Blanche Macdonald Pro Hair Instructor and Vancouver barber Sandra Perovic has a competitive streak. That’s why, no matter where in the world she’s working, she’s regularly entering (and winning) international hair competitions.
“I don’t enter because I want to win,” she insists. “I do it for me. I love the thrill of competition. Hairdressing and barbering are always fun, but it’s also important to do something that makes you feel good creatively. I love stepping out of the box for competitions. Clients don’t normally want you to do something crazy to their hair. So I love the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone, put my skills to the test and see what I can create.”
Sandra may modestly insist that she’s not in it to win it, but her results say otherwise. Whether she’s working in her hometown of Vancouver or on the English coast in Bournemouth, she’s captured gold wherever she’s competed. She took home a pair of trophies for Best Men’s Cut and Style and Best Day to Night Look at the Mirror Awards (Canadian Hairdresser Magazine’s annual competition), was recognized as one of North America’s Top Five Newcomers at the Contessa Awards and, most impressive of all, became the first woman to triumph at the American Crew World Barbering competition, a high-pressure battle against national champions from across the globe.
I love the thrill of competition. Hairdressing and barbering are always fun, but it’s also important to do something that makes you feel good creatively. I love the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone, put my skills to the test and see what I can create.
“Soon after I arrived to work in the UK I decided to enter the American Crew competition and sent in some photos,” she explains. “A few weeks later one of their reps called me to say that I’d won the national trials and I’d be making an all-expenses paid trip to Paris!
“I was in Paris for a week, with press conferences and two days of competition. American Crew selected the models; who didn’t all speak English. My model didn’t have naturally great hair either.
“It was like a blank canvas. I had 45 minutes to cut and style before getting my model to wardrobe, where I worked with a fashion stylist to help dress them, and then ten minutes to shoot and edit the photos.”
Standing onstage alongside her competitors at a gala night in front of thousands of hair professionals from around the world in the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles (the biggest conference centre in France), the moment of the victory announcement was beyond intense.
“They said ‘the winner is…’ and my name and photo appeared on TV screens that I couldn’t see above my head. There was a table full of representatives from the UK and they were all going mental. Only then did they actually announce my name. I was representing the UK but it was still weird when I was given a British flag. I thought to myself, don’t you have a Canadian flag?”
There were so many things that I took from the program at Blanche Macdonald. The instructors really moulded me.
Sandra had the chance to wave the Maple Leaf earlier this year when she travelled to New York to represent Canada at her second American Crew World Barbering competition.
These triumphs didn’t come easily. Her victories around the world are dramatic improvements from her very first hair competition, which she entered when she was still a student at Blanche Macdonald.
“In the colour theory level Renata Trebacz was our instructor,” she recalls with a smile. “Out of the blue she asked me if I wanted to enter the Skills Canada BC Competition. I asked her, ‘Why me?’ And she said, ‘Why not you?’ I guess she saw something in me.
“I spent hours practicing with Renata before and after school. The actual competition was a lot more intense than I thought it would be. We had to cut, colour and style three types of look – a woman’s day look, an evening look and a men’s look. On the actual day of the competition I felt the pressure and didn’t really organize myself effectively.”
It turns out that you sometimes learn more in defeat than in victory.
“I didn’t win, that’s for sure,” she laughs. “But whenever I don’t succeed in something it makes me want to kick butt and do even it more.”
Renata trained me so closely. Everything she did was always so precise. She was my inspiration to go into competitions and try to be my best.
Kicking butt and improving her craft go hand in hand for Vancouver barber Sandra. Before she even arrived at Blanche Macdonald she’d taken a hair program in high school in Burnaby and had begun studying barbering. But she knew that to take her career to the heights she knew she was capable of, she needed to become the finished package.
“I knew I wasn’t there yet,” she admits. “I wanted to get into competitions and do photo shoots. There were so many things that I took from the program at Blanche Macdonald. The instructors really moulded me. I had previous experience from other hair courses so I had this mentality that I already knew what to do. I remember doing a crazy pattern on foils on a mannequin, and my instructor gave me three out of six. I was so offended. I thought the foils were perfect. I told him, ‘Why would you give me a failing grade? These are perfect.’ He said, ‘If you were perfect you wouldn’t be here.’ That really stuck with me. From that moment I knew I could always learn more and do better.”
Sandra graduated and immediately started working on the floor at Vancouver’s C-zô Salon. An instant star, she was soon recruited to join the team at Ignite Hair and Beauty Lounge, where a seemingly innocuous training course introduced her to the idea of styling internationally.
“The plan was for me to take this men’s cutting class then return to Ignite and teach the rest of the team. That class was taught by two salon owners from England. One of them offered me a job. I’d always wanted to travel so I took it!”
Eight time zones away, the clients of Bond’s Gentlemen’s Barbershop in Bournemouth suddenly found themselves with a new, world-class Canadian barber.
In a salon you’d get between 45 minutes and an hour with male clients. In a Barbers 30 minutes is a lot!
“Bond’s is a real barbershop, so it was very different than the salons I’d worked at in Vancouver. It had a traditional barbershop feel. When someone sat in my chair, I had to crack on with it. In a salon you’d get between 45 minutes and an hour with male clients. In a Barbers 30 minutes is a lot!”
Despite the distance, this Vancouver barber continued to keep in close contact with her instructors at Hair School.
“The team at Blanche is close to a second family. Each instructor there has given me something I’ve taken away and used. The doors are always open. If you have a question or a problem or need advice, they’re there for you, whatever you need. Renata trained me so closely. Everything she did was always so precise. She was my inspiration to go into competitions and try to be my best.”
“It’s a great program that has a lot of elements other schools’ courses may be missing. The skill set, as a barber or a hairdresser, is important, but your mindset is even more important. The little personal interaction touches become fine-tuned as you work more with people.
It’s a great program that has a lot of elements other schools’ courses may be missing. The skill set, as a barber or a hairdresser, is important, but your mindset is even more important. The little personal interaction touches become fine-tuned as you work more with people.
“I love when I’m able to make someone understand what they should be doing – the a-ha moment. I can see people progressing as a stylist as the days pass. I can see the hard work. Students here have a lot of drive and motivation. It’s great when they come in and want to learn.”
With such a lengthy list of achievements already under her belt, perhaps it’s surprising to hear that Sandra still doesn’t consider herself a master. There’s always room to get better.
The team at Blanche is close to a second family. Each instructor there has given me something I’ve taken away and used. The doors are always open. If you have a question or a problem or need advice, they’re there for you, whatever you need.
“I still take courses,” she explains. “Even if I know the techniques, I’ll remember things I’d forgotten or pick up new tricks. You have to go into hair with an open mind. I’ve seen people arrive at Hair School and think that only one instructor is right and everyone else has nothing to teach you. That’s not true. Everyone brings something new to your skills. There’s not just one way to do things.”
As a stylist challenging herself at the highest level, this Vancouver barber is still happy to share words of wisdom for those beginning the journey.
“People coming in for haircuts with students know they’re starting out. Have patience and don’t take anything personally. This is the beginning of your journey, so don’t be scared. If you’re nervous clients can feel that. So shake it off!”