As hairstylist Angelique Vailes and her three models entered the room at the Ramada Inn in New Carrollton last week, the models began popping their necks, arms and legs robotically along an imaginary catwalk to a mix of hip-hop beats, alternately flinging their hair and sneering.
Vailes's Sereniti Style in Hyattsville was one of two dozen hair salons entered in the Golden Scissors Awards, one of the local black beauty salon industry's largest events. "A whole lot of attitude -- that's what we love," said Glynn Jackson, organizer of the event. "The word on the street was they was new and a little scared, but you're fabulous."
As Jackson critiqued her team as they rehearsed, Vailes walked over to a camera crew Jackson had hired to record the rehearsals. "My hair looks a mess," she said as she pulled at her fire-engine-red locks. She turned to the camera to explain why she entered the contest.
"I'm a new business, and it's a chance for me to get my name out there," she said. "It is very competitive. I've been nervous from Day One."
Overhearing Vailes's interview, Jackson bounced over. "Let's try that again," he said, fixing a large smile on his face to demonstrate how Vailes should sell herself. "Hi, I'm Angie, owner of Sereniti Salon," he said. "Here's my business card."
With hundreds of hair salons in the area, shows help to separate the real coiffeurs and coiffeuses from the fakers, local stylists said. A few such shows are held in the Washington area each year. One or two are held by hair-product manufacturers, which use the events to train stylists to use their products. Others are competitions held by chains, such as Bubbles Salons, for their own stylists. A couple are for stylists who specialize in taming African Americans' often naturally kinky, wavy or tightly coiled hair.
The Golden Scissors Awards, which was held last night at the Washington Convention Center, is one of the most popular among those trying to distinguish themselves in the Washington area's crowded, competitive black-beauty-shop business.
Stylists' income can fluctuate weekly, depending on the number of heads they dye, twist, relax or curl each week. Fees fluctuate wildly too. Winning awards can help increase fees. Local award-winning stylists charge $60 to $100 a head and can bring in more than $3,000 a week, stylists said.
Angelo Richardson said a good showing at that hair show in the past increased the buzz surrounding his salon, Afrolistics, in Glen Burnie. After he won the $1,000 prizes for best male stylist in 2001, barber of the year in 2000 and male weave master of the year in 2003, his salon was mentioned in magazines such as the Sophisticates Black Hair Styles and Care Guide that feature the nation's top salons. That helped increase his clientele and income, he said.
"One of the most important things is marketing," Richardson said. "The show helped me to market and just meet and network with other people. People see your work, and they trust you more.
"Before I wasn't getting a lot of exposure. [Then] I did the show and it was nonstop," Richardson said. "I was able to get in more photo shoots for magazines."
Jackson, a promoter, beauty-contest organizer and fashion commentator who lives in Mount Rainier, mixes the competing salons' presentations with rail-thin models wearing metallic gold catsuits and white wigs, plus-size models doing the Beyonce booty dance and nearly bald, gold-dusted, shirtless male models. Jackson spends a year planning the event.
Salons pay $500 to enter the contest. About 2,000 tickets are sold each year at $50 each.
Jackson said hair product manufacturers, the D.C. Lottery and managed-health-care provider Amerigroup Corp. also pay to him to promote their products to stylists. He said his largest sponsor is Procter & Gamble Co.'s Clairol division. He said he got $25,000 from Clairol's Textures & Tones hair-product line to plaster its name on the show's glossy program. He also mentioned the sponsors Thursday in an interview he had with WKYS-FM's Jeannie Jones and even had the brand name ironed onto smocks worn by the stylists as they curl hair backstage.
"The African American hair industry is a billion dollar industry and everybody wants a piece of it," Jackson said.
According to the American Health and Beauty Aids Institute, an industry trade group, about $1.7 billion worth of ethnic beauty products are sold annually. The business dates to 1906, when Madam C.J. Walker became the first black woman to create and market black hair products. She created the industry that spawned the black beauty salon.
In the week before the awards show, Jackson held rehearsals at the Ramada Inn so each salon could practice the five-minute dance routine performed by the models who display their hairdos to the judges and audience. Jackson hired cameramen to capture the rehearsal for a behind-the-scenes look that he plans to pitch as a reality TV series.
The week was drama-filled.
The cameras were rolling when five disgruntled models, who were to be styled by a salon owner named Pinkie Jackson (no relation to Glynn), dropped out of the show. "She wanted to critique everything," one model said of Pinkie Jackson. "She wanted me to walk like other models. I don't walk like other models."
Pinkie, whom Jackson called over, told him that the girls could not "project" and thus she did not want them wearing her hair styles. This is business, she said, and they cannot represent her shop. "We'll see you all at the show, and guess what, we'll show you what we got," she said as she turned her back and left the room.
Jackson clapped his hands and said, "Next salon. Let's keep it moving."
In addition to professional hairstylists, the show attracts students. Some compete in a vocational school competition.
Chet A. Bennett, owner of Bennett Beauty and Barber Institute, said the competition is good exposure for the school and its students.
"After the show we have people who call us saying, 'Oh my goodness, your show was off the chain. I want to come to that school,' " Bennett said, in his Northeast Washington school last week. As he spoke, a few his students were trying to figure out how to pin a three-foot-long fan of blue peacock feathers into a woman's hair.
"It allows our students an opportunity to show their creativity," Bennett said.