To describe Niki Walker as striking would be a horrible understatement. This statuesque beauty—normally dressed in black from head to toe—is hard to miss when walking on Baronne Street. Her spiked hair and unique body art definitely make an unforgettable impression, and that’s exactly what she does at her salon by providing clients with cuts and color that make strong statements. We recently talked to this gifted hair stylist and savvy business owner after she returned from Fashion Week in NYC. Under the stylish exterior, we uncovered a woman who is somewhat shy about the value of her talents, loves to teach her craft and is elated about her marriage to her fiancé Chip Kennedy, a union that will make her a mother of six.
When did you become interested in the beauty business? When I was 14, I started modeling locally and found myself backstage at hair shows almost every weekend. After having my hair braided, teased, curled, shaved, razored, straightened, permed, pulled on and pulled out, I decided that I didn’t want to be in front of the camera anymore. After a show, I went home and told my mom that I didn’t want to be a model when I grew up. She looked at me, with my bright orange and purple mohawked hair and said, “Why don’t you be a hairdresser?” So thanks, mom!
Moms do know best! So how did you develop that passion/skill? I worked behind the chair for eight years before I became an instructor. When I started teaching is when I really understood my craft. Showing others the how, when and why of haircutting and color is when it all made sense. I love what I do; I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t do hair.
How much of what you do is intuitive, and how much is a more refined skill that you’ve had to learn? I guess it all just comes naturally so it doesn’t feel refined at all, even though it is. Haircutting is much like building a house; Vidal Sassoon created haircuts by being inspired by architecture, so it is all based on geometries—I think that is where the skill comes in. Being able to create and be inspired enough to make a vision become a reality is where intuition plays a roll.
What is the most difficult part of your job? Putting a price on my work.
Tell me about your own personal style. How do you create that signature look that you have? Well, I’m 6’2” so it has always been a challenge to find clothes that fit me. I remember drawing pants and dresses on my book covers during class. I would pick out the fabric and my mom and Nonnie would make them. I guess I got used to being different and it’s been that way ever since. I’m not sure what my signature look is; I just wear what makes me feel pretty that day. In the back of my mind I always imagine that I’m walking a runway in a fashion show, then I realize that I am on Aisle 3 in the grocery store in the bread section with six kids and a full basket of junk food!
You work with Locks of Love. How did you get involved in that? I absolutely love children. I have three of my own, soon to be six! I learned about Locks of Love when I was very young. There was a kid at our church growing up who had cancer. I remember him losing all of his hair and wearing a wig. We now have a Locks of Love event at our salon where if you donate over 10 inches of hair, we will give you a complimentary haircut. Also on the day of the event we do $20 haircuts, have a silent auction and a bake sale. All the money raised goes to Locks of Love. We get a lot of guests that come in for it and it always warms my heart to witness people being so selfless and giving. Our next Lock of Love event will be on April 28 but we offer the comp cut (with donation of 10”) every day.
I see that you have classes for non-professionals at the salon. What are those like? They’re designed to help our guests learn tricks and trends that they can do every day or for a special event. They bring their makeup or hair bag and we show them how and when to apply their cosmetics or products. Using the proper brushes and applicators are a must and this is not only demonstrated throughout the class, but they actually get to practice on themselves. It evolved from our “tool bar” where our guests can try out the irons and dryers before they buy them. So many loved the small tips we showed them and requested longer sessions so we created a two-hour event where you can relax with friends, drink wine, snack and learn how to be beautiful. There’s usually a dozen people and we hold it every third Saturday of the month.
Your studio is right down the street from our office on Baronne Street. How did you get such a great location? I was the creative director of a salon two blocks down from where we are now when Katrina hit. We had only been open for a year and we lost everything. Everyday, I would dream about being back in New Orleans and then my prince charming came along. My financé invested in my dream…he let me pick out anything and everything I ever wanted. I had pictures and drawings of ideas that I collected over the past seven years. With the help of my dad, brother and a few friends, the salon was built out in 21 days! Now, a year later, the walls are decorated with my fiancés work and I will inspire, support and motivate him in every possible way that I can.
I heard about your recent engagement! Congrats! How did you meet? We both happened to be chaperones on a field trip on a swamp tour. Between us, we have six children. Chip’s oldest and my youngest were in the same class. The girls claim that they set us up, but I definitely put in the effort!
Adorable. I know he is a photographer. Do you ever work together on shoots? We often do, but we both like to broaden our network and work with other talent too. We always assist one another in whatever project we are doing. We balance one another and support each other 100%.
I have to ask…wedding plans? Have you set a date or place? It’s January 4, 2014 but we are still looking for a venue. We plan on having a 1920s party theme. Everyone is invited, but you must come dressed for the roaring 20’s and make a small donation to our favorite charity, CASA. We love fashion and surrounding ourselves with fun, creative people so what better way to start our life together then in good company and in style?
How are you planning to wear your hair at the wedding? Who will do it? I have no clue! I never imagined being a bride with a Mohawk, so we are working on it.
We can’t wait to see it. Now, last question: talk about Fashion Week NYC. How was it? It was like nothing I have ever experienced. For Chip and I, it was our first time working it in New York. We did nine shows over the period of five days. I left there so inspired and motivated. I think that when I started my career in hair, I tried to get as far away from the fashion world as possible because of leaving modeling. I have been doing small shows locally but nothing like NYFW. Now, we’re ready to travel and take on all the fashion weeks around the world. I think Miami is next!