Paloma is 32 years old, yet sitting across from her strong, grounded nature, she feels much wiser than that. Raised in the industry’s glory days, she’s one of those tireless workers granted the gift of legitimate passion for her craft, people and superior service. The kind of affinity for a career that bubbles at the surface of your earliest years.
“My mum was a single mum and her hair was always important to her, even if she was watching money or raising children. From the age of 8 I would go with her to the salon and sweep up hair, fold foils and just generally help out,” Paloma reminisces.
By the time high-school rolled around, Paloma – bestowed with a drive for financial independence – began work as the ‘Saturday girl’ at her mum’s aforementioned salon.
“I loved it and I never wanted to rely on my mum and dad. By the time I was 15 I started at Synergy, Sydney, with Sharon Maar doing Saturdays and late nights and as soon as year 10 drew to a close, I really wanted to leave school and start hairdressing full time.”
Alas, mum, dad and a conservative private school said ‘no.’ The group did, however, come to a compromise and Paloma was able to leave school at 12pm on a Thursday to work at the salon. The afternoon of finishing her HSC (with flying colours), Paloma started full-time at Synergy where, no surprises, she was signed off on her apprenticeship a year in advance.
“I worked so hard, and assisting Kenneth Stoddart – he taught me so much about foundation work. I remember there was an 8 month period where I didn’t have a day off and I would always bring in extra models. Sharon was such an amazing woman to work for, she still inspires me today,” Paloma says.
It’s a rare thing, these days, for youth to exert such determination, persistence and overwhelming willingness to put in the hours; apply themselves. The mindset it feels, is not so much ‘what can I do to help, how can I earn a place here?’ As it is ‘why should I work here, how can you help me?’ There are exceptions of course, as with everything in life. However perhaps this millennial trend is why many are sitting on the sidelines of the lust after session world as opposed to assisting in the thrust of it – like Paloma was at age 15.
“I did my first fashion show when I was 15. It was the Tigerlily show and it featured Kristy Hinze with a live python. I was very lucky to work with the greats, Belinda Jeffereys, Kenneth and Julianne McGuigan, there was this whole early Nineties thing going on.”
Oscar Cullinan of Oscar Oscar Salons bought Synergy in 2004 and little did Paloma know, her life would soon change.
“It was an interesting transition. Sharon was a very loose, hippie, free woman and then to a man who really commands a room. The common thread however, was passion,” says Paloma.
12 months later, the salon moved from its Darlinghurst home to a fresh outlook on Oxford Street Paddington where Oscar Oscar remains today. Following 6 years in the salon, Oscar offered Paloma the salon partnership and without any business training, she said yes.
“I don’t think you ever know when you’re ready to enter into business, it’s like, how do you know when you’re ready to have a child? It just felt right and I have always had leadership characteristics. Importantly, I trusted Oscar.”
With a two year old at home and determined to lead by demonstration, Paloma found herself working all day, every day for the first two years – creating a culture and set of standard she remains proud of to this day, and of course, learning how to be a great businesswoman as she went.
“Thankfully, I had a lot of guidance and education from Oscar and the brand. I remember our first, quarterly catch up meeting, I’d been in the business for around 9 months and someone was talking about dollar average. I was like, ‘what’s a dollar average?!’”
Systems and numbers – things that can be learned – work ethic, creativity and people management, not so much. Luckily for Paloma she possesses all of these things and has today, well and truly conquered the art of business with a busy salon, low staff turn-over and high influencer following.
“The biggest challenge the industry faces is people. It’s really challenging, but challenge equals opportunity, you get through it. We had a few people niggling at each other recently so we went and got a coffee and hashed it all out. It changes everything,” she says.
“The key to keeping staff, for me, is hearing them out. I read something cool the other day which I Iove, ‘listening is as important as talking.’ Listen to your people.”
A practice that no doubt beckons some of Australia’s most prominent influencers living and loving the Paloma/Oscar Oscar Paddington experience. Paloma relishes the influence of social media, and while she claims not to be perfect at it, is inspired by the direct impact her influencer network has on the salon’s bottom line – Nadia Fairfax, Michelle Bridges, Margaret Zhang to name a few.
“Looking after influencers is a great way to get guests in the door and it has a direct impact on business, and they’re loyal, they speak of us at events. Gone are the days of putting a campaign on the back of a bus.”
A prised Redken Artist, Paloma can do things with hot tools you would otherwise think impossible. She leaves women feeling empowered and is never without a new technique with the guest in mind. For this, her textural art and love for the fast pace is often put to work backstage, on-set and aboard the platform, more recently for Australian fashion icon, Carla Zampatti and annually, for leaders in luxury, Hermes.
A sought after relationship that evolved from a chance dinner party meeting, Paloma travels with Hermes for two months of every year assisting an incredible creative team in the execution of private, VIP trunk shows. Equipped with 7 models, a chef, stylist and four assistants, these half-an-hour rendezvous are manifested for one woman at a time. The new language of luxury service, and a level of care that Paloma works to translate to her staff and subsequently salon experience, daily.
Without context, some may look in at the world of Paloma and label it as ‘privileged.’ The truth however is less about privilege more about perseverance, passion and positivity. A wonderful single mother of two beautiful boys, Teddy 8 and Charlie 3, Paloma has experienced her fair share of pain, or life’s less glamorous moments.
“There are two words I don’t use in my life and they are ‘hard’ and ‘stressed,’ I don’t go down that road. Someone approached me recently and said, ‘I realised through social media that you’re a single mum too, how hard is it?’ And I responded, ‘I don’t want to have that conversation, I’m really lucky, I’ve got two beautiful boys and I love what I do.’”
“You can’t do everything in life and you can’t be everything to everyone. These days I’m a lot softer on myself, I don’t get the mummy guilt. If I can squeeze in a half day shoot here and there then great, otherwise I’m OK with letting things go.”
Interested more in one amazing salon rather than multiple, Paloma is happy with where she’s at right now with a plan to focus more on education. She loves the feeling of stepping off a stage after presenting to 600 people and is a big believer of timing.
“I don’t put things in boxes, it’s all about timing. When you get to this stage in your career I don’t think you can say, I’m going to do this and it’s going to be huge and different, you just have to keep refining, learning new skills, meeting new people.”
And it’s this attitude that will send Paloma’s career to the stars.
Collection images by Paloma Rose Garcia.