Monday, 13 February 2017

Daniel Diaz - hair maestro


Why would a bald barrister be so enthused about hair styling?

Just look at the date. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day in case you had forgotten. I certainly didn't when I booked for Stephanie to have her hair styled by Buenos Aires' most exciting, original and enterprising hair stylist.

I feel a sense of guilt with my description of Daniel Diaz. 'Hair stylist' does not cut to speak. I really want words such as 'creative artist', 'original hair philosopher', 'technical wizard' - but I am hopeful he will forgive my lack of understanding of hair; after all he has seen that I am not well blest in the hair follicle department. 

Of course I do know about women and their hair. I understand that hair precedes shoes, which precede almost everything else. I had overheard Stephanie speaking with her hairdresser in England and the look of abject anxiety on both their faces at the prospect of four months separation in Buenos Aires. And because it is so important, the stylist has as much status as the husband or partner - just ever-so-slightly behind 'the children'. There was even talk of Stephanie's stylist being flown to Argentina, just as Zsa Zsa Gabor did at the height of her fame. 

That was never necessary, as you will discover. Daniel Diaz has become the new idol for every anxious hair-aware woman, and indeed many men who seek something more than a haircut.

Monday afternoon, on the eve of Valentine's Day. It has been raining - you know, the sort that we get here in Buenos Aires, when the gutters gush, the trees pour, umbrellas break under the force and weight of water, and shoes squeak into deep puddles in the pavement. We contemplate the sky and wonder whether we will make it. Then everything changes. The sun hints with a couple of shafts down the calle, and we are off on our expedition to see Daniel Diaz. 

We near Corrientes, 'the street that never sleeps', but as it is approaching 1400 hours we need not worry about sleeping, just hair. The road is thronged with Portenos, travellers, tourists, shopkeepers, waiters and just about everybody else. Parana runs north to south on the Buenos Aires street grid, and this is where we take a right turn. 

The lift takes us quickly to the sixth floor and Daniel Diaz's studio. He meets us at the door which opens onto a truly fabulous room. This is his home as well as his workplace, and the studio bears his distinctive style. On the one hand the perfect salon - perhaps more than perfect for its range of equipment, hand-chosen for quality and precision. And then there is the gallery - with sofa, coffee table, TV, and Elsa the kitten, who will reach her first birthday tomorrow, Valentine's Day. Here is the welcoming of a friendly place.

Daniel cuts a remarkable figure, far from the effete hairdressers of yesteryear. Tall for an Argentine man, with thick black hair and a sculpted beard of the modern style. More interesting are his eyes that penetrate with their look, but in the way of someone about to ask a question. And then his smile, one that wins with both his clients and friends. 

In this blog you will understand that this is my second visit to meet Daniel - the first being to book the appointment, but I will condense that to this, simply to tell you of Daniel's investigation of 'the hair' - its nature, its colour, its previous management, the client's expectations and aspirations. The detail is reminiscent of the questions that precede any important event and that fill one with confidence about what is to follow. It is apparent that his knowledge of hair, and everything associated with it, is immense. 'Sassoon' trained in Toronto, Canada, Daniel can name not just every hair colour type, but indeed each bone that lies beneath.

Stephanie swoons as he unclips her tresses and pulls them gently through his fingers into long strands. He speaks about it as if it were a priceless pet, and asks how it is cared for, on what is it fed, how it is exercised. Stephanie sighs again with both pleasure and reassurance, and commits herself and her hair to Mr Diaz. It is clear that she has arrived exactly where she wanted and needs to be, and her long search for hair care in Buenos Aires is over. 

We meet four hours later. She walks towards me on Uruguay before Ave de Mayo. She smiles, and as she walks she shakes out her beautiful hair - revived, restored, re-invigorated - just like the expression on her face. 'So that is Valentine's Day sorted', I say to myself as I stroke my hair-free head and receive her kiss.

Daniel Diaz can be found at Facebook /danieldiazhair, email or phone 15.5751.9612

Friday, 3 February 2017


We are crossing Avenida 9 de Julio, heading for Carlos Calvo 950 - the home of Mariposita de San Telmo. It is now a regular journey for us, easily undertaken by instinct, especially for Stephanie who attends the fabulous ‘Ladies Technique’ classes there.

Mariposita is a tango hotel and tango dance school. Sitting modestly next door to a towering green glass block, there is no outward sign of either hotel, or tango, simply an unmarked grey door with an adjacent caged bell, which we press. A voice answers. We hear footsteps on the long corridor and the sound of the latch. The door is opened by graceful Lettie, mother to the proprietor, Carolina Bonaventura. Behind her is Simon, a terrier of unknown breed, clearly the master of the house.

Towards the end of the corridor we turn right, entering a grand dance salon. No simple studio here - this is a large, elegant space with high ceiling, running the depth of the building. The floor is polished wood. It is mirrored along it’s full length. 

Centre stage is Patrick Arellano, supported by Giannina Roncagliolo who teach here under Carolina’s direction. Tonight there is a class of twelve dancers, distinctive in the ‘Mariposita style’ - a gentle V embrace designed to give perfect freedom to the follower. Whilst the student’s dance levels differ, Patrick appears to tune seamlessly to their experience, offering empowering advice to each. This is the most respectful and focused method of teaching.

Leti returns to the counter to one side at the head of the salon. Behind her is a small kitchen containing a glass-fronted refrigerator full of cold drinks. Beyond double doors are steps to a large terrace garden running down the rest of half a block to a huge subterranean dance studio. The hotel room balconies overlook the terrace. 

 An easy Calo marks the end of the earlier class as students circle the floor practicing what they have learned. Patrick teaches technique, then translates this into a simple, accessible pattern to ‘nail’ the technique into the subconscious mind. Those looking for ‘flight-of-fancy’ steps will be disappointed: discerning students seeking a true tanguero style will be totally delighted.

Our session is for improvers, although again the range of the students’ experience varies in the class. This poses no problems - for the change of partners is optional - Stephanie and I ensuring that we understand the technique before we switch. Patrick and Giannina demonstrate with an amazing clarity, speaking in both Spanish and English, then direct their attention to individual couples as they assimilate Patrick’s teaching. Here, Patrick assists with modest and energizing corrections, gently given with humour and warmth. His teaching is like an embrace - telling us that we are safe with him, and valued. His is a great gift.

Two hours (we chose a double class) pass in a trice. We finish with a short practica in which Stephanie and I dance with our favorite fellow students. We pause to correct our giro; to replace a step; to feel a different embrace. We dance until the music stops, sensing that Patrick and Giannina may be exhausted by their own generosity. We part with a hug. Carolina Bonaventura has arrived back from a tour, so we share a special moment with her, then Lettie leads us through the passage to the street.

For tangueros of any standard, Mariposita proves to be a delight. Carolina provides a safe haven in which her community of students thrive. Stephanie speaks of her technique classes as ‘an inspiration’. For once - at group classes here in Buenos Aires - I sense that I too may achieve something special.