– by Antonia
After a little over a year of being too overwhelmed by the language barrier in front of the Black hair scene in Paris, I’ve finally decided to dive right in and get to know what Black hair means here. Of course, I’d like to know what products I can find and where, but I also want to know what the Black Parisian aesthete is. One of the first people I spoke with about Black hair in Paris was Nicole Pembrook, owner of Polished Hair Care.
about the salon
At a Glance
- Opened in 2007
- Location: 76-78 avenue de Champs Elysee 75008 Paris, France (2nd floor, last elevator bank)
- Phone: 01 43 59 31 48
- Services offered: cuts, colors, extensions, natural hair care, straightened hair care and much more.
From the ambiance of the space to the quality of the service, Polished Hair Care (I’ll call it “Polished” for short) aims to pamper guests in a luxurious yet comfortable setting. I not only spoke with Nicole, but had the chance to try her services. As soon as you step into Polished, you’re relieved of coats and bags, which are safely put away, and are offered a beverage while you wait. I heard Nicole tell a customer that most sessions begin with a scalp massage and I got to experience said scalp massage first hand. It was magnifique. Coddling and caring about a client’s experience is priority at Polished. When I asked Nicole how she approached the salon experience she explained:
I went through twenty years of my mother’s career with her working in the Black American community and we just figured out what didn’t work. Being a third generation hairdresser, we decided that we needed to give the clientele something better, a more tailor made service, a more relaxing environment. We want to take care of our clients and take care of their hair. I’m very passionate about what I do. I never did anything else.
All the pampering and cocooning, seems to be paying off as Nicole hasn’t had to market her salon herself. Her clients hear about her through word of mouth.
As a fellow expat I wanted to learn more about Nicole, especially since she has lived in Paris since 2001. One of the reasons Nicole moved to Paris was to break away from her comfort zone and experience other cultures. Of coming to Paris, she says:
When I was in the States it was just kind of tunnel vision, the black experience. [Here] I get a chance to meet women of different backgrounds and different lifestyles. Being on the Champs Elysées, I see CEOs all the way to the girl that works at the boulangerie.
Nicole shared that it took her about two years to adjust to Parisian life, “The first year you’re absorbing what’s just happened to you. You’re still in the grocery store like, what kind of meat is that again?”
Starting a company in France of course had its challenges, but Nicole is lucky to have a French husband who handles the administrative side of the business, while she can focus on taking care of her clients. Impressed with how well-established and smoothly run Polished is, I asked Nicole how she handles running her own business:
It’s definitely a lot of work running a staff. Everyone depends on me—the clients depend on me, the employees depend on me, the friggin’ state depends on me as well [laughs]. I wouldn’t give it up for the world because I couldn’t see myself working for somebody else. But it’s definitely not very easy. And some days you want to give up, but you just have to keep pressing on and crossing your fingers and hoping that God will guide you and direct you and show you where you need to go for your next step.
On Her Hair
I naturally fell in love with Nicole’s petite blonde afro. I especially loved it with the tiny scissor earrings she was wearing that day. Nicole shared that she has been natural for about three years.
It had been so long since I had seen my natural texture and with the movement in the States, I realized [natural hair] is going to be the future and that I need to provide the service for it in the salon here. And, second of all, [I went natural] to rediscover myself.
Nicole keeps her hair routine simple, washing one to two times a week (one shampoo to get rid of residue and another to moisturize). She applies a lot of conditioner and then detangles with a comb from end to root, using a twisting motion to get the hair that’s been detangled out of the way. In between shampoos she “drenches” her hair each day and moisturizes.
She recommends buying hair products in bulk when possible as natural hair tends to really soak up product.
On Black Hair in Paris
Polished Hair Care caters to women of all ethnicities. In an interview with Entrée to Black Paris, Nicole shared that her “current client base is 15% European, 20% African-American, 15% Middle Eastern, and 50% African-Caribbean.” Given Nicole sees many Black women each day, I wanted to hear her take on Black hair in France. She explained that unlike the States there’s a little bit more hair care education that needs to take place here, likely because there’s not a huge hair salon culture in France like there is in America. So she often has to teach her clients the basics, “I have to start from the beginning with the clientele here, as far as hair care goes and progressively work them up to where they’re supposed to be.”
As far as aesthetic differences between France and the States, Nicole finds that many women in France are still into the “Beyoncé look” (noting that that’s not a bad thing) but she has seen more and more women move toward natural hair. About 35 – 40% of her clients now are natural. When it comes to the textures of her clients’ hair, Nicole says:
I like to really work on my client from the inside out to make her beautiful. So whatever she feels comfortable with, the options are there. If you don’t want to be natural, I won’t force you. If you don’t want to be relaxed anymore, then we’ll go with that.
Our primary [focus] is hair care because without [healthy] hair you can’t do anything. So the first step is determining how good your hair is. From there we can branch off to what different kind of looks you can assume at the moment, depending on what your lifestyle is, what kind of job you have, what your budget is. I really try to go in deep into what you can handle instead of styling just to style.
On her outlook of the natural hair movement:
I think [French women] will catch up because they’ll be forced to do it because of the failures that we’ve had with weaves and so on. After you’ve seen a generation go through losing their hair, it’s enough to wake some people up. Whether they want to or not it’s going to happen.
(Check out my outlook on the natural hair movement.)
If it’s not evident already, I’m definitely a fan of Polished Hair Care and Nicole. The salon is great for women who want long-term hair care from a hairdresser and who want the services that a professional can provide to be a part of their hair routine. Prices might be on the higher end but you certainly get what you pay for.
Check out Polished Hair Care’s Facebook page to see some of the looks that the team has created.