Rick Boldini: Salon owner, stylist to the famous, altruist

Rick Boldini: Salon owner, stylist to the famous, altruist

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“The hardest work in the world is being out of work.” — Whitney Young Jr.

Times are hard these days with unemployment rates at 9 percent and it seeming at times that no one cares. But there are still a lot of good Samaritans out there. On Sep. 26, 25 salons across the region will participate in “Style Me Hired,” Philadelphia’s first and only makeover event, providing 100 unemployed women complete transformations to re-enter the workforce. The affair is being sponsored by founder Marc Voci from Marc Voci Salon and Colorbar, The Omni Hotel and The Career Wardrobe, which will outfit each makeover recipient with a professional ensemble to complement her makeover. This week we spoke to one of the participating stylists, Rick Boldini of Siaani Salon.

PGN: This seems like a great event. Why did you feel it was important to participate in “Style Me Hired”? RB: I always think it’s important to give back. Over the years we’ve supported many charities, but this one is particularly good because it’s not just giving time and/or money. It’s something I can do, in terms of my talent and the talent of my staff.

PGN: You’re one of the top hair-dressers in the city, but I read a quote: “Being good is commendable, but only when it is combined with doing good is it useful.” RB: Absolutely, and this is a really great cause. It’s great to be able to put our skills to good use.

PGN: Any client stories that have moved you? RB: There was one time when a modeling agency sent me a young girl. She came in with her mother and her sister. The mother appeared to be a bit of a stage mother because the child didn’t really seem to want to have anything to do with all the fuss. I had sort of ... feelings about the mother: I didn’t like her because of her pushing the kid. The woman was an older woman and it looked like she’d had the kids later in life. I thought maybe she was having a second hoorah with them, living vicariously. I later came to feel really bad about the way I thought about the whole situation. It turns out the woman already had five children of her own and when they got older, she adopted these two kids. They were sisters who had been taken from a drug-addicted mother. Unlike like the younger sister, who excelled in school, the older sister was not very good academically but apparently she really had a talent for singing. The woman wanted to make sure the girl had something she could do to help take care of herself when she wasn’t there any more, so she was pushing her and trying to get her involved in the arts. [Laughs.] I felt so horrible when I found out the whole story, what her real motive was. One of those life lessons, that you shouldn’t pre-judge someone.

PGN: Did you always have an interest in hair? RB: Yes, since the time I was a child. I used to play with the hair on our dogs!

PGN: You must have had the most fashionable dogs in town! RB: I did. We had a lot of mutts and a couple of terriers and I would always play with and put things in their hair.

PGN: Are you from this area? RB: I’m originally from New Hampshire, but I’ve lived in Philadelphia for many years. I met a guy who was going to school in New Hampshire and moved here with him.

PGN: Are you an only child? RB: No, I have a brother. I had two brothers but one was killed in an accident.

PGN: What was your favorite thing as a kid? RB: I’ve always loved books and I’ve always loved animals.

PGN: What was a favorite book? RB: Probably “Moby Dick.”

PGN: Where did you go to school? RB: I went to Continental Academie of Hair Design in New Hampshire.

PGN: What was your specialty? RB: You know, I didn’t have one. A lot of hair-dressers like doing only one thing, like concentrating on coloring or certain styles, but I never liked that. I always wanted to do it all, from texture to coloring to cutting. I like diversity.

PGN: Speaking of diversity, I read that you were one of the first white guys in Philadelphia to do black hair. Pretty rare at the time. RB: Yes, I started my salon in 1991 and, from the beginning, I served clients of all ethnicities. I think I actually was the first white stylist to do African-American hair care. I’d say close to 50 percent of my clients are African American.

PGN: I don’t imagine there are a whole lot of black people in New Hampshire. RB: No. I hope it’s a little different now, but growing up there were no black people around. I think I was a junior in high school before we had a black student in class with us.

PGN: So how did you know you had a talent for black hair? RB: I didn’t know. But when I moved here, I was working at a salon and we had a couple of black stylists. At the time, a lot of black women weren’t cutting their hair: It was mostly relaxing and straightening and styling, because there was a myth that if you cut it, the hair wouldn’t grow back. Coming from a different culture, I was much more inclined to cut. There was one African-American customer that I had and I wanted to cut her hair short in the back. Everyone was saying, “Oh, you can’t do that! You don’t cut black hair that way.” And I said, “Why not?” I went ahead and did it and she loved it. With that came a flood of clients. I never thought about it; it just happened.

PGN: What was the wildest Patti LaBelle-type hairstyle you have had to create? RB: Well, I used to do Patti LaBelle’s hair!

PGN: Wow! RB: I can’t take credit for the wild fan updos: They were done by her niece. I did her more conservative styles, if you will, for her performances. I also used to do the Pointer Sisters.

PGN: What’s a fun story from that time? RB: I’d done some hair extensions for Ruthie Pointer. She was opening in Las Vegas and she went to the salon at the hotel and asked them if they knew how to deal with extensions and they said yes. They were wrong. They got it all matted up and couldn’t get it untangled. She called and flew me into Las Vegas to fix the mess. I took the old hair out, put new hair in, stayed for the show and took the red eye home in time to get up for work the next day. It was very jet-set!

PGN: Ever had someone come in wanting to look like a certain star and in your head you thought, Uh, not going to happen? RB: No, I’ve been lucky that I’ve never had anyone that far off from reality. I’ve had some great clients.

PGN: Speaking of stars, what’s your sign and is it accurate? RB: My sign is Taurus and I think it’s pretty accurate ... ruled by Venus. I love beauty and comfort, and my home and surroundings are extremely important to me. Some people call it materialistic but I prefer to describe it as Elizabeth Taylor once did, “being the temporary caretaker of some beautiful things.” I also can be stubborn if I truly believe I am right, but I always listen to reason.

PGN: Any hobbies? RB: I love to entertain at home and I still love to read. My favorite way to entertain is having small, intimate dinner parties with friends. I often have “family dinner” on Sunday nights and other times I like to do a theme dinner. I love to cook and I admit to having a real addiction to dishes and beautiful table settings. I just love feeding people — another Taurus trait.

PGN: Um, I’m a Taurus and I can’t cook to save my life [laughs]. I think it was rebellious: I thought cooking was a girl’s chore and I was a little tomboy. But back to you ... What kind of books do you like to read? RB: I like novels, biographies, some mysteries, some contemporary culture. I like diversity in my reading as well.

PGN: Did you grow up in a conservative or liberal household? RB: Rather liberal, though I didn’t really realize it until I was older. We were taught to take people for who they were not for their background. I grew up with what might be considered a mixed marriage: My mother was New England Protestant WASP and my father was Italian-born and Catholic. Everything about their upbringing was totally opposite — from their eating habits to their religion. Neither side of their families was happy with the marriage. So we were taught by our parents to be more tolerant of others.

PGN: Most beautiful childhood memory? RB: That had to be when I was about 6. It was Christmastime and I was beginning to question the existence of Santa Claus. Christmas morning when I got up and looked out, the side angled roof of our house had what appeared to be footprints. I was certain they were from the reindeer and at that point I knew Santa Claus was real! It made me believe in him for another year. Only later did I discover that my father had made the imprints with a long extension pole.

PGN: Any notable relatives or ancestors? RB: My great-grandfather was the artist Giovanni Boldini. He is known primarily for his society portraiture, although he has created some amazing landscapes, one of which hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Other than private collections, most of his work is housed in Europe — many at the Louvre in Paris and at the Boldini Museum in Ferrara, Italy.

PGN: What was an early sign you were gay? RB: One of my first memories was having a crush on a boy in first grade. Of course I didn’t know what it meant at the time, I just knew I always wanted to be near him. [Laughs.] His name was Ronald.

PGN: OK, what’s the oldest piece of clothing in your closet? RB: Oh, gee, I have a pair of Gucci loafers from 1985 that I still wear and love!

PGN: Any pets? RB: Not right now, though I’ve had animals most of my life. I had a cat but she died about two years ago. [Laughs.] I’ve been childless for the last few years!

PGN: Since you’re all about diversity, do you travel a lot? RB: Oh yes, I’ve been all over, mostly to Europe.

PGN: What was something exciting that happened during your travels? RB: Years ago, a friend of mine and I were going to Paris. You could get really cheap tickets back then if you did some research. The flight was overbooked, so they offered us a $600 voucher to take a later plane. We went through Amsterdam and only got there a few hours later than we would have originally. Later that year, I found another really cheap ticket and used the voucher to go to Paris again, and then later, I combined my American Express miles with the remainder of the voucher to go back again, this time using the miles points to fly business class! So using the cheap ticket that I started with, I was able to go to Paris three times! It was the ticket that never stopped giving.

PGN: What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a business owner?

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