Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - February 18, 2011

On the runway

Hair stylist helps put finishing touches on Armani show in Paris

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

From his Main Street salon to Fashion Week in Paris -- it all comes naturally to hairstylist Gary Gemma and gives Pleasanton stylistas a jump on that latest.

The designers create the clothes that eventually trickle down to everyone, Gemma noted, and he was able to get a first look in Paris.

"I'm bringing that to Pleasanton and the people here, they get a head start," he said. "They don't have to go to New York or L.A. for that. To get that feel here is unique."

Gemma opened his first Gary Patrick Salon at Koll Center, now Bernal Plaza, 22 years ago at the age of 24, after discovering Pleasanton when on the road north from Los Gatos. He knew the spot was ideal, he said, "when I found out the demographics about what was happening in Pleasanton at the time."

"Years ago I hired most of my stylists out of San Francisco," he recalled. "That was our original business model."

He moved his salon downtown 14 years ago when the second story was added to 350 Main, and last week it was named one of the top 200 salons in the country by Salon Today magazine.

Through the years, Gemma has stayed involved with the fashion world, working with celebrity hairstylist Oribe (pronounced OR-bay), whose hairstyles have graced the covers of magazines such as Vogue and Vanity Fair, and who has done hair for Jennifer Lopes, Penelope Cruz and other stars.

Giorgio Armani hired Oribe to style the hair for his Armani Prive Show at Fashion Week in Paris last month, and he asked Gemma to join the team.

"From my salon there were four of us, about 17 stylists altogether," Gemma said. "It's about four days. We fly in and take one day to recoup when we first get there. Then we work three days. We usually spend two days developing looks and practicing. It's a whirlwind."

"Paris is such a romantic place," he added.

His wife Anna, who is in the fashion industry with Neiman Marcus, accompanied him, and they celebrated their one-year anniversary. She was able to attend the shows, which are invitation-only, for a select group of a couple hundred.

The shows go from 1-6 p.m., Gemma said, but individual designers are on the runway about 20 minutes, with 25 to 100 models.

"It's very organized and very hectic -- it has to be organized," Gemma said. "You're working with everyone, not just one model. A lot of times you do a number of models, then go back over them, helping out. It's very much teamwork."

Fashion Weeks are held in Paris each January, in Milan in February, and in New York in March. In September, Fashion Weeks are held again in Milan and New York.

Paris is the scene for the couture lines, while Milan fashions are designed to be sold at department stores, explained Gemma. Prive is Armani's couture line, "what you see at the Oscars and the Golden Globes."

"Paris is exciting, it really is glamour," Gemma said. "I ran into Sophia Loren -- she looks great -- and Jody Foster; she's a Giorgio Armani fan."

"They're there for fun. It's more flash. Milan is more business," he added. "There's always something going on. A lot of the time we're working, we have to be on call. We stay close to where the shows are, in the fashion district."

The Prive collection show featured shiny fabrics, Gemma said, that almost looked like liquid. Most of them were shown with models wearing hats, with their hair swept up or to the side.

The best part of Fashion Week, for Gemma, was working with Armani himself who kept an eye on everything as his Prive collection prepared to walk the runway.

"He's had such an influence on designing clothes, he's just basically somebody who's going to be a part of history," Gemma said. "He's a very gracious man. It was sort of an honor."

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