Austin salon owner turns hairstyles into works of art

A flare for the hair

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By LA RISA LYNCH

Lady Gaga's hair stylist may have some competition in Austin salon-owner Markeva Barnes-Baxter.

The eccentric pop music songstress has made a name for herself by wearing creatively outlandish hairdos on the red carpet. But Barnes-Baxter can offer Lady G some tips on avant-garde tresses that can wow the most critical crowd.

And Barnes-Baxter has the stripes, and the awards, to prove it. The salon-owner walked away with a second place trophy at hair show competition earlier this month.

"I looked at everybody else's work I saw there and they did creative stuff too," said Barnes-Baxter of the ProudLady Beauty Show that took place in south suburban Tinley Park May 5-7.

The competition is sponsored by American Health and Beauty Aids Institute, an industry organization for black hair care manufacturers.

Hair stylists and barbers from across the country flaunted their skills in creating lavish up-dos, bobs, and wraps for prizes, as well as bragging rights. Competition was stiff. The stylists crafted elaborate creations made entirely from hair - from wide brim hats and futuristic sculptures, to coifed styles that resembled birth cake.

"I had so much confidence in what I did, I know I was going to get something," said Barnes-Baxter, owner of Hair Biz Beauty Salon, 5307 W. Chicago, for 11 years.

Spring was Barnes-Baxter's inspiration for her winning piece. Called the "Butterfly Diva," Barnes-Baxter used deep purples and vibrant turquoise to create a fan-shaped crown made from human hair. She topped it off with butterflies dyed yellow and green that appeared to land on her model' head - all made from human hair.

"That's what's won it," Barnes-Baxter said. "I know people like color. You can't use black and brown. You want something to make people say, 'Wow!'"

The competition had several categories, including evening wear hair styles, but Barnes-Baxter chose to enter the fantasy category. She wanted a challenge, to break away from the doldrums of doing traditional hairstyles for her clients. She considers what she does an art. Doing hair shows also gives her the freedom to express the creative side of doing hair, which she said people don't always appreciate.

"Hair gets kind of boring after awhile. I always knew I wanted to do something different," said Barnes-Baxter, whose last hair show was eight years ago; she stepped away from competitions to raise a family.

But winning hair shows is nothing new for the Marshall High School graduate, who also makes hand-crafted earrings from hair. She won her first show just out of cosmetology school in the early '90s and placed in every competition she entered afterward. She's won for styles designed as a UFO, and for clothes and shoes made entirely from hair. Being different, she says, is what judges look for.

"They were looking at originality. I had to give them something real different."

But there is more to the hair shows than just creating a perfectly coifed style. The designs have to be staged for the judges. Participants use models to showcase hairdos, and even the models are outfitted in custom-made dresses down to the shoes.

"You can compare it to a beauty pageant," Barnes-Baxter said, noting that preparing for the show is labor intensive.

She began working on her design in February, spending hours perfecting her style, and another two hours to create each of the 20 butterflies. But she said it was worth it. Her sights are now on the American Beauty Show coming up.

"It took a lot out of me but I will do it again," said the salon-owner, who wants to be a professional hairstylist to celebrities.

In high school, Barnes-Baxter took up the bassoon, becoming very accomplished at playing the instrument. Her mother, Neva Barnes, hoped her daughter would be performing on stage at Symphony Center.

"I was supposed be a bassoonist, but I just fell into hair," Barnes-Baxter said.

Barnes-Baxter's mom is proud of her daughter's success, though admits this wasn't the career path she imagined for her.

Regardless, her mom beams with pride at her daughter's accomplishments - she has a house full of trophies to prove it.

"I am very proud of her," she said.

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