By Luke Anderson | [email protected]
Over a bottle of Lanson rosé champagne, Monte Durham and his friend, Dan Via, debate the design of the business card samples spread across the bar at Brut Champagne and Wine Bar on South Royal Street. The cards, adorned with M-O-N-T-E set over a fleur de lis, are for Durham’s latest undertaking: a hair salon near Old Town’s waterfront.
“I think it’s important we keep the fleur de lis red…” Durham says. “Dan likes black because he likes the contrast with the name.”
Beneath his fitted blazer, Durham’s shirt — a white button-up with black and red patterns — matches the color scheme of the business cards. Such a subtle correlation could be mere coincidence, but it’s unlikely. He’s committed to even the smallest details.
Durham has committed to a 10-year lease of the salon space, which is still under construction. It is part of a new building at 210 S. Union St., beside Hotel Indigo. Durham chose the location due to its close proximity to the waterfront and King Street. He is hoping to open the doors for business by late May.
As fashion director for TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta,” Durham travels a lot. For the last several years, he has also hosted a spinoff, “Say Yes to the Prom,” which just began production for a new season to air next year. It will involve a six-city tour, requiring Durham to travel three to four days every week in March and some of May.
Durham, a West Virginia native, moved to Manassas, Virginia in 1969, and then to Alexandria in 1986. For a while, he worked in Landmark as a personal shopper but decided to go back to school at Graham Webb International Academy of Hair before finishing his degree in London. He then went to work as a hairstylist at Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door spa in Fairfax Square, near Tysons Corner.
Years later, he became a trunk show representative for wedding dresses, often showing gowns at the bridal shop owned by Lori Allen, who would become his “Say Yes to the Dress” co-star. From there, the rest is history.
Durham now has his own hair care line, which is available on Amazon, and the possibility of a book deal. Twelve chapters have already been outlined, though nothing is concrete yet. If it happens, the book would be partially an autobiography.
“I grew up very poor, so the whole book [would be] about that,” Durham said. “And then community college because I couldn’t afford university. So it’s sort of like, stay the course, be who you are. Be true to who you are and you can do it too.”
Durham said he’s thankful for the show’s success over the past nine years, as it has allowed him to check items off his bucket list that he never dreamed would be on his bucket list. Still, he would like to spend more time at home in Alexandria, where he lives with his partner of 25 years. They married in 2013.
“You know, you step back and you start to think about what makes you sparkle, right?” Durham said. “What brings you joy? I love doing hair. It’s fun and it’s easy for me, and I thought, ‘There you go. I can stay home and I don’t have to travel as much.’”
Durham has no plans to slow down, but he may be taking a step back from “Say Yes to the Dress” in the near future, at least for the time being.
He doesn’t plan to leave reality television entirely, though. There is a possibility that Durham’s salon will be the premise of a new show.
“I am very proud to say that I have been tapped on the shoulder by a production company out of L.A. that has signed a contract to do a sizzle reel on the hair salon, hopefully to take that to a network and sell it so we’ll have a show on that,” Durham announced at a Visit Alexandria meeting last month.
The production company has three networks in mind, including the Disney Channel and WE tv. The show’s mood and feeling would be dictated by the network that picks it up, Durham said.
Clients at the salon will get not just a haircut but an experience. They will have their hair “washed with filtered water, dried with Egyptian cotton towels… [and] cut with hikari scissors, world-renowned for their precision,” Durham said. MONTE haircare products will be used exclusively at the salon.
Durham relies on Via to help with the design aspects and layout of the salon. Durham and Via have looked for design ideas and fixtures in New York, but salon prices will be comparable to Old Town.
“We’ve done our research,” Durham said. “So we’ve positioned ourselves to be very fair.”
Durham hopes to soon hire a salon director to oversee staff and manage scheduling. Then he can begin hiring stylists and shampoo staff.
With the salon being just 825 square feet, functionality is key. Clients will enter on the side of the building facing Hotel Indigo. A small waiting area will be to the left along with four cubicles for cutting and styling. There will be a shampooing area, drying stations and a lounge area in the back beside a private room for Durham.
“Hopefully we will have efficiency,” Durham said. “There’s no room to wait. … We’ve got to be on time; we’ve got to get people in, we’ve got to get people out.”
Should there be a wait, clients will not have magazines to flip through. Instead, Durham and Via have carefully selected a collection of coffee table books.
“When you sit there, hopefully we can inspire you to look at architecture, table settings, fashion in these beautiful coffee table books,” Durham said. “So there’s no outdated magazines, cornered or old or ripped apart.”
Durham is a self-proclaimed clean freak. As such, he’s informed the architects and design team that, above all, the space must be symmetrical, efficient and clean. Durham wants the salon to be chic and modern with an intimate and Parisian feel. The decor will feature an Italian chandelier and a lamp with Grecian iconography.
The salon is scheduled to open a year after Durham’s mother, Rose, died. In her memory, he will have one wall in the salon papered with roses. Durham said he and his mother were very close and very alike, especially in their obsession with Jacquelyn Kennedy.
“It saddens me … that she’s not here to see this,” he said. “I tell everybody, you know, she held the ladder for me to climb to the stars. That’s just who she was. She believed in me and never once doubted my ability.”
Durham said one of his main motivations for opening the salon was Coco Chanel, who famously said, “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”
He said he understands that some people are comfortable just as they are, but he hopes that his salon will inspire people to think outside the box and make changes both to their hair and in their lives.
“I want to educate, inspire and encourage people to look at other ways to enhance themselves,” Durham said, sipping his champagne.
“You can go on a diet – you’re not going to see the results right away. You can go to a plastic surgeon – it’s going to be a couple weeks. … Walk in a hair salon … you can change your whole look and your whole attitude in a couple hours. Where else can you go do that?”