Deirdre Novella opened Badlands back in March of 2012, and since then, she and the community have watched as the joint salon/barbershop has become a bonafide fixture in the neighborhood.
We met recently for coffee in the back of the shop– which has an uninitimidatingly hip ambience that aligns so clearly with its owner’s effortless style– and talked about the history of the business and how the first year has treated her.
“It’s gone really well,” she tells me. “Honestly, it went better than I thought it would. It took a while at first. The first four to six months were a steady build, but then over the holidays it really banged out.”
Now, months into the second year and with business booming, Badlands just may be working its way toward becoming a community institution– and understandably so. The shop came to life after Deirdre realized that a hybrid salon/barbershop could fill a glaring gap in the market– especially in Brooklyn– but Deirdre’s passion for hairstyling runs years deeper.
“I’ve always cut people’s hair, ever since I was a kid,” she says. “When I was in seventh grade, I got in trouble for cutting all my friends’ hair in the bathroom in school. I cut my seventh grade English teacher’s hair.”
But since Deirdre is also an accomplished artist, having worked for years as a professional painter, it wasn’t until her late twenties that she decided to finally focus entirely on hair. She received her cosmetology license in 2000 and proceeded to dive right into the Manhattan fashion scene, working with famed British stylist Guido Palau‘s New York team.
“I did that for about seven years,” Deirdre says. “I did hair and makeup for fashion shoots, editorials, stuff like that. And that was really fun, but I got kind of sick of it towards the end. I didn’t feel satisfied, basically. I really wanted to work one-on-one with people, and I didn’t want to work in this whole industry kind of grind. And I always wanted to have my own hair salon. It’s always been a dream of mine.”
Before settling that dream in New York, Deirdre jumped coasts to hone her cutting skills (“I had gone straight into styling, and cutting is totally different from styling,” she tells me) at a Vidal Sassoon apprenticeship in Los Angeles, followed by barbering training in West Hollywood. After a few years, though, the east coast started pulling her back.
“I was moving back to New York and all my friends who lived in Park Slope were like, ‘We still haven’t found anywhere good to go!’,” she says. “I wanted to open a salon so bad, and then I met someone who wanted to invest, and it all clicked into place.”
Deirdre chose Park Slope not just because she knows it well (she moved to the Slope back in 1991 and then spent some years moving throughout Brooklyn) but because it presents, in her words, “a really good cross-section of the demographic in Brooklyn.” Her goal was to create a space in which all members of that demographic would feel comfortable getting a cut, and so far it seems to be working as she’d hoped.
“I mean, it is a lot of more wealthy people [in Park Slope] these days,” she says. “But I still think it has a good cross section of people– gay, straight, artist, professional.”
She continues, “I see men and women, people who are transgendered, chicks with long hair or short hair, chicks who want buzz cuts. I feel like everyone feels comfortable here and that’s really what I want to do. A lot of women– when they go into standard barbershops, the men treat them weird or they don’t understand why they want a buzz cut. So I want them to feel comfortable here. And we totally have that.”
The community is responding well, with many people already establishing themselves as returning clients. It’s the kind of service people are excited to share, and referrals from happy customers to their friends and neighbors are keeping the clientele growing. (Full disclosure: a friend who lives on Fifth Avenue suggested Deirdre to me four months ago, and it’s a haircut that is still getting compliments.)
“I feel like people are happy!” Deirdre says. “I took a lot of pains to hire a really good staff, because I wanted everyone to be the best at what they do. So I do training, like barbering training, for everyone. A lot of my stylists are color specialists. Gaby, our master barber, can do edge-ups. She also does hot towel shaves.
“I just wanted the staff to be well-rounded in any haircut that came through the door.”
Clients are taking advantage of the ample skills, coming in with requests for really exciting and edgy cuts. But among such a wide variety of styles, is there a favorite cut that Deirdre prefers to do?
“I love doing fades,” she says. “I think that’s really fun. I love doing pixie cuts on women. I like doing long layers. But I think short haircuts are really fun, and I think they’re really coming back into style now, which is awesome.”
She points out Brittany Stigler, the gamine and always-friendly receptionist whose hair is, as Deirdre describes it, “like an updated high-top fade, big in the 80s.”
“Girls are coming in and seeing Brittany’s hair and they are just shaving their hair off. I like having people in here that have progressive hairstyles, because then people get ideas. It’s inspiring.”
Badlands offers cuts for men ($45), women ($70), and kids ($35). They also offer color treatments ($70-155), blow outs ($50), buzz cuts ($20), hot towel face shaves ($50), and beard/mustache/bang trims ($10). Cuts are also available by a junior stylist for men ($25) and women ($40).
They regularly update their blog and Facebook page with ongoing promotions. This summer, for example, they’ll be offering a 3-step deep conditioning Miracle Treatment by Davines for $25 (regularly $40). They’re also offering a Father’s Day special for the entire month of June, where dad’s cut is on the house if you book either father/son or father/daughter appointments.
“I’m still pinching myself, because I never thought I’d be able to have a salon,” Deirdre says. “It’s kind of a dream come true, and it’s going really, really well.”
Badlands is located at 87 Fifth Avenue (between Park and Prospect Places), open 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Call (718) 636-1300 for questions and appointments.