[Added later: Ali has moved! Details at end of review.]
How many times have you brought a celebrity photo to your stylist and received a celebrity haircut? How many gorgeous haircuts still looked great when you had to style them yourself the next day?
I once would have answered that these were inversely proportionate--and recommended a nice, reliable haircut over a fabulous, unrepeatable one. That was a long time ago.
Since 1993, when I first met Ali, I've had the satisfaction of knowing I'll always get the look I'd pictured. Because she listens--and cares--Ali understands what I want in addition to whether it suits my hair type and willingness to fuss with it. Knowing, as well, that I can't always schedule regular visits, she even suggests variations that won't get awkward while growing out. She tells me if I'll need special tools or products to get a look exactly right, and explains so carefully how to style it that, after some practice, I've learned to make my hair look almost as good on my own as on that first day.
Back when Ali worked at Sahaira in Bellevue, my sister Laurie was so sure I would love her (the stylist and the person) that she brought me along for one of her haircuts. Laurie, whose gorgeous hair seemed even more so lately than ever, had been seeing Ali for years, even after moving to Seattle; no one else understood the wavy, curly hair that Laurie and Ali and I have in common.
When Ali came out to meet us, with her adorable, genuine smile, I understood why Laurie was charmed. I made an appointment, and very soon understood Laurie's devotion. From that day--continuing through her move to Viridis--Ali has been my stylist. During some lean times, I've tried to save money with discount salons, but always regretted it. Worst was the haircut so awful that, in a panic, I tried to correct it myself: I ended up crying for weeks over all the damage before returning, at last, to the only person I trusted to fix such a mess--and while remaining completely unfazed. But even the non-traumatic times were a waste of money when I realized that, instead of a so-so, discount haircut every six or eight weeks, I could get a fantastic one half as often; Ali's cuts look better four months later than a new one from someone else.
Never before have I asked for advice about what to do with my hair--not even from friends, let alone from a stylist with no idea of my taste. A testament to my supreme faith in Ali is that I routinely visit her with no ideas, or helplessly conflicted between extremes (long or short, bangs or none, layered or not). Undaunted, Ali rushes away and returns with a stack of magazines, flipping through them with me and pointing out styles she recommends. Finding one that I love is just the beginning: next she wants to know what I like and dislike about it, asking more detailed questions than I'd ever thought could apply to a hairstyle. She listens close to my answers, and to the problems I describe in my hair, remembering things I've said and that she's observed in me from farther back than I remember myself. Even when I haven't seen her for years, as after a temporary move out of state, Ali remembers more about me than my doctors do from visit to visit.
When I'm certain Ali knows just what I want, she nevertheless goes back and repeats everything we've discussed, making absolutely sure she hasn't misunderstood. Only then do we go to the sinks--for a long and impossibly luxurious shampoo, with a neck and temple massage that alone are worth the cost of the visit. (For my sister Laurie, as well as an aunt who now sees Ali regularly, this is an integral part of the experience.)
Next is the haircut. Anyone else who suffers from acute shyness and thinks of a haircut in terms of the almost-inevitable small talk will understand my relief to discover Ali's comfort with silence and her respect for those who wish to observe it. On the other hand, those who love a thrilling, nonstop conversation will understand one of my favorite things about Ali--something I came to appreciate as soon as my initial shyness wore off: Ali is an uncommonly good conversationalist. At a time when it seems nearly everyone lacks the patience or interest or concentration, a careful listener is as rare as an interesting speaker. Ali is both.
After the cut is the styling--only if you want them. Having (in my purist youth) abhorred all styling products--even blow-dryers--and cringed when a hairdresser doused my head with CFC's, I always appreciated that Ali asked about these things. (Now she knows I'm happy with the works.) And since hairdressers get a commission on the salon's products, and some are pressured by their bosses to pressure the clients, I've always been struck by the fact that Ali NEVER acts like a salesperson. It's almost a cliche for a stylist to find some fault with your hair (or respond to your own complaint) by blaming your favorite products and urgently suggesting something else (which they happen to have on hand). An example of Ali's refreshing manner is this:
At my last visit, she asked which styling products I used and, when I named my favorite gel ($3.49 from Target), I couldn't help preparing myself for the kind of thing I was still used to from other hairdressers: "No wonder your ends are so dry--let me show you this other line." But, no--Ali just wanted to tell me how to use the products I already liked for the best results.
NOTE: This review was posted on 7/5/06, its rating solely based on Ali Black. On 4/19/07, she ended her six years with Viridis and moved to Bellevue, where she continues her five-star work at Salon SoMa. The comments above, which may or may not still apply to Viridis, are just as true of Ali now as ever.
Please look up Ali Black at Salon SoMa, Bellevue's Aveda Concept Salon, one block from Bellevue Square: 306 105th Ave. NE, Bellevue, WA 98004. See also www.SouthoftheMall.com or call 425-455-1343.