Earlier this week I had the privilege of sitting down for an interview with Riccardo Altieri, professional hair stylist, owner of The Studio salon, and teacher of all things hair. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this man that I was interviewing is not only one of the most intelligent and dedicated people in his line of work, but also one of the most modest. Throughout the half-hour we spent talking and laughing, he shared many interesting stories about the journey that took him to where he is today, as well as other hobbies and more. Joey Marino: So tell me a little bit about yourself Riccardo. Riccardo Altieri: Well, I’m 63 years old. I have been doing hair since I was 20 years old. So that’s 43 years. I did three years of college, and then found out that college wasn’t for me. I wanted to find a job where I could be more creative and have something that, you know, would allow me to be my own boss and sort of make my own way and not have to depend on other people. I wanted something that was independent and creative. I decided to go to hair school because I always had sort of a talent for hair. I had actually started cutting my own hair when I was about 14 years old, and that progressed to me doing my brothers’ and then my friends’, so it was kind of a hobby of mine. I never really thought that I would end up being a hairdresser.
JM: Your family and friends must have liked the free haircuts, right? Or did you charge them? RA: [laughs] No, they liked the free haircuts. I would do it for everybody just because it was fun for me.
JM: You’ve had the opportunity to travel the world. What lead to that particular journey in your life? RA: Well I was very lucky to find a job that, after a while, when I got to a certain level then other people wanted to see me do hair. I loved to share my techniques and methods with other hairdressers. I was hired by the number one company in the hair business called Matrix with my brother, who also went into hair dressing. He was five years younger than me and decided to go into hair styling as well. So when we teamed up, he and I had our own salon and Matrix came to ask us if we would like to present their company all over the world sharing and teaching our techniques.
JM: How many countries did you visit? RA: I can’t count them all up, but I’ve been to about 25 countries. Also virtually every major city in the United States, as well as every medium sized city.
JM: It must have been awesome to experience all these different places and cultures. Does any one in particular stand out among the rest? RA: Well, I do love Italy. I’ve been there many times with my family, who along with my father were born there. So we’d always go back and see our family there, but I did also love to go to Italy and do hair. A lot of places were great though! You know, it’s fun to have a job that pays you to go travel because you end up going to places that you would never have considered previously but end up being very interesting.
JM: Speaking of Italy, I hear that you used to have long hair yourself and the women there would go crazy for it. Describe that! RA: I actually had really long hair at that point in my life, and was working out five hours a day. And yes, it’s true that girls would scream and yell when I went to visit Italy [laughs]. My hair was down to my ass. I had grown it for about 18 years.
JM: I personally have some ways to go before that point. RA: Yeah, you do. But you’ll get there.
JM: I don’t have to include this in the transcript, but I have to ask. If you enjoyed long hair, what got you into cutting it? RA: No, no. Keep it on the record! It’s funny actually. I think hair’s always been very important to me. I’ve always cared what my hair looks like and I’ve always noticed other people’s hair. I think I actually started cutting my own hair because I cared about it and wanted it to look good. So I just sort of took it into my own hands. And that’s when I started to get into hair actually. I began to work on my own hair and started figuring out how to do things without anybody really showing me. It’s not a talent I knew I possessed. I didn’t know about it until I started trying it and began to understand hair quite a bit. That’s when I decided to go to school. And once I got into school I loved it because it was like, “Oh my God. I’m going to learn all these great things, to be able to do all these things that I can think of. You know?” I could think of a lot of things but I didn’t know how to accomplish them, but once I started becoming aware that I had an opportunity to build on my own skills I was really excited. And then after about three months of being at school, my thought was, “My goal is to become the best hairdresser in the world someday.” So that was my goal.
JM: It’s a lofty goal, but I think you’re there! RA [laughs] Well, thank you. I appreciate it. But I figured, you know, you can always aim high and end up a little lower and I figured I’m just going to do whatever it takes. So I dedicated myself to learning as much as I could. Also another thing that motivated me was teaching, and so when I started to become more knowledgeable with hair I would teach others. That’s when it when I really began to understand from the inside and out.
JM: It always helps to teach someone as far as reinforcing what we already know about something. You don’t get to a position where you’re paid to travel the world to help others learn a subject unless you’re well familiar with it yourself. Let’s change the subject a bit. You currently own and work at The Studio salon. First thing’s first. Is there any significance behind the name? RA: You know, there is something significant there. My brother and I have another salon in the valley right now. He runs that one because he lives there. That one is called the Altieri Brothers salon. Back when I was really young I would always drive to another salon that I worked at, and I would drive past this really funky looking salon that was really cool called “The Studio.” And I was like, “That’s a really cool name for a salon,” because it’s kind of generic. That name will let all the different hairdressers that work there sort of become their own entity. They’re not owned by the salon, and the salon is just support for them. I always dreamed of having a salon where I have a lot of really great hairdressers working under one roof and we would just call it “The Studio.” Just a space for people doing hair, or teaching, or learning. And then on top of that I’m an amateur artist. One of my hobbies is doing art, so I figured that I’d put it all in there and it would just become a studio for art, a studio for hair, a studio for teaching, a studio for learning.
JM: So The Studio has a little bit of everything. It must have felt rewarding to put your art work up in your own salon. RA: Well, we remodeled the salon and now we don’t have any in there. But for about six years all my paintings were up in the salon. I’d paint, and I’d sculpt, and I’d draw. I was always looking for a creative outlet for myself that I could make money doing. I don’t feel that I’m good enough to make money from my art, but I do enjoy doing it. Then when I found hair, which is definitely a form of art, and I had a talent for that, then I knew that I had found the job for me because I knew that I could be very creative with it and become one of the best people in the world doing it. I enjoy it very much.
JM: One thing I’ve noticed about going somewhere for a haircut is that they style it in a certain fashion and it looks amazing. Then I go home and I can never replicate it myself in quite the same way. Do you have any recommendations for people like that? Any particular products you’d recommend for home use? RA: Yeah, I think products are very important in doing hair because if they weren’t then they wouldn’t exist. There would be no reason that they’d exist because people would not value them and there would be no business that actually made hair products. So they do work, and to get your hair to do many different things then you have to use many different products. But I do like a product line that’s natural with no harmful chemicals that is both good for the stylist that is constantly touching it and for the client that’s using it. I like products that are petroleum free, mainly organic, made out of flowers and plants.
JM: You obviously care about your own hair quite a bit, so any product you recommend should obviously be held in high regard. Point is, you personally must care quite a bit about the particular ingredients that go into these styling products. RA: Right. Well I touch them all day and use products myself. I think that the whole world’s kind of understanding that you are pretty much what you eat or what you put on or in your body, and so why not? If you can find a line that performs really well and has those qualities then you’d might as well use it. I do use Aveda because that is one of the companies that fits into that category. So that’s why I use Aveda. Because you can only buy it in a salon or an authorized Aveda store, which are very hard to find. So it’s a very exclusive product but it comes with a professional’s recommendation on how to use it properly and that’s why I like it. So what that means is that when people buy Aveda they get to learn how to properly use it straight from their hairdresser or an expert. They don’t buy it at a grocery store or drug store, because when you buy products at those places then there’s no expert there to recommend how to use it properly.
JM: Now that the remodel is complete, are there any future plans for The Studio salon that you’d like people to know about? RA: Yeah, I think one of the next endeavors is something that my brother and I never had the opportunity to get into but have very much wanted to for a couple years now. We’d like to start putting our hair designs, our techniques, and some of the stuff we do in the salon on the internet. And I think we’re going to start doing that with maybe a YouTube channel and Instagram. I’ve traveled the world, but as I’m getting older I don’t like to travel as much as I used to. So that way I can still bring new techniques and be a mentor to other hairdressers, and I don’t have to get into a plane. I can still do it without traveling and being away from home all the time.
JM: Speaking from your own experiences, what advice would you give somebody attempting to get into the field of hair styling? RA: That’s a good question. First of all, it’s like any other endeavor. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. It’s something that you have to really commit to because there are a lot of people that are very committed to being very good, so there’s a lot of competition in it and not something that you can take lightly. But it’s the type of job where you can really seek any type of level that you want. If you want to have a relatively stress-free life and do four or five people a day and have some creativity in your life you can do that. Or you can take it to the max like my brother and I have, and create product lines while creating and inventing tools that have never been done and try to invent different techniques. And, you know, learn as much as you can. Teach as much as you can. Open salons and so forth. So you can really take it anywhere you want to go. That’s one of the reasons that I got into it. Because it was sort of a job that I felt that even in the different states of my life I could go at different speeds depending on how I felt. And so right now I’m sort of in a medium speed. I was in a super high, intense speed for about 20 years when I was traveling all the time. I had two salons and would go back and forth and all over the place, traveling at least a hundred days a year. And living away from home was a challenge that took a lot of dedication. Now I’m into the place where I want to make the salons that we have into the best salons that they can be and give them a good name. And now I do want to also mentor all the younger hairdressers that work with us and help them become the best hairdressers that they can be as well.
JM: Well, I think that about wraps it up. I’d like to thank you for your time and allowing us to learn a little bit about the man himself. Before we wrap up, was there anything else you’d like to add? RA: I appreciate that. I’d like to thank everyone involved in my life throughout the entire journey, from the moment I first started doing hair until now where I’m running a salon with a fantastic group of hairdressers. My brother and I have put a lot of hard work into it in the past and will continue to do so. These days my fiance has been helping out a lot with The Studio salon and we make a great team. We’re going to continue doing what we do best while also continuing to build upon what’s already there.