing course. Upon graduation I decided to open my salon immediately. Montreal has been a blessing to me. I love this city. My personal life is well also. I am a proud father of two adopted teenage boys from Guyana. I am a single parent.  

Q.  How has your Caribbean culture been a benefit to your career? 

A. I integrated very well in the Black English community. I brought my own style and flavor into the community.  I have been a part of the board of directors of the Black community in Côte-des-Neiges[1] for many years as treasurer. I participated in a lot of local events.  I have been involved in schools. I spoke to the young kids in the community.  I try to be a role model in particular for the Black kids.  I participated in the camps and in their different activities. I also try to encourage entrepreneurship in the Black community. I let them know that I was able to do it and it worked pretty well.  They can definitely do the same thing. 

Q.  Did you have the chance to have a mentor, and if not, who inspired you?

A.  I didn’t have a personal mentor in my field but I can say Oprah Winfrey is a woman who definitely inspired me by the things that she does, the things that she says, the big heart that she has.  She is my mentor. I try to watch her shows as often as I can.  I read the books that she recommends.  I really look up to her. 

Q.  What obstacles did you encounter in your professional and entrepreneurial career and how did you overcome them?

 

A.  I can truly say that I am blessed.  Since I arrived in Montreal, I’ve done very well.  My first job was to work for the Black Theater Workshop as a business administrator.  After that, I went directly to the Bank of Nova Scotia.  I can say that I have never been out of work.  I opened my Salon (in 1995) before I quit the bank (in 1997). 

 

I was doing both jobs part time for two years.  In terms of the profession regarding the hairdressing, there have been challenges.  Like many salons, the biggest challenge is finding good employees who would stick around for a long time.  It is one of those professions where there is no professional body helping to regulate the industry.  It is one of the things I would like to help to put in place for the good of the industry.  Personally, I would like to establish that in the Black community.  It is a billion dollar industry (in Canada) and nobody is paying any attention to it.  This is a major income worldwide.

 

I can add that you must believe in yourself and your profession to succeed in this industry. I am someone who always likes to surpass myself. I make sure that I do my best with everything.  So I got my education in Canada and I did many courses in the hair industry in the US (Atlanta, NY, LA).  This allowed me really to rise above the rest of the industry. I am a perfectionist. This is how I overcame my obstacles.  You have to stay current with what’s going on, and always remember there will be a tomorrow if you had a slow business day. 

Q.  Did you have to face some prejudice in your field or among your acquaintances, since the hairdressing profession is a feminine domain?

A.  I had to face the typical stereotypes.  For example, people tend to think that most of the male hairdressers are gay, which is not necessarily the case.  I didn’t let that bother me. Believe it or not most male hairstylist do extremely well in this industry, even though there are more female stylists. The larger operations are mostly owned by men, be it a salon, establishing a product line, or working in the wings of the camera. I observed that lots of women prefer to be styled by men, but not discounting the fact that alongside most top male stylist there is always a wonderful female. I guess that is the great balance right there.

Q.  You worked for stars such as Vanessa Williams, Queen Latifah, the actors of The Cosby Show.  How did you create a solid network and a rapid rise which led you to work with the top people in the American show business industry?

A.  The first celebrity I worked with was actress Angela Bassett. She came to Montreal for a media presentation to promote the film How Stella Got Her Groove Back. I was asked to take care of her hair for the day making sure she looked great for the camera. The doors were opened for me after that, my name quickly circulated through the industry. When other African American actresses were coming to Montreal and needed a stylist I was always first on the list. It is the same way I got my first movie contract with Queen Latifah in The Bone Collector that allowed me to become a member of the union. It made it easier to get work in the movie industry.

So, it is really a question of doing quality work because if it were not the case, you would not have been able to build a solid network.  You have credibility in the show business industry.

It is definitely the most important thing, doing quality work and being professional. Most of my contracts for the movies were by referrals, so that certainly speaks for itself. 

Q.  What was your proudest moment in your career and why? 

A.  One of my proudest moments was the inauguration of my salon in September 1995.  My friends and family told me that is was not the time to open a business because of the economy during that period. Despite what they all thought, I decided to have my salon. The opening was beautiful. {quotes align=right}My family and friends were all there and even strangers came in to congratulate me, it was lovely. That’s when I said to myself these doors would always remain open.{/quotes}

You were confident.

Oh yes, really confident. My years in the business are blessed. Other wonderful moments: working with Queen Latifah and Denzel Washington.  When I got those contracts, I was like WOW. Despite what every one thought I knew I made the right move. It was my dream come true. I am very proud of my decision. 

Q. Do you think that the work of the hair stylist is recognized enough in show business? For example, there is such a creative and excellent amount of work in movies regarding hair styling. There is also a lot of work in terms of research regarding hairstyles, in particular for historical movies. Do you think that creating a category in the Oscars for the best hair stylist in the top movies could be a good idea and a great way to garner more recognition? 

A. I think that would be an excellent idea since most of hairstyles and trends do come from movies, music videos, etc. If you have the best make-up and a wonderful costume but  the hair is not good, you look bad (Laughs).  In other words, the look (despite all the props) is incomplete without beautiful hair. 

Q. What advice would you give to young people who aspire to becoming a professional hairstylist and entrepreneur? 

A. That they are entering into a wonderful industry. It is one that can be very rewarding. You don’t have to be a high school drop out to become a hairstylist. Some like myself became a part of this industry by choice, it is my love, my passion. It is a wonderful thing to be a part of the most Black-owned business in Canada.  We don’t own the groceries stores for example but we do own the Black salons which have been recognized to the point that a popular series about it has been created:  “The kink in my hair” on Global television (in Canada) every Sunday.  It talks about being a Black salon owner, an entrepreneur. 

So, this is a business where you can leave a legacy behind if you do it right. You must pay great attention to details in the quality of service you offer. Young people must learn about entrepreneurship in this business, they should get an education and take some kind of business courses. More and more people are becoming small business owners; the days of large corporations are fading away with so many cut-backs. It is important that we approach the business of hairstyling like any other business, with at least some concrete knowledge. You can have the independence, a nice salary, a beautiful home and wonderful vacations. 

P.T:  Mr. Allicock, thank you so much for your time and your substantial sharing.  It was an honor to interview you!


Salon Robert Allicock

3541 Swail Ave.,Montreal, QC
H3T-1P5
Canada
Tel:  514-344-0842
Fax:  514-344-8149
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

[1] An administrative division of Montreal

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