KENNEBUNKPORT – Fringe Hair Art may be tucked behind the bustle of Dock Square in Kennebunkport, but for the past three years it’s been known by Elle magazine readers across the country as Maine’s top hair salon.
Owner Sheryl Miller-Rideout modestly acknowledges the fashion magazine’s “Top 100” honor and explains her motivation:
“I compete with myself,” she says. “It’s always, what can I do differently? It’s more about how I make people feel about themselves on a daily basis. I’m only as good as how happy my clients are.”
Miller-Rideout honed her skills early on dolls, her brother (“He used to suffer through me cutting and feathering it”) and fellow students at her New Hampshire boarding school.
“I don’t know when I really started cutting hair, because I’ve been cutting hair all my life,” she says.
She laughs as she recalls her futile attempts to avoid traditional training after high school. Eager for a chance to work professionally, she combed help-wanted ads for unlicensed positions, but found reception jobs instead.
“I so badly did not want to go to hairdressing school,” she says, but eventually conceded the inevitable.
Her father was not pleased. When she said “school,” he thought “college.” But before long, she was working for Paul Mitchell, an emerging leader in the hair care industry. She wanted to prove she was serious – “that I could take it to another level.”
Miller-Rideout, now 49, met Mitchell at a New Hampshire hair show when she was 22. The business he co-founded was still young, its small product line limited to a couple shampoos, a styling product and hair spray. Today, the company produces more than 100 products that are distributed worldwide.
The confident young stylist, armed with her first $700-limit credit card, flew to Mitchell’s hair shows on days off to work as his assistant. Back home in New Hampshire, she kept her day job at a “humble salon.”
Miller-Rideout’s transition to full-time Paul Mitchell employee took her first to New York City as an educator and eventually as a senior associate whose work spanned the globe. After she left the firm, she worked in Las Vegas, gathering best-stylist and colorist accolades before she moved closer to her parents in Maine four years ago.
Today, she has planted roots just steps from the water and her mother’s clothing boutique. Her salon is cozy and warm, from its aged wooden floors to heated towels that cushion customers’ necks each time they sink back for a long shampoo.
Miller-Rideout admits ego has its place in the beauty world, but knows listening, reflecting and a lot of psychology are the best mix for a successful salon business and satisfied clients.
“Doing hair is only part of what I do,” she says. “Making them feel exceptional is really the key.”
She pauses, recalling circumstances that stylists see all too often – clients who can’t see their potential.
“That’s because somebody at home is probably not making them feel exceptional,” she says quietly. “Which is sad. Sometimes people just want to be heard.”
Ask Miller-Rideout a question, and her answer most likely bridges practical and philosophical aspects of hair care. We picked her brain to find out why ‘Elle’ awarded Fringe its top Maine honor.
On inspiration: “I think pictures are important; pictures speak volumes,” she says. Miller-Rideout encourages her clients to bring her photos of styles they both like and dislike: “Pictures of things you hate can sometimes speak louder than things you like,” she says.
On emerging trends: Miller-Rideout tears pages from industry and fashion magazines to search for trends or statements: “For me, it’s like playing detective.” She fans through several pages she’s ripped from fall fashion spreads to reveal a common thread: color.
“Not the actual color, but little bits of color,” she says, pointing to slivers of light on the models’ hair. Her takeaway: subtle highlights she paints where strands of hair might catch the sun. The lightening technique, inspired by her magazine discovery, gives single-process clients an updated look without the maintenance or expense of highlights.
On comfort: Miller-Rideout uses one word to describe her cutting and coloring: “lived-in.”
“That’s the same reason people spend $300 on a pair of jeans with holes in them, because they’re more comfortable,” she says. “That’s kind of how I cut hair and that’s how I like to color hair – so it almost has a faded, softer-edged feeling. So it doesn’t feel like a brand new pair of dark denim jeans that you have to wash a thousand times before they’re comfortable.” Clients shouldn’t have to wait weeks for a new style to feel right, she says.
On aging: Miller-Rideout disputes the notion that older women can’t wear long hair.
“In the past women have gone ‘I’m 50!’” she says, snapping her fingers. “‘I have to cut my hair short now because it’s inappropriate to have longer hair.’” Instead, she says, they should focus on maintaining healthy hair and choosing a look that suits their life and styling capabilities.
And don’t forget to balance your body shape, she adds. “It’s horrible because as you age, you start to put on weight. Suddenly you’ve got a little haircut and a big body, so the proportions are off.”
On gray hair: “I think if people are comfortable with their gray, the best way to maintain it is with highlights – otherwise, you’re married to color,” she advises. Highlights are vertical color – they confuse the eye and last longer, she says. Base color, by contrast, is horizontal and shows growth immediately.
On why Maine women like long hair: “Maine can encompass all the states in the country for what it offers,” says Miller-Rideout “People boat in Maine, people garden in Maine, people hike in Maine. To be able to throw your hair up into a topknot or ponytail and have it look good is huge.” But she reminds clients that layering offers more options, especially when you head out the door for a special event. “Layers are really important in long hair,” she says.
On finding the right style: “Styling is all about finding what your hair is really good at and helping you work with that,” says Miller-Rideout. “People get this idea that they’ve seen something and want their hair to do that, but sometimes that’s just not what your hair does.”
“It’s all about answering and asking all the right questions and making sure you really think about everything,” from budgets to time, says Miller-Rideout. “What kind (of hair) do you have, and what is it going to do the best? And how is it influenced by our environment during different times of the year? What product is either going to enhance or counteract?”
On what’s popular: “Individuality is popular,” she says without hesitating, “what’s going to be the best-suited look for you.”
On maintaining your hair: “You have to take time out and do it for yourself. I think that’s what a lot of people neglect. They look at it as a luxury and it’s not.”
“If we don’t take care of ourselves first, then we have nothing left to give our family,” says Miller-Rideout, who is married with three children. “If you don’t take out 2 seconds for you, then you’re eventually going to run out of gas.”
“Styling is all about finding what your hair is really good at and helping you work with that,” says Sheryl Miller-Rideout. Erin Haggerty of Cape Porpoise is one of Miller-Rideout’s assistants at Fringe Hair Art. Fringe Hair Art’s awards from Elle magazine.