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Ottawa esthetician goes his own way

Discrimination inspired Vien to open his own business

Emmanuel Vien, who recently opened his own esthetics business, says acceptance of gender nonconformity is increasing. Credit: Adrienne Ascah

After initially encountering workplace discrimination as a male esthetician in Ottawa, Emmanuel Vien has since built up his clientele and opened his own business.



Vien first spoke to Daily Xtra in April 2014 about encountering spa owners who said they didn’t want to hire a male esthetician or were uncomfortable with the fact that he wears makeup. Vien tells us more in this edited and condensed interview.

Daily Xtra: Why did you decide to open your own salon?



Emmanuel Vien: Definitely for the freedom. I really like the freedom of doing what I want and being really exclusive. For me, something really big is to serve complimentary wine and charcuterie and to flesh out the experience so clients can really have a real spa-relaxation experience. It’s really difficult to do things you want when you’re a control freak [unless] you work for yourself.

When you were looking for work a year and a half ago there were prospective employers who told you they didn’t want to hire a male esthetician or they had an issue with you wearing makeup. Do you think there’s more acceptance now of gender nonconformity?

Definitely. I think that whole discrimination had to do with salon and spa owners, not too much with the general public and my clients. There’s hardly [any] discrimination from the general public because of the advertising that I do, the marketing that I have out there. Clients are aware of what I look like and who I am and it hasn’t been a problem. It was just a matter of salon and spa owners not wanting to [hire] such an individual. [My work] has given me so much more individuality. I’ve always been very individual, so this gives me that freedom.

Have you had clients tell you that you inspire them to express themselves in a way that they may not have in the past?



Of course. I think [with] most of the salon and spa owners around, we have to have that comfortable feeling with people. But definitely with my style and my confidence I brought out a lot of personalities out there. I make people feel comfortable. I show them that it’s OK to be different. It’s freeing. It’s your life. I think a lot of people in my industry listen to a lot of people open up and talk about everything from their divorces to their kids. It’s really nice to have people open up. It happens every day in here. People just talk about everything.

What do you like best about being an esthetician?



Probably going ahead and having that power over beautifying someone. It’s a lot more than just doing a facial or giving a manicure/pedicure or waxing. A lot of my experience being an esthetician and what I strive for is the client communication, client interaction and giving them a real spa experience. I’ve heard from a lot of clients that they don’t go to big, well-known spas anymore because it’s very obnoxious. It’s very judgmental, so having a small location is more personalized, more exclusive for my clients. Even at the other place where I work, I see people from all walks of life and really my favourite thing to do is to give them the most beautifying service but also tailoring everything to their needs. If someone wants to relax, they can relax. If they want to talk to me, they can talk to me as I’m doing these services. It’s just really touching people’s lives in a whole different way.

On your website, your clients’ recommendations mention your waxing services in particular. What’s the secret to perfect waxing?



I think for my clients the main [waxing service] is eyebrows. I’ve always been a face expert. There is no big secret. I feel like I just definitely have that natural touch where I can look at someone’s face and see what we’re going to do, take away 10 to 15 to 30 hairs. I also tailor that experience with filling out eyebrows, not only waxing them, so that makes me a little different.



Also, my hour-long appointments make that big difference. Usually you go to a salon or a spa and you get a waxing and you’re out. For me, I will almost always round my waxing appointment to up to an hour. If the waxing requires less time then I fill that time with massaging the skin and applying essential oils, so I think the biggest secret is to really take your time because time is quality. You leave relaxed and not all red.

What would you say to encourage someone to consider treating themselves to an esthetics service?



I think people need to realize that esthetics isn’t all about beauty. The biggest thing is self-care and relaxation. Stress is a killer nowadays. Not only do I get my facials because I want to look good, but because I want to relax. I want a nice massage. You want to use esthetics as a preventative tool for stress.