Hair stylist to the stars reflects on a life in beauty trade
“Big hair, don’t care,” could be Ryan Sales’ mantra. For as long as I’ve known him – 18 years – this fabulous Filipina hair stylist has worn his own mane of luxurious locks waist-long, with so much volume up top that it gives the 1980s a run for its money.
Always wearing a brilliant smile and a tight, fashionable, sometimes see-through shirt, he unfailingly greets clients with a warm hello and a cheerful disposition. I have never known him to be cross or coarse.
Sales is a mainstay at Honolulu’s Salon 808, marking his 26th anniversary this year. Anybody who’s anybody knows him and his perfectly coiffed mane.
He’s a stylist to the stars, from the former King of Tonga George Tupou V, to a visiting team of 80s supermodels that included Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer, to a brush with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (he clarifies he was an assistant on that job, and just washed her hair.)
Sales was a bit of a star himself in 2009 on KHNL (NBC)’s morning news. Howard Dashefsky and I were the anchors, and we had a “Makeover Monday” segment. (http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/10456385/monday-makeover-with-ryan-sales-of-salon-808-do-you-want-to-be-a-guest) Sales was our regular hair and makeup artist, and over the course of two hours, he would make over someone.
Howard left the vetting to me, so I asked Sales because I knew he was reliable, hard working, talented, and camera-ready. Not everyone is willing to get up at 4 a.m. once a week, haul all their beauty tools into the studio, cut and style a client on a tight timeline, talk about it periodically on live television, flow with unexpected problems, look beautiful on air, and stick around for the entire two hour show.
Sales was a perfect guest. He never came late, he always looked put-together (more than me, sometimes), and he was never grumpy (unlike me, sometimes).
He took time during the week to review the upcoming guest’s photos, connect with them beforehand, and even prep them for the segment by coloring their hair at his salon. It’s nice to hear this was one of his career highlights. “It was just so different. Makeover Monday was a good one for me,” he tells me.
If Hawaii residents don’t remember him from that KHNL segment, they’ll possibly know him from his decades of work with contestants in seven major pageants: Miss Hawaii, Miss Hawaii USA, Miss Teen Hawaii USA, Miss Chinatown, Narcissus Queen, Cherry Blossom Queen, and Mrs. Hawaii – not to mention a dozen smaller, regional pageants that feed to the state titles.
Sales started volunteering on the pageant circuit in 1991, the year he got his chair at Salon 808. His coworker of 24 years, Dennis Guillermo, got him involved. “Working with Ryan is the best thing ever. There is nobody like him – he’s one of a kind,” Guillermo reflects.
Sales estimates he’s worked with hundreds of titleholders – and all of them bore his signature styling at the competition. Guillermo remembers, “We’d know who he did because the girl’s hair was like his hair!” I already figured out what Guillermo was going to say before he finished because I, too, emerge from the chair looking like my stylist.
Longtime client David Whitcomb says, “I like that he dresses your hair. And I particularly like that he dresses Miss Hawaii’s hair for the Miss America contest. I brag about that! Ryan is also a really nice person. He seems genuinely pleased to greet his clients when they come in. He’s rightly proud of his work, but he’s never stuck-up. And, of course, he’s a very talented hairdresser.”
Sales is part of a team of beauticians working backstage on pageant night, doing hair and makeup. Some years, when his schedule allows, he’s accompanied winners to the national contest in New Jersey and Nevada. He also worked Miss Universe 1998, the year it came to Honolulu.
“It’s exciting because it’s all live. I have two minutes to do their hair in between costume changes and sets. I love it,” he gushes.
Ann Mata, executive director at Pageant Productions, worked backstage with Sales for about ten years while she oversaw Miss Hawaii USA. “Ryan is great. He’s so calm, he works hard, and he’s always helping people,” she describes of that time.
It’s not all glitter and glamour, though. “It’s sad when the finalists are announced and so many girls are cut. They’re in the back crying. If they’re one of your girls, you have to cheer them up,” he points out, voice softer with compassion.
While pageant night receives all the attention, Sales’ work with the ladies goes year-round. “We rehearse, so I’ll do their hair and makeup, and I also give them feedback on their interviews. Because they hold regional titles [eg: Miss East Oahu, Miss Ala Moana, etc.], I get them ready for public appearances,” he explains.
Though time-consuming, he finds it vastly fulfilling. “To this day, I’m so into pageantry. I always watched it as little kid. I always wanted to work with Miss Universe, and when it came to Hawaii in 1998, I was the pageant’s official hairdresser. I have the clips and everything,” he titters.
Mata figures she’s worked with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of beauty professionals during her decades in pageantry; she got involved in 1994. She says he stands out because he’s “really good- he is a great colorist, stylist, and excellent with time management. He’s fast.”
Sales befriends and follows many of the contestants’ lives. “What I love is: These are girls who are potential leaders. Over the years, I watch them become professionals – doctors, lawyers, television personalities – and start their families. Some even get their kids involved.”
“It’s so rewarding. I’m happy these girls are successful,” he comments, citing our mutual friend Trini Kaopuiki, Miss Hawaii USA 1999, as a great example of a success story. Kaopuiki co-hosts Living 808 on KHON2 (FOX).
With 25 years in the pageant world, he is something of an expert. I ask him for tips for future pageant contestants, and his answer surprises me. I expected advice that involves physical appearance, but he’s a huge proponent of character and intelligence.
“The art of the interview,” he responds without hesitation. “That was the winning factor in most of the pageants I helped with. I learned how important it is to be a great speaker.”
While high-level competitors often have a coaching team, Sales maintains a contestant can give herself an edge by simply being engaged with the world. “Concentrate on school and current events, and learn as much as you can. You just don’t know what the judges are going to ask.”
Through his work with Miss Teen Hawaii USA, Sales gained a startling perspective on girls and young women. Our conversation takes an unexpectedly serious turn.
“There are a lot of issues teens deal with in this age. Social media can be so devastating. I have seen or heard about so many teen suicide attempts because young people can’t handle the pressure that comes with social media,” he remarks.
“I’ve had girls start crying while I’m doing their hair because they’re reading their phone and get upset about a mean comment. Their imaginations go wild,” continues Sales.
“A teenager’s ego is so fragile; it doesn’t matter how good-looking and put together they are on the outside. I know of college women who have tried to kill themselves after a breakup. I was so shocked. You just don’t know what the breaking point is for a young adult,” he concludes.
I’ve always known Sales to be kind, so it’s in step with his nature to fall into a mentor position towards the girls. “I just tell them to be confident and sure of yourself. What people say doesn’t matter,” he reminds them. “Focus on you. Find out what you really want to do in life, and figure out what’s really important in life.”
Sales projects the same motherly attitude towards his staff. He’s had a revolving door of young assistants over the years, and I’ve witnessed most of them change during their apprenticeship with him. He purposefully grooms them – not just as hair stylists, but also as people.
They come in unsure, hesitant, and seeking. I see them change over the course of my bimonthly visits to become polished, sophisticated, and grounded.
Guillermo agrees, “Ryan’s very generous, he works very hard, he’s driven, he’s passionate about what he does, and he’s very talented.”
“The whole thing about life is giving back,” Sales expresses. It’s why he volunteers with the pageant world, and it’s why he works with American Cancer Society Hawaii Pacific’s “Look Good … Feel Better®” program (https://hphawaii.wordpress.com/programs-services/), which “teach[es] women with cancer to manage the appearance side effects of treatment, including instruction to address changes in skin, hair loss and nails, as well as tips on wardrobe/styling to cope with weight gain or loss, and surgical changes. It restores self-confidence, offers hope, and provides support.”
Sales and Salon 808 owner Henry Ramirez started it in the 90s, driven by a desire to use their talents to make a positive difference. Sales expresses humility and gratitude for the times he can make a cancer patient smile.
“It makes me sad these women have suffered so much, but I can’t show that to them. I have to stay positive. I tell them they’re going to look amazing and their hair’s going to grow back even nicer than before,” relates Sales.
Contrast provides perspective. “I’ve learned you have to appreciate your health. Without your health, you have nothing. I also see that life is unpredictable, so you should enjoy life, travel, do what you can, and don’t worry about the small stuff.”
Guillermo sums up his friend’s life and luck: “I really believe that, because he’s so friendly, nice, and generous, he has been blessed tenfold. We hang out a lot together, and I see how he always makes friends so easily because he’s such a good person. He’s the sweetest thing ever. He’s just awesome!”
It’s amazing to me someone synonymous with the beauty industry in Hawaii almost missed his calling. The Pearl City native was a senior at University of Hawaii at Manoa majoring in business management before he realized he wanted to work with hair.
It was 1986 when he decided to enroll at the now-folded Vermont College of Cosmetology & Advanced Hairstyling, located at the time in Burlington, Vermont. He was on an exchange program, studying at the University of Massachusetts in Boston when it occurred to him that “I love the fashion industry. There’s so much to it. I love everything about it.”
To the casual observer, it seems obvious he would work in beauty. “When I was a little girl,” he relates, “I used to always do my hair. And I was always out [of the closet]. My parents just accepted it; they were fine.”
He absentmindedly flicks his own tresses over his shoulder as he recollects, “I used to want to be Cher so badly, I would wrap a towel around my head and pretend it was my long hair. My brothers would always pull my towel off. I’d complain, ‘Mom, they took off my hair!’ She’d yell, ‘Leave him alone!’ It was nice that I always had my parents’ support.”
It’s apparent that support provided Sales a strong foundation. He’s lucky, particularly during an era when being gay was not easy. Guillermo confirms, “Ryan has always been very comfortable in own skin, and I admire that. Sometimes we go out and people stare at him, and he doesn’t get upset or offended.”
Sales has two brothers and no sisters (“I was the only girl”) but as a child, he was surrounded by female energy. “My mother has eight sisters and my father has five sisters. I was always around them. It was a natural thing for me to know about makeup and hair. I was only in elementary school and I used to color their hair!” he recalls. “I’d curl my grandmother’s hair all the time, too. I loved it.”
After Sales became a full-fledged stylist, he worked in Boston for a few years before returning to Hawaii with his partner, Raymond. He and Raymond (together for now 31 years) briefly worked on a cruise ship with the idea of travelling the world, until Sales soon realized he was prone to sea sickness.
Lucky for his clients, he found a land job at Salon 808. “I remember the first time he walked into the salon to apply for a job. He had this long, big hair, a small headband, a crop top, and tassel boots. We ran out to look at him. He was somebody you just had to see. He’s so different. The boy is a star,” Guillermo recalls fondly. The two became best friends shortly after his hire.
Yes, everyone knows that remarkably big hair. I have always described Sales as a Filipina Farrah Fawcett, though I guess, by his childhood account, he is aiming for Cher.
He’s so delightful. When I see him for a hair appointment, we talk about celebrity fashion (Beyonce: so fierce), our current actor crushes (Jensen Ackles: so hot, Girl), and how I should wear my hair next (long, Sister, I like it long.)
I get to hear about his latest sporting accomplishments. He’s been a lifelong badminton and tennis player.
He started badminton in elementary school and competed in the Gay Games (the world’s largest sporting and cultural event specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender folks). He played tennis at Waialua High School, and continued on in his adult life with Aloha Tennis Club (http://www.alohatennisclub.50megs.com), competing in gay leagues.
Sales’ latest interest is pickleball, a paddlesport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. “I do it every day, and if I don’t do it I get a little depressed,” he confesses. I’ve always known him to be a regular athlete.
And he loves his work. “My clients are like my family. I love the people. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I weren’t a hair stylist.” I don’t know what my hair would be doing if he weren’t, either.
Find Ryan Sales at http://www.salon808.co, (808) 942-7799, Facebook: Ryan Sales, or Instagram: ryansalon808.
3 thoughts on “Hair stylist to the stars reflects on a life in beauty trade”
Great story Di. About a real star among hairdressers/beauty consultants.
Thanks, David! He’s a gem, I know.
Well-written story about everyone’s favorite stylist….Ryan! You described him perfectly Di, thanks for forwarding!