By Joseph Weathered
(Photo credit: Megan Burns)
One doesn’t travel to the Smoke and Mirrors Parlor in the Walnut Beach area of Milford; one simply happens upon it. For three years now, owner and operator Melissa Styles has occupied the last space on the left of the strip of businesses at the end of Naugatuck Avenue, where she has turned a simple white space into a full service, high end hair salon that also curates and sells vintage clothing and jewelry. It’s what Styles calls a “hub” for not only her work, but also for the Smoke and Mirrors brand. What’s unique though, is that her shop has no outside sign to identify itself.
“Originally I chose not to put a sign on it for a few reasons,” said Styles on the decision. “The coolest places that I had been to in my travels had that speakeasy feel. They didn’t have a sign; you knew where to get to but from there you didn’t know what would be behind the doors. So, I like not having a sign.”
Styles also said that another reason why she opted to not put a sign up was that between her regular clientele and constant travel to New York for fashion shows and photoshoots, she felt unable to accommodate walk in business. This is due to the fact that while Styles lives and works in Milford, her reach and brand extends itself further out than the limits of the city.
Melissa Styles grew up in Bristol, CT with an infatuation for hair. As she puts it, “when I was young my mom always took me to beautiful hair salons; she always paid top dollar for her hair. My parents shopped with coupons constantly but my mother’s priority was always to look good because she knew a good haircut would last through the months.”
Styles began her career in high school, working for her friend’s mother’s shop as an assistant. While there, she worked reception and enjoyed interacting with clients and discovered the pseudo life-changing feeling that comes from getting a new look and style. As her career continued on, Styles began building a list of clients who followed her for eleven years now, traveling with her from shop-to-shop until finally settling at her location in Walnut Beach.
Her career began to expand shortly after opening up her shop in Milford when she met celebrity stylist Laurent Dufourg. With a client list including Sharon Stone, Gwyneth Paltrow and the late Anna Nicole Smith, Dufourg took note of Styles’ work and began hiring her to assist him on runway shows and editorial fashion shoots. Styles then became a part of Dufourg’s Privè runway team and started to work fashion shows for designers such as Berenik, Son Jung Wan, Claire Pettibone and most recently celebrity dress designer Romona Keveza, who has worked with Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson and Arianna Grande among others. Styles’ role on the teams has been to accurately and perfectly re-create and execute the hairstyles that the lead designers would create. In Styles’ words, “I was always a train ride away from my dreams and now I finally took that leap. I think what more people need to do is bust outside the box and think that they can make it.”
Along with Styles’ burgeoning style career, she and her fiancé Arun Ranganathan have began to branch out into other areas to expand their brand. After watching the fashion and style at runway shows, Styles began to notice what the models were wearing when they showed up to shoots and shows and along with her fiancé created Jenky Gems, curating and collecting vintage clothing from estate sales and clients. Along with dressing and styling her clients, Jenky Gems also does pop up shows in Brooklyn, Providence and Nashville.
Regardless of where her career takes her, Styles relishes her shop in Milford, calling it “a huge relief for me.” “I love to come back here, I love to be with my clients and I love to be able to make them feel just as good as those models feel when they see pictures of themselves on the runway.” Styles also has great faith in the Walnut Beach scene, commenting on businesses such as Artfish 42 and the upcoming Fig Cooking School. “It is a pleasure be here and to be around happy people, artsy people; you know, the misfits,” said Styles. “This is where everybody can come and feel loved and appreciated and I really am thankful to be in this neighborhood.”