Sitting in a hair stylist’s chair is an act of trust. In putting ourselves in their hands, we’re trusting them to give us a look that not only works with our hair type and lifestyle but makes us feel like who we think we are. That’s actually a lot to ask of someone, but a really great stylist is up to the challenge, says Jené Yelina, who styles hair locally out of Suite 124 Salon on Main Street in New Paltz.
Being a good listener is one of the things that makes a great stylist, she says. “And the most significant act of listening is during the initial consultation, before their service begins. It’s imperative that your expectations are both on the same page.”
Other traits Yelina cites as crucial to the profession are being creative and visual and staying on top of the latest trends without being a slave to fashion. “The stylist has to have the skill to integrate trends into our clients’ styles, but at the same time, your own elevated taste and killer eye for design should let you set trends of your own.”
Great stylists are honest, because “clients have high expectations. If a person wants a look that you think won’t work for them due to the cut or color or their lifestyle simply doesn’t allow it, you must be able to tactfully let them know other ideas that would better enhance their personal features.”
Other necessary attributes include technical skill and manual dexterity, committing to learning multiple techniques and “staying hungry for more education and training. You’re an artist and your client’s hair is your canvas!”
Yelina has been a licensed hairstylist for more than 15 years. Influenced by many different styles and eras, she says she’s known for her “eclectic vision and precise yet offbeat artistry.”
Her “gypsy soul” has taken her to live and work in Europe, Asia, Dubai and Central and South America, working with Bollywood actresses in India and learning hair-wrapping and braiding in Brazil.
Her celebrity clientele has included “Fergie” (the Duchess of York), Scarlett Johansson, Bollywood actress Netanya Singh and singer-songwriter David Gahan, but she says there’s really no difference between working with the famous and her day-to-day clientele. “I make sure all my clients leave feeling and looking like a million bucks. I do, however, feel it is the quality of your work that will attract high-end clients; it’s the small attention to details that they notice.”
The “love and art of hair” has always been a part of her life, Yelina says, having grown up around the family’s now-defunct Walden hair salon. “My mom, Joann Yancewicz, and my aunt, Karen Smit, owned Total E-Clips on Main Street for 25 years. Being in a salon was natural for me before I even realized I wanted to do it professionally.”
Her family moved to New Paltz when she was 14 years old. After studying illustration and graphic design in college, Yelina moved to New York City, where she graduated from the Carsten Institute of Cosmetology. Living in the city since then, she recently relocated back to New Paltz with her family to raise her two-year-old son.
Yelina utilizes a lot of different cutting methods, from French, Sassoon, British and razor cuts to the Sahag dry cut and dry cut sculpting. “I incorporate a little bit of each technique into my cuts to create my own personal style.”
Her signature style is the French cutting method, especially appropriate for curly hair. “If you’re a client of mine, you’ve definitely heard me mention ‘French cutting’ or I’ve asked you to stand up so I can start your cut. French haircutting embraces the hair’s natural movement and allows ease of styling. The haircut is sculpted in direct correlation to the individual’s bone structure and is more freestyle in nature, with the finishing cutwork performed after the hair is dried to emphasize movement and texture. One thing in particular you’ll notice is that the stylist’s feet, body, arms and hands all move in the same line of angle that the hair is being cut, almost as in a choreographed dance, where their body becomes one with the hair.”
Wig-styling is another niche for Yelina. Wigs have to be washed, cut and styled just like hair growing on one’s head, she notes, and those who wear them do so for a multitude of reasons, from thinning hair, hair loss from illness or the sheitel wigs worn by Orthodox Jewish married women to conform with Jewish law to cover their hair.
Yelina spent nine months in India — traveling alone, with just a backpack — to learn about hair extensions and wigs. “India is the world’s leading source of 100 percent real human hair extensions and wigs,” she says. “I wanted to be at the source and see how it all went down. I went to the temples, I went to salons, I learned their way of things and I brought all that experience and education back with me to New York. I wanted to live it and feel it, so that would make specializing in wigs and hair extensions that much more incredible and memorable for my clientele.”
When asked what she finds most challenging about the industry, Yelina says it’s the need to be friendly and patient with all types of customers that walk through the door, even the difficult ones. “Lucky for me, this comes easy for me because I’m passionate about my job and I love what I do. And you’re probably in the wrong business if you don’t like to talk to people.”
The changes she’s seen in her line of work over the years include the abundance of hair tools and products available now and the information and education easily available. “And social media has completely revolutionized the way we perceive and interact with the world. There’s more insight on what’s good and not good for your hair, so clients expect ultimate care and advice. But just because someone watches a hair tutorial online a couple of times doesn’t make you a great stylist. It takes years to master your trade and bring it all together.”
On the horizon, Yelina says she’ll “continue pursuing other world cultures as each moment presents itself. I love what I do, so I feel that I never work a day in my life. Love is in the hair!”
Yelina can be found on Instagram at “styledbyjenaé,” on Facebook as “NYC Hair Artist Jené Yelina.” Call (347) 237-7705 for an appointment at Suite 124 in New Paltz.