First ladies of beauty
VOGUE India|September 2020
First ladies of beauty
Meet India’s original salon owners, the women who put skincare, hairdressing and the concept of a comprehensive beauty parlour on the map.
Aditi Bhimjyani

When boxed black hair dyes and facial bleaches were the norm, these enterpris-ing ladies managed to manoeuvre through the challenges of sourcing quality products, bringing a spot of vanity into the lives of women across Indian cities.

TREND FORECAST

THE BOB IS BACK IN ALL ITS VARIATIONS, ALONG WITH FUSS-FREE STYLES. TO COMPLEMENT A MASK, SHORTER CUTS WILL MAKE A HUGE COMEBACK TO EXPOSE WHAT’S LEFT OF OUR FEATURES

THE HERBALIST HAIRDRESSER

JUNE TOMKYNS, JUNE TOMKYNS SALON AND ACADEMY (ESTD 1977), KOLKATA

June Tomkyns, CEO of her eponymous salon in Kolkata, remains dynamically involved in every business decision, which includes running three outlets with the help of her children and grandchildren. At 75, she had been cutting hair till the lockdown began, but has since optimised the pandemic-driven free time into handcrafting essential oil-based sanitisers and perfumes. “COVID-19 has warranted a new era of reinvention and resourcefulness,” she says, reminiscing to the time it all began.

“I was coerced into entering a local beauty pageant in Bengaluru in 1959. After I won, someone asked me the secret to my beauty. I hadn’t thought of myself as particularly beautiful. My daily routine, anchored in my mother’s herbalist lifestyle of essential oils and kitchen remedies seemed to be the norm.” Requests kept pouring in from ladies begging Tomkyns for her skin and hair remedies, which she rustled up with the help of her mother.

LOOKING BACK

Despite the halt taken to tend to her children and moving to Kolkata, Tomkyns’s urge to get back into potion-making saw her re-enter the beauty business, coupled with a botched haircut, by setting up a room in 1977.

“The sugar wax I prepared in my kitchen was renowned, and I use my special saffron burn relief paste to this day,” she grins. Other makeup and hair products would be brought to her by friends and relatives from abroad, paying prices that she just couldn’t recover given the rate of 10 per facial and 15 for makeup. “Expensive products plus my hour of labour ensured I made no profit at the beginning, but I never compromised on quality. I gained a reputation that ensured the elite of Kolkata reached out to me.” Like the reclusive doyenne of Bengali cinema Suchitra Sen and the late barrister Honey Dev Burman.

MAKING OF A LEGEND

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September 2020