Bygone era lives on at The Fashionette (with video)

Beehives and bouffants remain a staple at Vancouver beauty shop

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

The Fashionette

What: A beauty parlor that offers the old-fashioned shampoo, set and comb-out.

Who: Shari Lahmann, owner and operator.

Where: 1707 Broadway, Vancouver.

Hours: By appointment, 5:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Cross the threshold of Shari Lahmann's Vancouver beauty shop, The Fashionette, and step back to an era of frilly curtains and pink-leather chairs topped by bubble-shaped hair dryers.

Text on a mirror in the corner reads, "Beauty comes in all sizes."

The shop's mid-century modern décor is familiar to clients, many in their 80s and 90s. But Lahmann, 67, sole owner and operator, provides so much more than a comfortable setting for the weekly regulars who visit her downtown shop at Broadway and 17th. Lahmann delivers old-fashioned shampoo, set and comb-out sessions, using her talent for teasing fine hair into voluminous styles. Lahmann's quick wit and warm personality complement her knack for wielding a comb.

"My clientele is like family," said Lahmann, a pretty and petite five-footer, including several inches of hair and two-inch heels. While many companies of today are forced to adapt to changing times, Lahmann has maintained her business by not changing. She knows what her customers want for their hair and she delivers it with a compassion that commands loyalty in an ever-evolving world.

Her personality makes it easy to see why clients stick by her -- some for nearly half a century.

"One thing that's so important with Shari is, she not only does our hair, but she's there for us," said Dolores Dearborn, 79, a regular since 1965.

Lahmann cooks for her clients when they become sick or suffer the loss of a loved one, Dearborn said, her eyes moistening as she talked of her son's sudden death in 2002.

"When we lost Steve, she was there all the time," Dearborn said of Lahmann. "She's like a sister to me."

Dearborn isn't her only longtime follower, said Lahmann, who tracks a regular clientele of about 50 patrons.

"I don't lose customers unless they die," Lahmann said.

Grant Whitney, 45, a stylist who works at the J Michael Salon across the street from

The Fashionette, said he respects Lahmann's styling talent. But he questions the future of a shop that remains tied to the industry's old ways.

"I see the sweetest little ladies going in and out of that door," Whitney said. "It's a niche. That whole industry of styling, where women have a standing appointment every week, those days are from another era."

That era lives on at The Fashionette, where Lahmann continues to be a weekly salvation for women who remember the beehive, the bouffant and the bubble, styles that hearken back to a time when the beauty industry boomed. It was fed by women who wanted to maintain their high hairdos on a weekly basis. Lahmann mastered the art of creating that height through back combing, an expertise gained through her longtime styling experience. She started out during a period when perms, hair pieces, extensions and fancy hair buns such as the French twist were the norm.

"If they want an updo, I can do it. That's right down my alley," said Lahmann, "I've always got a comb in my hand."

She picked that habit up during her training at Mr. Lee's Beauty School in Vancouver, which is no longer in business. The 10-month school course led the then-19-year-old Lahmann to her first job in a Minnehaha beauty shop. Next, she moved up to the former Hadley's, a department store at 11th and Main streets.

When Hadley's closed, Lahmann went to work for The Fashionette, then on Main Street. She bought the shop in 1980 and moved twice before settling on the Broadway location.

"You learn more from working than you do in beauty school," said Lahmann, who, as a child in the 1950s, practiced hair styles on family visitors.

"I always would tell my mom and dad, 'When I grow up, I want to be a hairdresser,'" Lahmann said, as she gently teased and combed out the newly trimmed and curled white mane of Iva Dell, a regular client every other Tuesday.

Dell, 90, was driven to her appointment by her daughter, Marlee Hawthorne. Both mother and daughter said they were delighted to discover The Fashionette when Dell was searching for a new salon two years ago.

"It's hard for women her age to find people who back-comb," Hawthorne said of her mother. For a time, she had to fix her own hair, a time-consuming do-it-yourself process when it comes to the roller-setting and back-combing.

"And when you're 90, you don't feel like it," Dell said.

Dell said her former hairdressers have either died or retired.

"And I'm still plugging along," she said.

View a video of Shari Lahmann styling hair at The Fashionette on The Columbian's YouTube Channel.