Skilled stylist Yuko Mizuno in her Douglass Street hair salon.
Photos by Joshua Kristal
Article By Sandra Nygaard
Nestled into a quiet, tree-lined escape from the hustle-bustle of Smith Street, just down Douglass, you’ll find a hand-painted sign adorning a new hair salon, where skilled stylist Yuko Mizuno’s smile fills up the space.
“Everyone has a such a busy life here, I wanted to have a place that was relaxing and quiet, but close to the action,” Mizuno says of Salon Mizuno, which opened in late summer.
Mizuno, who’s worked in the neighborhood for years, at Salon du Quartier and then Cocoro, on Henry, enjoys a loyal following — clients living in Westchester, Boston and as far as Oregon still make special trips for appointments with her. Parents are discovering her styled cuts for kids.
But it wasn’t business, per se, that inspired Mizuno to open her own place. It was the killer tsanumi that hit Japan. When the devastation took place, back in March, “something in me changed,” Mizuno says. “I wanted to do something meaningful with my life.”
Her initial reaction was to return to Japan to be with her family, friends and ailing homeland. But a conversation with her father, a chef who owns his own restaurant in Tokyo, and who originally wanted her to stay in Japan, changed her thinking.
“He was so grateful for the contributions of the American Red Cross,” Mizuno says. “He wanted me to thank everyone here for that support. That message stayed in my heart.”
Mizuno sets aside a small portion of her income every day for the Red Cross and hopes to expand the donation to other charities.
Mizuno’s skill at everything from cuts, color and keratin treatments to make-up application and Japanese straightening are apparent, but it’s her disposition that keeps people coming back. She says she wanted to create a salon that offers not only a great cut or color but also a community space.
“I want it to be a happy place,” Mizuno explains. “I want the clients to talk with one another.” The roughly 350 square feet and just three styling chairs fosters that intimacy.
Mizuno and her colleagues Jennifer Szwaba and Yuki Hayashi helped transform the former deli into a welcoming space with light gray walls and wallpaper. Quirky work by local artists add a unique touch.
Growing up outside of Tokyo in a town called Nagano, Mizuno’s salon is the culmination of many of her dreams. She recalls praying to come to the United States when she was five or six years old. There wasn’t a specific reason that created this desire, she says, just an intuition. Although Mizuno considered carpentry, translation and architecture as potential career paths.
“Becoming a hair stylist was a way to come to America,” Mizuno admits.
Her father, Masaru, is a chef who owns a restaurant back home, and he liked the idea of his middle child working with her hands; though he never understood his daughter’s desire to come to the States.
After working for five years as a stylist in Tokyo and shortly in Hawaii, Mizuno woke up one morning and realized she had to get to New York. Within a month, she arrived in Manhattan, without a job or an apartment. She started working in the East Village before heading to Salon du Quartier on Smith Street, which opened her eyes to Brooklyn.
She’s lived here for seven years. “It’s very easy here. People are warm and open,” Mizuno says.
Like a good bartender, Mizuno is apt at remembering details from your last conversation, and she’s also diplomatic enough to try to talk you out of adding bangs to your wavy hair. She’ll do it if you insist. And she won’t say, “I told you so,” when you return for a trim and admit that those bangs don’t really work on your hair. She fixes color mistakes without a hint of judgment.
“People are very loyal because we have a relationship,” Mizuno says. “My teacher always said, ‘Do not be just a haircutter.’ I think about that a lot. Anybody can cut hair – but really putting your heart into it is a different skill.“
“When I touch someone’s head, it’s a very personal thing. It’s a very special thing that is being shared. There is a trust that I take very seriously.”
Mizuno’s dad, Masaru, recently told her that he went hiking and came upon a Shinto shrine. As is custom, he made a wish: for the success of his daughter’s Brooklyn salon. “I couldn’t stop crying,” Mizuno said. “It’s like he finally let me go.”
To a land Mizuno always dreamed of, in a neighborhood that feels like home.
119 Douglass Street
Writer Sandra Nygaard has written about music, food, fashion and the arts for New York magazine online, Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, Women’s Wear Daily and other publications. She is currently the Senior Fashion Editor for Men’s Health magazine. She loves living in Carroll Gardens with her husband, Michael, and their son, Oskar.