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New York Called DEE

As most of you know, this blog is meant to showcase the talents of people that have moved to New York City from elsewhere. From designers to artists to stylists, people express their creativity in different ways. I was very excited to meet Dee (through make-up artist Porsche Cooper who I featured here) and learn more about the creative process of a hairstylist living in New York City. He has a fascinating story and a wonderful perspective on life.Dee was born in Italy but spent the majority of his childhood and teen years in Germany where his family moved when he was young. He lived in a very small town and would commute to the next largest city for school everyday. At age 14 he would procrastinate his return home by spending time at the local hair salon. A picture of Dee braiding his sister's hair at age 5 is proof of his passion. He would go to the salon and the owner would dye his hair pink or black, or whatever Dee envisioned. Meanwhile, Dee would do his homework there and eventually became employed."The owner saw something in me and one day he decided to show me how to do a blowout and style. By 15 I was coloring and cutting and uncovering my love of hair," said Dee. Dee continued working at the salon until he graduated from school. The same innate sense of curiosity that kept himfrom going home after school, urged him to move to Berlin. At 18 he picked up and moved landing and completing an apprenticeship. He attended Wella Institute and officially became a color specialist. At this point Dee's residency in Berlin had run it's course and he was ready for something new."When I was nine I saw this movie--Daylight with Sylvester Stallone. The whole time I was so in awe of the NYC skyline. My friend and I had these pencil cases and wrote on them that at age 19 we would move to New York," said Dee. He made the move at age 20, a year overdue according to his pencil case. As he said, "I think that if you put your dreams out there you write your own destiny. That is what I love about New York City."And although he is in love with the city now, it wasn't a seamless adjustment. "My advice to people who want to move to New York is to not be afraid if you hit rock bottom first," said Dee. Upon his arrival he was enamored with the "American dream" but he quickly realized not everything automatically falls into place. Dee found a job at a salon on the east side and instantly faced insecurities. Clients would look at his hair and the little makeup he wore and say, "I don't like the way you look and I don't want you to do my hair." Dee stopped enjoying the thing he had previously loved the most: styling hair. "People would tell me I didn't look appropriate and I thought to myself 'They must know because theyve lived in New York a while.' So I shaved my head and I changed my clothes," said Dee. It was clear to him that people didn't feel comfortable with him being who he was."Finally I had to tell myself 'I am a hair stylist--that's what I do,'" said Dee. He found a new salon on the upper West side, moved into a new apartment at 110 and Lexington, and found strength to go out and meet amazing people by himself. He landed a job styling hair for a spread in a certain print publication and from there met more and more people through recommendations and word of mouth. Not only was he networking but he was making friends. "The people I surrounded myself with showed me how you can really live and how you can really be proud of yourself," Dee said.One friend inadvertently opened up Dee's career path with many opportunities. One night he was encouraged to go to this drag performance. He walked in and witnessed the well known drag queen, Harmonica Sunbeam. He literally started crying. "It was a moment that brought me back to a time in Germany when I watched the movie Honey with friends. Harmonica was in the movie and she was the first gay thing I had ever seen," said Dee. He assumed Harmonica thought he was crazy when he walked up to her that night of the performance and introduced himself, but since then the two have become friends. Now, in addition to his work at the salon, Dee styles hair for drag queens, along with hair for film, music videos, editorials, etc. He also started a partnership and business with Deja, a makeup artist who he met through Harmonica. The name is Double-D-Production and while Dee covers the hair, Deja is the makeup artist. The duo is a full service beauty force to be reckoned with.Dee's ability to maintain stability at the salon and pursue other styling projects leaves no room for boredom. Whether spending 2 days creating a wig for a drag queen or spending a half hour on an up-do at the salon, Dee finds joy making other people happy. "As a hairstylist you are a therapist as well so if you don't know how to work with people then a hair stylist is the last job you want to do," he said. He loves it when clients open up to him and enjoys sharing how he overcame past struggles if it can help someone else.One of Dee's challenges was learning how to manage the negative commentary and unkind actions of judgmental people. One time he left his apartment in his makeup and heels to meet up with friends. He got to the corner of his 110 and Lexington apartment where two guys confronted him with derogatory words and foul play as he waited for a cab. Dee's disengagement only angered one of the guys who took him by the shirt collar. "I thought I was done for," said Dee. Luckily cops walked by and broke up the situation, only to yell at Dee for "foolishly" wearing heels and makeup in public. After that moment Dee would instead hail a cab in sweats, a hooded sweatshirt, sunglasses to hide his makeup, and a bag with heels to change into. "What they said didn't hurt my feelings but I do not need to put myself in situations where I know it could get bad. I have a paying job, I live my own life, and I love who I am. People's unhappiness with themselves doesn't mean they can disrespect me," said Dee.What Dee's story helped me realize is that even a melting pot like New York, a city known for fostering individuality and promoting self worth, cannot escape judgmental people. But maybe the trick is not to worry about escaping judgement and instead face it head on. I asked Dee what made him resilient to it? He answered, "My friends have become my family and they have helped me gain my strength of voice. I am comfortable as a man wearing heels, makeup and cute clothes. I don't do it for attention I do it because I like it."Judgement stems from insecurity and insecurity is one thing Dee does not answer to. He is happiest when he is done up, going out with friends to dinner in Manhattan. He loves what he does and he loves New York City. As he said, "I literally love my life and I am so happy." Because he loves himself he has no room for the negative energy others attempt to impose on him. When he first landed in New York from Berlin he felt like he was home. As he did my hair in his Upper Westside apartment he still considers himself home. The only other place he thinks he could live comfortably is Tokyo. As of now, however, his only plan is to design women's shoes with sizes for people like himself, as well as open up his own salon. As Dee would say, "You gotta love Manhattan honey."

Keep up with Dee on The Busy Signal and "like" his Facebook page here.

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. Sarah says:

    Your hair looks great! And Dee’s story is really inspiring. It’s devastating to me that we still live in a world where people can be so cruel to anyone who they perceive as different. But it’s great that Dee takes pride in who he is (as he should!)

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