Uptown Kingston’s recent renaissance would have been impossible without the pioneering efforts of Le Shag owner Jennifer Donovan. She claimed a stake in Kingston long before the boutiques and trendy restaurants arrived. Creating beautiful looks in her simple, industrial-style salon, Jen created a reputation for herself as “one to watch”. Not only is she one of my fave clients, she’s also my office neighbor and I was delighted that she took time for an interview. Okay, let’s meet Jen!
How did you first get into the hair industry?
As a junior in high school, I finished several of my credits early, leaving me with a half day of study hall. I watched a trade conference at Kingston High School and decided to go to Votec for the half day instead and earn both college credits for a business course at UCCC while simultaneously doing hours towards my cosmetology license. It was free and seemed like a great option! Of course, it was a new idea to most of my peers and especially my parents. But after some convincing, I got everyone on the same page - and there I was! Best choice I ever made for myself!
Is it true that hair Rock God Mark Ferraro was an early mentor of yours?
Yes! In Beauty School my teachers were constantly pushing me to do more. An opening came up at Mark Ferraro’s salon to be an assistant/shampoo girl. Ms Sangi said, “This is your job! You’ll fit right in!” It took some persuasion, but I finally met Mark. When I walked in I told him who I was and he said, “You’re hired!” I don’t think he even knew my last name.
I was psyched. He was known for his connections to Vidal Sassoon and for being the most expensive hair stylist in our area. I met Marc Jacobs, Robert Duffy, and Levon Helm within the first two weeks. You can imagine what I saw over the years! It was an incredible place. I had no idea I’d end up staying almost eight years. And now I’m so happy to be reunited with Mark at Le Shag.
What made you open your own salon?
Mark Ferraro! My first choice was always to partner with him. I enjoyed being the biz brains behind the craziness in this artistic world. I loved doing hair; but I also loved breaking new boundaries, helping other stylists become successful and giving the community what it wanted and loved.
When I left Mark, we still worked as a team: He was cutting; I was coloring. But eventually people wanted to have both services in the same place. So I added cutting to my services. Later, I added more stylists for when I did shows in NYC, on and Off Broadway, photoshoots, videos, etc. Le Shag has grown from a one-chair hair studio in a second-floor location to a ground floor storefront with ten chairs and multiple stylists who are all following careers like mine. And that doesn’t include additional locations in NYC and Woodstock.
What new and exciting things can we expect from Le Shag in the coming year?
This year the focus is on supporting my stylists and the new stylists joining the team. I want to help some of the eager “moms in training” and other superstars figure out what they need. We have some of our core staff opening other Le Shag Capsules this year. We also have great plans for our guests and the community. We’re adding more retail space, more makeup, and more stations for makeup artists who do weddings and film work.
This fall, we are launching our Academy. It will host Le Shag stylists and their continued education for styling, cuts, colors, etc. Maryanna Fitzgerald is heading the first training session. The Academy is an opportunity for some of our Le Shag Ambassadors to teach, while allowing more time with their kids or traveling for inspiration. The second part of the Academy is for advanced education. This section is a collection of colleagues from NYC who are professional hair and makeup artists working mostly on set and in editorial. Many of these colleagues are celebrity talent looking for an opportunity to get out of the city and put on their professors’ caps. Most of them have “Vogue” or Sports Illustrated” covers.
These courses offer limited seats for serious stylists who want a career in professional prepping. All Academy courses are tuition sales through Eventbrite (be sure to sign up via email!) It will be exciting to see who the Academy brings to the area. We are working on combining the Academy scheduling with Stockade Works programming as well. My dear friend, makeup artist Alice Lane, will join me this year as the curator of local products within the new retail space. She’s also helping scout fellow artists.
There is a lot going on at our Capsule at Glo Spa, which is now a medi-spa! We are adding more Capsules in the upcoming year as well. One is in LA! We haven’t officially announced that yet. Obviously, I always have some fun up my sleeve. A couple clients are debuting a few new fall series on Prime, Netflix, and Bravo: so I will have some new fun pics showing up on my Instagram stories shortly! I’ve promised to be better this year about posting. Make sure to follow us or hop on our website to sign up for newsletters (compliments of Pioneer) at LeShag.com to keep your finger on our pulse.
What’s your must have hair-care product?
I’m just changing to my “fall feels” and adding a little more weight on my products again… Weight and shine. My fave is EVO Dry Spray Wax!
What’s been the most exciting hair trend recently?
The kids love the Balayage! Free-hand hair painted highlights. Jessica Caprotti, who worked side by side with me for years, is now taking over that role at Le Shag! In fact, we are adding a painting studio for her and her new tribe of stylists this fall. She’s the queen of painting hair.
How have you seen Kingston change over the years?
We definitely were the only combo hair salon/art gallery/party spot here! In fact, it was mostly hair salons. All very successful ones at that: Dreamweavers and Rage. You’d walk down the street just yelling “Hi!” to everyone. It was a super friendly neighborhood scene. It’s exciting to see all the new blood coming into town now.
Nothing will beat my younger years though. I loved Uptown when I was little. I used to go with my family to shop at London’s for holiday outfits and to grab school supplies at Woolworths at the end of the 80s and into the 90s. I still remember a penguin Trapper Keeper I begged my grandmother for at Woolworths! There were mechanical horses on the sidewalks to keep us occupied while our parents shopped. It was so special to do Christmas shopping at Schneider’s Jewelers and pick up meats (and toys) at Schnellers.
At that time the Mohican Market was still a food market with fresh veggie and fruit carts pushed out onto the sidewalks regularly. The streets were always bustling; and there was a parking garage that, with a stamp you received while shopping, made parking FREE! Can you believe it? It was an amazing time. You’d have to stand aside during the holiday season to let people pass on the sidewalks. IBM was still here, and things were very different. I hope that something helps bring back some of that economy.
It’s so exciting to see so many new businesses pop up here and see so many young entrepreneurs get a start at having their own thing. It’s such a creative place and such an amazing atmosphere. I feel very fortunate to have been at the forefront of the changes, and I’m thrilled to see more and more.
When you’re not giving the world the best beach hair ever, what do you do for fun?
Now that I’m a mom, most of my fun revolves around watching the kids experience new things and doing silly mom things that most friends make fun of later. Like driving around town in my minivan, which Pugsly was so jealous of the other day. He probably will have one next now. Hahahaha, that’s right folks, I’m ALL IN mom style after hours. Of course, you won’t catch me giving out a mom-bob unless I’m certain it’d be ironic with your outfit.
What are some of your fave places to grab a bite in the area?
I love it all! How lucky are we with the eats in this area? Depending on if I’m mom for the night or if I’m pretending I’m not mom at all is how I choose my spot. During the day we mostly chow down at Outdated, Sissy’s, Lunch Box or Market Basket for some old school sandwich action. When I have to do a little more fancy for biz partners, we visit France, I mean Le Canard, Stella’s or Kovo. At night we love Boitson’s back deck; Crown now has some tasty treats; and Diego’s is always so fun, especially when DJ Ali Gruber is there!
In Woodstock we love to hit up Sylvia’s and Cucina. A&P has amazing pizzas at night and the Garden Cafe and Sunfrost always hit the spot for lunch. I’ll always miss my two fave places: Elephant and New World Cuisine. Both spots were my pregnancy craving homesteads. Maybe we could get them to do a pop-up café in our new retail space! You must help me with that, Chris!
Do you have any advice or someone wanting to start their own salon?
Join the Le Shag network; you won’t be disappointed. We will help you get your feet off the ground and support you all the way by meeting your goals, making new ones, and growing your business. I think the biggest thing is to NOT be afraid and don't be so competitive! There are enough heads for all of us. Bad mouthing other salons is not nice and is super OLD-SCHOOL and not in a good way. Everyone has a specialty; find yours and rock it.
Okay Jen… Time for the SPEED ROUND:
Fave Color: Rainbow
Fave Food: Caviar
Fave Book: Whiskey in a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon
Fave Song: “Crush” by Cigarettes After Sex
Fave Movie: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (tell Chevy Chase and Kara Eletto I’m still giving that shout out)
Book your hair appointment with Jen at Le Shag, 292C Fair St, Kingston, NY 12401