Thursday, April 18, 2024

Hair’s the way to do it


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Donna Smith’s reputation as a top-notch West Coast  hairstylist for the rich and famous living and holidaying on Barbados’ platinum coast has placed her at the pinnacle of hairdressing in Barbados.
“I absolutely love what I do,” she told EASY magazine recently, sitting in her well-appointed Christ Church home immaculately dressed in her favourite colour – white.
But life was not always that rosy for Donna.
“I was 15 and pregnant and had to find a job.”
To compound her dilemma, she found herself pregnant again at 17.
The teenage mother was forced to take work sweeping floors, washing windows, and serving tea and coffee to customers at her sister-in-law’s hairdressing salon at the Colony Club Hotel.
On Sundays she cleaned her boss’ house to make extra money.
The road to success has truly been riddled with potholes for this determined woman who grew up in poverty and still bears the scars from rotting floor boards in her broken-down home. She was abandoned by her father at age one and lived with five siblings in a household headed by an alcoholic mother.
Life has since dealt Donna other blows. She has had to bury her mother, who suffered a massive stroke; a brother and sister, both victims of HIV/AIDS; and she lost the father of her sons to a vehicular accident.
But by her own admission, Donna is “a very ambitious person”. In those early years of struggle, she vowed to break free.
While doing menial tasks in the Hot Gossip Salon, she paid close attention to what Roz, the hairdresser her brother had married,  was doing. In time, she would benefit from valuable instruction in blow-drying and styling Caucasian hair from her  British-born blond sister-in-law – enough to give her the confidence to apply for and land a job in the hairdressing salon at the upscale Sandy Lane Hotel.
It was there that she met Jeanette Hyde,  the United States’ ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, who liked the way Donna styled her hair and kept returning to the salon.
One Sunday, Hyde had an important function and with the salon closed, invited Donna to do her hair in the privacy of her home. This opened the door to what has turned out to be a rewarding hairdressing career and interaction with the rich and famous.
“She really started my career. I would go and do her hair when it suited her – after hours, before work, after work, on Sundays and bank holidays.”
Hyde recommended her hairdresser to other diplomats serving in Barbados, and before long they all came calling.
 When United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Barbados, Donna was chosen to style her hair and the girl who had swept hairdressers’ floors just a decade earlier was on her way to becoming a celebrity hair stylist.
She was also introduced to United States President Bill Clinton and his wife Hilary, and was invited to dinner with them and Albright at the ambassador’s residence.
It is now 30 years that this talented hairdresser has been fashioning the hair and manicuring the  nails of people in the world spotlight, and  hundreds of brides and their entourages have joined the list of people requesting her services. She has formalized her training with study at the prestigious Vidal Sassoon school in London where she returns every year for a refresher course.
Today Donna owns two of the island’s most prestigious beauty salons – the Sass Beauty Salons at the Fairmont Royal Pavilion and Cobblers Cove hotels, as well as a mobile service – Hair by Donna –  which she personally operates, going to homes of the rich and famous.
Donna’s talent has been her passport to the upscale suites of the Sandy Lane Hotel, to the luxurious Sandy Lane estate homes and villas, to the upmarket Sugar Hill estate that is home to celebrities like British singing icon Sir Cliff Richard and others.
She is often on a plane headed to other Caribbean islands, Britain, Ireland and Canada, styling the hair of many a bride by special request.
The walls of her salons are dotted with autographed photographs of celebrities like actor Lou Gossett Jr, The Beatles George Harrison, television personalities Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell. They have all been her clients either for hairdressing or manicure services.
Of Cowell, “one of my favourite clients”, Donna says, “as a person, Simon is sooo nice, very gentle, very soft-spoken, and has a great sense of humour, Nothing like his TV persona at all”.
Simon’s mother has also entrusted her hair to the hands of the Barbadian.
Clients all over the world who have become friends open their homes to her when she decides to break for a holiday, and she remarks with a smile ,“I have met some of the most wonderful people from all over the world.” It is not unusual to spot the Barbadian woman with the coy smile among friends at Royal Ascot.
Looking back on her life, Donna says: “It was very difficult because I never really had a young teenage life of going out and partying and having fun. I was into work and looking after my kids.”
Now at 45, she is comfortable and accomplished with her eye on the next goal – opening a salon for advanced hairdresser training.
“In my case, I was lucky that I made it,” Donna says.


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