Nov 11th 2009, 00:00

Whether he’s applying make-up for celebrities at the FIFA final draw on December 4 in Cape Town, or cutting hair in his Observatory salon, stylist Shaughn Adams knows how to free your inner diva. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty, is often depicted emerging from the ocean, seaweed draped nonchalantly in her hair. But modern goddesses, taking their cue from the media ideal, need more grooming, and less algae, before they appear in public.

The contemporary beauty image owes as much to good products as natural endowments. Beauty, as it appears on television and in magazines, is masterminded by experts like Shaughn. At age 46, he’s at the pinnacle of the beauty-making business. Heading up a team of ten hair and make-up artists, he will ensure that performers at the FIFA final draw look their best. Shaughn knew, from the age of 7, that he would be a hairdresser. He comes from three generations of hairdressers and wanted to continue the family tradition. Today he’s able to reminisce with
his 92-year-old grandmother, Martha, about the time when people had beehives, only washed their hair once a week, and combed it out in-between washes.

Until a few years ago, Shaughn was a dancer, performing in top Parisian reviews, practising the creed instilled in him by his dance teacher: “The dancer’s God-given duty is to take the audience on a fantasy journey, where they can forget their troubles.” Now that he’s left the stage, he insists, “I’m still performing.” These days he lures celebrities and clients into a glamorous world where they are their most beautiful selves. “All beauty is the creation of fantasy,” he declares. Spiritual callings come in all forms. For Shaughn, making women look and feel more beautiful is a vocation. “I run my business passionately. The day I wake up and I’m not excited to be cutting hair is the day I stop.”

That time seems far away. With FIFA on the horizon, Shaughn is buzzing: “It’s the biggest thing I’ve
ever done.” He looks forward the most to powdering president Zuma: “I’m going to do the president of the nation,” he vows. On the big day, make-up will be applied and hair styled according to a detailed plan. Nothing is left to chance. The way Angelique Kidjo’s hair is parted, the shade of local presenter Carol Minano’s lipstick: these are the result of hours spent assiduously researching the wardrobe and celebrities’ previous looks . The event is tightly choreographed. Timing is everything. At 10am, the chorus of the Sowetan Gospel Choir will be the first to have their foundation, blusher and mascara applied.

Icons, like Angelique Kidjo, are the last to be made up. But for all the frenzy around the event, Shaughn, world wise and not easily star struck, is just as happy helping ordinary women look good. “Everybody has an inner diva. It’s my job to find the best version.” He prefers working with mere mortals than impossibly perfect models. Opposed to extreme makeovers, he likes to give a look time to evolve: “People don’t like to have their world rocked. If a transformation is too radical, they can’t carry it off.”

Shaughn prides himself on ruthless honesty. “Honesty is a hard thing to push through on, but if a client is trying on a dress that I don’t think looks good, I feel compelled to tell them, even
if it means losing a sale.” He approaches beauty with scientific rigour, applying terms like “ergonomic knowledge” to hair. In the presence of his vocabulary, the possibilities for hair expand. Rather than just hanging, it could bang, wimple, bob or bunch. For Shaughn, the injunction to groom approaches a religious conviction: “It’s our God-given duty to take advantage of the beauty that we’ve been given. I don’t believe you should let yourself go. It’s an affront to your creator.” “We are all striving to be the most beautiful versions of ourselves. I can take you on that magical carpet ride,” he offers.

Suddenly a whole universe seems possible; one in which I’m closer to perfection than I’d ever imagined possible. I’m ready to hop on. But whoa, wait a minute, how much will it cost to be the
ultimate me? “A beauty regime can be tailored to your budget. Some clients spend R500 per month on a cut and colour. Others spend R5 000 plus each month for a comprehensive regime
which includes a facial, waxing, body wraps and massage.” Seeing my face drop in disbelief, Shaughn shrugs, “Money can make you shit hot,” he points out, adding shrewdly that as well
as the emotional rewards that beauty potentially offers, looking attractive is a good investment. “Research has shown that in job interviews, a well-groomed person will always trump.” He’s
pragmatic about the benefits of beauty and promises: “I can make you marketable as a visual package.”

After an hour in his presence, I’m vowing to become not necessarily a better person, but at least a better looking one. But Shaughn reassures me that beauty is not only skin deep. “Within us lies another kind of beauty. When I see someone help an elderly person across the road, that’s a kind of beauty that has nothing to do with the commercial beauty that I’m engaged in. The ideal is when inner and outer beauty blend into a seamless whole.” Shaughn’s work makes him privy to women’s secrets. Probe a woman and you’ll find her deepest fears are usually pretty skin deep.

Paradoxically, the outer leads to the inner. “The most gratifying part of my work is helping people look good when they’re going through a tough time. If I’m relating to you well, making my world revolve around your world for an hour, I have made a difference.”