Devachan, (DEE-vah-shahn) in Aramaic, is a place of bliss and supreme felicity, a paradise like Eden. Devachan Salon and Spa, in Manhattan, is the same kind of place—for curly people.
In 1995, curly-haired hairdressers and Devachan (yes, the “e” is underlined; don’t ask) co-owners Lorraine Massey, an English native, and Brazilian-born Denis DaSilva opened their groovy, curl-centric, lime green SoHo salon in New York City to instant success; three more locations soon followed.
The Devachan way of keeping curls curliest is a cult. That’s not a bad word in this comb-, brush-, terrycloth towel-, blow dryer-, blow out-, curling iron-, hot roller-, wet cutting-, foil-, and shampoo-free zone. Confused? Stay with me.
The Devachan philosophy is this: Shampoos have detergent. Detergent creates lather. Lather freaks curls out, causing breakage, dryness, and frizz. Hence, No-Poo Cleanser ($7.95-$39.95)—get it? no shamPOO—a zero-lather formula that smells like freshly-cut lemons and lavender. If you absolutely, positively must have at least a modicum of lather, there’s Low-Poo ($18.95 – $39.95). It’ll feel weird at first, as if you’re trying to clean your hair with conditioner. But once you feel your hair instantly go from sandpaper to silk, you’ll get the hang of it. Although, unlike the models in this vid, you probably won’t be wearing clothes at the time:
In DevaLand, fingers; a special microfiber towel or DevaTowel ($12) whose lightness feels like your favorite T-shirt and absorbs just enough water without roughing up your curls’ cuticles; detergent-free, botanically-based, curl-friendly products; and a truly bizarre-looking yet totally genius ionic device called a DevaFuser ($149.95), whose aerated “fingers” provide a gentle, massage-y, 275-degree air flow and major lift to the hair from the roots up and out—are the only tools your Deva’d curls will ever need to achieve maximum definition, zero frizz, and bounciest curlosity.
That, and a dry haircut. Yep. Dry. The thinking is that since we wear our hair dry, not wet, and curly hair shrinks significantly as it dries (the so-called spring factor, as in boiiing-ing on a trampoline), Deva cuts are done on dry hair in its natural state. Also, since we know curly hair always looks for additional moisture like sunflowers bend toward the sun, highlighting it with foils is thought to be too harsh and drying. They have their own way of doing curly things down on Broome Street.
I recently sat down with Denis DaSilva, and New York City-born Deva partner, Color Director, and Director of Education, Shari Harbinger, to talk curls.
Anders: Denis, You’re a Latino with curly hair. Tell me what you’ve seen in our culture and the hair industry in the last few years.
DaSilva: Ninety-five per cent of Latinas have wavy or curly hair. In Brazil, it’s almost one hundred per cent. We’ve been overlooked by the industry for so long, and it’s made us destroy our hair. Deva was born twelve years ago out of necessity. By the nineties, we got tired of seeing people with artificially straightened hair. The problem begins with the stylist, who makes you think you were born with the “wrong” hair type. But I read a recent study that showed that seven out of ten people who’d had Brazilian straightening treatments regretted it. I’ve been a stylist for thirty-two years, and everyone is my family is a hairdresser, too. We were all taught that natural hair has to be “fixed” by straightening it and blowing it out and doing expensive keratin treatments. All that’s about is making money, not making people happy. It’s like giving people cocaine until they need rehab.
Anders: So you’re the rehab?
DaSilva: Well, you can’t take the girl from the curl. It’s impossible. The straight thing is going to go away because the hair will eventually break and won’t be able to take it. But people want what they don’t have. They buy what they don’t need from people they don’t know. They see straight-haired models and celebrities on the Internet, on TV, in magazines. So it makes curly girls feel, like, What’s wrong with me?
Anders: Sounds kind of conspiratorial.
DaSilva: A lot of hairdressers have never cut curly hair. They actually have a fear of it, so they blow-dry and straighten everything to death because that’s all they know, and they can charge extra for it. But we sell out every class at the [Professional DevaCurl Training] Academy. That’s how the industry starts to learn. If you’re not in New York City, go to www.mydevacurl.com and enter your zip code to find stylists we’ve trained. It’s all about education. It takes time. We are not in a rush. We want to do the right thing to create comfort and trust.
Anders: Shari, you’ve been at this curly-lution for 15 years. What don’t professionals and consumers understand about curly hair?
Harbinger: Not to sound all Kumbayah or anything, but we, the stylists, are the enablers to the consumer. We weren’t taught in beauty school how to manage it and didn’t know what people’s curls were capable of. So part of it’s our fault. But we’re un-doing that now. We understand that curly hair is not niche, it’s the norm. If you have to put a brush to the head, there’s curls to be straightened.
Anders: What do your curly clients complain about most?
Harbinger: Everyone tells us the same three things: “My stylist cut it too short, cut it wet, and didn’t listen.”
Anders: Amen. I actually thought you were going to say “frizz” first.
Harbinger: Frizz is hair begging for moisture. Most curly girls who don’t like their curl is because of dehydration and their haircut. What I tell them is, “You’ve been psycurlogically [sic] damaged. If I could show you a way to wear your hair curly and love it every day, would you?”