I’ve written plenty about photographers visiting midtown and showing their wares at the Izzy Gallery.
But the unsung heroes behind said photographers are the MUAs, or MUHAs. Those two acronyms stand for Makeup Artist or Makeup and Hair Artists, and they’re a big deal.
I sit with Antonella Cumbo, an avant garde hairstylist at her Yonge and St. Clair salon, Stonerose. She and partner Mike Goncalves opened the boutique two years ago.
“The photographer is a big part of it, but I would say it’s 50/50, because without the photographer, you don’t get the shot, but without the hair and makeup, he or she doesn’t have the shot,” she admits. “I think it’s really important for us to be there to show off their true beauty — to show off their features the best way we can, and for the photographer to capture that.”
There’s urban jazz tickling my timpanis as we talk about her roots in the industry. The 28-year-old started right out of high school, attending the Aveda Academy at King and Church, and was lured in by up-dos.
“I fell in love with the craft, and I realized it was really creative,” she says. “I didn’t think it was creative before.”
She’s done hair at the Geller Awards, the Junos and the Muchmusic Video Awards — where she gave actor Trevor Donovan a trim, and styled hair for Lady Gaga’s dancers.
The MMVAs were quite the experience, too.
“It’s exciting. You’re backstage with all the stars. You’re basically numb to them because you can’t ask for autographs,” she recalls. “You just do your thing. You do the hair, and you treat them like anyone else.”
Cumbo’s not one to get star-struck though. She’s tested her own mettle at the annual Canadian Hairstylist of the Year Awards, a.k.a. the Contessas. A few years back, in 2015, she was a semi-finalist. That means she’s one of Canada’s best.
And she’s right here in midtown.
Each year contenders submit three photos that tell a story. For Cumbo, inspiration came from a walk she took through High Park.
After that she spent two months toiling in her Humewood basement, wrapping hair around pool noodles. The finale featured models being the roots to her limbed, hairy creations.
“I had to figure out how to do it,” she tells me, of the process to create tree limbs from hair. “I had to find a product that was light, and I could move around, mould it.”
Another obstacle was finding the right models. Naturally, long-haired lasses, with locks to their derrieres were recruited.
When she’s not competing, Cumbo wrangles wedding parties. She had to her up to 13 members of a bridal party.
But she says she would have it no other way.
“I get a high by continually making people feel good about themselves. I continue to get that high,” she says. “I like it when someone comes in, sits in my chair, they feel miserable and then they leave. (But) they’re almost in tears because they’re so happy with the job.”
That’s downright polite of her to make someone’s hair day.