South Surrey-raised hairstylist Simon James, of Vancouver’s Style Lab Headquarters, has won a second prestigious title in the Contessa Awards, the Canadian hair industry’s answer to the Oscars.
James was named 2022 British Columbia Hairstylist of the year in a virtual awards ceremony held last month (the Contessas are presented in advance, for the year coming).
It’s the second Contessa for James, who was previously named the 2019 Texture Hairstylist of the year.
“At the beginning of my career, the people I looked up to were those who had won the Contessa,” he said. “It’s beyond amazing, really.”
James said that, after the first award he took a few years off from placing his work in contention, “just to reset my mind” but decided to “hop back in again this year.”
To be awarded again was huge,” he said, noting that the national award chooses a stylist of the year for each province, as well as other more specialized awards.
James said the award is based on the photography that the entrant has done and the collection of looks they have created for the year ahead.
He believes what clinched the award for him for 2022 was “the overall timeless look to the collection I shot.”
“It’s about creating a broad sense of appeal; something that can be viewed years from now and still be considered beautiful, but pushing the boundaries of what is being done today.”
And while, from a technical standpoint, he enjoys colouring, colouring correction, big transformations and “some of the more challenging hair types,” James said he really values “all the clients I have built a relationship with over the years.”
“I think I cater to just about every kind of client,” he said.
James he said he feels he has been inadvertently training to be a hairstylist “my entire life” – not too surprising when one learns that he is the son of South Surrey stylist Richard Farry, and that his mother and two cousins were also in the business.
“I was inundated with the hair industry from an early age,” he said. “I grew up in the back rooms of hair salons, sweeping the floors and listening to stylists talk.”
James’ other dream was to be an actor, and he recalls his days as a student at Earl Marriott Secondary were enlivened by working on school productions with teachers Rick Harmon and Candace Radcliffe as both a player and a student director.
“Theatre is actually what drew me into hair styling,” he noted.
“I went to a hair show when I was 19 and saw a few guys working on stage and thought to myself ‘wow – that’s like a performance’.
“It was everything I wanted to do – but in a career that’s very stable. I’d wanted to train as an actor, but there’s a lot of luck involved in that. I had fears of working as a waiter all my life.”
Hair styling turned out to be the perfect fit for him, he added.
Doing photo shoots fulfills his desire to direct and he can also use his stage and public speaking skills in presenting educational programs for budding stylists, he said.
“It’s everything I ever wanted, but never knew that I wanted.”
Giving back to the community is very important to James, he said – he feels the hair industry gave him a positive direction in life at a time when he needed it most – and that’s one of the reasons he sits on the board of directors of the Beauty Council of Western Canada.
“It’s all about creating a more positive culture,” he said.
And he still retains strong ties to South Surrey and White Rock, he added.
“I’m out there all the time, visiting my father,” he said. “And when the time comes that I want to raise a family – I plan on raising a family there.
“It’s just the greatest place to grow up.”