When you hear about this man by the name of Michael Angelo, owner of Michael Angelo’s Wonderland Beauty Parlor, you are sure that you will be intimidated just by meeting him. I mean, with the roster of clients he has and the magazines his work has graced the cover of, this man is a genius and a visionary. But, I won’t get into that, because, as he states below, he does not like compliments. In fact, he cannot really conceptualize compliments because he sees the greater picture. He appreciates the work that is done around him and knows that without that work, his would not be as complete.
Because of this, meeting him for the first, second, third time is as if you’ve known him for years. Michael is kind, he is modest while knowing he has talent, and he is incredibly genuine. I find it inspiring how the more people I meet at his level of success are accepting and excited to learn more and be more and, therefor, they are open to letting you in and to help you understand how they got to where they are.
Michael Angelo is not only an amazing hair cutter, colorist, stylist and makeup artist. He is also a beautiful photographer and has a heart of gold. He is extremely involved in an amazing charity called Somaly Mam Foundation– a nonprofit charity committed to ending human trafficking in North America and around the world. I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with him over a delicious breakfast at Zampa on West 13th st and just learn about who he is and what he does…
Julia: The design of Wonderland Beauty Parlor is phenomenal and has been featured in numerous top design magazines. I know that you used some inspiration from previous salons you have worked in. Tell me about the process of designing your amazing space?
Michael: The ideas that I took previously were more philosophical like what is this brand about, how do we train our staff, how do we deal with our customers. In terms of the design I went the opposite way. I said I don’t want to think about any salon I’ve ever seen in my life. We looked at boutique hotels, restaurants, residential interiors. I wanted it to look like no place we’ve ever seen before. I thought what the fuck is the point of opening just another hair salon.
Julia: What is your favorite design aspect of Wonderland?
Michael: That is so hard… I love our floor. I was on a beach in Brazil and the sand was so beautiful. Pink and gold, like flecks sparkling in the sand and I took a little sand home and called an industrial glitter manufacturer. I had them sending me glitter samples and I tried to match them up to sand grains and I made a beautiful blend of glitter that matched the sand and we sealed the floor with that. It is really understated. I also think that our neon sign with the flowers in back of it. I feel like it really embodies exactly what we are and what we are all about. They are not all one kind of flower, they don’t necessarily all go together, but they make sense because they are all flowers.
Julia: If you were able to get a huge billboard for Wonderland in Times Square, who would be your celebrity poster child?
Michael: Wow, without a budget? Oh Jesus H! One person, huh? Lara Stone immediately pops to mind. She is ridiculous. I think everything about her is so insanely hot. That would be the smart commercial answer. But, in my heart of hearts, what would I really want? Sophia Loren. Like Sophia Loren at the age she is at right now, looking fucking fabulous, eating a plate of spaghetti.
Julia: What is your nickname?
Michael: Mikey and my best friend and husband calls me “M”.
Julia: Where is your favorite place to relax in NYC?
Michael: The High Line. I love it there, I just walk. I don’t sit still well, so I like to just walk the High Line. I like to be able to see water, I find it very calming.
Julia: What first got you interested in the beauty industry?
Michael: My mother and grandmother. They are opposite sides of the beauty coin. My mother is very Indian earth and kohl eye liner, center parted hair, glossy lips with no color on them. My grandmother is like teased hair, penciled eye brows, red lips. Much more Italian style movie star and it was my father’s mother and my mother. Opposite sides of the families, opposite sides of beauty but both totally committed to it 24/7
Julia: What has kept you interested (in the beauty industry)?
Michael: Oh that’s interesting. It’s constantly evolving. Even from the time I started something as simple foundation has changed so much from when I went to beauty school till now. We were doing these Matte death masks on people and now it is so beautiful to find the sheerest coverage and just spot concealing here and there. I feel like it is a very quickly evolving field, you never get bored and while maybe the inspiration for the looks seem to be the same, like we will always look at that Bridget Bordot smokey eye or the Marilyn Monroe liquid liner, but the tools we have to use keep changing. On the hair side of things, the people keep me interested. There will always be people that transition out of your chair and always new people that transition in and it is really beautiful to kind of watch that evolve. Then there are other people that stay with you for a long time and you stay with them through losses and growths and weddings and babies and I really love that human aspect of it.
Julia: What is your absolute favorite magazine?
Michael: That’s a job interview question at Wonderland. I always think I could never answer that. My fashion glamor answer, I would have to say Numéro, but my deep dark secret answer, is National Geographic.
Julia: That’s not a deep dark secret, that’s an amazing magazine.
Michael: I am obsessed with that magazine. There is nothing more incredible than nature. I don’t care how many models there are with how much eye liner, give me a butterfly or a a tropical fish and I am a like a dummy.
Julia: Is there one beauty or hair story in a magazine that you remember that really inspired you?
Michael: Linda Evangelista. Cover of Allure, I think it was their first issue. She was on a green background. She was debuting that bright bright red hair, black liquid liner and beigy nude lip. It was so beautiful and iconic.
Julia: Do you find that you can still learn and be inspired from other hair stylists and colorists?
Michael: Oh hell yeah. I’m on the Shu Uemura hair team. I am the Atelier director. I never assisted, I never apprenticed, I took a pair of scissors to Barbie’s hair and started to figure it out. Working on the Shu Uemura Art of Hair team I am surrounded by people who are much more technically trained than I am. I have learned so much about hair cutting from them. Edris is my neighbor and she is also on the team. She did the fiercest bee hive backstage for something and I do a kick ass bee hive, but her bee hive was no joke. And now, because I worked next to her, my bee hive is better. So I think it is really important, we are a community and if we are not sharing with each other we are assholes. Because when we look good as an industry; we look good as an industry.
Julia: What is the greatest piece of advice you were ever given?
Michael: It changes at different points because at certain points of your life you need different pieces of advice and maybe personal vs professional. It is probably really cliché and I don’t even really know who I heard it from. But, the idea to be yourself, don’t try to be someone else. Don’t try to have someone else’s career because it will never work. You need to have your career and do what you believe in and people that belong in your circle will come to you. If you try to have someone else’s career, you may fall into some of the same circles and get some of the overflow, but it won’t last because it’s not genuine.
Julia: The greatest compliment?
Michael: That is so hard. I don’t take compliments well. I deflect them very quickly. I think what I do isn’t just about me. As a photographer it is about the model, the hair, the makeup, the light. As a hair dresser when I work people will say “Oh my God you did such an amazing job on her hair” and I will say “well, she has beautiful hair to begin with”…
However, I’m on a little bit of a high right now. My lipstick portrait of Leymah Gbowee has been getting so much attention because she just won the Nobel Peace Prize and I feel like that is so much bigger than a Vogue cover or an editorial in Numéro. I mean, it’s the Nobel Peace Prize, that changes lives. So, I might say that they’re decision to use my image could be the greatest compliment I ever got in my life. I can’t believe my name and the Nobel Peace Prize are even on the same page. I woke my husband up and was like “Oh my God, we won the Nobel Peace Prize” and he is like um, no Leymah won it.
Julia: You recently signed with Ford Artists? What do you love about them as an agency?
Michael: Ford is in an interesting transition space right now, they’re a big corporate empire so I think they were able to use their influence to bring Paul Rowland on as the head of the women’s board and so I would have to say being associated with Paul. My career in model beauty began with Paul Rowland. So, now to be associated with the agency that Paul Rowland is sort of the face of is sort of full circle. It feels so good to be with probably the person I respect most in the business. Just in terms of his vision.
Julia: Were you with an agency prior to Ford?
Julia: Did you always know you wanted to be signed?
Michael: It was a weird step because I always dealt with my own things and said yes and no to my own gigs. I knocked on a few doors during my career and they would say “yeah, your stuff is good, just go out and get some shots with some better girls and come back” and I was like “come on seriously, I’ve got amazing girls in my book.
The next step, I can’t do by myself” and I all but gave up on it. I thought I’ve got a great career by myself in the salon and people call me anyway, why do I need an agent? And then I got a phone call from Ford and they said they just saw my Daily Candy how to video and we think you’re really interesting would you be willing to come over and meet our agents? I was like “Oh my God, I got discovered”!
Julia: And this happened after you already obtained such a wonderful level of success
Michael: It is hard to register success level. I feel like I’ve been stumbling my whole career and hoping people would buy it. I think it’s important for people to know that everyone I’ve ever spoken to is like “Oh my God, I’ve been bullshitting for 60 years”. So, I’m glad to know that I’m not alone in that. And, actually 20 years into my career, every once in a while I go on set and think “I got this”
Julia: What makes you hire someone at your salon?
Michael: Je ne sais quoi. I want to be surrounded by people who inspire me. So, I look for their personal style, I look for their sensibility, for their influences. I do check them out technically, but that is the least of my concerns. I think I can help develop anyone’s technical skills, but I think your aesthetic sensibility is something that’s innate, I think it is developed by from the time you’re a child by how your parents decorate your house, to how your mom and dad dress for their jobs, to what your friends at school look like to your classes your taking as a preschooler even and I think all of that starts to color our sensibility. And it’s not something you can teach because it takes a lifetime to build.
Julia: Name a few people it has been an absolute pleasure to work with?
Michael: I love Brooklyn Decker so much. She is the nicest girl in the world. She’s so sweet, so down to Earth and thoughtful. The 2nd time I worked with her she came back in and asked “So, how’s your husband Scott?” And asked if he was still enjoying his theology program and you know how is your dog Bartleby and I realized, she is an active listener, she is a genuine person. I think she is a good friend. I really, really enjoy her company. Also, Elettra Wiedemann is wonderful. She is so charming, she is so smart, so colorful and quirky. I almost want to say she rebels against being Isabella Rossellini’s daughter by making sure that people don’t think that she has just been handed a beauty tiara to pass on. She is adamant that she is going to be respected for her intelligence, for her benevolence, for her kindness, for her being well raised. And, to add to that, I think her mother did a stellar job raising her.