How do you become 2010 Student of the Year at the Robert Fiance Beauty School in West New York? If you’re Sarah Pandohie-Levien of Weehawken, you start off in med school.
Pandohie-Levien, a mother of four and substitute teacher, was a premed student at Rutgers when her studies were interrupted by motherhood. After her third child turned three, she was going to finish med school – but realized that there was another dream she wanted to pursue.
“I’d been doing hair here and there,” she said. “It was a hobby of mine but I never thought to do it as a profession. I did my kids’ hair, my sisters, my mom, my friends. I went to their homes. I had a natural gift, a knack for it.”
“There wasn’t a day that I didn’t want to go to class.”— Sarah Pandohie-Levien
“I was a top student who always brought in clients,” Pandohie-Levien said. I had a lot of requests and an overall professional image.”
Pandohie-Levien went above and beyond by attending hair shows. “Basically, I took it seriously,” she said. “People underestimate the beauty world. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of theory with a lot of science behind exams.”
After the 13-month course students are also given a practical exam before they get their license.
“I didn’t miss classes,” she said, “and I entered every competition.”
The busy mom won first place in a fantasy competition with a mermaid theme and a “wave type of thing.”
She quit medical school, she said, because “I felt a calling. There wasn’t a day when I didn’t want to go to class.” She attended at night even though she had young children at home.
What she really likes are highlights, low lights, coloring, and relaxing hair. “Anything to do with the chemical aspect of it,” she said. “Because of my science background I like mixing stuff.”
Putting chemicals in a client’s hair is a high-risk enterprise. “You have to really know what you’re doing,” she said. “You mix the color with a developer in the right ratio.”
Coming to Park Avenue
Pandohie-Levien is grooming her daughter to be a stylist and wants to open a salon on Park Avenue in Weehawken.
“I’m Jamaican,” she said. “In my country we have a lot more updos, a lot more creative types of dos versus what they do here. I like to be creative in that way and challenge myself.
She said the job is more complicated than some people think.
“All products are different so you have to read the directions,” she said. “The timing depends on hair texture. [Also], you want to please the client. If a lady comes in looking not so great, she will expect you to work miracles. If you don’t do that, they’re not a happy client. If they come to you with a whole lot of gray, they won’t want one gray hair when you’re finished, or they’re not happy.”
She went on, “Some want a cut and they expect to look like a model, which is impossible. I’m up front and straight with the client.”
She added, “If you leave my chair happy, satisfied, and smiling, I did my job.”