When Carlo Felicella became a hairdresser in the early 1960s, poodle cuts, bouffants and pompadours were all the rage.
By the end of the decade, hair was more than a fashion statement, becoming edgier to reflect social change. Today, hair styles are all over the map.
And Felicella is still keeping clients happy cutting, colouring and shaping their manes. About a dozen of his regulars are original customers from when he started out 57 years ago this month, still coming in every week for their ‘do.
“I have a lot of third-generation clients — grandmother, mother, granddaughter,” the 83-year-old Felicella said. “Retire? For what? I’m too young to retire. I enjoy every day more than ever.”
At 19, Felicella followed his eldest brother Nick from Italy to Ontario, doing construction and odd jobs, then Vancouver. He and his three other brothers studied hair styling at the Moler hairdressing school on East Hastings, while Nick opened a little pasta place on Commercial Drive.
The hairstyling brothers — Carlo, Guy, Mario and Tony — went on to own hair salons, Italian Coiffures. Tony still runs his in Burnaby, the other two are retired. Carlo sold his West Vancouver salon six years ago but still works two days a week at Valentine’s For Hair on Marine Drive, across the street from the West Vancouver Community Centre.
Nick last year retired and closed his iconic Nick’s Spaghetti House.
Including a sister, the six Felicella siblings are all going strong, aged between 79 (Tony) and 87 (Maergerita).
“With over five decades of experience my dad has perfected every trend from a Jacqueline Kennedy bouffant to Twiggy’s short crop and Farrah Fawcett’s famous tousled bleach blond mane,” Carlo’s daughter Carla said.
“To Dorothy Hamill’s wedge, to Jennifer Aniston’s ‘Rachel do’. Famous looks that everyone wanted to duplicate, and everything in-between.”
A couple of years ago, Carla sat down to estimate how many heads of hair her dad has worked on.
Here are some figures she came up with: 12,500 days at work, 10,000-plus feet of hair cut (average two inches per cut), 35,000 hair colourings, 96,000 shampoo and sets.
“After running his hands through more than 150,000 heads, he knows a lot about women.”
Carlo and his wife Rosa celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary this year. They grow olives and grapes, have palm, banana and fig trees in their West Van garden. A little reminder of Naples and the Old Country, but this has been home now for some time.
“My first holiday in 10 years (after he began styling hair) was when I got married and we went back for two months,” he said. “My wife Rosa, she has put up with me all this time.”
Don’t laugh but being a hair stylist can take its toll physically. People get back problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, foot problems from standing all day.
A year ago Felicella asked his doctor why he was beginning to feel tried by the end of his long shifts.
“She said, ‘You’re 82 years old, what do you expect?’” he said with a glint in his eye.
His own mane is still thick and wavy, and white for some time now. Hair styling is a lot of hard work, it takes a long time to get established.
“My clients, they still like a nice hairdo from one week to the next,” Felicella said. “A good, fashionable hairdo, nothing crazy, something they can enjoy all week long.
“You’ve got to work hard, it’s not a business that’s easy to be in, but if you work hard you’ll be rewarded. I love it more than I ever have. My clients are wonderful, they want what’s up-to-date, they keep coming back.
“I must be doing something right.”
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