By Jamison Cocklin
Michael Koutsourais keeps a close eye on his salon.
He watches the door carefully, giving a wave or a smile to a customer walking through it, and his focus shifts from time to time around the room as blow dryers hum and nails are filed.
Koutsourais owns Concepts Spa and Salon on Tiffany Boulevard in Boardman. To an outsider, it’s evident he cares about his business and his craft.
Administrative tasks — such as dollars and cents, payroll or how many clients the salon serves — are up to his wife, Carol, a co-owner and nail technician.
Only recently, to meet a growing client base and greater demand in an improving economy, the pair moved the salon from the nearby South Commons on Tiffany South to their new location — a wide-open space with lots of sunlight.
For five years, though, Michael and Carol have embarked on something more — in all likelihood a rarity in the world of Northeast Ohio — that they feel has helped to raise the profile of the salon and better their business model.
For the past 10 seasons, Koutsourais has fashioned runway looks for the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week — otherwise known as New York Fashion Week — a premier event that brings A-list editors, celebrities and industry insiders to Lincoln Center in September and February praise and generate a buzz for the fall and spring line-ups of top clothing designers.
“The thing I love about it is, I like to think it puts us on the forefront of what is happening in the future; we’re seeing something before it comes here,” Koutsourais said.
“You’ll see from what happened in September that this spring we’ll see soft, glamorous-looking hair, intricate braiding or sleek hair with disheveled ponytails and buns,” he added. “If someone comes in and asks for pin-straight hair, we can advise them of the trends.”
Koutsourais’ place at New York Fashion Week is pure coincidence.
Several years ago, he was in New York City with Carol. For fun, the two would stop in at salons and get a feel for the aesthetics and to “see how they do things,” he said.
On one trip, the couple ventured into a Cutler Salon, owned by Rodney Cutler, who operates three salons in Manhattan. Cutler happened to be there, Koutsourais said, and invited them for a tour of his building.
The three hit it off and Cutler invited the couple to spend more time with him. Soon, Koutsourais was cultivating clients in Manhattan under an agreement with Cutler, whoSFlblet him use the studio to work on hair.
Cutler asked if he’d be interested in styling hair at February’s fall show five years ago. Koutsourais accepted, and he’s been learning the ropes ever since.
“When we were leaving, he said, ‘We’ll do it again in September.’ It’s been an open invitation ever since,” Koutsourais said.
The couple is accustomed to fund-raisers and local fashion shows, which they’ve long participated in, but adjusting to the fervor and intensity of New York Fashion Week has been a whole different experience.
“It’s really crazy. When you first get there, it’s not too bad; there might just be one model sitting around waiting,” he said. “But it gets busier and busier. Hair, makeup, nails are all being done at the same time. Early on, models are at stations, but as the show nears you may be working on a head of hair with two other people and you’re kind of on top of each other.”
In any event, Koutsourais and his wife — who takes pictures backstage as he works — are taking part in an event steeped in both glamour and tradition. First started in 1943, when French fashion dominated the world circuit and the pages of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, renowned fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert cobbled together a showcase for American designers to unveil their talents.
It worked — the American lines were hailed for their modern and flattering looks. The show took place at various points across the city over the decades, until the Council of Fashion Designers of America centralized the event at Bryant Park in 1990, giving it more consistency and steady sponsorship.
“Everybody is dressed up; everybody is very high fashion,” Koutsourais said of the overall experience at the show. “Most of the people at those shows are buyers, editors, photographers that are somehow connected to making these people’s lines sell.”
For Koutsourais, who took a cue from his mother, a hairdresser, his open invitation to the show undoubtedly is a boost to his resume.
He’s styled hair for models wearing big-name lines such as Rebecca Taylor and Vivian Tam. He said about 20 to 23 models walk in each show, when his duties vary. Sometimes, he’ll style three or four of them; other times, he’s responsible for only one or two.
In all, Koutsourais said he spends between four and seven days at the event, always mindful to not take too much time away from his own salon. He ships a kit full of curling and flat irons, brushes of every size and anything else he might need before he travels to the event, because, he says, “you need to be prepared for anything.”
Back in Boardman, though, the focus is on growing his salon.
“I would love to go to Milan and do a show. If the opportunity brought itself to me, I would take it,” he said. “But we’re always looking to grow, and things have really turned around here — it’s why we moved to a bigger location.”