The term a cut above the rest is epitomized to perfection by the flamboyant Gerald Solomons, a hairdresser and fashion guru by profession who could quite unassumingly be identified in the ilk of celebrity rock stars!
Featured at every social gathering, the media rushes to capture him for his elaborate yet tasteful sense of fashion which portrays the creativity of this Sri Lanka born, Aussi citizen who returned to the island nine years ago and calls it home. He is the face behind the famous Chagall salon.
With a swagger and a wardrobe to match which includes his signature hats, the Sean Connery look-alike gives the industry that artistic flair and glamour.
Gerald has attracted an elite clientele in addition to overseas customers who visit him for his magical touch. He is renowned for his ability to transform the most sublime into masterpieces in terms of make-up, hairdressing, hair styles and all things relating to beauty.
What does the name Chagall mean?
“The salon is named after an innovative European painter named Marc Chagall. The avante-garde artist who lived during the 20th century experimented with new methods and styles, similar to what we are here to offer our clients.”
Re-living the past
“I grew up in the seaside city of Galle and attended St. Aloysius College along with my brothers. My desire was to pursue a career in hair dressing which was unheard of and my father strongly objected to it, yet I persisted and he finally relented. Thus began a journey which after the rudimentary training done at Moira’s Beauty School took me to Australia at the tender age of sixteen years.
Life down-under was exciting as I was able to follow my dreams. Covering the whole spectrum of the industry required much dedication but I was determined and persevered down this course, gaining confidence along the way.” Gerald natural flair for fashion had played a pivotal role, earning him a reputation as a top-class hairdresser who was much sought after by many.
He was further recognized by the industry specialists who granted him the opportunity to travel with the famed cast of the drama production ‘HAIR!’ His clients were the cynosure of all eyes as he wound his Midas touch and transformed the ordinary into embodiments of art! His dashing good looks and charming personality added to his success in beauty circles as many would identify him as being of French or Italian lineage. Subsequently, he spent eighteen years among the crème de la crème of New Zealand, prior to opening his own salon in the trendy Double Bay area of Sydney.
The return of the maestro
Despite all the fame and fortune, the Sri Lankan in Gerald just could not resist his island home. “I used to visit quite often but nine years ago I finally settled down for good. I am a dual citizen of both Australia and Sri Lanka but there is something about this island that draws me to her shores.” The artist in him has always yearned for freedom to express himself. “I had to break free from the stifling, regimented system and Sri Lanka with all its drama is an island blessed by sun, sea, sand and people who exude a warmth that is contagious. They will share the little they have,” remarked Gerald who is passionate about the people of his Motherland.
This was partly the reason for his return as he gave the industry a new lease on life by raising the benchmark and the manner in which aspiring hairdressers viewed themselves. Hairdressing was not given the necessary leverage as most students would just study the basics and fly off to far-away lands in search of greener pastures as it was not lucrative in Sri Lanka unless you had some clout. Gerald broke the invisible glass ceiling and treated them with respect, gave them a voice and platform for expression and taught them to express their creativity in their careers without being restricted by mere theory. Surmise it to say, to take the initiative!
What are some of the drastic changes you have made lately?
“I quit smoking” (this received a thumbs up from me)! Truly this man is made of something as strong as steel as he bounced back from a heart attack, quit his self-destructive habit and drove into his work with added zeal!
“I have mellowed with age,” quipped he adding that his caustic remarks are few and far between.
“I also have a bucket list which includes visiting South America, certain parts of Asia such as Cambodia and Vietnam before it gets too commercialized and a trip to Jaffna!!” (Yes, he got the look of disbelief when he mentioned the last destination)
“Another dream of mine is to open a school for hairdressers who wish to learn the practical aspects of hairdressing as I wish to impart my knowledge and expertise to aspiring beauticians.”
What works for us locals?
“While looking beautiful and taking care of oneself is not seen as being narcissistic anymore, people from all parts of the island are gradually getting interested in beauty culture but it is so important to do something that will suit you as each person is unique and what may look good on a model on You tube or an Indian actress may not be your ‘cup of tea.’
Some of the potential flaws people tend to make is the excessive use of skin whitening lotions and creams, with some injecting themselves with chemicals. The effects of these could be harmful in the long run so learn to love yourself first. It is not a sin to want to look good but weigh the pros and cons and consider if it uplifts the person you are on the inside.
Even hair is subjected to the harshest of treatments as harmful chemicals are used without the after- care being administered, hence the loss of hair or damaged hair as seen in many. The best way to combat this crisis is to choose a good reputed hair dresser, use good products as it plays a key role in ensuring long term care.
Sri Lankans have beautiful complexions and they should safe guard it by drinking plenty of water and using a sunblock at all times, not necessarily when they are at the beach. The more natural or minimalist look instead of ‘caking’ oneself with makeup is always good,” advised Gerald.
“There is also a growing concern about the excessive chemicals used in products, which is a reason for us to promote more paraben and ammonia free items among our clients at Chagall,” stated Gerald.
Where do we stand as an industry?
“It is at a crossroads and bursting at the seams with plenty of ideas but the prospect of seeing it blossom is another tale as many obtain the qualifications and relocate to distant lands. There is also a mushrooming effect with the widespread opening of salons which may not be done ethically or by individuals who actually have a talent for it.
In the areas of modeling and designing there is ample talent but there is also room for improvement and we are slowly but surely making strides.”
Life at Chagall
It is always a busy day at Chagall with the hairdressers and beauticians ensuring that their clients are happy. The enthusiastic team who are trained by Gerald and received extensive training overseas as well are motivated by the sense of appreciation they receive by him. He has given the hairdressers and beauticians a new lease in life. While he gives them freedom to be creative, he expects the best from them and encourages them to identify the client’s preferences and cater to their needs. “Gaining the trust and loyalty of a client is paramount to our industry,” said he emphatically.
What words of wisdom can you ‘dish out’ to those who work behind the scenes in the beauty industry?
“You must not perceive hairdressing or beauty culture as meal ticket to the developed world but an expression of oneself and the ability to make another person look and feel special.
For those who dream to achieve stardom or success in the beauty industry my words of wisdom would be to give it your best and your work will speak for itself! Moreover, be authentic!”
By Rochelle Palipane Gunaratne
Photography By: Sidath Wanaguru