According to Statistica, The Statistic Portal, the global haircare market reached 79 US billion dollars in revenues in 2014 and is continuing to grow. The hair care industry is second only to skin care. The competition is stiff; in Canada alone, there are over 80,000 salons. How does one differentiate themselves in such a competitive marketplace, where thousands of hairdressers are vying for their clients’ loyalty day in and day out?
One of Toronto’s best has no problem doing that at all. If you’ve ever been JiE-ified, you know exactly whom I’m talking about. Well known by many ‘A’ List celebrities in LA, New York, Toronto and around the globe, JiE Matar is the quintessential hairdresser with notoriety and a glowing reputation that is second to none. He is humble, fun, energetic, and well spoken. While he remains deeply rooted in his heritage, he is a loyal Torontonian at heart. JiE has come a long way since his early days in Paris, where he first pursued his love of hair. Born into a Lebanese family in Beirut, JiE was one of 9 children who survived much hardship and prevailed in spite of his challenges. Growing up in a war-stricken Lebanon, from the age of 7, he knew all too well the tragedy of war, and spent a better part of his young life running from it. Today, JiE is a self-made man, regardless of past family demands and cultural pressure. At a young age, he knew hair was his passion. That passion, combined with his fear of war, made him leave Lebanon against his family’s wishes. All his life, he has been defined by his instinctual artistic ability to create with his hands; a gift he has honed since his Paris days and grows stronger by the day. It is far more than a job, it is his craft and an extension of who he is today.
At the age of 16, JiE travelled to Paris to pursue his dream. His desire to work with hair began around the age of 6, when he took his sister’s Barbie dolls, cut their hair and styled it. “I couldn’t focus in school and I would beg my mom to be able to do this,” recalls JiE. “I figured out that the only way to get to Paris was to tell my parents I wanted to study fashion. I knew they didn’t approve of me being a hairdresser so I had to find another way.”
In Paris, he found a small apartment next to the Eiffel Tower. “I had a lot of relatives living in the same neighbourhood. In the 80s and 90s, a student could get one of these apartments, but not anymore,” recalls, JiE. “It was great to look out my window and see the Eiffel Tower in front of me every day. It was beautiful.” It was there that JiE got his first job as a hairdresser. “In those days, Paris was for everyone; the rich and the poor. As a stu- dent I was paying around $600. Now, nobody can get those apartments.” JiE loved it there, saying it felt like the centre of the universe. “It’s a fashion market, everything is there!” JiE attended École Internationale de Coiffeur in Paris, and mastered his craft there. He also trained and apprenticed at Alexandre de Paris and at Le Royal Monceau. “They saw I was hardworking, clean and dedicated,” recalls JiE, who has an impeccable work ethic. When he was able to, he spent some summers returning to Beirut as an assistant doing hair at the legendary Lada. He ultimately left and went to work with George and Khalil Achkar in a boutique-style salon.
Due to the social unrest of the Lebanese Civil War, his family had to keep moving. Over the years, they lived in 20 countries around the world including Africa, Turkey, Cyprus and Egypt. JiE now speaks seven different languages including French, Italian, Spanish and Nigerian. In his travels, he experienced different hair textures and styles, especially when he was in Nigeria. “I felt I was in a hair paradise because of all the different hair textures.” After spending a year in London, a close friend invited JiE to come to Toronto. “I had heard of Montreal and Niagara Falls, but not Toronto. I was in Vegas at the time and wanted to go back to Paris or London but my friend invited me and I came.” It was February and JiE had never even seen snow. “I said ‘OMG, what is this?’ It was freezing! I had one week to visit Canada back then. Originally, I wanted to leave. By the end of that week, I decided to stay. It was exciting for me as I’d finally found my safety in Canada. I claimed refugee status because Lebanon was still at war and I couldn’t go back. I took a big risk to stay. I’m one of the luckiest people that I am in North America. I left when all the immigration was open, when almost all the refugees could get in. Now all of the borders are closing down.”
JiE never forgot those days in Lebanon, when he feared for his life and saw things that gave him nightmares; this was the Lebanon he didn’t want to return to. “When you live in a country at war, no one is safe,” explains, JiE. “These war visions stay with you. My brother was kidnapped, and never found. Nine members of my family were murdered. I was traumatized by it. It’s only been the last ten years that I haven’t really talked about it. I needed therapy because it was always on my mind. I always wished my family would leave, but they never wanted to. They always went back. I just think it’s crazy.”
“I won’t say I’m better than anyone else, but I always give Customers my best” – Jie Matar
While the war-ravaged environment was more than enough reason to avoid going home, the lack of support for his chosen career certainly didn’t help. “I had to fight for it. They asked me ‘what would you tell your kids?’ They had that old mentality. The fear kept me away, and I focused on my independence and making something of myself in spite of all that. My success is because of that, and of course because I worked so hard. My aim was not that I wanted to be ‘JiE’ or whatever people call me. People started saying I was good. I was never really into myself, only maybe for the last decade. Before, I was someone who wanted to escape and be happy with everyone and be away from everything.”
When JiE began his career in Toronto, he worked with Raffaello, who had been running a salon in Toronto since 1968. JiE says this was a great experience for him. When JiE opened his first salon in Yorkville in 2002, there were many construction problems and delays. As a result, JiE lost a fair sum of money to both tradespeople and Revenue Canada. These delays didn’t exempt him from paying his $27,000-per-month rental fees. At the time, his lawyer advised him to claim bankruptcy. Rather than run and hide in embarrassment, he learned some valuable lessons from the experience, namely how to better run his business on his own. “You can’t have someone managing your business. I learned this through the bankruptcy. This was a big part of my growth, business-wise. The bad media at the time actually helped me. Bad media, good media, its media. People would pass me saying ‘oh this is JiE, the guy who went bankrupt’ or ‘this is JiE, the best hairdresser’. But they never found anything in my background, no monkey business going on; I never took money and put it in my pocket. This is what saved me. I was really honest. I didn’t blame anyone but myself for the mistakes that happened. I wasn’t a coward, I didn’t get scared and I didn’t hide from anyone. But it injured me inside just the same.” After overcoming these challenges, he was able to open his current shop on Davenport east of Avenue Road, JiE Prive.
JiE Prive is located in Yorkville, Toronto’s hotspot for high-end fashion and hairstyling. It is definitely not your typical salon. The stairway walls from the third floor are filled with old photos of JiE with clients, and prints from a number of artistic eras. Shelves are lined with fashion books from Paris, novels and books about art. You can’t help but feel the Parisian influence here. “When you experience Paris as a young adult, it stays with you and you always have it inside you,” says JiE. “But now Toronto is my home. I feel I am part of this city. When I’m outside this city, I tell people it’s the best. I become Toronto. Many people know me but someone once said to me, ‘You’re so lucky because you came when nobody was here, that’s why you shine so much.’ Honestly, I have no idea.”
“Hair, like fashion changes quickly – trends come and go. That’s commercialism. That’s why I say, ‘Hair today, Gone tomorrow'” – Jie Matar
So what really makes JiE one of the Toronto hairstyling scene’s hottest commodities? “I just do hair,” JiE simply states. “I don’t follow trends. Trends are not for everyone. Trends make everyone look the same. Hair, like fashion, changes quickly – trends come and go. That’s commercialism. That’s why I say, ‘Hair today, gone tomorrow’,” he says with a boisterous laugh. ‘Does that apply to you?’ we ask. “Of course, me too – we all come and we all go. People change and hair changes. I look at a person’s face, their eyes, skin and their bone structure; I have a certain way I cut and that’s what I do. I look for the inner beauty of the person. I’m very classical with my cuts. I’m a classical artist. I don’t like to overwhelm the hair, I like the hair to shine, the condition of the hair, the gloss, the texture, it’s all very important to me.” JiE is finding that people want to go back to the classic looks. “People don’t want to ‘go back’ to trends. It’s more chic to be classic. I don’t want to copy this or that. I want a person to feel beautiful and just say ‘wow’. I won’t say I’m better than anyone else, but I always give customers my best.”
While he presents himself with confidence and flair, JiE is very charismatic, extremely giving and kind, and always makes time to give back to society. He travels and makes surprise appearances to the Belmont House nursing home and will ‘JiE-ifie’ everyone’s hair. “I have helped abused women at the shelter by giving them clothes too. I’m happy to be a community person, to give back. I do a lot of charities – you don’t have to be famous or a movie star to do good things for people. Canada allowed me to be myself; I no longer had to be shy. I am no longer surrounded by the conservatism that was with me in Beirut.”
While JiE is a Canadian citizen and calls Toronto home, he still has a love for New York and Los Angeles. He enjoys his work within the enter- tainment industry, especially the Cannes Film Festival. He has done hair for countless celebrities around the world. In New York he styled hair for stars in major productions in the Broadway district, dancers at the Roxy and at Radio City Music Hall. His dream was to work in the USA and to have duel citizenship so he could remain in that arena.
After 20 years, he finally obtained his green card. “I had to be patient. I look forward to becoming an American as well. All my life I wanted to be American, to be part of the red carpet, Hollywood; the glamour of hair is there. In Canada you can only be successful to a certain extent. In order to grow my brand, I have to be in America. Look at all the big names; they are there.” One of JiE’s goals is to produce and sell an organic line and to open the JiE Hair Museum. “Although I’m not having any luck here, I’m going to do it regardless. Organic products would be amazing to produce in Canada with mineral water from Alberta, a completely organic brand. But to do it, I have to be well known in the USA.”
Among many of the challenges he has lived through, tragedy followed him to New York on the day America will never forget: 9/11. He lived across from the Twin Towers at 200 Rector Place. He had opened a shop in Manhattan to be in a large market. That day, his worst nightmare was realized. “It was like I went from Battery Park to Beirut. 9/11 was like Beirut for me,” he recalls. He left Starbucks that morning and took a cab to La Guardia Airport. “When I got to the airport, watching the TV was like a movie. I didn’t know yet that a plane had gone into the towers. I was at Gate 7 and I saw both George Yabu and Glen Pushelberg (Architects for the W Hotels) coming off the plane that had just arrived from Toronto. It was maybe 9:10 or 9:15. Our plane took off and we had to turn and come right back down. One side of the airplane actually witnessed the second plane hitting the Twin Towers. It was a crazy time; I’ve never seen such evil like this in my life. I walked for 7 hours that day from La Guardia to Astoria. It was like a war zone. I closed the shop in New York after that.”
From losing everything to climbing to the top, JiE tells fredi Magazine that one should never give up and there is always hope. As an internationally recognized brand, JiE could not be more proud as the owner of JiE Prive, where clients appreciate his personal style and touch, and his talented and dedicated staff are a testament to his tutelage. JiE is a true artist. Hair is his palette. He is best described as trés chic, charming and yes, flamboyant. His salon uses his own line of products, which he created to refresh, nourish and enhance the look of hair. It is a mineral-based line with citrus, jasmine and rosewater. The atmosphere of his salon is warm and welcoming with great energy. “Now I have everything I want in Toronto,” he states with pride. From the natural peppermint tea, yummy delicious bite-sized brownies to the washing of your hair and a fabulous cut, it’s all part of making someone feel beautiful, and that is what he does.
JiE Matar is not embarrassed to say he is a hairdresser, “I am the dresser of hair,” he says confidently. He power cuts, creating texture and volume and tailors hair with amazing speed. His inspiration comes from his extensive travels, observing the intricacies in people and from art and architecture. But Toronto is now the city he loves most. JiE feels like he personifies Toronto. “I feel like I’ve never loved Toronto as much as I do now. I never allow anyone to bash Toronto because it’s an amazing city.” A city that, thanks to JiE, has a little more style than it ever did before.