Ana Luisa Valdes always loved cutting hair. Now she gets to share that passion. As the owner of Gastown salon Flowstate Hair Design, she’s built a creative home for herself in one of Vancouver’s most fashionable neighbourhoods. As part of the North American Cutting Team for the globally distributed, environmentally conscious Hair Line Davines, it’s Ana’s job to travel to salons around BC and beyond, teaching professionals advanced cutting, styling and colouring techniques, along with how to best use the brand’s wide range of products.
Both her salon and hair education roles provide daily inspiration for a stylist whose gift for making people look and feel great was apparent even before she arrived at Canada’s top Hair School.
“I really don’t remember how I started cutting hair,” she laughs, recalling her time growing up in Tampico, Mexico. “I had no training. It was something natural to me. My aunts would get me to cut their hair with the same scissors they used in the garden. My sister-in-law ran a hair salon in Tampico. She saw me doing hair and said that I should help her in the salon.”
When the suggestion came that she should enhance her natural talent with some formal training, Ana Luisa investigated the possibility of a dramatic change of scenery.
“I’d been to Vancouver before and liked it. One of my girlfriends from Mexico said that I should try Blanche Macdonald. I heard it was one of the best schools. And the brochure they sent me looked really interesting.”
I was having so much fun learning about everything. I wanted to know more. The photo shoots opened a door to show me what I was capable of.
With Associate Director Mary Hombrebueno making sure Ana Luisa’s student visa came through with minimal fuss, two months after that brochure arrived in Tampico, Ana Luisa was starting classes in Vancouver. The weather wasn’t the only shock to the system.
“I wasn’t prepared at all,” she admits with a broad smile. “I thought I’d take a one-year hair course and see what happened. I just wanted to learn and have fun. It was totally different from what I expected. It was tough. I had to wake up early! I knew if I was late three times I’d have to go back to Mexico, so I learned to be on time.”
Despite the early mornings, Ana Luisa found that her interest in hair was turning into a passion. With Blanche Macdonald’s training, the rudimentary skills she’d taught herself back home began to blossom.
“I started getting it and I started getting excited about hair,” she recalls. “I was having so much fun learning about everything. I wanted to know more. The photo shoots opened a door to show me what I was capable of. I’d never done avant-garde or fantasy styles before. I’d only seen that in magazines. I didn’t think I could do that type of thing myself.”
Ana’s ability and newfound sense of determination were evident before she’d even graduated. Recruited by the award-winning Toni&Guy salon, she blossomed immediately, being named as one of the Top Ten Hairdressing Newcomers in Canada at the Contessa Awards, taking First Place in the Full Fashion Fantasy competition at Vancouver Fashion Week, reaching the Finals of Toni&Guy’s North America Photographic Awards and quickly rising to the position of Art Director.
She’d spent five happy years at Toni&Guy when the discovery of a new product line and an encounter with one of her hair heroes, three-time British Hairdresser of the Year and Davines’ Artistic Director Angelo Seminara, sent her career in an exciting new direction.
“I’d been Angelo’s fan forever,” continues Ana. “When I was able to go backstage and meet him, oh my God, I have never been so inspired! He told me that he is inspired by nature. Me too! He told me he was going to Mexico to do an exhibition in Frida Kahlo’s house, taking inspiration from her hairpieces and dresses. When he said that my jaw dropped. I love Frida Kahlo!
“The more I learnt about Davines, the more I knew it was what I was looking for. The line is 100% environmentally conscious and all the packaging is totally recyclable. It’s a hair product line that isn’t bad for you in any sense. I threw out all my products from other companies. If I can’t feel that connection I can’t be passionate about it. And if I’m not passionate about something it just won’t work. Since then I’ve been able to work with Angelo, including in Los Angeles at the Worldwide Hair Tour and in New York at the Intercoiffure Hair Show. I was one of his assistants, prepping models for him. You have to deliver at events like that. There were probably about 1500 people in the crowd at that show watching him.”
I wanted a small, private space. Somewhere intimate for my clients. Flowstate is as much an artist’s studio as a salon.
For the past five years Ana’s been sharing that enthusiasm across Greater Vancouver as a key member of the Davines Team. She’s regularly travelling to Toronto, learning Angelo Seminara’s latest collections then returning to teach those cuts to stylists in BC. She’s spreading the gospel of Davines even further, opening four new accounts in Mexico on her journeys home, and being named Creative Director in high end Mexico City salon HER Barra de Peinados.
“I created their blow dry menu and their entire educational system. I trained all their 40 staff members from scratch in three weeks. Some had never done hair before! What an incredible experience to help others with new opportunities in their professional lives!
“Wherever I am in the world it’s inspiring to see professionals sharing the same passion and the love for what we do. It’s like sharing something that you really love. When you share you keep learning and keep inspiring each other. And there’s more people walking around looking better too!”
Making people look great remains a passion for Ana. Now she’s doing it on her own terms. After close to a decade working in some of Vancouver’s finest salons the time had arrived to create a salon of her own.
“I wanted a small, private space. Somewhere intimate for my clients. I’ve been doing this for a while now, so my own chair runs well. But I needed a space to craft and practice. Flowstate is as much an artist’s studio as a salon. It was quite a process but I got it done. I’m an expert on renovation and city permits now!”
“Why is it called Flowstate? Flow state is the clear, positive state of mind you enter when you’re doing something you love well. When I’m behind the chair creating for a client I go into flow state. My clients are in the chair being pampered, looking at the incredible view, and they go into flow state mode too.
“This is where I can ground myself. I’m with my team and my friends. It feels like home. I love running my own business. And I love making people feel good. That never changes.”
The team at Flowstate reflect the tranquil energy Ana’s fostered. Six floors up in a 100-year old building, a stunning brick wall running the length of the studio takes a back seat to the spectacular views of Vancouver Harbour, the North Shore and the mountain range beyond them. It’s an ideal spot for clients and creative endeavours alike.
“I love creating and doing shoots. I pick up models on the street all the time. I’ll approach people and explain that I can give them a complementary cut and colour if they’re willing to be my model. I can see in my mind what I could do when I get them in my chair. When people have a little edge they don’t mind if I shave or colour something. I won this year’s Davines Colour Competition with a model I approached on the street and offered a free haircut.”
Ana’s commitment to inspiring creativity goes beyond her clients and her fellow hair professionals. She has warm words of advice for anyone taking their first steps in the industry she loves.
“If it’s really your passion, do anything to make it happen!” she insists. “Be friendly. Be positive. If you have to apprentice or clean toilets don’t complain. We’ve all done it. Keep observing the stylists around you and do as much as you can. It’s been ten years since I graduated from Blanche Macdonald and I still love what I do. So far, so good!”