Behind the scenes at Chateau the Art of Beauty, the New Jersey salon that’s become the star of Bravo’s most talked-about TV show.
This story first appeared in the September 11, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Hold on a second—is that Caroline Manzo in foils? And Jacqueline Laurita mid mani? And that can’t possibly be Teresa Giudice getting a blow-out, can it? Actually, it can.
And is. Nothing if not utterly media-savvy, Victor Castro has arranged a special surprise for a reporter and photographer visiting Chateau The Art of Beauty, his Franklin Lakes, N.J., salon: Four of the five Real Housewives of New Jersey—the women who’ve made his charming little hair boîte their unofficial clubhouse, the place where much of the show’s action happens—are in attendance today.
Committed show watchers will probably be able to guess the fourth housewife being fluffed and buffed, and it isn’t the one with the sketchy backstory. (For those who aren’t addicted to Bravo TV’s red-hot franchise, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, it’s Dina Manzo, the blonde beauty, merrily chatting away and slipping bites of croissant to Fidel, Castro’s adorable Shih Tzu.)
A 40-year-old go-getter, Castro already has two previous salons and a restaurant under his belt. But Chateau, which he opened three years ago with his wife, Jo, is, to date, the ultimate labor of love. When the couple (she’s a hairstylist, too, and a complete whiz at decorating) moved to the Lake Packanack section of Wayne, N.J., they looked for commercial space, too. Since nearby Franklin Lakes is major McMansion territory—home to oodles of well-heeled women—they set their sights on the bucolic town.
The fact that there wasn’t much competition also didn’t hurt. “There weren’t that many salons that had a young, fashion-forward feel,” says Castro. “And since we were moving to the ‘country,’ we decided on the name Chateau. Country was our inspiration.” Opting for a former salon in a surprisingly homey strip mall (that isn’t an oxymoron: All the signage is wood, giving it an Old West, saloontown vibe), Castro did a gut renovation on the 1,400-square-foot space in a warp-speed two-and-a-half months. Despite the truncated time frame, the natives were still restless. “I was attending Pilates classes upstairs, and I used to bang on his door, asking when he was gonna open,” Dina chuckles. “I think I was here the very first day. It’s like family—I love that there aren’t a million stylists.”
A chic mash-up of French, Italian, Moroccan and Mediterranean infl uences, the six-chair salon also features a nail area and a spa treatment room. There’s even a retail zone stocked with Housewife appropriate apparel (read: lots of snug denim and sparkly tops and frocks) that serves as an offshoot of a store called Maluka in neighboring Wyckoff.
Throughout Chateau, there’s a sense of repurpose: Old wooden Veuve Clicquot crates act as planters, unhinged armoire doors get a new lease on life as shelves, recycled storm windows cordon off the retail area from the salon floor. “Some of the antiques are ‘faux,’ ” admits Castro. “We’re big on recycling.”
With the first season of Housewives put to bed, and a second one already under way, Castro says he’s happy with the just-crazy-enough level of attention the show has brought to the salon. Most important, he notes, is the mitigating effect it’s had on the industrywide financial slump. “The economy definitely slowed the growth of the salon,” he says. “But the show has restored that growth to what would probably be almost-normal levels.”
Castro says he’s also pleased with the salon’s ability to attract beauty seekers of all ages. “We’ve had a big bar and bat mitzvah niche lately,” he says. “The young girls leave looking like models, and it goes all the way up to older women.”
No doubt they’re attracted to the “pretty, feminine” looks he, Jo and just one other stylist offer. “Often you’ll hear the cliché of big hair in New Jersey, but here, it’s really more about volume and movement.”
For her part, Caroline, the matriarch of the group, says she trusts Castro implicitly. That’s why, on this steamy August morning, she hasn’t even bothered to ask what he has in mind for her. Apart from taking her fiery red locks down a notch “for the fall,” she says she doesn’t know what’s in store on the cut front. “Honestly,” she says, “I have no clue. I sit in his chair and he asks, ‘What are we doing today?’ And I say, ‘Whatever you want.’