Simcha, The Countess Of Curls

Klaartje Til would often sit in a hair salon, offering a little prayer, hoping that her curls would not be ‘cut off’. She avoided hairdressers as much as possible. She went once a year, only because it was necessary. That changed after she had her best haircut ever, a few years ago in Dijon, France. After this experience, Klaartje did some research and discovered a new phenomenon: curl specialists. During her research she met Simcha, from the Amsterdam salon, Simcha & Friends. In an interview with Klaartje, Simcha explains her love for curls.

By Klaartje Til

Simcha, why aren’t hairdressers and curls a compatible match?
If you are a hairdresser but not a curlyhead yourself, then you don’t know what a drama it can be having your curls cut. It is important for the customer that you also have curls. Or you should have a lot of affinity with curls and be specialised in it. You need to know a variety of curl types, to determine how short you can cut them. The average curlyhead is always cut poorly. Cut too short, is a better description. A curl has the shape of a spiral like a corkscrew and it jumps up immediately. A hairdresser needs to determine, based on the type of curl, the extent to which it wants to pop up in the air.

But have there always been people with curly hair in the Netherlands?
O yes, many curlyheads, but in the past, curly hair, especially Afro-hair, was considered sloppy, not chic. Curly hair was often a no-go. Migration brought different types of curls to Europe, but there have always been curls in The Netherlands. However, they were straightened or treated with chemicals to avoid curling.

What was your experience with hairdressers, as a child?
My curls were always cut too short. I told the hairdresser that I wanted to keep my hair long, “just a trim please”. After the third cut I said, please stop, because by then my fringe had jumped up my forehead. I got very frustrated with my curls, also because I lived in a community where most children got their hair straightened, brushed or braided. My hair was also straightened by hairdressers. I thought, “Why?” I looked terrible.

Then you thought, “I have had it. I want to become the world’s best hairdresser?”
Well, I don’t know if I am, but I wanted to do something that others couldn’t do or didn’t want to do. Even though I was a little child, I cut and dried my friends’ hair. I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I had to become a professional hairdresser and travel as soon as possible. This is because I knew that I wasn’t going to learn anything in The Netherlands.

You started traveling around the world. What did you learn abroad?
I went to Israel, to a kibbutz and started to trim their hair. I was 17 years old, and just did it. I decided to go to one of Israel’s best hair salons where people from all over the world, worked. They all had curly hair. They thought it cool that I was from Amsterdam and they wanted me to show them what I could do. Within a month, I was cutting hair in that salon and worked there for a while. Later, I travelled to other countries like Senegal and Morocco, to find out more about curls.

You use a new technique of cutting curls. What makes this technique so special?
A curl is a spiral. After washing, it dries up into a different shape. It will never fall back into the same shape. Imagine, one hundred thousand wet spirals that dry differently each time. That is why I cut beautiful symmetrical lines. In our salon we also cut very straight hair. Cutting straight hair is also a matter of cutting precise, perfect, sharp lines. I am a perfectionist.

The salon has been booming for more than 35 years. Is it because of the special technique used to cut curls?
Hospitality is very important, that is making sure that people are relaxed. For example, that customer there whose hair I just cut, told me that her hair was always cut badly. She was nervous and asked if she could show me pictures of hairstyles she would like to have. I explained that each person has a different hair structure, and that I would try to translate the pictures she showed me into a cut that works for her hair. I reassured her that we would do something beautiful with her hair. No stress! She just flipped because she was so happy with her new haircut. Happy that finally someone understood. That is what I see all day, people who almost gave up. My mantra is, “Don’t worry, it will be fine, no stress. I promise I won’t cut it too short.” Then they relax and smile. When they come up after their hair has dried, they smile or cry from happiness. To me that is the biggest compliment. (At Simcha & Friends, people with curly hair are cut and dried with their heads bent over.)

It is so much more than just cutting hair, is it?
We have a room for people who need peace and quiet, because they are ill or because something bad happened in their lives. They need extra care. If people are sad, they can sit in this room and deal with the sadness. A client who regularly visits our salon is very ill, she has cancer. I organise the wig and I cut it in the style she prefers. I always help regular clients who are ill, myself, and for free. To me that is the real work, giving these women a sense of self-esteem. Cutting strong, healthy hair and making clients happy with a haircut, is easy in comparison. It is important to reassure people who are fighting for their lives and losing their hair. They need to know that they can put their head in our hands and it will be alright.

That is not always easy I imagine?
I try to keep things light. I am Simcha, my name means joy. Making wigs together with customers often creates a lot fun and laughter. Today I had a customer who initially only wanted a haircut. She was so happy with it that she decided to stay and also dye her hair. All hairdressers were busy. She waited for hours until somebody became available to dye her hair, because she really wanted us to help her. Whether it is someone who comes in for a wig or someone who has been cut badly for years, it is wonderful to help these people. Their surprise and emotion are beautiful.

Photography: Merel Oenema.