clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Meet the Ex-Taxidermist Who Styles Alexander Wang and Helen Mirren’s Hair

Silvestera with a client in his East Village salon, where furry heads look on.
Silvestera with a client in his East Village salon, where furry heads look on.
Photo: Clay Patrick McBride/Blackstones

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

Joey Silvestera, the owner of Blackstones salon in the East Village and in the Roxy Hotel in Tribeca as of today, looks disconcertingly and distractingly like Colin Farrell. When he reaches out for a chunk of my hair to feel the texture, I am immediately at ease, and he says he wants to get rid of (I'm paraphrasing here) the disturbing wedge that has somehow popped up on the back of my head. I'm game, because for almost 20 years he's been tending to the hair of a disparate group of cool downtown dwellers that runs the gamut from Alexander Wang to Chloë Sevigny to Helena Christensen. And also because he looks like Colin Farrell.

Silvestera's path to hair dressing involved a brief detour in break dancing and taxidermy when he was younger. "I grew up in a rural suburb of Philadelphia and did a lot of hunting and fishing with my two older brothers and my father. The hunting was archery hunting, anything from turkeys to white tailed deer. Taxidermy kind of went hand in hand with it," he says.

What did not necessarily go hand-in-hand with hunting was the break dancing culture of the '80s, which he and his circle of friends were embedded in. He hung out with a group of Italian and black kids in his neighborhood, all of whom wanted a hybrid of the haircuts they could get at the traditional barber shops of those two groups. Silvestera, who had two aunts who worked in hair salons, bought himself a pair of clippers and taught himself how to give haircuts to his friends.

"I'd sit on my front porch, everyone would come over, we'd have cardboard cut out, kids would have boomboxes, and I was cutting [their] hair into flat tops," he says.

Photo: Blackstones

Photo: Thaddeus Rombauer/Blackstones

After attending a yearlong training program for taxidermy after high school, he worked in the profession for about three years before deciding to quit because it was too "hermit-like" —€” most of the work "wasn't very social."  He decided to commit to a career in hair, got training and a license, moved to New York City, and landed a job with British hair company Toni & Guy. He went on to manage and open several salons, including a small salon called Beauty Parlour on the mezzanine level of the home decor store ABC Carpet and Home. Silvestera describes the decor as "1960s Hong Kong beauty parlor."

He opened his current salon, Blackstones, in the East Village in 2007. It grew from a four-chair to a ten-chair salon in the space of four years, after he busted through the wall where hat shop Village Scandal used to be. And then the cool kid customers started pouring in.

Silvestera has been cutting Alexander Wang's hair since the designer was an 18-year-old Vogue intern. Wang's remained loyal all these years and has referred many in the fashion industry, including the always dapper Vogue editor Hamish Bowles, to Silvestera. One client, noted subway rider Helen Mirren, wandered into the salon randomly without an appointment one day. "She lives a block from the salon. She said, 'I knew when I walked by, this was the place I wanted to have my hair done."

Photo: Blackstones

Photo: Thaddeus Rombauer/Blackstones

Mirren isn't the only one to walk in based on the salon's appearance alone, and it's easy to understand why. The salon is decorated with a hodgepodge of apothecary elements, Silvestera's old taxidermy rescued from his mom's house, a wall of paintings doctored such that the Mona Lisa has a Stevie Nicks haircut. There's also a pseudo-greenhouse room complete with plants, glass ceiling panels, and chalkboard drawings of the molecules making up the active ingredients in his hair care line, Five Wits. The inspiration is 18th-century Left Bank Parisian with a modern sense of humor.

Blackstones' newest outpost in the Roxy Hotel in Tribeca has five chairs and a sleeker, cleaner, brighter vibe; Silvestera calls it "an oversized Parisian bathroom." There are no dead animals on the walls, and the only color comes from green leather chairs, plants, and an assortment of hair products. That including Silvestera's line, which he will soon be expanding (as will the East Village salon when the back patio opens in the next few weeks —€” customers can get drinks and expect the occasional cookout).

As he's taking all that excess weight off the back of my hair, Silvestera's not afraid to drop some truth bombs about other stylists and salons. He thinks some salons have bad lighting. "The lighting is the most important thing. If [a client is] having a bad day and they walk into a space where the lighting is wrong, it creates dark circles, so you really have to warm people up." In the new all-white salon, with a large window that lets in natural light from Church Street, "I think that we knock it out of the park in making people feel good right away...It's very decadent, very luxurious."

The new salon at the Roxy Hotel. Photo: Erik Ekroth

The new salon at the Roxy Hotel.

It's a feeling that's not exclusive to the decor — Silvestera puts his staff through a rigorous education program and stresses their "down to earth" nature, treating Blackstones clientele both new and old, famous or not, with the same care and respect.

He also has some thoughts on haircuts, a skill he prides himself on and does with precision. "If someone doesn't cut your hair both wet and dry, they're doing it wrong," he claims. He considers the usual wet cut followed by a highly stylized blowout to be an old-fashioned technique. And indeed, he spent more time texturizing my hair and trimming the ends when it was dry than when it was wet.

In the end, he claimed I looked like Sienna Miller, which cemented him in my good graces forever because she's my ultimate hair muse. I walked out with a beautifully shaped short cut that looked like a modern version of Victoria Beckham from her short-haired Birkin-toting days, minus the bad bleach and spray tan. In other words, a cool kid.

Blackstones is located at 19 E 7th St in the East Village and 2 Avenue of the Americas in the Roxy Hotel in Tribeca.

Want to shop like Silvestera? He shares his favorite stores in New York:

Pilgrim Surf + Supply, 68 N 3rd St, Williamsburg: "The store is so well curated, from surfboards to accessories to clothing. Good vibes from the staff. It's the kind of place I like hanging out at."

Marrakech Custom Tailors, 76 E 7th St, East Village: "This is my tailoring spot — I take all my denim and suits here. I'm a longtime loyal client. and they always take care of me."

Genuine Motorworks, 195 N 14th St, Williamsburg: "Another well-edited store. I buy all my motorcycle apparel here, but they also have other great merch."

John Derian, 6 E 2nd St, East Village: "My favorite things are their candles and stationary. The smell alone of the store makes you not want to leave."

Olde Good Things, locations in the East Village and Union Square and on the Upper East Side: "This store is expensive, but I love getting ideas from them. This is one of those stores where you can go in and tell him, I'm looking for...' and they'll have it; if not, they will make sure to find it for you."