Janete Chris is arranging silver scissors on a mirrored tray at her styling station.
Cutting hair, at least in her hands, is an art form, which is why she has 27 styles of scissors at her side.
“It’s not my entire collection,” says Janete, the owner of the hair salon that bears her name. “I have more at home.”
She opens a pair of boxes and places her set of Edward Scissorhands-like cutting claws next to the scissors.
Janete, who has long golden hair and fire engine-red nails (the ring fingers feature playful pastel flowers), has been a stylist her entire life.
She’s also been a lot of other things.
She got the urge to color, curl and cut at an early age.
“My mother was a hair stylist,” she says, “so I grew up in a hair salon.”
In the beginning, Janete, who is from Patos de Minas, Brazil, wanted to be a doctor.
“I didn’t think I was smart enough,” she says, adding that “I love the arts.”
Instead, she became a TV journalist. After six months of a two-year internship at a station, she quit and came to New York in 1981, enrolling in a six-month English as a Second Language course at Hunter College.
“I took up acting,” she says. “My big dream was that I was going to be a writer and movie producer.”
Although she did perform in three plays and wrote and produced another, that career never did take off.
So she transferred her artistry to her original love – the beauty industry, where she worked as a stylist and teacher as she pursued a variety of other interests.
She became a wife and mother (she has a 33-year-old son, a 28-year-old daughter and an ex-husband. The marriage ended five years ago after 28 years). When the children were young, she wrote a screenplay.
She volunteered at Mount Sinai Queens and studied speech therapy at Queens College because “I wanted to see how I could help people.”
In 2003, she opened Janete’s Hair Studio in The LaGuardia Center on Ditmars Boulevard. That same year, she wrote and produced a play on the history of hair from 1940 to 2000.
Although she wanted to pursue playwriting, she was more successful styling hair than spinning yarns about it, so in 2014 she moved her hair studio to larger space in the complex.
Janete, who designed the shop herself, styled it as an upscale living room, a place where clients can come to talk not only about hair but also life.
The walls are a lovely, calming shade of lavender, and the sofas and loveseats are upholstered in purple velvet.
A massive crystal chandelier hangs over the shop’s formal sitting room. The color station, covered in a bouquet of purple floral images, features a bar-like counter complete with lilac-colored swivel chairs.
While Janete has been running her business, she’s also been working on a psychology degree from Queens College. She sees it as a natural extension of her hair-styling work.
“I have been counseling clients, neighbors and people in the industry for years,” she says, adding that she will graduate at the end of this month.
The shop keeps her busy 70 hours a week, and school takes up four of her evenings.
She closes Janete’s Hair Studio at 7 p.m. and starts classes at 8. On Mondays, her day off, she heads to the college library at noon to study until class starts.
“I’m only a B-average student,” she says apologetically. “I don’t have time to be an A-average one.”
But she does have time to start another degree: a master’s in behavioral psychology.
“I like to learn,” she says. “I also am a fast learner – it doesn’t take me long to complete my degrees.”
Janete’s 58, and she doesn’t want to waste time, so she’s also going to take the Law School Admission Test during the summer.
“I want to start a nonprofit that helps children and immigrant children,” she explains. “I wish I could live for another 200 years so I could do everything I want to do.”
No matter what she ends up doing – and she probably will add a lot more things to her resume – Janete says that she’ll never surrender her scissors.
“Hair styling is my passion,” she says.
A woman with a nice head of dark brown hair walks in and gives Janete a bear hug. Her locks are pinned up haphazardly on the top of her head. She’s been too busy to make an appointment.
Janete has been styling her hair for 23 years.
“I started coming when I was 17,” she says, adding that her mother had been a customer first. “Nobody does it like Janete.”
Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 15, 2019.
Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.
Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling