Andre Nizetich takes a break from cutting hair foils in the back of the busy Western Avenue salon that bears his name. The energetic hairdresser scrolls through his iPhone as we sit down to chat – he’s busy planning his next hair summit.
You wouldn’t know he is 78 and has been cutting hair since 1957. You also wouldn’t know the San Pedro native is a nationally renowned hair color expert and educator.
Retrospective questions about his career take a turn to the present and soon he is deep in discussion about the latest trend of ammonia-free at-home hair color. Nizetich’s endless fascination with the hair industry keeps him on his toes, and it all began, of all places, at the U.S. Coast Guard station on Terminal Island.
“When I was in the service stationed at Terminal Island, a guy there told me I should go to El Camino College because they had a great cosmetology program,” he remembers.
The idea struck a chord with something he’d been told years earlier, before he worked for Ford Motors, Douglas Aircraft and Green Hills cemetery. When he was a student at San Pedro High School, Nizetich was told by a school counselor that he should find an artistic career that involved working with his hands.
“I thought it sounded like a fit, so I followed his advice,” he says.
A few years later, fresh out of cosmetology school, newly married and with a baby, Nizetich found himself a rare male hairdresser in a female-dominated industry. He took a job at Virginia’s Beauty Salon on Gaffey Street, where owner Myrtle Klages encouraged him.
“I was one of the few males in the business and I got a ribbing for it, but it served me well,” he recalls. “I was busy right away.”
Four years later in 1961, Nizetich took a gamble and opened his own salon in Redondo Beach. So began Andres Coiffures (later Andres Hair Studio) and the innovative coloring techniques that would lead to patents and acclaim.
Frustrated with traditional highlighting methods, Nizetich invented a device in the early ‘70s called the Super Streak, which was later sold to Clairol (he also invented and patented the hair foil cutting machine he was using earlier). In the process, he began seriously studying hair color, taking matters into his own hands, literally.
“I got a lot of hair and I made swatches, I even got a microscope and put the hair under it when I colored it to look at it to see what happened,” he says. “I found out that all the information we were getting about what happens with hair color was inaccurate.”
He challenged authority and questioned what hair color manufacturers taught.
“I knew that what they were teaching was wrong and it was really hindering the learning process,” he says.
Nizetich’s studies would become the basis of the curriculum of the American Board of Certified Hair Colorists, where he is president. Today, he travels the country teaching hair colorists and administering the board’s stringent exam. His own salon, which relocated to San Pedro, has six board certified colorists, the most of any in Southern California.
Nizetich still conducts hair experiments in his free time and presents the findings at his annual hair summit, which draws hundreds. He’s written books, made DVDs and still takes some of his longtime clients at the salon.
Julie Lazarof and Kris McGinnis have worked with Nizetich for over 20 years and now own Andres Hair Studio. They’re both amazed at how passionate he still is in training younger staff members. Both say he’s an inspiration because he still finds joy and new ideas in their industry, even after 50 years.
“He’s such an inspiration and he teaches us so much,” says stylist Jenna Lusic. “He’s also really funny.”
Nizetich has been married to his wife Joann for 56 years. His children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are some of the salon’s regular clients.
“It’s a joy working with the people I work with,” he says. “And I would like to thank all of my clients past and present for their support and for putting up with me.”
Nizetich says his best advice for aspiring hairdressers is actually to avoid beauty school. “This sounds crazy, but there are literally thousands of people going to beauty school and they never go to work because there are no jobs. Go to a salon you want to work at and volunteer to work for free doing what you can; be the first one there in the morning, and the last one to leave. Do that for six weeks, then ask the owner if they will hire you as an apprentice.”
And while it wasn’t easy being a male hair dresser in the 1950s (“My father never forgave me for it. He wanted me to be a fisherman,” Nizetich quips), or going up against the might of big-name hair color manufacturers in the name of education, Nizetich says his career has been nothing but fulfilling.
“I’m working pretty hard to uplift professional hair color and give it a better reputation,” he says. “I’ve never regretted it, I’ve had a lot of fun and it’s been great being able to make people, whether clients or hair dressers, feel better about themselves.” spt
Andres Hair Studio is located at 28146 S. Western Ave. For more info, call (310) 547-1168 or visit www.andreshairstudio.com.