salon secrets

Papito: Havana Hairstyling Without Borders

March 21st 2017

A well-respected stylist in Havana, Gilberto Valladares – better known as Papito – is an essential part of the life and soul of his city’s Santo Ángel district. For many years he has brought this place to life with his social and cultural projects that take their root in hairdressing.

Papito is well aware of who he is: a dreamer living his days with “passion and perseverance”. Alongside running a salon that now employs five stylists, he has launched lots of other projects to help improve the lives of people from his childhood neighborhood in Havana. These initiatives are supported not only by UNESCO but also by former US President Barack Obama, whom he met during the latter’s visit to Cuba.

His latest endeavour? To bring together a huge international community of hairstylists and barbers to pay homage to their profession, which has given him so much. In December 2016, Papito unveiled a statue of a pair of scissors in Havana. Today, he has sent out a call to the world’s stylists and barbers, asking them each to send a pair of scissors to be added to the artwork. So, all you styling professionals, you know what you need to do!

A Salon Mixing Styling & History

Back in 1999, Gilberto Valladares gave up his job as a state-employed hairdresser to open his own beauty salon, one of the first of its kind in Cuba and something he set up despite his family’s scepticism. “The first challenge was opening a beauty salon in our apartment, up on the second floor of a residential building in a run-down street. My parents were convinced that nobody would dare to come up such a steep staircase to get their hair done,” he explained to FAB a little mischievously.

Gilberto Valladares – better known as Papito- Havana best hairdresser
Photo credits: @cheekycherrycola

Little by little however, his ideas began to take shape: “I wanted to make a museum that would link history to hairdressing.” By saving his earnings, Papito began to build his collection. “As there were no suppliers of professional materials within Cuba, I bought barbershop chairs that had been brought to the island before the 1959 Revolution. From all over the country, people sent me items that had belonged to their ancestors.” His collection has since expanded with numerous styling-related art works being sent to him by both Cuban and international artists. Although hairdressing is still the main order of business, his salon, Arte Corte, has turned into a real museum, one that’s registered as such by the country’s Office of Conservation.

A Homage To A Profession

Today, Arte Corte helps a whole community to live and prosper together. The many tourists who relax on the terraces of the “Callejón de los Peluqueros” (Hairdresser Lane) would scarcely recognize Papito’s street as it once was. On top of the restaurants and art galleries that have set up shop there, Papito and his team of volunteers have launched lots of other social and cultural projects: a hairdressing school for young people in difficulty, a children’s park where the swings and slides are shaped like styling tools, painting workshops and dance classes for elderly people to name just a few.

Gilberto Valladares – better known as Papito- Havana best hairdresser
Photo credits: Carine Valette

The huge pair of scissors, made of steel and melted styling scissors, is now the first thing to welcome the district’s inhabitants and visitors as they enter the street. It’s a work of art that will only be completed once it’s covered by scissors sent from all over the world: “The essence of this sculpture lies in participation. I want to bring together the entire worldwide community of stylists!” Papito claims proudly. He has already received a lot of scissors from the USA, something “which is doubly important given what’s happened between our two countries. The barriers that separate us are gradually disappearing”.

The aim of our work is to highlight the cultural and humanitarian values of the world of hairstyling. On top of it being a business, hairdressers have their own important history, traditions and a real culture. Stylists are artists, many of them are musicians too, some of them write…” Papito concludes. The statue will be his own legacy, one that represents the supremely social, cultural and inclusive world vision that he has had from the start. All his vision needs now is for the world’s styling professionals to get on board, via his website: