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Learning to Love Fear: Leona Robinson

If hair makes or breaks the outfit, then Leona Robinson might very well be in charge of our most important accessory. Based out of Suki hair salon in Paddington, Leona has won multiple awards for her craft, has created looks on the cover of magazines and has worked backstage alongside some of fashion’s finest – Dion Lee, Arnsdorf and Nicola Finneti among them. But more than just a stylist to the stars, Leona works on ordinary folk, too. As one of Suki’s senior stylists, Leona is booked out weeks in advance (I should know – I have the hair tie receipts to prove it) and treats every client as if their hair was her very own. On that note, she does have damn fine locks – a sure-fire sign that she just might know what she’s doing. If you’ve had the same past experiences I have had, you know this counts for a lot.

When you meet Leona, it won’t be all that shocking when she tells you she was a bit of a dreamer in school. Knowing she wanted to play with hair from the age of 16, she started working casually during school before she finished her HSC – at her mother’s request – in 2001. “When I told my mother I wanted to drop school in year ten to do an apprenticeship, she told me it would be a good idea to finish school first, so I did. Interestingly, I used a lot of what I learned in the HSC for my TAFE studies, particularly science. Basically, I wanted a job that was people-oriented and artistic but stable.”

Starting out in a shopping centre salon, Leona learned quickly what she DIDN’T want. As she puts it, “ the clients were unhappy, the staff were unhappy, and nobody took their job seriously. I decided if I was going to give this a real shot, I needed support from a good salon. So I applied at a local salon, which had won many national and international awards. That was the best decision I ever made. After a short time I was doing my own shoots, working on parades and even educating.”

Leona began entering as many competitions as she could, tried to get her work published and assisted in parades before she eventually received the recognition she craved – and deserved.

“I worked very, very hard. Most hairdressers will never forget their apprenticeship. I was fortunate enough to receive education free of charge. I was sent to course after course after course, and a training officer would stand by me all day twice a week with a doll’s head teaching me different techniques. After work my employer would teach me for hours. I probably worked about 75 hours a week and the pay was terrible.”

“My hands used to bleed from the dermatitis, and some days my scoliosis would keep me bed ridden. Every year it got easier, though, and my passion for the job kept me going.”

Now based at arguably one of Sydney’s best salons, the hard work has clearly not been without reason. She most recently won the NSW L’oreal catwalk stylist of the year for 2008, and she describes the ability to “take the job anywhere and do so much with it” as the most-loved aspect about her profession. But best of all, she “gets paid to play.”

“I LOOOOVE shoots and parades, but its not as glamorous as everyone thinks. One time we had to stand in puddles of icy water on a cliff in minus degree temperatures with gale force winds, but the photos were worth it. Parades are different. The pace is fast, intense, everyone is stretched for time and there are five people working on one model at any moment. But I love the freedom of creativity and I always learn something from every show I do.”

For up and comers, she urges them to foster a strong work ethic and above all, to be patient.
“Don’t be all Generation Y and expect everything to drop into your lap. You have to prove yourself again and again and again before you get really cool jobs like directing your own parade or before you’re winning national awards. It will be a slow long road, but if you work hard and you’re dedicated you will out-do your own dreams. Start in a reputable salon for more training and opportunities.”

As for herself, she is definitely still in it for the thrill.

“It’s important to keep challenging myself and learning to love fear. You know you’re learning when something is new and scary. One of my favourite quotes is ‘risk = opportunity’.”

words: Seema Duggal


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