Hairdresser-entrepreneur Vicente “Teng” Roma could make money anywhere just by wielding a pair of scissors. But he did better than that. He redefined the luxury salon experience when he established Emphasis. At the Rockwell Joya Tower, it is the hive of the Who’s Who in society.
In the late 1970s, Roma was doing media placement in an ad agency when some friends moonlighted as hairdressers. They tempted him that there was a fun and lucrative life outside a 9-to-5 job. Advertising copywriter Bernardo Ayson lured him into this field and they both practiced on models and industry friends in the shop of designer Barge Ramos.
They developed a reputation for their edgy haircuts.
Roma then studied with British hairdressers Stephen Bradley and David Charlton and was offered to work for their salon Rever at the Mandarin Hotel. The experience exposed him to professional training overseas and to an A-list market, which consequently laid the groundwork for his future.
Aside from being Rever’s star stylist, Roma was sought by ad agencies for their campaigns. Among his famous works was the look he created for Malu Revilla, channeling Brooke Shields in an Anne Klein commercial.
With his earnings, he could afford to travel for months, staying with friends to save on hotel bills. With scissors on hand, he would style people’s hair for his pocket money. On coming home, clients would make a beeline for his services.
Through his years in the advertising world and 18 years with Rever, he built a list of prominent clients with discriminating tastes.
In 1997, the sibling team of Crispin Britanico and Lucy Britanico-Gomez with their business partners invited Roma to join BCBG salon at 6750 Ayala. Roma asked another hair and makeup stylist Henri Calayag to join them.
BCBG became one of the busiest salons in town with Roma and Calayag as the star attractions. Despite its popularity, Roma wanted to be his own boss.
Roma then broached his idea to a client, Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III, who offered to finance it. However, Roma wanted to work with his money. He put in his life’s savings into his new salon called Emphasis.
“Gabby guaranteed the bank note. I paid him back in a year,” he recalls.
Roma owns half of Emphasis while Lopez shares the other half with his cousins.
Asia’s top ten
In 2000, the model units at the Rockwell Information Center were turned into the Emphasis Salon. Designed by architect Conrad Onglao, the salon suggested a resort feel with modern Balinese interiors and expanses of glass welcoming the surrounding foliage. Its concept was that of a destination salon and events place.
To distinguish itself from other salons, Roma created a lifestyle around the idiosyncrasies of his upmarket clients by giving them considerable attention. VIP clients were pampered in
private rooms and Indonesian masseuses were imported to provide lulur treatments. Importers and collectors consigned their Oriental arts and crafts which were quickly snapped up by the customers. On its second year of operation, the French multinational L’Oreal put Emphasis on the list of its Top 10 partner salons in Asia. As a reward, Roma visited the other winning salons. It also merited attention from the foreign press for its ambience and service.
Emphasis was also unique as it became a venue for parties and media launches. To inject fun during the holidays, the staffers would come in their fantasy attire.
When One Rockwell condominium was being built, Emphasis moved to a bigger location, designed by Budji Layug + Royal Pineda firm at the Joya Tower.
With some 80 staffers working in the two-story 389-square-meter salon, business remains brisk. The average receipt is P2,000. On a normal day, it receives 80 visitors. On weekends, it averages 150 customers. Although Roma’s charisma and erudition have drawn the crème dela crème, many of his senior stylists have established their own following. As in most salons, it thrives on hair and nail services using upscale brands. Kerastase, L’Oreal’s salon line, has been moving very fast despite the steep prices. When clients try products on their hair, they buy in bulk.
“We combine beauty and business,” he maintains.
Roma points out the Emphasis’ selling points are the solicitous pampering, the unobtrusiveness of the staff and their discretion.
“Contrary to what people think, we are not elitist. The salon welcomes anyone,” he says.
Upon the invitation of Rustan’s scion Anthony Tantoco Huang, Roma became a tenant at Rustan’s Makati. The staffers from the Peninsula branch moved to Emphasis at Rustan’s. Meanwhile, the Peninsula salon is now managed by another group. Although the size is modest, the salon has been attracting shoppers. Roma is upbeat on its growth potential.
With Emphasis’ 12-year success, Roma dreams of expanding in the future. There can never be too much upscale salons.
“Industries create employment. When there is new wealth, they want to experience luxury. So give it to them,” he says.
Photos by Nelson Matawaran