STAMFORD, Conn. – Bernard de la Rivera, who always enjoyed working with his hands, found the perfect line of work when he joined his mother, Haydee, at Haydee Coiffures in Stamford in 1983.
Haydee started the business in 1967, and Bernard joined her after he graduated from Wright Tech. He studied auto mechanics in high school and got his hairdresser’s license that same year from the National Academy of Hairdressing. He went to Wright Tech during the day, and the hairdressing academy at night.
“One time while working on a car, I was underneath it and an engine dropped an inch from my chest,’’ de la Rivera said. “That’s when I knew I wanted to go work with my mother.”
De la Rivera worked at another salon and also dabbled in music – “I thought I was going to be a recording artist,’’ he laughed – but found a permanent home working in the Hope Street salon.
“The artistic process is great,’’ said de la Rivera, who lives in Darien. “It’s a people business, and I like being around people. A lot of people are artistic, but they can’t take criticism well. That’s one of the things you have to learn about in this business. If it’s not exactly how people want it to look, they’re going to let you know.”
One of the best parts of the job is developing relationships with customers who have come to the salon for 30 years or more, he said. “You develop relationships with people and you think they’re going to last forever,’’ de la Rivera said. “The sad part is you see a lot of people who pass away. That’s been the biggest thing in the last five years.”
The challenge for de la Rivera, his mother and the two other stylists who work at the salon is staying current with trends. Hairstyles are changing constantly, and the staff has to be stay on top of emerging fashions. The salon services people of all ages.
“The new trends are definitely harder than some of the things we’ve had to do before,’’ he said. “People are doing all kinds of experiments with color and placement. They don’t just have the frostings any more. They have highlights and lowlights. People will come in that have tried to color their hair and botched it up and somehow you have to fix it. That can be a pretty hard challenge.”
De la Rivera learned many of his skills from his mother. He also learned some important business tips. “She’s willing to take a risk,’’ he said. “She likes to go out there and do something new. She wants to bring in new people and try new things. I think that makes a lot of customers happy.”
The salon is a perfect fit in Springdale, a community known for its tight-knit families. “One of the things that makes it special is we have a lot of second and third generation customers,’’ de la Rivera said. “Even before my mother opened, another salon was here, so this place has been here for about 80 years. We like being part of this community.”