The pastel green walls of Salon Texture peek through the collection of license plates, pictures, signs, paintings and hand-knitted dresses. Wires hang from the ceiling and dangle flags and more trinkets. Stickers, postcards and iron-on patches cover the reception desk. A closer look reveals that every item has a duplicate, something Yuki Lee is “addicted” to when buying souvenirs.
Amidst the colorful tornado of knickknacks and jazz music is Lee in a whirlwind as she mans the entire hair salon. She cuts one person’s hair at a time, closing the door during each session so she can focus on each client. Lee, 51, has owned the salon, located at 520 Davis St., since 2007.
With some college students needing haircuts while away from home salons, signs promoting different salons adorn lampposts and buildings in downtown Evanston. But Lee lets her personality and clients speak for themselves.
“It’s 20% skill and 80% personality,” Lee said. “If they don’t get you, they won’t come back. You attract people who are like you, and you gravitate toward people who are like you.”
Lee’s salon is a gallery dedicated to her travels, and she said her clients understand her because they love to travel as well. One of her friends and former clients, Angela Torres, 56, said the first thing she noticed about the salon was its personalized decorations.
“I could tell immediately that she was an artist and very creative,” Torres said. “To me, someone who travels widely shows an openness to different people and perspectives, so it showed immediately in the way she worked, even in the way she cut my hair.”
Creativity and expression are important to Lee, which you can see through the salon and the colors and patterns that adorn her own clothes. She said her job is exciting because of the different people she encounters.
“You have to be creative,” Lee said. “You can’t just be bored and do the same thing over and over like mechanics. Every head is different, and I think everybody is different. Every personality is different.”
Lee specializes in curly haircuts. Torres said her first haircut with Lee was a “life-changing” transformation because her South Asian mother did not know how to manage her wavy hair. Torres said that when a person wants to change their hair, it reflects a desire for change in their life.
“Her work reflects breaking out of the mold, breaking out of what’s expected of you — how you should wear your hair or how it should be styled,” Torres said. “She has really embraced the constant reinvention of the self.”
For Lee, that personal acceptance meant leaving her job as a buyer in a department store over a decade ago and going to hair school. She said she wanted a job that allowed her the freedom to travel often.
Kurt Condra, 62, is another of Lee’s clients that has become a close friend. He and Lee were planning to go to New Orleans in February, which he said would be their first time traveling together.
The salon’s Instagram boasts the 73 countries and 40 states Lee has traveled to, including Hungary, Sweden and Australia. School of Communications first-year Ashton Melcher said he connected with Lee because she visited his hometown in Germany twice.
“Sometimes you go to get your hair cut and it feels very forced to talk to someone, but there was a natural progression with natural gaps too, which I liked,” Melcher said. “I didn’t feel like I had to talk all the time, which was cool.”
With the salon’s proximity to Northwestern, Lee said she gets some student clients, but it depends on the year. Weinberg first-year Olivia Kieffer said she found Lee because a friend recommended her, and said she was worried about finding a good place for curly haircuts in Evanston.
“I normally feel really uncomfortable talking to people at hair salons,” Kieffer said. “But I felt like she carried the conversation very well. She was talking about how [I should] get a remote job or not be so stern about a career because she wasn’t planning on being in the hair industry, and then it worked out for her.”
Lee’s personality is part of what she said keeps her clients coming back. She said her job is a “people business” and that she and her clients learn a lot from one another.
“Everybody has a story as soon as they open up,” Lee said. “Even that wood has a story, that nail has a story. So everybody has a story and it’s amazing when you let them talk, how smart they are and how amazing they are."
Thumbnail photo courtesy of Yuki Lee