Winning Streaks

We came, we saw, we conquered—and wrote this Baltimore beauty bible while our nails were still drying!

By Jane Marion

Spa Sante –Photo by Cory Donovan

"People are realizing that taking care of yourself is no longer a luxury," says Christine Cochrum of Federal Hill's Apothecary Wellness. "Taking care of yourself is a necessity."

And that, in a nutshell, is why the beauty business is still thriving in Baltimore (despite this little recession that maybe you've heard of?). Whether you're updating your look for a job interview or just giving yourself a much-needed break, there's nothing like a salon visit to revive and rejuvenate. So, to help you sort out the scene, we combed Baltimore and beyond, rooting out the top spots for cut, color, coffee body wraps, gold facials, and more. We found tiny boutique shops and sprawling medi-centers; places where no boys are allowed and guy-centric havens. We even found a place where a tween can get a super-cool manicure. And through it all, we stuck to our rule of the day: One should never, ever feel guilty about a little indulgence.

OLD FAVORITES

About Faces Day Spa & Salon
1501 S. Clinton Street, 3rd Floor, 410-675-0099: About Faces celebrated its 39th anniversary last October, the equivalent of an eternity in the salon world. With five locations and a total of 50,000 square feet of skin care, body treatment rooms, and massage beds, About Faces gets bigger and better every year. How does it do it? By staying on top of the trends, hiring expert personnel, and emphasizing continuing education (with industry gurus such as Oribe Canales, whose clients include Jennifer Lopez and Blake Lively). Star staffers include 39-year veteran aesthetician Mona Lindblom and stylist Paul Skotarczak, a former monk who brings out the inner and outer beauty in everyone. The menu of services is as long and satisfying to read as a Charles Dickens novel, with a Darphin chamomile and honey soothing facial, Lomi Lomi and Zero Balancing massage, green coffee body wraps, raindrop therapy, and Kerastase treatments. It's a real page turner!

Giuseppe's Hair Studio and Spa
2616 Taylor Avenue, 410-665-4490: Have you gotten a great cut in Baltimore lately? Odds are, you should thank Giuseppe Castellano, who trained many of the top stylists in town, including Lluminaire Salon's Dean Krapf and Mario Rentuma. Having styled generations of Baltimoreans from his homey Parkville salon, Giuseppe treats everyone like family. It's no coincidence, perhaps, that nearly everyone who works in the salon is family—niece Melina is a hairdresser, daughter Pasqua gives a chip-defying manicure, stepdaughter Gina takes care of skin treatments and massage, and wife Arne also handles hair. While Giuseppe has officially been cutting and coloring for 38 years (and still retains many of his original customers), he got his first gig as a shampoo boy at the tender age of 11 in his native Bari, Italy. Says Castellano, "I knew I wanted to do this at a young age, because I always cared so much about how my own hair looked."

Lluminaire Salon
15 W. Allegheny Avenue, Towson, 410-583-1500: Dean Krapf and Mario Rentuma could easily have swollen heads considering the ones they've tended to—Portia de Rossi, Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman, Benjamin Bratt, and Nicolas Cage, just to name a few. But that's never the case. Every time we enter this stunning space—with its platinum-painted walls, ultra-suede seating, and old-Hollywood-style glamour—we are made to feel as though we're the ones getting the red-carpet treatment. (Longtime manager and receptionist Wanda Butta sets the tone as the perfect hostess.) To avert hair tragedies, Krapf and Rentuma are happy to do free consultations, ensuring a sexy cut and radiant color that suits you (and not the Vogue model whose photo you randomly ripped out of a magazine). An added off-the-menu bonus: When prompted, Krapf and Rentuma gladly dole out invaluable head-to-toe tips on makeup and wardrobe for a whole new you. One caveat: If you're lucky enough to get your foot in the door, book smart and make your next few appointments in advance. We're pretty sure that's how Nicole Kidman got in.

Studio 1612
1501 Sulgrave Avenue, 410-664-3010: Ask anyone in the know what salon deserves top nods, and even people who go elsewhere will mention Studio 1612. That's because, in addition to peerless customer service (Dale Carnegie could have taken a few tips from them), owners Karen Bialozynski and Judy Weidel are committed to delivering the very best in hair services at a price that's surprisingly affordable ($55 for Karen, $57 for Judy). While so many salons have strayed far from the business of tending to hair (Botox, tooth whitening . . . what's next? baby deliveries?), 1612 and its expert team of 30 stylists has never lost its mane mission. They love to cut hair and they love their customers—and it shows.

Uno, the Salon
10751 Falls Road, 410-821-9080: No matter how hard we try to spread the love, we always come back to Uno, the Salon, where owner Uno Tuluoglu and his team of talented stylists (including Katya Brunshteyn, who is unparalleled for Brazilian straightening) are singularly focused on getting you gorgeous. From contemporary to classic, the emphasis is on cut and color here, though the manicures and pedicures are first rate and a cute boutique with Pylones brushes and barrettes can quell your retail cravings. Whether it's Uno's Turkish purr, the abundance of evil eye talismans to keep hair disasters at bay, or the ultra-professional staff to cater to your every whim (if you need a caffeine fix, staffers are happy to make a complimentary cappuccino run to the nearby Stone Mill Bakery), the salon always leaves us feeling fabulous. (Bonus! Students receive a 20 percent discount on any hair service.)

NEW FAVORITES

dk salon & spa
5701 Newbury Street, 410-377-4300: While dk salon & spa is not exactly new to the salon scape (owner Denise Klicos has been in the biz for more than 30 years), dk reinvented itself in July 2008 when it moved from Lake Falls Village to new, luxe Mt. Washington digs. No expense was spared on this Rita St. Clair Associates-designed space, which features Thassos marble, warm woods, and contemporary orange upholstery. Plus, dk is the only salon in Mt. Washington's "village" with valet. (No small perk when you consider most meters last the length of a hair wash.) But the more things change, the more they stay the same. While many of dk's staffers are new (Russian nail vet Raisa Kolker gives one of the best "manis" on the planet), you can still count on the team to carefully consider your bone structure and hair type with every cut and color job. Kevin Rock, who has been with dk for more than a decade, is particularly known for his high-wattage color work.

K. Co Design Salon & Day Spa
6080 Falls Road, 410-377-7727: What we find most refreshing about this freshman salon is the friendly, let-your-hair down atmosphere, where the walls are adorned with pics of the staff's cute four-legged friends and clients stop by just to show off their new babies. But make no mistake, K. Co is the place to go for punk-rock panache, classic cuts, and cutting-edge treatments (K. Co is one of the few salons in the area that offers the Coppola treatment, a new straightening and defrizzing technique), as well as exclusive products such as the Red Bee creamy honey facial scrub mask. The expert staff includes two of Charm City's top color artists—Kenny Saenz, who also grooms (and owns) Westminster-winning longhaired Chihuahuas, and Michele Johnson, a color educator for Alfaparf, who airbrushes motorcycles in her off hours. Stylists James Machniak (WBAL-TV's Marianne Banister is a client) and Vanessa Vale (who helps keep Fox45's Jennifer Gilbert in the news) are also at the top of everyone's list.

NV Salon Collective
861 W. 36th Street, 410-467-1754: Owner Nikki Verdecchia, whose trademark cuts tend toward classic with a kick, has been quietly making a name for herself for the past 18 years. Before she opened NV Salon Collective last August, she was the artistic director for About Faces and a stylist at Roland Park's Balance. Verdecchia also has some major styling "cred" on her resume—she did Sissy Spacek's color on the set of Tuck Everlasting and is the exclusive stylist for burlesque beauty Trixie Little. Now that she's branching out on her own, she's keeping it admirably simple—you can count on NV Salon for technically excellent haircuts and a friendly, down-to-earth atmosphere.

padma
3401 Keswick Road, 410-243-1717: Padma is set on the site of the former laundromat in John Waters's cult classic Pecker, and though the soapsuds are long gone, this Hampden salon (whose name is the Sanskrit word for lotus, which translates to "new beginning") is still the place to go for a great wash and dry. If you're looking for the type of unpretentious salon where you don't have to get dolled before your cut and no one cares if you curl up on the cushy sofa or kick your feet up on the wood coffee table, padma is for you. With six stylists on staff (three of whom recently defected from Corbin's salon), padma specializes in hair services—trims, highlights, perms, and relaxers—and is the kind of salon guys like, too. (Actor John Astin and Gertrude's John Shields are padma loyalists.)

Privé Salon + Spa at Silo Point
1200 Steuart Street C-1A, 443-388-8170: There's nothing like going to a salon full of young, sexy staffers in a hip industrial setting to inspire us to update our look. Owners Johnna Sychuk (a ringer for Heather Locklear's younger self) and Jennifer Beck (equally blonde and beautiful) trained with the legendary Chas before making a go of it on their own last June. The focus here is on hair services—cuts, color, highlights, and state-of-the-art straightening and scalp treatments—plus a constellation of facials and body treatments. (The salon's flawless-faux airbrush tanning would have George Hamilton salivating.) And since we're all pressed for time, the 30-minute express services (including a $50 facial or the $55 hot stone massage) seem like an inspired lunch-hour idea. The buzz is that WBAL-TV's Mindy Basara and Melissa Carlson get camera-ready here.

BOUTIQUE SALONS

The Corbin Salon
1422 Clarkview Road, First Floor, 410-494-8888: While in some circles he is known as "the bad boy of beauty" (his old business cards read: "I get done by Corbin," for instance), there is no denying that Corbin Grinage is a Baltimore institution, and that his salon is the place where women who could go absolutely anywhere flock for face-framing cuts and impossibly current color. Corbin, who trained at the famed Vidal Sassoon in London (the Harvard of hair schools), recently moved from The Colonnade to sleek new digs in Bare Hills, and the aesthetic—like his haircuts—is classic modern. For more than 30 years, Corbin has coiffed about 5,000 heads a year. (We don't have our calculators handy, but that's a lot of hair.) The secret to his success is surprisingly simple: "I do it by giving one good haircut at a time."

Dreadz N' Headz
1826 Woodlawn Drive, Suite 2, 410-298-0660: Even on a Monday—an off-day when most salons are empty or closed, Malaika-Tamu Cooper's Dreadz N' Headz in the Gywnn Oak section of Baltimore bustles with business. Black or white, young or old, if you're contemplating dreads, Cooper, who won the Golden Scissors Awards for Natural Hair Care Specialist of the Year (2002, 2003, 2004), is the "Lady of the Loc." While she's not one to braid and tell, Cooper has counted as her clients Wyclef Jean, former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun. She currently tends to the dreads of Los Angeles Dodgers' slugger Manny Ramirez. While much of what she knows comes from being self-taught, Cooper has also studied with the best in the business including author Pamela Ferrell and industry innovator Ademola Mandella. She has also traveled widely to such places as London, Paris, the French West Indies, and Tunisia to teach her art. "Your hair," she believes, "is your crowning glory."

salon laurie & company
5910 Falls Road, 410-464-1500: There's a good reason salon laurie was voted as one of the Top 200 fastest growing businesses in North America by Salon Today magazine (2008 and 2009) and saw a 32 percent increase in business this past year in the midst of a major economic downturn. Owner Laurie Schroeder and her 23 staffers are great at what they do. And what exactly do they do? Just about everything, including signature color jobs, Saving Face peels, state-of-the-art paraffin infusions, wig work by the famed Lola Jones, and one of the dreamiest treatments we've found in the area—the salon laurie Signature Spa Experience (in which a massage therapist kneads your arms and legs while an aesthetician steams, cleans, masks, and moisturizes during the facial). If budget is an issue, no need to go to an in-and-out chop shop: Tuesdays are workshop days when assistant stylists (under the tutelage of Schroeder and other senior stylists) cut hair on the floor for as little as $15.

Scene 217
217 Albemarle Street, 410-244-0647: The salon business can be as tangled as a web of knotted hair. Salons hire apprentices only to see them leave a few years later and open their own places—often across the street! At Scene 217, kudos to Debbie Ingrao, who has never forgotten her roots and will gladly sing the praises of Studio 1612 in Mt. Washington, where she got her start. Of course, Ingrao and her staff can give you expert cut and color (from daring to demure) as well as updos and makeup application, but what really sets the salon apart is the stuff not mentioned on the menu. Ingrao, who lives in Little Italy with her husband Richard and her two cute kids, has become her 'hood's unofficial beauty cheerleader, and her salon offers book clubs ("Beauty and the Books"), restaurant recommendations, and complimentary "Ladies' Night Out" events filled with quick-fix makeover tips and free consultations by beauty insiders. It's no wonder that this is where WJZ-TV ladies Mary Bubala Smith and Kelly McPherson come to let down their hair.

JUST FOR GENTS

The Beatnik Barbershop
241 W. Read Street, 410-669-3033: For guys who don't dig the whole metrosexual thing, head to The Beatnik Barbershop in historic Mt. Vernon for a shaggy chic or clean-cut corporate cut, a straight-razor shave, a cup of joe, and throwback prices ($16 a shear). We love the cool, retro vibe here (think barbershop pole, hunter green leather, and chrome circa-1960s chairs) plus the local artwork on the walls and The New York Times sports section strewn about. Don't even bother making an appointment—they take only walk-ins and, yes, a "Y" chromosome is pretty much mandatory.

FX Studios
11270 Pepper Road, Hunt Valley, 410-771-1500: While FX does have some female clientele, with its private styling studios, movies in continuous rotation on 16-foot screens (Duplicity and The Fast and the Furious were recent offerings), flat-screen TVs, "Wi-Fi" hot spot, leather screening chairs, and complimentary beer and wine, FX clearly caters to guys. Unlike many salons and spas that relegate men's services to a simple haircut or a shave, FX has a separate men's menu with anti-aging treatments for the scalp, precision haircuts (including a quickie express cut if you're on the go), raindrop therapy, organic back treatments, and a full range of waxing services including neck, chest, and even men's Brazilian waxing. (Payback is hell, guys!) Free neck and sideburn trims between haircuts (and bang trimming for women) are a perk for regular customers.

Quinntessential Gentleman
31 S. Calvert Street, 410-685-SHAVE: For men who want a place to call their own that's not a strip-mall franchise or a so-called unisex salon that secretly caters to women, Quinntessential Gentleman is just what the doctor ordered. In the heart of downtown Baltimore's financial district, QG caters to T. Rowe Price and Legg Mason executive-types, but plenty of men drive in from the 'burbs for a straight razor or hot lather shave, a hot-towel facial, a shoeshine, or a game of billiards. This spot is also a great place to buy the man in your life a classy gift: The front of the shop has an extensive retail space filled with imported cigars, upscale grooming products, and sophisticated, one-of-a-kind accessories, such as silk mallard duck neckties, compass cuff links, and ivory and silver-tip badger shaving brushes.

GREEN

Alpha Studio
817 S. Bond Street, 410-327-1300: For those who believe green is good (and want only the best organic products for their hair, skin, and body), Alpha Studio, open seven days a week, is one of the only exclusive Aveda concept salons in Baltimore. While so many hair salons smell like a hazmat zone, Alpha Studio is a celebration of lavender, geranium, and peppermint. What's more, the cheerful presence of Lepke, a lab/Weimeraner mix, immediately lowers our stress level. Husband-and-wife stylists Reuben Kroiz and Jill Sell have built a reputation for state-of-the-art services and have cultivated a unique following that includes everyone from Hopkins-types and downtown professionals to the Ace of Cakes's crew. Even more impressive, the pair recently worked New York's Fashion Week for designers Christian Siriano, Ports 1961, and Karen Sabag.

Apothecary Wellness
1301 Light Street, 443-540-4022: If we ever left Baltimore (heaven forbid!), it's quite possibly the facials and custom massages at Federal Hill's Apothecary Wellness that we'd miss the most. What impresses us even more than the bamboo and organic cotton sheets and towels is the fact that owners Rachel Costello (a licensed massage therapist) and Christine Cochrum (a clinical nutritionist, massage therapist, and aesthetician) customize each and every treatment. No two facials are alike! And you actually see real results from their Alpha Hydroxy Acid Fruit Pulp Treatment or Hot Stone Massage. All this Zen perfection does come with a price, but to help make a visit more affordable, Apothecary Wellness also offers a new, cost-saving "membership program." (Enjoy two 60-minute massages for $130 a month, for instance, and membership also entitles you to 10 percent off any additional service and five percent off retail products). By appointment only.

Sprout: An Organic Salon
925 W. 36th Street, 410-235-2269: With its reclaimed materials cabinetry, chemical-free Aubrey hair-care products, energy-efficient lights, and commitment to recycling everything from lunch to locks of hair, Sprout couldn't be a stronger shade of green. And while kindness to Mother Earth is admirable, this three-year-old salon (voted one of the "Top 100 Salons in the United States" by Elle magazine in 2009) wouldn't be so successful without delivering consistent, quality haircuts ranging from classic to kicky. One of our favorite Sprout staples? The bliss-inducing deep-scalp essential oil massage that comes with every cut.

SALON-SPAS

Dreamers Salon & Day Spa
226 Main Street, Reisterstown, 410-833-9999: From the fairy-themed murals to the couple's massage room with its soaring crystal chandelier, Dreamers is Baltimore's best escape that doesn't involve a travel agent. "We are all about creating fantasy and illusion," says owner Susan Feinberg, who hugs each of her customers as they walk in the door. "We want our customers to feel like they are not in the world outside." Open for 13 years in Reisterstown's quaint historic area, and set inside two neighboring Victorian homes, Dreamers is for those who want an intimate, personalized experience rarely found in a spa/salon with so many services. (Swedish massage, acupuncture, and cut and color are all on the menu.) And we simply can't say enough good things about aesthetician Katie Devlin, who has a developed a fiercely loyal following for her outstanding facials. Her clients worship her so completely that she has some standing appointments through 2014!

Mt. Washington Spa
1600 Kelly Avenue, 410-664-3400: The Belgrade-born Vesna Stojanovic—owner of Mt. Washington Spa—is part cosmetologist, part chemist, and part miracle worker. (If there was a Guinness World Records category for speedy Brazilians, Vesna would win it.) Stojanovic is best known for her aromatherapy facials with essential oils that permeate the skin and seem to turn back the hands of time. In addition to high-end, unique spa services (24-karat gold facials, cellulite treatments, caviar or chocolate wraps), Mt. Washington also offers great hair care (in-demand stylist Quentin Harris dolled up the Sex & the City ladies as a one-time set stylist). And for anyone who insists on a New York haircut and doesn't care about price, a team of stylists from Manhattan's famed Frederic Fekkai & Company descend on Mt. Washington Spa once a month to cut and color. Cuts are $150 a head and color ranges from $200 to $325. Cue the line about you being worth it.

Renaissance Salon & Spa
11121 York Road, Cockeysville, 410-527-1175 (with a second location in Frederick): At 24,000 square feet, with 14 treatment rooms, extensive retail space, a designated men's barbering area, medi-spa services with Restalyn, Botox, and Latisse (for lash lengthening), and a spa menu that could easily take several hours to read, Renaissance Salon & Spa can literally cater to your every need. (We love the special occasion massage that is followed by a meal on Vera Wang china.) Still, for all the hundreds of services on the books, we like the fact that you can come in for a simple manicure or sauna. And guys like it, too. We're told WBAL-TV meteorologist Tom Tasselmyer unwinds here.

Spa Santé
1429 Aliceanna Street, 410-534-0009: Before you make an appointment with your shrink or head to the dermatologist, book an appointment at Spa Santé (which means "health" in French). Be it back pain (try the Weekend Warrior deep-tissue/Swedish massage), breakouts (the organic anti-acne or oxygen infusion facials), or bad hair (hair pioneer Chas Kuhn partnered with Santé founder Elaine Rogers two years ago and now runs the salon), Spa Santé can cure what ails you. The "nail bar," where you can get a complimentary glass of wine while having your nails buffed and polished to perfection, will also add to your overall well-being.

Studio 921 Salon & Medi Day Spa
921 E. Fort Avenue, Suite 108, 410-783-SPAS: Nestled in the industrial-chic Historic Foundry building, Studio 921 is where buddhas, bamboo candle holders, comfy slippers, and oversized chairs come together to create spa bliss. If there is a spa treatment or hair service available somewhere in the cosmos (think Japanese straightening, enzyme facials, or Thai massage), you will find it here. Insiders know it's never too soon to book a massage with Rosalinda Herranz, who so wowed Ravens defensive tackle Justin Bannan with her tough but tender touch, she now gives him weekly massages. Other area VIPS love it here, too: Under Armour founder Kevin Plank and writer Laura Lippman are clients, and Journey guitarist Neal Schon was the most recent celebrity sighting.

FAMILY FRIENDLY

Carmen's Barber Shop
1532 Liberty Rd., 410-552-3375: If you're looking for a no-frills, family-friendly place that gets the job done with a minimum of pomp and circumstance (snip and sayonara in under 30 minutes), Carmen's Barber Shop in Eldersburg is for you. The prices at Carmen's—voted Best Barber Shop by The Carroll County Times in 2009—are ridiculously retro (kids cuts are $11 on Tuesdays; men's cuts are always $13), and Carmen Trimboli, who recently sold the shop but still works as a stylist, has decorated the joint with his nifty collection of hundreds of die-cast cars from Chevys to Cadillacs. When getting a haircut is almost as much fun as watching Thomas the Tank Engine, you know something is right.

Salon 36 Kids
1496 Reisterstown Rd., Suite 219, 410-580-KIDS: For parents, it's always a Kodak moment when Junior gets shorn—but let's face it, most kids would rather do extra math homework. One visit to Salon 36, with its Crayola-colored décor, train sets, and gumball machine, and your moppet will be booking their own appointments. Salon 36 has many of the same services adult salons offer—cuts, color, blowout, flat ironing, even eyebrow waxing (!). And multitasking moms and dads can save time in their day by booking an appointment here, too.

WORTH THE DRIVE

Hudson & Fouquet Salon
181 West Street, Annapolis, 410-263-9790: Yes, it's a bit of a schlep to the state capital to get a haircut, but trust us when we say that a trip to Hudson & Fouquet is well worth the mileage. The vibe here is metropolitan minimalist, in a friendly, small-town setting. This salon, voted "Best of Annapolis" by What's Up Annapolis Magazine (2007, 2008) and one of the Top 200 Salons by Salon Today magazine, is known for delivering simple, classic glamour (co-owner Matt Hudson's forte) and more avant-garde cuts (co-owner Luc Fouquet's specialty) as well as the latest trends in treatment (Keratin and Kerastase, Balayage highlighting, cellular water facials). Hudson and Fouquet pride themselves on hospitality (e-mailing you after every service to ensure customer satisfaction) and are great at giving you a style you can actually replicate at home. As if that's not enough, Hudson & Fouquet has an extensive retail space adjacent to the salon stocked with high-end products and its own line of sprays and pomades.

The Pearl Modern Spa and Boutique
8171 Maple Lawn Boulevard, Fulton, 301-776-6948: If heaven were a programmable place on your navigation system, it would lead you directly to The Pearl, where walls of water, mesmerizing images of koi swimming in continuous loop on plasma TVs, and essence of Icelandic moonflower intermingle to create an environment of total tranquility. Valentine's Day news flash! This spa has the best couples rooms in town, with romantic Jacuzzi tubs, dual massage tables that convert into pedicure chairs, and iPod docking stations. The Blue Grotto for do-it-yourself mud treatments is another spa must. Whatever you crave—be it a Vitamin C facial, a Japanese foot massage, or a guava-and-coconut wrap—you will find it in this Fulton-area spa that is so extensive it should have its own zip code.

Robert Andrew Salon & Spa
1328 Main Chapel Way, Gambrills, 410-721-3533: Bigger may not always be better, but at Robert Andrew— which measures 22,000 square feet and is one of the largest salons and spas on the East Coast—big is definitely beautiful. While some spas and salons sacrifice service for size, the level of attentiveness here is outstanding. If you can't find it here—from Reiki massage and Vichy showers to eyebrow threading (Nasreen Bakhsh gets high marks for her high arches), hot stone pedicures, and a "facial bar" with to-die-for express seaweed facials—it simply doesn't exist. Robert Andrew has earned bragging rights on several fronts—it's the official salon and spa for both the Ravens' and the Washington Redskins' cheerleaders, and barber Derek Williams is entertainer Wayne Brady's personal stylist. We're not the only ones who think Robert Andrew is deserving—this place has won almost every industry award imaginable from "Top 200 Salons" by Salon Today magazine to "Salon of the Year" by Modern Salon.


Big Wigs

A salon owner is Helping women with cancer feel better about themselves—one wig at a time.

Five years ago, when Kendra Darnell was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer, she was panicked about the prospect of losing her hair from the treatments.
"I was scared to death I was going to lose my hair and not have my wig in time," says Darnell, who now mentors other women as a volunteer through SOS (Survivors Offering Support) at Anne Arundel Medical Center. "One of my daughters was graduating from high school the year I was diagnosed, and the other one was a year younger. It was really important to me to wear a wig. They knew what was going on, but I didn't want to see it in their faces every day."
Darnell turned to Sherri Romm at Versacchi Studios in Owings Mills to help her fashion a wig that would look like her own head of short, blonde hair. "The wig was so great, a lot of people didn't even know I was wearing one," says Darnell. "Sherri helped me get through a difficult time—she was one of my angels."
For 16 years now, Romm has been a guardian angel to thousands of women experiencing a similar trauma. She first got into the business when a friend lost her beautiful mane of auburn hair to chemotherapy treatments.
"My friend found this acrylic wig that looked horrendous," recalls Romm, who had no experience in the beauty industry at the time. "It made her look 20 years older and wasn't even close to her style, so I said, 'Let me try to create a wig for you.'"
At the time, Romm was a computer engineer. And while she had no experience with wig making, she did have an M.F.A. in painting from MICA and an artist's eye for color, texture, and form. "My only exposure to wigs at that point was that my mom had an entire closet of colored wigs and falls in the '60s," says Romm with a laugh. "I was also always amazed at how beautiful my mother looked at the drop of a hat—the wigs transformed her. That's what we do here."
After familiarizing herself with the manufacturers who produced handmade hair goods, Romm wrote up her first wig order for her friend. When the wig came back six weeks later, Romm knew that the experience had been transformative—not just for her friend, but for her as well.
"I did not cut hair at the time," says Romm, who now designs the wigs herself. "So I had to use the services of a stylist from another salon who cut the wig for her. When he showed her what she looked like, she was elated. That was the moment I said, 'This is the coolest thing that anyone could be doing with their life.'"
More than a decade later, Romm, who went on to earn a cosmetology degree in 2002, has become a pioneer in the wig industry, helping not only cancer patients but people who suffer from alopecia and other forms of hair loss due to radiation, burns, or trauma. Her wigs—costing between $1,300 and $1,800—are made of human hair and were among the first in the country to be custom-blended, hand-colored, and completely customized.
"My wigs put a whole new spin on hair replacement," says Romm. "I'm not saying that a wig is the same as your hair, but when people don't know that it's a wig, they don't treat you any differently, and that's what cancer patients want—they want normalcy."
During wig fittings, Romm encourages her clients to bring their own music as well as friends. Some clients even choose to have "wig parties" as they go through fittings in one of Versacchi's private rooms. (About 60 percent of Versacchi clients come for wigs, but she also offers standard cut-and-color services.)
"A lot of women just want to take control," says Romm. "They don't have control over anything else in their lives, so the hair becomes a center point, and I am very open to whatever they want to experience."
While customer satisfaction runs high, Romm says she and her stylists get back so much more than they give. "All of my stylists say they wake up every day with a sense of purpose," says Romm. "There is nothing more gratifying then taking somebody who is a mess and just getting them through that ring of fear so they can focus on getting better. As a salon, we are small, but we are mighty."

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