A conversation about Fashion, Hair History and living in Milan with Dario Caruso, Milan hairdresser
We are so used to seeing the faces of fashion that we rarely consider the people behind the scenes making it all happen. One of these people is Dario Caruso, world renowned hair stylist and owner of the CarusoPortaRomana131 salon, hair historian for La Scala Opera House and educator at the Aveda Academy.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Caruso over a cup of tea and chat about fashion, hair history and living in Milan
You must work for what you want
Caruso came from a modest, working class family in Sicily. Already at a young age he knew that his path would be hair styling. “When I was a child I was always interested in this industry, always fascinated.” Starting at a barber shop in his hometown, at the age of 13, he then went on to study hairdressing learning the skills of professional styling.
At the age of 18, he left the beautiful paradise island of Sicily to pursue his dream in London. He worked in a salon while continuing his studies at a top hair academy. The struggles of working to pay for tuition and rent were invaluable experiences that he brings forth in his business and teaching today.
“Very hard work taught me a lesson. I learned very early you must work for what you want. I know what it’s like. Even now, when I teach or work with colleagues – I know who is working hard and who is not. I know how it feels to be on the other side and I try to be more understanding. I was lucky, I always knew I wanted to do this job. It’s a difficult job, some people need extra encouragement and insight. I try to give that.”
His wise advice to youth choosing a career is, “Ask yourself: Would you work anyway, even if they didn’t pay you?” He adds, “I love my job, I never feel forced. Your job should make you happy. If you have passion it will never feel like a job. I believe this is how you become successful in life.”
From London, he often returned to Italy working backstage at Milan Fashion Week with Aldo Coppola, Italian hairdressing maestro. This opened the door to other opportunities and soon Caruso was commuting between London, Paris, Madrid and Milan for fashion shows and photo-shoots until later establishing Milan as his base.
Learning is an on-going pursuit
Learning has always been an on-going pursuit for Dario Caruso. In 2006 he temporarily moved to Milan to study Historical Hairdressing at the La Scala Academy. Working with costume stylists, the historical hairdressers craft historically accurate looks to best represent each character in a theatrical production.
He explains, “A lot of people don’t know that hairstyles were the original status symbol. For example, in the 17th century when they wore wigs, the more curls and loops on a wig indicated higher social status and wealth. The same applied to soldiers – soldiers of different rank would have different haircuts.”
Running a business: “I want to go home and feel proud of what I did that day.”
Caruso permanently relocated to Milan in 2008 and opened a salon, but the partnership quickly dissolved over a difference of philosophy. He explains, “I quickly realized that we had different ideas. My partners were only interested in the business, I wanted to make people feel at home. Still today, it’s my goal to make other people feel good about themselves. I want to go home and feel proud of what I did that day. Of course, money is important to run a business, but seeing money in my pocket doesn’t give me the same satisfaction as seeing a happy customer.”
He joined the Aveda Academy as an educator teaching both in Italy and abroad. Aveda is natural, ethical and sustainable and was the perfect product line for his new boutique, Caruso PortaRomana131.
Aveda products are unique in that treatments can be customized for every client. All colors and pigments can be mixed for each individual. Each client gets a unique formula – no one has the same color.
Before starting to work on a client, Caruso spends time on giving each client a personalized consultation. A consultation can take anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes. “The most important thing,” he says, “is listen to the client. Around 90% of problems people have with hairdressers is because the hairdresser didn’t listen to the needs of the client.” He adds, “The most successful hairstyle is one that the client can do themselves; fast, easy and always looks good. Today people don’t have a lot of time to spend on styling, I think the best thing that a hairdresser can do for their client is to give them the gift of time.”
Italians were more conservative and classic, but things are changing
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When I asked him what the biggest difference about coming back to Milan was, Caruso replies, “The British were more experimental with hair, whereas Italians were more conservative and classic, but things are changing. Social media is showing us a world of new ideas and people are more open to trying new styles.” He adds, “Social media is not always good – it pushes people to follow trends, not every trend is good for everyone. It’s good to use social media as inspiration, but then ultimately to express your own personality. I want each of my clients to be unique.”
Milan, a creative and international city
We talked about living in Milan and how it has become more and more metropolitan, especially after the Expo. He comments, “Yes, and our clientele is very international, we cater to all types of hair. Different ethnicities and even mixed ethnicities have different hair textures and tones. You can’t treat all hair the same.” The staff at Caruso PortaRomana131 themselves come from various countries speaking English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian, Arabic, and Italian.
I asked him about his favorite things in Milan, “I absolutely loved living abroad but now I feel very much at home in Milan. I love the opportunity of living in a creative city. I love the museums. I love art, as a painter myself I find inspiration everywhere. One of my favorite things to do is set up an easel in Giardini Montanelli near the Natural History Museum and peacefully paint in the park. The parks in Milan are beautiful.”
The best gift is a nice meal
Before leaving, I tried to get some insider information. I thought he’d have an idea of where I could get some authentic Sicilian cooking in Milan, “When I go out I love international cuisine – Thailandese, Indian or now and again a traditional Italian meal but I haven’t found a restaurant where they can cook Sicilian food like the women in my family! I cook, I love preparing a meal at home. I think the best gift to a friend is a nice meal.”
It’s all about hair
In addition to running the salon, working backstage at MFW runways and La Scala productions, Caruso is also an advice columnist answering beauty questions for several publications. And in February, Caruso will be a judge at the international hairdressing competition Aveda Master Jam 2020, Tokyo, Japan.
Hairdressing is not just Dario Caruso’s job. It defines him, and most of all, it is what makes him happy.
CarusoPortaRomana131 Hair Salon
Corso di Porta Romana 131
20122 Milano (MI)
Photos courtesy Dario Caruso