> What's the Story?
> Mrs. Fixit
> Desperately Seeking Ingredients...
> Passionate about Mill Road
> Caribbean Masterchef
> Everything is Possible!
> A Sanctuary on Mill Road
> Boat People
> Going Green with Al-Amin
> The Akashi Project
> Open All Hours
> Mesmerised by Meze
> Come Together
> The Girl from Arapau
> Still Sweet and Spicy
> A Real Neighourhood
> Lei Si Fan Mei?
> Flight from Baghdad
> Streets of Revolution
> Stepping up the Ladder
|Everything is possible!
Piero di Angelico came to Cambridge 19 years ago from a tiny village in Italy’s south-eastern region of Puglia. He met his Mexican wife Gabriela here in Cambridge and together they set up Vitruvian Man, one of the city’s leading hairdressing and beauty salons. He tells Untold Stories about a typical day in his life.
“My day starts at7:30 when Baby Isabel wakes up. Gabriela gets up and sees to her and I stay in bed a little longer listening to Q103 to catch up with what’s going on in the world. Breakfast is Italian for me: coffee and biscotti. Gabriela has a totally tropical healthy breakfast, fruit and yoghurt, but she’s working on me.
I drop four-year-old Maya off at the Anglia Ruskin Nursery and on the days Gabriela is coming to the salon, we’ll drop Isabel off, too. Wang Dan will have opened up already. She’s has been with Vitruvian Man from the word go. I check my appointment book and see that from 9:00 to 6:00 I am usually solidly booked, various cuts, a complete restyle, two wet shaves and hair sculpting. However you plan your day, something unexpected always crops up. The other day Gabriela had to take Isabel to the doctor so I had to pick Maya up from nursery, so all my appointments got pushed back. A good percentage of the clients are friends, so they are pretty understanding. I tell them even if I stay here till 7:30 I’ll fit them in somehow. It’s give and take, you know. I don’t like the word stress. It’s my work and I love doing it. I’ve been really lucky with staff. Wang Dan came from China to study English and ended up studying hairdressing. She was so keen she offered to be the cleaner! I saw she had real potential and trained her up. The same with Antonio from the Canaries; he was a trained hairdresser but the problem was he didn’t speak English. There’s Ieva from Lithuania who does nail and beauty treatments, Rob, Nick, and our latest addition Mark who does massage. When one of my staff has an idea, I always say ‘Let me see what I can do.’ Gabriela gets worried when she hears that! She says my inability to say no is my biggest weakness.
But I remember what it was like when I first came to Britain. I was 17, didn’t speak much English and people took advantage. I don’t want that to happen to others.
|"To be honest with you, I didn’t get a good impression of Mill Road, But now I’m absolutely in love with Mill Road. It’s the kind of street where anything can happen, where everything you want you can have!"
The day really starts when the first client comes through the door about 9:00. On the three mornings Gabriela comes in, she goes down to her office which is literally a broom cupboard in the basement. From there she manages all the accounts and all the paperwork I hate. I always had a vision of this salon looking just as it does now: white walls, calming lighting, high quality furnishings, even the life size drawing of the Vitruvian man in the circle on the back wall. I did it myself based on Leonardo da Vinci’s perfectly proportioned man. You see, Vitruvian Man is all about aesthetic perfection, and the salon had to reflect that. But these premises were a total wreck when we first leased them. Downstairs there was just rubbish. Piles of it. We filled twelve skips! When Gabriela first walked into the place she just cried and said, ‘Piero, what have we taken on!’
But once I’d signed the lease, there was no going back, I had to make the vision happen. Now, downstairs is a state of the art tan-spraying room and a massage and nail suite.
Lunch is a panini on the go if I’m lucky. Sometimes I only manage to eat something at four o’clock. People ask us how a husband and wife manage to work together and bring up two infants. When we took this place on, Gabriela and I sat down and made a promise to each other: we’d have to work as a team to make it happen or we could lose everything, our business and our marriage.
So she agreed to take on the kids entirely, be mother and father to them for 10 months as well as supervise the builders in the day. I’d be cutting hair at my old salon, Piero’s Hairdressing Studio, and she’d call and say, ‘The plumber has found another leak’ or ‘the electricians say the wiring has to be redone’. In the evening I’d come to the new salon to take over with the builders. I was a hairdresser by day and a builder by night. I’d get back home exhausted at one or two in the morning when the kids had already gone to bed. It was really tough not seeing them, the saddest thing.
The best thing about my work? It’s got to be the clients. I love to put a smile on someone’s face and see them leave looking and feeling better. I see this work as much more than cutting hair, there’s a psychological side to it too. It’s as much about making people feel good. When my clients come in and sit in the chair, they relax. Sometimes they’re so relaxed they nod off! I might start by asking them if they have the day off, something like that. And people open up to you, some want to tell you about what’s going on in their life. They want to be listened to. A lot of men come in for a wet shave, it’s the most popular thing. For 15 quid they get a complete face massage, the hot towel treatment, a precision shave with an old fashioned razor, basically, attention and a half hour’s complete relaxation. I was shaving an Israeli guy and I noticed this deep scar in his scalp. It turned out he’d been shot by the police when he was attending a peaceful demonstration. They were aiming at someone behind him and he’d raised his head and the bullet grazed him. A fraction of a millimetre more and he wouldn’t have been sitting in my chair! That was quite unusual. Most often it’s the same story I hear. The most common thing is divorce and break ups. You’d be surprised. Policemen, teachers, builders, doctors, everyone has their heart aches… If you ask ‘How are you doing?’ the client will often open up and say, ‘Well, I’m going through a rough time, actually’. I feel they need someone to hear them, so I do their hair and listen.
I try not to give advice. But once one of my regulars came in and told me he was about to get married. ‘Don’t do it, mate’ I teased. ‘Once you say “I do” you won’t have any freedom.’ I was just joking, winding him up, you know? But he was back in my chair a year later: ‘You were right, Piero. I should’ve taken your advice…’
When I was nine or ten in Italy, I always hung round the barber’s shop next to my house. I think the old barber looked on me as his little mascot. Later he took me on as an apprentice, that’s how I started. But he had me doing 20 or 30 wet shaves a day! That can be very repetitive work, especially around festival time when all the village men came in for their haircut and wet shave!
He always told me, ‘Remember, Piero, barbers are important in society’. Clients would come into the little salon and they’d offer the barber a coffee or a drink, sometimes they’d send out to the bar and buy a round for all the clients waiting for a trim. We’re like that in Italy. Because I was only a kid, they always bought me ice cream. I spent the best of my childhood in that little barber shop.
Since we set up Vitruvian Man on Mill Road we’re more visible. I’ve just been asked to teach hair sculpting in London for a day. I use the scalp as a canvas and create pretty much any design the client wants. It was the British lion during the Olympic Games and a Brazilian flag for a Formula One driver.
A biological company on the Science Park has just asked us to put together an entire day for all their top executives: we’ll give them Thai and Indian head massage, manicures and of course wet shaves for the men. It’s a great way for a company to reward hard working staff. The execs go back to the office refreshed - and work even harder for the company. So everyone wins.
It’s funny, but I ended up in Britain because I didn’t want to do military service in Italy. I wasn’t planning on staying here. At first, I cut hair at brother Peppy’s on East Road. To be honest with you, I didn’t get a good impression of Mill Road, I thought it looked a bit run down, not a place I wanted my salon. I was thinking more upmarket city centre. But now I’m absolutely in love with Mill Road. It’s the kind of street where anything can happen, where everything you want you can have! People are like, ‘No problem, mate’. I know all the shop owners, in fact many of them are my clients. I’d never move the salon now. This is really the place to be. It was here I first met people from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. I’d always been curious about religions, particularly Islam, so I was fascinated to find out more.
|"I remember what it was like when I first came to Brita in. I was 17, didn’t speak much English and people took advantage. I don’t want that to happen to others."
I met an Iranian girl here and actually ended up marrying her in the mosque. My Islamic name is Rashid. Unfortunately the marriage didn’t work out and we separated. But Muslims in Cambridge really took me to their hearts and were really supportive. They still call me ‘brother’. I think all religions essentially worship the same god.
In the evening I just flake out on the sofa in front of the TV. We have satellite so I watch French, Spanish and Italian channels as well. I’ll watch anything: quiz shows, soaps, even cartoons. It’s my way of disconnecting from reality. I should get exercise but at the moment when I come home I just want to spend more time with the girls. When the evenings get lighter I’m going to start running again, I used to run a lot. Gabriela makes sure I get at least one good meal in the evening, I’ll eat everything but I love a steak with a glass of Chianti. When I was younger I was always in pubs and clubs, but now I don’t need to socialise like that, I’m socialising all day with my clients! When I go home all I want is my little space with my little family. That’s what’s most precious to me.
When my head hits the pillow around 1am, I’m already thinking about the future. Not just the next day, further on. For example I haven’t completely realised the vision I have for this place. I want to expand Vitruvian Man and introduce services like aromatherapy, acupuncture, so it’s a well-being centre. I’ve only realised half the project. I want a centre where a person comes in and they can get all the services. I’m always open to new ideas. For instance, Wang Dan has an idea for hair regrowth called “hair breeder” which uses principles derived from ancient acupuncture. A mild charge of static electricity stimulates the nervous system, unclogs the hair follicles and assists cell generation. If it works, it could be huge. I always think anything and everything is possible. So, I’ve told her ‘I’ll see what we can do…’
Piero’s motto is everything is possible. It was the same when we got married. I’m Catholic and one day I just said ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Pope (John Paul II ) could bless our marriage in the Vatican!’ Don’t ask me how but he made that happen too! And I have the photos to prove it…
Piero is the kind of person, if he wants something he’ll get it. Without being pushy. For example, our daughter Maya has been immersed in the world of fairy tales and princesses since she was two. She decided she was Princess Maya who lives in the Kingdom of Cromwell Road! One day Piero heard on the local radio that the Queen was visiting Cambridge. So he said, ‘Why don’t I take our Princess Maya to see the Queen?’ I was pregnant with Isabel and had an appointment with the midwife so Piero was looking after Maya that day.
They stood waiting in the crowd outside the Fitzwilliam museum. When the Queen came along she must have spotted Maya in her princess outfit, because she came straight over to them. ‘What’s your name?’ she asked.
‘I’m Princess Maya’, she replies straight off.
‘Do you know who I am?’ the Queen asked.
‘Yes. Queen Elizabeth.’
‘Well it was nice meeting you, Princess Maya. I have to go now.’
‘Adios’, said Maya in Spanish.
‘Adios!’ replied the Queen.
As the royal limousine rolled past, the Queen said something to her driver. The car stopped and the Queen waved at Princess Maya. We hope it hasn’t gone to her head!
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