An honest conversation with this local hair and beauty #powerpreneur on the serendipity of how her craft and career unfolded, and how she has built Twirl Salon.
I first met Lisa Weller a few months ago, even though I had heard her name for years. After our encounter, my soul just felt connected with hers. You can’t help but be drawn to her authenticity, her calmness and confidence, and the way she approaches everything in her life with conviction and steadiness. She is determined to be the best at what she does, and her perfectionism does not go unnoticed on any given day you happen to sit in her styling chair. Lisa launched her global career by working for the most famous hair stylist in the world, and she has professional relationships and friendships with those who are currently considered the most influential hair stylists in the world. She is a powerhouse: styling the world’s biggest supermodels for mega brands at every big fashion week around the globe. She’s driven by her art and her passion for making women realize their true inner beauty.
Lisa is one of the most humble women I have ever met, considering her litany of accolades in the hair and beauty world. I have come to know her fairly well over the past few months, as we have explored a friendship and partnership that began with an organic and truthful conversation back in September. Every time I sit in her chair, I learn more about her story. As I pull accomplishments out of her – one after another- I respect her and her art more and more. Watching Lisa work with my hair over the past few months has been equal to watching a sculptor create a masterpiece. Every pinch, ever snip, every stroke: intentional. And perfect. If you don’t know Lisa Weller yet, I am thrilled to introduce her to you, as her career and life have been such the perfect match for the title of this series.
What was your childhood like, and how did it influence your path to becoming a creative artist?
My childhood was kind of like a rollercoaster ride. It was feast or famine. I had a super creative father who is a brilliant mind: he was an investment banker, but he used his creativity on our finances. When it was feast, it was fabulous. In our early years my dad worked in New York City, so we were exposed to a lot more. And my mom always loved fancy things: dinners, diamonds, beautiful clothes…so I saw all of that.
But when it was famine, it was really bad. My mom was cleaning houses and we were using food stamps. We had to get really creative with how to keep the fabulous in our lives. I had to rely on my imagination a lot and that was a big source of creativity throughout my years. On my father’s side, my grandmother was an actual artist in San Francisco and had a gallery. I grew up with her art being all around me. I always was drawn to art.
What was the dream career you envisioned for yourself when you were in college at Texas A&M?
Honestly, I don’t think I envisioned anything. I went there because I chickened out on what I really wanted to do, which was move to San Francisco and work for my grandmother and go to art school. But by the time I was graduating from high school I had met a boy who was going to A&M and my brothers were at A&M…so, I got scared of leaving everything behind. I took the safe route and went there.
I had no idea that they didn’t offer art classes or art majors at the time. I didn’t do that kind of research. So I started looking through the majors and I had had a little bit of a background knowledge of nutrition from my mother because she was a health nut. And probably like every girl, at the time I was always searching for the solution to being “skinny.” I thought that if I was a nutrition major I would find out all the secrets. (Turns out there aren’t any real secrets, you have to exercise and watch what you’re putting into your body.)
So, then I was completely disillusioned with nutrition as a career and it just became a goal for me to graduate. I was taking a bunch of science courses for my major that just were totally out of my wheelhouse. However, they ended up playing an important role in how I understand the chemistry of hair and skin in my career today. But…I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.
At what point were you introduced to the thought of working with hair as a career?
My mom would say that when I was 6 years old I first showed an interest in working with hair. My cousins and I were playing one day, and I decided it would be a good idea to cut bangs in my hair and theirs. So I gave everyone a haircut. I remember my Aunt being furious…I didn’t understand what I had done wrong.
Fast forward to my early twenties: after I met and married my husband (who was my Chemistry tutor in college), his job moved us back to San Antonio. I ended up working at a Vitamin store stocking vitamins and I hated every minute of it. All I could think to do was to start creating things, because I could feel inside of me that I was good at something. I just didn’t know what.
During that time I wanted a Meg Ryan haircut (it was the 90’s) and I was given a terrible version of it. So I fixed it myself, and just somehow made it look exactly like her picture. Everyone was complimenting it. When my husband saw this, he encouraged me to quit my job and go to beauty school.
At what point in your study of hair did you know that it was your gift?
Right away – the first day. Because everything came so easily to me. After going to college and having to try SO hard to graduate with a degree in nutrition without a science mind, I went into beauty school with the mentality of knowing how to fight and I was hungry. I was an overachiever from the minute I walked in. If someone didn’t teach me what I wanted to know, I sought out the answer.
That’s how I ultimately ended up in my first job at Salon David here in San Antonio. He had a great training program and taught me so much (my assistant program at Twirl is modeled after his). He was the first person to take me to New York. He took me three weeks after I started, to my first class at Bumble and bumble. I left sobbing, knowing I had to live there…I had to work in New York, but I just didn’t know how.
What was it like to work for the most famous hairdresser in the world, Guido Palau?
Guido was the game changer for me. He was always the goal. I had a CD when I was in beauty school and it said, “if you want to be the best you have to work for Guido.” I did end up making it to New York to work- for 2 years. I came home feeling like I failed, and when I was back in San Antonio a friend of mine I worked with in New York was about to join Guido’s team and recommended me. All of a sudden the opportunity was there for me to work for him. So I would fly to New York, and then around the world to the biggest fashion weeks and be on his backstage hair team.
Working for Guido is incredibly hard. It’s the big leagues…like playing for the Yankees. The pace is intense, his expectations are impossible (which is what makes him the best). He is a genius and he has an amazing eye. He knows what he wants to see. If you’re not helping him get there, he’s frustrated and he’ll tell you (or fire you). I am so grateful for my time with him, because I am now able to see things in hair that I wasn’t able to see before I worked for him.
I met hairdressers from all over the world. On our team there were 4 Americans and the rest were from different countries. For the most part, I hadn’t seen the world yet either – it was working for Guido that shoved me out of my comfort zone and helped me see the world. Every single moment of every single day working for him, I thought to myself “am I going to get fired?” …for 6 years. I ended up leaving on my own terms when it was time for me to move on, and we’re still friends. As much as anyone can be considered a friend to him. That’s just who he is.
What was your favorite international fashion week show to work behind-the-scenes, and who were some of the models?
My first Louis Vuitton show during Paris Fashion Week – the finale of events – back when Marc Jacobs was in charge. They did the most incredible over-the-top theatrical show at the Louvre. We arrived at the Louvre at 2am to begin doing hair backstage. The models in that show were Naomi Campbell, Amber Valetta, Kate Moss (to name a few)…there was a big roster. It was one of the most magical experiences of my life. Also one of the most stressful, but that’s the energy of Paris Fashion Week.
The level of intensity that every single person brings to Fashion Week is extreme. Everybody (from custodians to designers) is acting like this is their moment to shine in life. Conversely, there is also the stress of being a part of these shows where the designers have laid everything on the line with their investors. It’s the highest amount of pressure because you get one shot to execute everything perfectly.
What was your motivation to open Twirl in 2008, and what has been your inspiration to bring the best of hair back to San Antonio?
I never wanted to own a salon. I didn’t want the stress of being the boss. But when I moved back from New York I tried to find a salon to work at, or at least somewhere where I could rent a chair. I just couldn’t find an environment that was the right fit for me. Then I figured out that the environment I wanted didn’t exist in San Antonio yet, so I had to create it. I just wanted a small private studio, and then it grew into what we are today: 13 employees, 7 stylists, and 3 apprentices (future stylists). I don’t want my girls to have to go to New York like I did, so I constantly travel and work around the world to bring things back here and teach them.
What are your main sources of inner strength?
My faith. I became a Christian when I was 19, even though I was raised around it. Faith wasn’t ever real to me until I had a life experience in which I began to personally question God. It was a time when I opened myself up to divine intervention, and it happened. Ever since then, I’ve had a very close personal relationship with God and a deep inner faith. That connectedness to something greater guides me in everything I do.
What excites you most about your plans for the future of Twirl Salon?
I always hold plans so loosely. They’re subject to change at any moment because I don’t know what the best roadmap is. But what excites me is learning from the past. I stay open, just do the best I can everyday, and make decisions about things that are right in front of me, using the lessons I’ve learned years prior. Which keeps opportunities always coming our way. We let things grow organically. I use everybody’s gifts and talents to make Twirl a better place everyday.
If you could have lunch with any woman in the world, (living or deceased) who would it be and why?
Jen Atkin. I actually know her already, but I don’t know if we are good enough friends for me to ask her to lunch. She was just recognized by the New York Times as the most influential hairstylist in the world. She is doing amazing things for our craft and the education of it, and I admire her so much for building an empire so young. All of these questions you’re asking me, I’d love to ask her.
Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison.