Girl Talk with Nicole Pembrook
A few years back, above the Champs Elysées, Nicole Pembrook opened Polished Hair Care. For years, she had run a salon out of her home. But in her new and elegant premises, without even a sign, her clientele rapidly tripled. Having submitted my own blond locks to a coupe/couleur at Polished, I know the reasons those clients keep on coming.
One is Nicole’s upscale service, mostly but not exclusively focused on une clientèle mixte: Africans, African Americans and black parisiennes. Born in California and married to a Cameroonian, she is multilingual—and famous for her skills. Starting with a pan-European Golden Scissors Award, Nicole’s expertise has garnered plenty of plaudits—and brought to Polished celebrity clients like Justin Timberlake. Her own theory is that it’s a family affair—”I’m a hairdresser’s daughter who grew up learning in salons.”
So what brought you to Paris?
I moved with a friend who came to model, but I always intended to stay. I’m a product of the Californian culture, into healthy eating, outdoor markets, shopping locally. So I love everything about the Paris lifestyle. Plus, when I saw what hair care the African community here had access to, I knew I could work.
How would you describe that?
It really shocked me! Our image of Paris is one of sophistication. Yet, for women of color, what goes on is different. For instance, here there are more weaves and braids than anything else. However, many women only go to that quartier around Château d’Eau. You pay less there, but you also never see the same person twice. This results in terrible problems, such as alopecia—or hair that just won’t grow.
What was the key to reaching those women?
I started out going to every client’s home. By the time I’d had my kids—who are 6 and 7 now—70 women coming to mine. A lot of it was due to focusing on long-term care; many women never thought they could have healthy hair. Now, I get a lot of business through Internet mentions and on AngloInfo. I’ve been doing this job for 17 years; making women feel good keeps me happy.
As a parisienne, where is your favorite place to dine?
At Café de l’Esplanade. It’s the same concept as a really good salon: quiet and accommodating, with great service. There’s also a Mexican place that I love called Fajitas. I know the owners and they serve great salsa, great guacamole.
Where would you go to celebrate a great occasion?
To the Plaza Athenée for cocktails!
Do you have a favorite quartier for shopping?
This is going to sound very Parisian, but not only do I prowl the Sentier—I especially love rue d’Aboukir. That street has amazing wholesale stores. Not everyone there will sell retail to you, but quite a few will. You can find great materials, great shoes and great handbags.
What about leisure time?
With two kids, I like the Jardin d’Acclimatation. It’s a carnival all year round, with pony rides, popcorn, animals, rides and everything for young children. I like to have brunch there at the Pavillon des Oiseaux. We’ve been to the Louvre around 20 or more times together, so I’ve started taking them to the Palais de la Découverte. At the moment, they have a wonderful dinosaur expo.
For you, what is the most unsung yet special thing in Paris?
My girlfriend Yetunde Oshodi-Fraudeau’s apartment-rental business. It’s called Feels Like Home in Paris. Yetunde’s good at it; all her apartments are nice and well decorated.
Café de l’Esplanade
52, rue Fabert, in the 7th Arrondissement.
01 47 05 38 80.
The Polished Hair Care salon is at 76–78, ave Champs Elysées, in the 8th Arrondissement. It is inside, on Floor 2 of Staircase D, at the back of the gallery. Telephone 01 43 59 31 48 for appointments and access details (in French or English). Follow the salon on Facebook and the new Polished blog.
Editor’s note: Fancy a day of shopping in the Marais? Use our walk and shop the Marais downloadable guide.