Thursday, February 13, 2014

Black Paris Profiles™ II: Nicole Pembrook

Nicole Pembrook is perhaps the best known African-American hairstylist in Paris today. She has built her stellar reputation over the past thirteen years and is primed for an extraordinary year in 2014. We met at a private party several weeks ago and I took the opportunity to invite her to share her story with Entrée to Black Paris.

Nicole Pembrook
Photo courtesy of Nicole Pembrook

Nicole moved to Paris in June 2001. She was a “freelance” stylist for the first five years, working her magic for fashion models participating in runway shows and photo shoots as well as for performers on television shows. All the while, she was establishing a private clientele.

After winning first place in the 2005 Golden Scissors competition sponsored by SoftSheen-Carson (now L’Oréal), she decided that she needed a salon. She went on to open Polished Hair Care late in the summer of 2007. While she still does a couple of photo shoots a year, her primary activity now centers on the salon.

Nicole’s current client base is 15% European, 20% African-American, 15% Middle Eastern, and 50% African-Caribbean. Her francophone clients need not worry about communicating with her and her staff because the predominant language spoken at Polished Hair Care is French. When I asked her how long it took for her to learn the lingo of the black French hair salon, she replied:

I'm still learning! Learning another langue is never easy. I still pick up new lingo even today. But I was always determined to "speak." I'd say that maybe after about 2 1/2 years, I was able to communicate enough for the job.

Polished Hair Care is located in the Arcade des Champs Elysées (Arcade du Lido) at 76-78, avenue des Champs Elysées. Because it is central and the metro and RER lines are close by, clients from all over Paris and the neighboring suburbs can reach the salon easily.

Nicole notes that some people think that the services offered at the salon are financially inaccessible because of the salon’s decidedly prestigious location. Despite this drawback, she is not currently planning to move or to look for a second location. Her staff of five stylists provides excellent service and Nicole says that this would be the case regardless of where the salon is located. She’d love to have a larger space though, so who knows where her success will lead her!

Polished Hair Care interior
Photo courtesy of Nicole Pembrook

Polished Hair Care’s primary source of clients is referrals. Most of Nicole’s American clients find her through the Internet. Regardless of how they find her, delivering quality hair care is her paramount concern.

I asked Nicole about the “natural hair movement” that is growing among African and Afro-Caribbean women in Paris. She says that a large part of this community is embracing natural hair due to “extreme failures” with relaxers and extensions. She thinks that her francophone clients are becoming more aware of this problem and are trying to seek out better solutions for their hair.

Here in Europe, it's different from back home. A lot of us (African Americans) were used to getting our hair washed and oiled as children and going to the hairdresser with our moms. We were educated about our hair, but here in France, a lot if women are not. Many black women who frequent the salons in Château d’Eau rarely see the same hairdresser twice. So I feel that we have to go back to the basics. This is essential to feminine beauty.

Client education is most important. The more you learn about your hair as an individual, what it needs and how to take care of it, the better choices you can make about who does your hair.

I think the [natural hair] movement is way overdue and I love it! Hair loss has forced some women into natural hair – my clientele has shifted to about 40% natural hair within the last five years!

Each client deserves to have the best hair possible. For some, natural hair is the best way to achieve length retention and volume and find healthy hair again.

Nicole keeps abreast of the latest techniques, products, etc. by attending professional hair classes and hair shows as well as through the Internet to keep Polished Hair Care on the cutting edge of the salon business. She favors the use of natural beauty products and says that Aveda and Alterna are some of her favorite brands. She was a finalist in Tribu-te Magazine’s "The Big One" hair competition at the Caroussel du Louvre in 2011 and did her first trade show – Beyond Color – in Paris in June 2013.

Born and raised in Richmond, California, Nicole learned to be a stylist at her mother’s knee. Her mom, who’s still in the business, is her inspiration, her trainer, and her mentor in hair care. These two ladies continue to support each other professionally by exchanging techniques and other information gathered at educational classes and training events.

Nicole moved to Paris because she was ready for “another experience.” Though she never consciously considered moving abroad, she has always liked “beautiful things – art, fashion…” as well as history and traveling. She says that she needed to know what was going on outside of the African-American community in northern California, which was her comfort zone. During a visit to France in 1999, she fell in love with the lifestyle, culture and the food, and decided to make her move.

Shortly after relocating, she met her husband, Stéphane who hails from Cameroon. She recalls the events leading up to their first encounter as follows:

I called some friends to see if they were going out one evening. When they showed up I said great this should be fun! The only problem is that I forgot about the language barrier. They all spoke minimal English and my French was horrible! By the end of that evening I had to break away for a breath of fresh air and bumped into what was to be my future husband. He asked in English if I would like a drink! I was sold...

The happy couple has two beautiful children who identify strongly with their American and Cameroonian heritage. Nicole and Stéphane love to read and research history from both cultures and share this information with the kids. The family spends as much time as possible picnicking and playing in Paris’ beautiful parks.

Nicole says that she doesn’t really have a favorite neighborhood in Paris – she’s lived here so long that she loves all of it! She loves the nightlife, saying that you are sure to have an unforgettable evening dining and dancing here.

When asked what advice she would give to someone who is thinking of moving here and wanting to work in Paris, she simply said:

Anything is possible!


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

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kola0474 said...

Liked this a lot. I wonder, Nicole, can you style locs?

kola0474 said...

I liked this. I wonder Nicole, do you style locs?