Julia Viterbo couldn’t imagine that her hair could stir such heart-wrenching emotion until she rose from the antique barber’s chair and gazed into the antique floor mirror at La Peluquería. “Wow!” gasped the 24 year-old Brazilian street artist. “What is my boyfriend going to think?” By the changing looks on her face, Julia was thrilled and transformed. For the price of $35,000 pesos and an hour in the trustworthy hands of stylist Melissa Paerez, this graceful carioca was ready to attend her seminar on women’s rights. Radiant and with much shorter hair, the artist/activist paid Melissa and vowed to return from Rio to have another cut in La Candelaria.
A self-taught stylist, Melissa Paerez is accompanied by nine women at La Peluqueria, known fondly as the ‘peluqueras asesinas’ or Hairdressing Assassins. Don’t let the name scare you, though, as these are hardly knife-wielding Sweeney Todds, but rather trend-setting twenty and thirty somethings, inspired by social goodness and the versatile looks of Johnny Depp. “We look for the essence of our clients,” says Melissa, as another patron walks in for an appointment. “We don’t have formulated or memorized cuts.”
Melissa Paerez was inspired to be an entrepreneur after she gave up a good job in advertising to go to London and study contemporary Art History. As she cut hair for friends in a flat in Hackney, she realized that Bogotá could do with more hairstyling options. What she envisioned was an alternative space that could be a boutique for emerging fashion designers and gallery space for aspiring artists. All she needed was a busy street corner in the barrio she now calls home.
If I had to describe La Peluquería through sound, names like Morrissey of The Smiths and Amy Winehouse resonate. Observing a pictureless gold frame suspended from the ceiling, a cobalt blue Corona typewriter in the corner, and vintage items laid out in a glass box suggests that La Peluquería would have drawn in the likes of Capote or Magritte. La Peluquería’s clients are cross-generational: from executives who enjoy conversing with an ‘assassin’ to fashionistas and students from nearby universities. One client is the renowned and elusive architect of bamboo, Simon Vélez. “He comes in here when his hat no longer fits because of his hair,” jokes Melissa.
La Peluquería attends an average of 30 clients every day. As part of an outreach to nearby barrios, the stylists organize free haircuts in public places. The initiative by these less than intimidating scissor-hands aims to strengthen community ties by providing service with plenty of flair. “Our objective is to live differently,” says Melissa in front of a wall with pictures of a recent ‘Motilof’ session in the Egipto neighborhood. “We are not here to satisfy a market. We are a cultural project of the city.”
Melissa and her dedicated team have raised more than a few eyebrows since they opened. As an urban expression they have earned the recognition of the mayoralty and the media. La Peluquería is as much a social project as it is about style. The salon offers those who cannot afford a cut a chance to get a free one on Wednesdays, as long as the client allows the stylist an element of creativity. As a collective, the hairdresser assassins have participated in alternative art fairs, such as La Otra and the literary festival El Malpensante.
Having your hair cut doesn’t have to be a mundane experience where you are at a loss for words and relegated to reading gossip magazines. To change this experience, La Peluquería brews specialty coffees and hot chocolate and has shelves stacked with books on illustration. From the floral dresses of a young designer to avant-garde film screenings, La Peluqueria is a democratic space that works hard to restore one’s confidence in self and the neighborhood. All you have to do here is rely on instinct. Hence, no mirrors. The worst that can happen here is a chance encounter with Natalia, brandishing some ‘assassin’ scissors.
La Peluquería will be returning to La Candelaria on March 23.