A Tribute To Frederic Aspiras’s Mother, The Hairdresser Who Inspired His Celeb Styling Success
Lady Gaga’s Longtime Hairdresser Shares His Mother’s Inspiring Story
By Lauren Rees
Frederic Aspiras (@fredericaspiras) is globally known for award-winning work on one of the planet’s most iconic and influential celebrities: Lady Gaga. As the Haus of Gaga hairdresser for more than a decade, his artistic and cultural work and vision are seen by literally billions of people around the world. His styles defy trends and live on as visual artwork on editorial covers, the cinemas, Met Gala carpets and awards show stages. His career has taken him to incredible places, and he is now a Joico celebrity ambassador.
And if you ask Frederic, there’s one reason why he’s found such success, and one reason why he’s even a hairdresser at all: His mom.
Her name was Suzie L. Nguyen. She came to the United States as a refugee from Vietnam in 1975 at the age of 40, children in tow. Soon after, she found herself a single mother. But despite odds stacked against her, Suzie worked to put herself through cosmetology school and open a salon in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood, where she developed business acumen and understood the value of customer service, even working after a stroke to keep seeing her clients.
Suzie passed away in June at the age of 85. BTC wanted to honor her story—and her impact on her son, Frederic, and in turn, the global community of hair.
Suzie’s Start In the U.S.
Coming to the U.S. with Frederic’s father, who was in the Army, Suzie knew how to speak only a little English. Within one year of coming to the U.S., she had Frederic and then divorced her husband. Her goal as a single mother with six children and a newborn? To start her own business and open a salon.
“I watched her go from getting her GED to bussing tables and cooking in kitchens just to pay for cosmetology school,” Frederic says. “I didn’t understand why she wanted to do it, I just knew she always loved doing hair and makeup. Coming here, she wanted to find something that was special to her.”
After cosmetology school, Suzie worked in salons for years until she was ready to open her own.
“Glamour Hair and Nail Design,” Frederic says with a laugh. “I picked that name out for her salon. I was 12 years old and very influenced by fashion and glamour.”
And once that dream was realized, Suzie quickly learned the hard part had only started.
“She put in seven days a week, working every single day, trying to create clientele and business,” Frederic shares. “Her passion—I remember watching her put on makeup and doing people’s hair, and being so fascinated.”
Frederic knew even at a young age that his mom was building something that would be a part of his own future.
“Every time we talked about the salon, it was about passing something on, whether it be the knowledge of the business or her skills,” he says. “She identified herself in me—my curiosity and my drive. I think she saw me as the next generation that could carry on something.”
Investing in the Future
Suzie was known as someone who went all in with everything she did or everyone she met.
“My mom was always about investing in the future, whether it be business or people,” Frederic shares. “She was a businesswoman, and everything was business. On weekends I would hear a loud knock on my door to come to the salon and work. She would show me how to do her books. I was 14 years old but she wanted to teach me the ways, help me understand the future.
But for this single mother, there was a deeper reason for wanting to succeed.
“The best investment she ever made was in her family,” Frederic says.
Her children watched her work and grow. They watched how she treated her clients and built more than just a salon—they watched as she built a community in her area.
The Gift of Compassion
Despite a challenging life as a single mom and business owner, Suzie met everyone with a smiling face. “Whenever she met people, when she greeted people, it was always with some sort of respect, positivity, joy in her voice and eyes,” Frederic says. “People related to that, they felt that. I watched in awe, because she had such humor and kindness with her talent.”
And, again, she was an investor—even in people. She had a passion for helping younger people who were trying to make their lives better. There are stories of her helping someone meet their future husband (like booking two single clients at the same time in hopes of a match), or she’d gather up clothes from her own home for a client who was trying to get their life back on track after a hardship. One Thanksgiving, she bought a family their holiday meal and helped them apply for housing. Her clients called her “Miss Suzie.”
“I remember one guy, she cut his hair for free. ‘Miss Suzie, I have a big job interview tomorrow and need a haircut, but can’t afford it,’” Frederic recalls. “She said, ‘Don’t worry about it, sit down, what’s the job, what’s the pay.’ She cut his hair, shaved his face, told him what to wear, what to say. She was really good at negotiating, and he listened, then came in a week later really happy and said he got the job and would forever be her client.”
When that client got married, Suzie and Frederic went to his wedding. “She’s just a hairdresser, but he came every six weeks for a trim…and she was so influential. That’s just something she always did,” Frederic says.
Leading With The Heart
Spending time in the shop with Suzie naturally led to Frederic being interested not only in the business of the salon world, but the art of hairdressing. He learned wet sets from watching Suzie do them in her salon, and he practiced on his sisters. But there was one person whose hair he hadn’t touched.
“She would never let me touch her hair!” Frederic says. Until one day, she did.
“I was 16 years old, and was going to style her hair. I took the comb, I brushed one single stroke, and she let out a HUGE scream, like I ripped out her hair,” he says. “She asked, ‘Is that how you’re going to comb a client’s hair? You didn’t ask how I was doing. How do you know what that person wants, or feels, or how they want to see themselves, if you haven’t even said anything to them? You have to know how a person is feeling before you touch them.’”
That’s a lesson that has been imprinted on Frederic since that day. “I learned from that not only to be gentle with my touch, but also my heart. We learn skills in school, on the floor, but we aren’t taught compassion. We just learn it from interaction with people,” he says. “That’s the greatest gift a hairdresser has, the gift of compassion and love—not just from doing a service, but by understanding who they are.”
Reinventing Modern Classics
While Miss Suzie did have younger clients, she also had the weekly wet sets on 60- and 70-year-old women. She knew the importance of foundational knowledge in classic hairdressing techniques, but kept herself fresh by learning the styles that were cutting edge of the day.
“The marrying of that, those two worlds colliding—for me, learning the classics and implementing that into more modern techniques is something I learned from her,” Frederic says.
He recalls watching his mom do a wet curl set on a young woman’s head, and questioning her decision. He didn’t understand why she wouldn’t use a curling iron. Miss Suzie said the wet set would last longer—and the client returned and said her waves lasted for over a week.
“That is literally how I do Gaga’s hair for shows and how it stays so bouncy through the shows,” he says. “That would never stay if she was bouncing in an arena for two hours.”
Frederic’s become known for his skill at adapting classic looks, like the French twist, for the modern day. He helped spark a revival in Old Hollywood glamour with his work on American Horror Story: Hotel, where Gaga rocked vintage Tinsel Town hair. “That has become my style sequence of my entire career,” he says. “Beauty reinterpreted for a modern day woman. I did that for Gaga at the Oscars.”
The Gifts She Gave
Suzie wasn’t easy on Frederic. “She was very strict and I was very free-spirited,” he says. At some point, she encouraged Frederic to get on a Greyhound bus to Los Angeles to pursue his own dream. “I would like to think it was because she saw that I had the opportunities that she didn’t have,” he says. “And the future I could bring to our family and to people. I think she always wanted me to step outside of my comfort zone and always push me.”
In hindsight, he’s appreciative of what she taught him. He recently found her journals, where she chronicled every single event of his entire career.
“She didn’t tell me a lot, she didn’t want it to weaken me or soften me or let it get to my head. It wasn’t until the last few years that she started to tell me things,” he says. “Me being at The BTC Show was one of the highlights for her, she watched that video so many times. She knew the world of hairdressing, all the shows, so to see her son on stage as a Vietnamese immigrant… she told me I was her American dream.”
Frederic onstage at The BTC Show 2019
Without these lessons from his mom, Frederic says he wouldn’t be in the position he is today. From watching how she navigated a bounced check that threw off her payroll, to connecting with clients to bring out their best qualities, to smiling and working hard even through the hardest times, he’s taken so many lessons from his mom.
“How did I make it? Everyone is talented. It’s not about who is the most creative, that’s part of it. But what makes it work is how much you believe in yourself and your dream. If it’s the only dream you have, that’s the only dream you’ll see,” he says. “Stick with it and keep trying because you’re going to make it. I didn’t make it until I was a lot older. It happened with years of learning to fail.”
And Suzie didn’t achieve her dream until she was over 40 years old. But she did it, and her legacy continues with Frederic.
“She wanted to give me a gift to bring out the best qualities of a person—either their hair or themselves. She saw that was my gift, and that’s something that makes me very proud, because she taught me. Whenever I do anything, I’m sharing my gift from her to the world. It makes me very proud to be a hairdresser.”
To honor his mom and to continue helping the way she always helped others, Frederic is starting a grant in her name with the ICAN Project. The grant will help single mothers start their own businesses, assisting with technology, training and more and will be available starting in 2021.
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