Angelica Airi Devou moved from Japan to Brooklyn, N.Y. to become a stylist at Shizen, a salon in North Williamsburg, where she cuts, dyes and styles all the cool New York City kids’ hair. Devou’s at the beginning of her career, but she’s proven to have an eye to spot stars — and become one herself. Writer and editor Kate Branch spoke with the “fun” hairstylist for our new “A Day in My Shoes” series, a collection of first-person stories by artists and entrepreneurs. Here is her story in her own words.
“I WAS 20 AND IT WAS A DECEMBER NIGHT, probably 8 or 9 o’clock, when I arrived at my first apartment in New York. I was expecting to walk into an old brick building but, I don’t know, I guess it was just your typical Bushwick house: dirty, with a bathroom the size of a phone booth. But I didn’t care because I was just so excited to have left Japan.
I grew up outside of Tokyo, in Yokohama, a suburban town like New Jersey. There’s no mountain, no woods, just cute houses and small stores. There’s the one bakery, the meat shop, a tofu shop, a vegetable store, a soba restaurant and a barber shop with one guy working there. That’s where I used to get my haircut when I was smaller. I’d get it short like a boy because I was on the basketball team. I didn’t get to travel but I got to meet other teams from faraway places, like Hokkaido, and that was the big thing for me. Japan is just such a small country. I mean, Tokyo is big and filled with so many people, but it feels small. And there are all these social rules. Like, you cannot talk on the train. You have to wear makeup at work. You have to have nice, clean hair. And I’m tall and have, like, crazy colored hair and I want to dress up. It was a lot of pressure to look normal. And before I started working at Shizen in Tokyo, which is called The Oversea, I was so normal looking. I hated it. I knew I wasn’t cool enough to work there, but I was like, ‘Make me cool!’
After I graduated cosmetology school in Japan and became an assistant in New York, I was street casting all these young kids to be hair models for me, so I could practice and then take pictures for my portfolio. I used to go to China Chalet a lot at night after work, after practicing, until, like, three o’clock in the morning. Even when I had to be in the salon early the next morning. It was like, how do you say, a jewelry box. A jewelry box filled with so many cool, energetic, beautiful kids, like Liz Harlan and Sasha Melnychuk. I’d go in and there would be so many sparkles everywhere and I would just go hunt for personality and a look. I would tell them that if they don’t want a cut or color that’s totally fine, I could just style their hair for a picture on Instagram. But a lot of them wanted color. And doing experimental color is my favorite: I recently dyed the crown of a client’s hair electric red and, for another, did big chunky orange-to-pink highlights all over their head and bangs. It makes me feel like I’m painting the hair. It’s as if Shizen is a gallery and the clients are the art.”