Madeleine Spatz says she decided to become a hairdresser in the 1960s when the bouffant was in style. Her mother was a school crossing guard on the West Side of Chicago and was required to wear a hat, which messed up her bouffant. She came home with serious “hat head” and Spatz, then a child, would play with her mom’s hair and get it back into place.
“Her bouffant was an hourglass shape and not round, like everyone else’s,” recalled Spatz in a recent interview.
She loved styling hair so much that she got a full-time stylist position during high school. She wanted to drop out and go to work as a stylist, but her mother wouldn’t let her leave school. Instead, her mother gave her tuition to attend a beauty academy as a graduation gift after high school.
From her simple beginnings, Spatz, now 53, owns a well-known salon, Selvaggio, in the Edison Park area on the Northwest Side of Chicago, which does about 250 haircuts a week. Along with one other stylist, she earns about $10,000 a month. Spatz founded her salon in 2005.
“I can cut seven haircuts in five different techniques,” she said. “Being a well-rounded hairdresser is my favorite because I know how to do all three things well.”
She also believes that cutting and styling hair is an important contribution to other people’s happiness. “Hair is an expression of someone’s beauty, personality,” she said. “They can be a chameleon with their hair.”
Spatz, who sports an angled bob with highlights, has warm hazel eyes and a round face. Her love for her clients is contagious, and her positive feelings for her work are obvious. Of Italian descent, Spatz said she loves cooking Italian dishes and decorating her home and her salon; its walls are covered with portraits of the reggae singer Bob Marley, as well as photos of haircuts she feels most proud of.
“I think hairdressers are usually the most happy people in the world; there is a major history to hairdressing that is inspiring,” she said.
Spatz is following a tradition that started thousands of years ago. Evidence of hairdressing dates back to 30,000-25,000 BC, also known as the Ice Age, according to “Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History” by Victoria Sherrow. In her book, Sherrow said this evidence came from two statuettes, as well as scientific discoveries from pictures, artifacts and writings.
Like many hairdressers before her, Spatz was fortunate enough to be trained by some of the true masters of the industry, she said. One of these masters and the most influential to her was the top international hair designer, Irving Rusk.
Before launching her own salon, Spatz was among the select few who were able to work alongside the legendary Rusk. “He would come into Vidal Sassoon and train us,” she said. Rusk drew admirers from all over world. Spatz worked with teams to collaborate on styles and accompanied Rusk to styling conventions in Chicago.
“He was a mentor of mine,” she recalled. “I loved what he did. We worked as a true team. He produced looks that took over the whole industry. People ran to his shows before anything else.”
But her career was not always one of glamor and conventions. Spatz worked for seven years in her own basement after she married and became pregnant with her daughter and, later, her son. While she was working in her home, however, she read hairdressing journals like Estetica and kept up with changes in the industry, she said.
Her previous work places included Sam Martiranos in Northbrook and Vidal Sassoon in the Gold Coast.
A free-spirited type, Spatz moved to London in 1978 to cut hair after seeing an ad for a job there. “It was the height of pure rock. I learned how to cut inversions, mohawks, punky extreme haircuts.”
She also met the rock singer Rod Stewart there.
Spatz moved back to Chicago in 1979 and has lived here since, where she has developed a large circle of admirers, loyal clients and friends.
“I think she’s the best hairdresser in the entire world,” said Glee Mangiamele, 53, Spatz’s best friend. “I don’t care where she is in the world; I’ll go. If she moved to a hut in Jamaica, I’d go out there or fly her here.”
Mangiamele said Spatz is able to make her look her best. “She always makes me feel like I have the best hair in the world.”
Spatz has clients of all ages. Tanya Quershi, 20, a student who lives in Morton Grove, said when she got her first haircut from Spatz, she thought Spatz was cutting her hair too fast. “I got a little scared because she used a razor instead of scissors, but the end result was perfect.”
Allison Spatz, 25, who is Spatz’s daughter, said she refers her friends to her mother and they “rave about her.”
Allison Spatz said her mother cuts hair in a way that enables clients to recreate the same look at home. “She makes it easy. And if you don’t know how, she’ll show you how while you’re in her chair until you feel comfortable to do it on your own.”
She also credited her mother with being able to take a woman’s look and achieve a new style that is appropriate and still fashionable.
Spatz herself said one of her goals in cutting hair is to encourage people to try different hairstyles. “Some are so attached to the same look and hair that they don’t realize what a new look can do for them. They become so regimented,” she said.
Her daughter credited Spatz with putting clients’ interests above those of her own. “She’s honest. If she doesn’t think you’ll look good with the idea you’re thinking of because a lot of people want the most popular ‘in’ look, she will tell you. She helps you create a look of your own.”
Another client, Kristen Hope, agreed that Spatz sincerely cares about her customers. “I feel like I’m taken care of, as opposed to taken advantage of,” she said. Hope said she has been coming to Spatz for haircuts for five years.
Apparently Spatz commands a feeling of deep loyalty from some of her clients.
Spatz tells the story of Delores Hank, 89, a short, bubbly, white-haired client who drives a Mercedes-Benz and always brings cakes or flowering plants to Spatz with every appointment. “She was one of my first clients, and I still do her hair today,” Spatz said, laughing.