In Lebanon, land of elegant, sensual, alluring women, the hairdresser is king. FAB met Simon el Mendelek, leader of a family empire of hair salons that shines throughout the Middle East.
With long silver hair, piercing eyes and a ravishing smile, Simon el Mendelek is a charmer. Out of his bright, vast salon near Beirut blasts electro music as a dozen employees get to work. “I was born a womanizer,” confides the owner. “One day as a young man I was following a friend who entered a hair salon, and I asked for a summer job. It was in 1965 and I had a Beatles-style haircut. It was there that I learned the true craft of hairdressing, for there was no institute in the country. But what I ultimately desired was to satisfy women.”
It is this love for women that drove El Mendelek, as a child, to yearn to touch them, to smell them, to make them beautiful. He began his education as a teenager in Beirut, working long hours to learn the tricks of the trade. By the time he was 18, his forte was the ‘chignon’, the special updo that was requested by many of his clients for the multiple weddings and receptions that filled their busy lives. However, when civil war broke out in the country in 1975, he left for Paris. In the French capital, he pored over industry magazines and continued to learn, to develop his eye for the harmonious framing of each woman’s features. He worked in a Paris hair salon and signed up for workshops at Kérastase, which had become the leader in the field of hair treatment, to deepen his knowledge of the science of the scalp and hair fiber. Five years later, he returned to Beirut and opened a small salon that very quickly expanded.
“The hardest task is to achieve the natural look,” explains El Mendelek. “I love a woman when she gets out of bed. When she gets into bed she is disguised, especially in the Middle East. I want my client to be an example to follow, not a follower. It really is a matter of imagination. Every woman is my muse.” Today El Mendelek heads a hair salon empire in the region, where he tends to celebrities and princesses, supported by his daughter Mia and his son Georges, who studied in Paris and London. Reality TV shows, beauty contests, magazines and fashion brands fight for the El Mendeleks’ scissors and brushes. In 1996, El Mendelek was nominated president of the French Haute Coiffure, for which he represents his country. From deconstructed pixie cuts to long siren curls and fairytale updos, from natural highlights to bold bleached blondes, Arab women go to the El Mendeleks to shine.
Because the true beauty of a woman, as Simon El Mendelek understands it, shines from within.