Talent is a family tradition.
They are three generations of artists, hairdressers, barbers and are pioneers in the Canadian hair industry.
The legacy of the Fortino family is a story that should be told.
It all began with John Fortino – the patriarch of the family. He was a barber – first in Niagara Falls, then St. Catherines and finally in Buffalo where he retired.
His sons – Alex, Frank and the late Gino Fortino all followed in his footsteps. They garnered their own success in the industry – each winning their share of awards.
IT IS NOT JUST A SHOP – IT IS A PART OF THEIR FAMILY.
In 1979 the brothers started Alessandro Salon – this is where, I think, the family legacy really took off.
Dedication, passion and practice – are some of the markers for success in this industry. Aside from the technical ability – what does it take to be successful in this industry?
Rachel: Hard work and love.
Vanessa: For me it takes dedication, ambition, repetition, a great mentor or two and a solid team to help you get through the ups and downs. But, without any of those qualities, it’s hard to get far in our industry.
HISTORY CAN REPEAT ITSELF.
I have gotten to know you a little bit over the last year. You both obviously have natural talents – although albeit very different styles. Your father and uncles learned from your grandfather – and you learned from them. What advantage has growing up in a salon had on your careers?
Rachel: We grew up always understanding the salon owners side. Understood what it took to be successful. But even more so seeing all the sacrifices. I think understanding the sacrifices gave me a huge advantage. We were expected to work hard and they instilled good work ethics and professionalism from very early on. You need to work hard in this industry. Never mind that I had two award winning stylist as a father and uncle that I could watch and ask questions when ever I wanted. I took full advantage of that.
Vanessa: The advantages for me, growing up in a salon, was being able to physically see that whatever you put into something is what you get out of it.
Being able to watch the climb keeps me motivated when I am down.
My favorite thing about this industry is that we are what we repeatedly do. For me, that makes excellence and a habit, not an act, and that motivates me – to know that anything is possible as long as you want it bad enough. The cons have definitely turned into pros for me, although I didn’t always see it at the time. I had to work twice as hard. I didn’t always feel appreciated and at the end of the day there was no room to complain.
It definitely has made me a stronger stylist and an even better worker in general. My father bred me this way and instead of fighting it, I’ve learned to accept it and appreciate it.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your father?
Alex: The passion to respect clients.
You have traveled all over the world – whether it was to compete, attend an industry event or taking a course to improve your skills and knowledge. The list is long but just to name a few – Paris, Miami, Los Angeles, South Korea, Monaco and Ottawa.
What has been your most memorable travel experience to date?
Alex: Traveling with my daughter to Korea in March 2016 and competing in the World Hairdressing Championships.
Rachel: Korea was one I will never forget. I grew up going to hair shows watching my father compete. Then I started competing and he was always there to support me. In Korea we were able to compete on the same world floor. I have had some great memories competing all over the world, but Korea was special.
Vanessa: My most memorable travel experience is when my dad took me to the Montreal ABA in 2007. My sister was trying out for Team Canada and I had just graduated high school and was just working as a lifeguard, because I had absolutely no idea what path I wanted to go down.
That trip changed my life.
I met an amazing group of stylists that made me think to myself how stupid would I be if I did not take advantage of this amazing opportunity – I had to carry on my family’s legacy. I saw my dad in a completely different light that weekend. Everyone wanted to be around him, everyone wanted to know what he thought of the latest trends and I instantly fell in love with this industry.
One of the biggest impacts Alex Fortino has had on the hair industry is that he wrote the curriculum for the hairdressing program at Niagara College and at one point the classroom component was run out of Alessandro Salon . Just imagine all the careers he has touched and help guide. It’s truly remarkable, when you think of the impact he has made on the profession.
You are following in your father’s footsteps once again. Earlier this year you and Sandra Lomedico, visited St. Catherines Collegiate to speak to the cosmetology class – sharing your knowledge of the industry. What advice did you give them?
Rachel: I told them to get as much education as they could. Learn as much as they can while they are in school. If I could go back I would have payed more attention in school and to my father. I had to go back and learn a lot I missed. Now I can’t stop learning. I love it!
I wanted them to understand that so much. I hope they did.
“This is a family that believes their only success is in watching everyone succeed with them. Their passion for each other, first and foremost, is what’s inspiring. Their passion for creating a wonderful and successful team will undoubtedly follow them today and in the many years to follow.”
– Sandra Lomedico, Makeup Artist, Sandrina Makeup Studio
It seems that social media has taken over our lives. For businesses it is unavoidable. It has become crucial to building a brand and for networking. What advice do you have for Stylist about getting on board with social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook?
Vanessa: I think it’s very important for stylists to get on board with social media. Not only is it free advertisement, but it’s an incredible way to meet people just like yourself and get inspiration. I have to thank social media for that, because it’s really helped me get my name out there, and have other stylists be part of my journey even if they can’t physically be there.
Let’s face it that’s our world today.
Half my inspiration and education now comes from the new Wella app. I learn so much and I feel like I’m getting the newest collections and trends before anyone else is.
What has been the biggest change in the industry, since you started out?
Alex: Everything is going back to the more natural looks. No more roller sets, fewer perms – natural looking colours.
We all have smells and sounds that we connect with – that bring us comfort and good memories. I love the sound of a blow dryer – it relaxes me. I remember hearing my Mother doing her hair – after she put us to bed at night. The smell of color and perm solution reminds me of her too. These smells and sounds are all so familiar to me – I’ve been around them all my life.
What are some of your favorite smells or sounds of the salon?
Alex: Women – Lol. The sound of excitement after getting their hair done.
Rachel: Paul Mitchel Freeze and shine hairspray reminds me of my father. Sebastian Shaper plus reminds me of competing. Late nights at the salon!
Vanessa: My favorite smell from being in the salon is more from when I was growing up. Vavoom Glazing was a big scent from my childhood that’s all I smelt on my dad.
Folding towels, sweeping up hair, sorting out rollers – these are just some of the things I remember doing for my Mother. What are your earliest memories helping out at the salon?
Rachel: I started helping when I was 13. It was my first job and I think I got payed a dollar an hour.
Vanessa: As long as we were old enough to sweep – when we were at the salon, we always helped. My dad always put us to work and he always had a shiny loonie to give us after.
What has it meant to see Rachel and Vanessa follow in your footsteps and become successful hair stylists each in their own right?
Alex: It was not my choice for them, but I am extremely proud of their accomplishments and success. It’s a bonus we love the same industry.
I’ve known Alex for 30 years and have seen him really get behind his daughters, specifically Rachel, and push them to succeed, what more can you ask for from a Dad. Finally, today there are many flashes in the pan but to be present and relevant over a lifetime says a lot about your character and your core values! An aside, I was Team Canada’s coach in 2006 and Rachel was on my junior team in Russia and I can say -she is committed and a hard worker, congratulations!
– Fabio Sementilli, Vice President Education – North America, COTY Professional
I think what your family has done is incredible, when you think of all the careers that have been touched in one way or another by the Fortino family. What has it meant to you to be part of this legacy?
Rachel: To be able to carry on the legacy was always my dream. I knew it when I was 14. I love the industry and wanted it to be more respected. I wanted the world to see that this was the BEST industry in the world. It gave me a great life and we always have fun.
There was also a lot of pressure and responsibility. My family had already made a good name in the community and in the hair world. It was hard sometime to live up to the expectations but in the end it only made me stronger and a better stylist and now owner. Recently I’ve been teaching my 4 year old nephew how to cut (using thinning shears only). He seem interested so many there will be a fourth generation?
Vanessa: It is amazing to look at all the incredible talent my dad and uncles have helped build solid foundation for. It is people like my other boss, Dante Perrone from Axe and Hatchet, that make it so surreal for me to see.
I also want to thank all those incredible stylists for never forgetting where they came from. I hope one day I touch as many lives as my father and uncle have.
If you had to come up with a family motto – what would it be?
Alex: Dream, love and live.
If your going to be a bear, be a grizzly.
Rachel: “If your going to be a bear, be a grizzly. “
Vanessa: My motto for our family and I’m sure they are all the same – if you have to be a bear be a grizzly.