Snuggled almost directly between Madison and Gramercy parks is a woman who has brought to our bustling city a little piece of European folklore.
The Alma Salon NYC on East 21st Street is small but cozy. Bright but inviting. Busy but energetic. Simple but enough. From the outside, it appears as a relatively typical NYC salon complete with address-adorned awning, wide glass windows revealing a waiting lounge of black leather couches and – of course – a neighboring elevated parking lot.
Inside isn’t far from typical either – until you meet the owner, a striking beauty who hails from Albania.
When I visited the salon, I had a bit of a trauma arriving, as is expected when driving into Manhattan during rush hour. My 6 p.m. appointment was not going to happen; 6:30 was more like it. I thought Alma might cancel – who can wait for anything these days?
Much to my delight, despite her jam-packed schedule, Alma told me to come anyway.
Salon owner, Alma G
After running across three avenues and up three blocks from the coincidental street parking I found, I apologized profusely for my tardiness only to have the charming Alma receive me with an affectionate welcome, a smile and a gesture toward the chair.
When I sat down though, the conversation went from light and airy to serious; only because my hair needed serious attention.
I admit – it’s been through a lot. From bleach blondes to natural browns to maroon highlights and black undertones and all the way back to blonde again, my hair’s seen it all – and in a very short time. Apparently it’s finally starting to get back at me.
Under Alma’s lights, not only did the color look washed out and an uneven but my entire head looked pretty miserable. She knew we’d need to get down to business to start a routine of healthy color maintenance, and though I quickly grew to trust her, Alma’s initial idea was a bit too radical – even for me.
Alma at work cutting a client’s hair
“I want to make you copper red, with some light blonde in the front,” she said while pulling her fingers through my hair in back.
“Copper red?” I asked. “You mean – make me a redhead?”
“Yes,” she replied. “You were born to be a copper red.”
While the idea enticed me (and still does, even now), I couldn’t be so daring – yet. Maybe next time.
Instead, I told her that for now I’d like to stick to the lighter side, which is just what she did for me.
While painting my head with blonde highlights, using special cotton-lined foils, Alma told me how she ended up doing hair in the middle of the Big Apple.
She moved to the city from Albania when she was only 17 years old, with the intention of starting her own business. Having cut hair on her father at just 12 years old while he was sleeping, Alma had already decided on what sort of business that would be.
After completing her training in America for hair styling – a program she said was often laughable – she ran into the president of Redken, Jim Morrison, while she was working at another Midtown salon. He took her under his wing and she soon became an expert colorist. She was also courted by Frédéric Fekkai, who complimented her rare talents and color skills.
With a reinforced sense of confidence, Alma knew she was ready to follow the dream that led her to the U.S. at such a young age. Soon, she would meet clients like Rosario Dawson and Kerry Russell who helped boost her morale even more. At 24, she opened her salon and quickly gained a reputation as “the hottest colorist in the city.” Despite her talent at coloring, BN thinks that the term “hottest” was referring to her good looks. But regardless of Alma’s exotic good looks, she’s not one to make her client’s feel any less beautiful. She does just the opposite. In fact, she told me that because of my skin tone (a big determinant in hair color according to Alma) I could have any shade I wanted.
“You have the perfect skin tone,” she said. “You could be a blonde or a redhead and it would look good on you.”
I wanted to believe here but I thought I’d stick with blonde for now – it seemed to be working for me.
Blonde it was – very blonde.
It was jarring at first, and once I got home I wasn’t sure I liked it – but reinforcements from some important people made me see it just as Alma did.
“Gorgeous,” she said after blow-drying and styling my hair.
And that’s how Alma makes you feel.