A Cut Above

BIBA

For owner and founder Paul Divitaris, training the next wave of creative talent eagerly cutting and colouring out a future career for themselves is all in a day’s work. “Soccer, football and hair, they’re my favourite subjects,” he asserts. After migrating to Australia from Greece in 1961, Mr Divitaris worked as a barber before travelling to London in 1973 where he worked as a trainer in the prestigious Vidal Sassoon and Alan International salons. When Mr Divitaris later returned to Melbourne, he recognised a gap in the market for an innovative salon group and the BIBA Institution was born.

Redefining Trends

The hairdressing industry has changed tremendously over the decades BIBA has been operating. Mr Divitaris laughs at the thought of some of the cringe-worthy hairstyles of the past. His friendly demeanour and witty personality is refreshing and unpretentious. “When I started it was all beehives, a lot of frizzy perms, a lot of backcombing of course, doing highlights with the shower caps.” Blue rinses and having hair set in rollers was all the rage. Women used to come into BIBA salons minimum once a week for styling. “And they never washed their hair regularly,” recalls Mr Divitaris. “They washed their hair once a week, maximum.” In an effort to make a style last, some women even used to go two to three weeks between washing their hair. “It’s not very good for the hair.”

The expert hairdressing teams at BIBA can reinvent just about any style and give it a modern edge. Some customers are brave enough to try a Rihanna-inspired semi-mohawk. With androgynous shaved sides and a matte finish, the gritty urban style is enough to bring out the inner rebel in anyone.

The timeless bob cut offers the wearer a lot of freedom to express their individuality. A bob can be sexy or quirky, trendy or traditional; it has to be one of the most versatile hairstyles ever. “You can do it a little bit heavy, it can be quite classic,” says Mr Divitaris. With the right styling products and tools, a bob can be transformed in minutes. “There’s probably a thousand different versions of the bob. You can have it with heavy lines, with soft lines, you can layer it and texturise it. That is why it will never go out of fashion.”

For the autumn / winter season, Mr Divitaris predicts that hairstyles will be tousled and raw. “I think the new looks are a little more undone, a little more unfinished, perfect but imperfect in a way.” Polished, perfectly coiffed, high maintenance looks are out, and unkempt ‘bed head’ hair is in. The key to helping customers make this season’s hottest looks their own is to make the changes subtle, not startling, says Mr Divitaris. “I think cutting and colour both have to work hand in hand with each other.”

While customers certainly want to look trendy, they usually don’t want anything too drastic. Changing the fringe area is sometimes enough to give the wearer a fresh new look. “It’s not so much if you change your haircut, but where you change it from. Cutting small areas gives a bit more character to the whole look.” Fringes are another popular look this season that can be adapted to suit any age, face shape and hair type. “A fringe can bring the eyes out and add a whole different dimension to the face.”

Developing Creativity

The BIBA Institution challenges, recognises and rewards talented individuals at all levels of the business who have the right attitude to progress. BIBA individuals with outstanding talent and creativity are sent overseas, mainly to London, to learn from other organisations. “We pay for their fare; we pay for their course and their accommodation.” They receive two weeks off to broaden their horizons and enhance their skill sets, and the knowledge that they bring back to BIBA puts the institution at the cutting edge of international hair trends.

To assist the apprentices in developing their skills and thinking outside the box, they are encouraged to come and join in on photo shoots, presentations and industry competitions, which are challenging but always exciting. These events are fantastic opportunities for BIBA staff to showcase their range of skills under nail biting pressure. “We always encourage all of them, especially the younger people, to enter those competitions.” Entrants have to really push the limits and create hairstyles that will wow the judges against fierce competition. While BIBA has won many high profile industry awards over the years, Mr Divitaris believes that the greatest part about entering into competitions is “the pressure you put on yourself and the staff to perform.”

Motivating staff and letting them know that they are an important part of BIBA is a top priority. “If they have the right attitude they can join the creative team, progress into travelling overseas or interstate, and of course money comes into that but money is not the main priority as a rule. If they only do hairdressing for the money, it never works. They have to work from the heart.”

Salon stylists are the face of BIBA; they must be engaging and have loads of personality to create the right vibe for clients. “We try to make sure the environment that they work in is a happy, creative environment.” Attitude is everything to Mr Divitaris who never wants his staff to feel like the only reason they come to work is to be paid. “When my staff come in we sit down and have a coffee together, we have a chat, we have a joke before we start work.”

Style Oriented

To help people sculpt, spike and define their hair, BIBA has developed a select range of hair care and styling products. Salon customers can look forward to a new, natural range of BIBA hair products due for release early next year. Australian model Jessica Hart could potentially be the ambassador for the range, which is inspired by aromatherapy principles. Mr Divitaris has known Jessica, her mother Rae and sister Ashley for a long time. “She has commitments to finish before she does anything but we would like her to be the ambassador for the new products.”

When Mr Divitaris travels overseas for business, he likes to visit the young, trendy districts to see what hairstyles and looks are popular. “That’s where I get a lot of ideas, from the street looks, from the people and the way that they dress,” he explains. In January this year, Mr Divitaris was in Taipei, Taiwan where a former student of his is currently living and working. They visited many of the local salons to explore Taiwanese hairdressing and culture. The Taiwanese hair culture is unique, experimental and fashion forward, he says. “They spend so much money on their hair and their looks, it’s amazing!” Taiwanese youth are hooked on the latest fashions and hairstyles and according to Mr Divitaris, “some of them do it very well but some of them go a bit over the top.”

BIBA will hopefully be making bad hair days a thing of the past for Taiwanese customers soon. “I’m looking to set up in Taipei because I think the potential is amazing there, absolutely amazing,” explains Mr Divitaris. Taiwanese customers walk into the big name salons expecting to be pampered in luxurious surroundings. “You go in, they give you herbal tea, any sort you want, you sit down and it’s like a library. You can pick a book you want to read and sit there as long as you want even after you have your hair cut!” With a coffee shop out front, bubbling spas and a shoulder massage, getting a haircut becomes an experience. “All that connection with the client is so important.”

Expanding BIBA into Sydney has been a possibility for some time although choosing precisely the right location is a crucial piece of the puzzle. “In Taipei, my ex student there, who is a very good hairdresser, would be the ideal candidate to run a school because education is very important in those areas.”

Indeed, Mr Divitaris is passionate about sharing his considerable knowledge with the next generation of BIBA graduates and these days he spends most of his time teaching students. The day he stops learning about hairdressing will be the day he stops working. “I’d like to thank everybody who has ever visited BIBA and I’d like to say that if they have any queries about their hair or anything at all, they’re very welcome to ring us to check it out.”

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July 19, 2018, 7:48 PM AEST