Hairdressers respond to "fashion emergency"

CUREPTO, Chile — In the Chilean town of Curepto, all is void and emptiness. The picturesque rural town was flattened by the 8.8-earthquake in February and almost all its stores are still closed — including its two beauty parlors.

Enter two hair stylists from Santiago: Andi works on film sets with movie stars and Mauri at a top salon.

When not cutting hair, Mauricio Esper is a fine tenor who sings in several choirs. On Good Friday, he was part of a pick-up choir calling themselves Bellezza Vocale which came from Santiago to embellish the Mass being held at the foot of the Curepto's collapsed church.

The improvised salon. (Lezak Shallat/GlobalPost)
Mauri at the salon. (Lezak Shallat/GlobalPost)
Andi comforting a customer. (Lezak Shallat/GlobalPost)

On Saturday, Mauri and his friend Andi (who says he doesn't use his last name professionally) are offering free haircuts at the Bellezza Capillare Beauty Parlor, an improvised salon they’ve set up in an undamaged corridor of the local high school. A wing of classrooms has collapsed, stairways head off into nowhere and bits of plaster fall from the ceiling with every new aftershock.

Mauri and Andi have arrived fully equipped, brandishing hair dryers they hang from hip holsters stuffed with scissors, brushes and clips. No glossy glamor magazines here, but there is a radio, lent by the school custodian who says she lost "the prettiest house in Curepto." A wall fell on her and her uncle pulled her out. She was badly bruised and her family is now living in a two make-shift wooden cabins.

As the line grows, singer Francia Gomez takes phone numbers to call people back so they don’t have to wait all day. “Not even Santiago’s top salons give you this kind of service,” she remarks.

Women and men of all ages, entire families, have come for the free haircuts. There’s something about the barber’s chair that encourages conversations and sharing. "The people of Curepto are reserved,” says Elizabeth Morales, a housewife. “But getting a haircut relaxes you, and distracts you a bit from your troubles.”

Elizabeth is the mother of Yanara and Matias, who are playing nearby. Since the earthquake, she won’t let them stay alone at home. But nor are they going to classes yet, since the three local schools are still closed, including the new one, which hadn’t even opened yet.

Elizabeth is a fan of radical make-overs. She once dyed her hair red. Now it is jet black and asymmetrical. “I look at myself in the mirror and I see somebody new,” she says, “and I say to myself: here is a new person who can make her way forward.”


Inia Valdes, who has lived 33 years in Australia, was visiting her childhood home when it crashed on top of her. She’ll be going back to Australia with a handful of wooden shards and a box of peaches. That’s all that’s left of it.

Danubio Berlin Correa, a teacher and the town’s unofficial historian, awaits his wife. He’s going to have to update the book he wrote on Curepto legends and traditions with the story of its recovery — “a story not yet told."

Iris Correa, sister of the founder of the high school, was widowed two years ago and she doesn’t want the quake to force her back to Santiago with her grown sons. But she can’t enter her house without remembering the voice of her neighbor, the parish priest, crying out “Mamita, are you there? Mamita, are you alive?” She explains that the priest lost his mother in the quake.

The stylists work at a fast clip, attending to a mentally challenged woman who has never had her hair styled, several sisters, a woman who sobbed and a family of three. More than 60 people attend, and each one leaves renewed, transformed. ¨Once the men get started talking, they never stop," Francia comments. "The women leave feeling pampered and announcing new projects and plans."

After closing shop, the stylists make the scene at a benefit dance organized by residents of Abate Molina Street, where only one house is left standing. A local band plays rancheras and the beer flows. A teary drunk buttonholes a city councilman, begging for a place to house his family.

And in the wee hours, three strong aftershocks sober the drunks and jolt the sleepers from their dreams.

In the morning, townspeople gather in the plaza to pray for resurrection and reconstruction. But for some, like Elizabeth Morales, a small miracle has occurred. Easter has brought “a new hairdo and a new lease on life.” 

Freelance journalist Lezak Shallat sang with the Bellezza Vocale choir in Curepto.