The Fortino sisters, Rachel and Vanessa, have hair in their blood.
Their grandfather was a barber, their father and uncles were hairdressers and are pioneers in the hair industry. They basically grew up in a salon.
I recently interviewed Rachel and Vanessa about their life, career and passion for hair. Here is my interview with Vanessa.
Meeting Vanessa Fortino was an awakening.
I instantly fell in love with her. She’s one of those people that you eventually love, no matter what. She will win you over with her passion for everything and anything.
She’s not easily understood, but once you get her, you can’t get enough. Never a dull moment when she’s around. She takes any situation and makes it more fun.
She loves her family as all Fortino’s do. She has a fire in her that many artists have, but I mean artists that are usually very famous and successful. She’s got a personality that makes you want to listen to her, because her voice is spoken with that passion in it.
She’s one the best stylists that I’ve ever met and she still doesn’t even know it yet. I think that her strength and will is something that we all need, to bring us over those bumps in the road at certain times in our lives. I know that we haven’t even begun to see her true talent.
Vanessa never change and keep that fire burning. Just listen to Rachel when she tells you to do something and keep living young, wild and free.
Hair Stylist, Salon Alessandro
Barber, Axe & Hatchet | grooming club
Growing up, who inspired you to become a hairstylist and did you have a mentor?
Well initially it was my dad. In the beginning I didn’t want to be a hairdresser at all. I wanted to do my own thing, After having gone to hair shows my whole life, I went to a particular one with my sister and dad and saw him in a different light. I wasn’t pushed into it – me being the type of person I am – I probably wouldn’t love it if I was. I really just fell into it.
My sister basically became my mentor right off the bat. She showed me what it took to be a hairdresser, what kind of career you could have and all the fun things that go with it.
They both showed me it takes dedication and a lot of work in order to be successful.
Now I work with my sister and dad one day a week at the salon and the rest of the week I work at a barber shop in Toronto. Recencently I’ve been able to be mentored by Daniel Di Tomasso and I can’t thank him enough for the amount that I have grown as an artist after working with him.
How do you find the difference in the vibe working at the salon and the barber shop?
It’s the complete opposite. It’s so different. Especially because men and women are so different – men tend to be last minute – women tend to book appointments. You can walk into the barber shop in the morning and not have a full schedule, but it can end up being the busiest day . I’m the type of person that likes to stay busy , so at that end of the day when I know I’ve brought in a lot of clients, it’s good. But, it’s the fear of the unknown and uncertainty that can be challenging.
There are pros and cons – I am glad that I have been given the opportunity to do both.
Where did you study?
Like my sister, I went to Niagara College. Both my uncle and father were my teachers.
How was that? Lol!
It was hard. They were both tough – my father was a bit tougher. I had to do everything. I had to the orders for the school, I had to make sure everything was clean at the end of the day; I was the first in and the last one gone. I couldn’t miss any days. It definitely was difficult but I couldn’t picture myself learning from anyone else.
One hair tip everyone should know –for men or women.
I have so many, but I feel like everyone knows them now with social media. I would say for men – always use some type of oil on your beard after shampooing to keep it feeling nice and clean. If you have do have a beard, you should have it groomed no matter what. If you’re going to have one – make sure it looks nice or please don’t bother at all .
It’s definitely been a trend in the last couple of years, there has been a trend where men are taking better care of themselves and wanting to look good. We even have a Holt Renfrew just for men. There are barber shops and grooming clubs all over Toronto now. There is a transition taking place.
What are your favorite hair products at the moment?
I love Sebastian Professional. I eat, breathe, sleep Sebastian. I stand by their products – I love every product and I really relate to their education and their collections. It’s interesting – because in the beginning – I wasn’t really like that with hair. I liked sleek and smooth looks. Sebastian is the complete opposite. More edgy and textured looks And that is who I kind of am as a person so I’m glad I am able to perform that way with hair.
If you had to pick, what is your signature cut or technique?
I would say I am the queen of blow dries. I’m definitely the blow out queen at my salon. It’s not really something that I would say I love doing – I really love doing color and cuts as well but I just understand blow drying and it’s made me be better at colouring and cutting.
When I lived in Toronto a few years back – I couldn’t find a salon that I loved, so worked for a blow dry bar. I was banging out blow dries, day in – day out. So when I came home, I carried it with me. It made me a better hairdresser, because I understand the shape of the head better. I understand how the hair is going to fall.
I feel that when you leave a salon, you should feel different then when you’re doing your hair yourself. If my client can do her hair better than me, I’m not doing my job.
Do you have any hair pet peeves?
It bothers me when people are constantly moving when you are trying to color and cut their hair. When you’re doing hair everything is subtle – every move matters.
Hair is like art for us – a canvass doesn’t move – you move. It is very hard, as an artist, to have to refocus yourself, especially when you’re in the middle of a breakthrough.
Or when you’re finished a shampooing and men have a tendency to put their head forward and the water drips down their face. Those are probably the worst for me.
Any tricks of the trade you want to share?
I think that in our craft education is the number one thing. And, if you’re not learning something new every day, even if you are a professional, then you aren’t doing your job. That is one of the biggest things I learned when I left the six week comprehensive course at the Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica. I had anxiety the whole time because I didn’t think I was going to take in as much as I could. when I left there I realized that It was impossible to learn everything because education is constantly evolving and so are the expectations I have for myself. I try to take courses as much as I can even if it’s just a day class.
How do you see the hairdressing industry today?
I’m not sure if it’s social media or just the world we live in now, but we are so lucky because our industry is not just seen as a trade anymore. It has blown up so much. It’s so cool to see so many professional stylists who are really making a name for our industry.
What inspires you as a stylist?
Everything! Right now the media – how connected everyone is. I think that our industry is one big happy family right now, and I am really proud of that and it keeps me inspired every day. When I go on social media all I see is hair blogs snd hair inspiration. I feel people are more inspired to share their work – that kind of gets me going as a stylist and inspires me to do something big.
Even for fashion week – you’re seeing the names of the stylists for the runway shows not just the fashion designers. I follow all the star stylist now on social media – I want to see how they’re banging out that hair.
And even though I’m not a big fan of pictures – because sometimes I think people like the face more than the hair or don’t understand what it will take to get that look – they help me understand what a client wants. It helps me connect with them – and that is one of the hardest things to do between a stylist and client.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
I entered the Sebastian Professional What’s Next Awards. I will probably competing at the Allied Beauty Association competition in Toronto this January – I haven’t decided which categories I am going to enter. Then I will be entering the Wella Trend Vision competition again. Also I am hoping to get some entries in for the Mirror Awards – I just need time to put it together.
I love what I do. I am very happy to have found what I love. It’s makes it easier to get up in the morning. It has been a really exciting past couple of years.
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