Butterfly Studio’s Kattia Solano on How They Made It Through This Year

by Eddie Roche

New York City-based salon Butterfly Studio’s remarkable rise didn’t happen overnight. Founder Kattia Solano tells The Daily what it took to become one of the most popular salons in the city and how they’ve gotten through the past few months. 

How did you get your start in the industry?
I moved to NYC to work with Frederic Fekkai in the early ’90s. This was when the “supermodel” era began and Frederic was one of the biggest names in the beauty industry. I learned so much during this time. Everything was very hands on, fast moving, and calculated. Having met so many of my personal mentors under that one roof gave me many of the foundations I needed to become the artist and business owner that I am today.

How did the salon open doors?
I originally opened a salon because I wanted to take my editorial career to the next level. In July 2001 Butterfly Studio was just a small live-work loft space on 30th between 5th and Madison. It was a long shot from working in the luxury of Bergdorf Goodman, but it was a start and I was proud of it. But, I couldn’t say the same for all of those around me. People made fun of me, of my space, and of the risk I was taking. Soon after, 9/11 happened and changed the world as we knew it. The nation was hurt and humbled. New Yorkers were actually looking for intimate, smaller places where they felt welcomed and safe. And in that chaos, Butterfly Studio took off! This “homey” culture/feeling is still one of our main foundations. Even 20 years later, in our now 4,000 square feet space on 5th Avenue, we still lead with that same warmth and kindness that we all needed in 2001.

What sets your salon apart?
Butterfly Studio is a warm luxury experience. That has been taught and trained throughout our entire staff. A heightened sense of community is not just recommended but it’s worked on, constantly. I want my growing staff to genuinely feel like a family, so that the clients feel that as soon as they walk in. One of the ways we continue this is through our in-house mentoring. I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without the mentors I met in my first salon job in the city. The goal is to continue that throughout the generations of butterflies. We have staff members that have been with us for 18 years and others that started earlier this year. By continuing to put importance on communication and kindness we have been able to stay strong as a unit and I believe the clients can really feel that difference when they visit us.

Kattia Solano (courtesy)

What is your favorite thing to do in the salon?
I wear many hats so I’ll break it down into my two favorites…As a founder I love growing a team. It was so incredibly rewarding! I’ve practically grown up with some members of my staff. And I’ve also been able to watch my younger staff members grow into incredible artists, mothers, and husbands. Some of them even learn that hair isn’t their passion and they lean into new ventures. The same could be said for my loyal clients! Making a home outside of my home is absolutely one of my favorite things about my career. As an artist, I love complete makeovers! I love a client who gets in my chair and tells me confidently that they are ready for a full change of color, cut, and style. That’s the thing about beauty: it’s less about how someone looks and more about how that look made them feel. Watching someone blossom and glow from within with confidence from the time they sat in my chair to the moment they leave the salon, that’s definitely my second favorite thing!

How did you cope with being closed during the coronavirus?
This is a loaded question! Firstly, it diminished everything I thought I knew about business. I started questioning everything as the rug was pulled out from under me, as I’m sure so many other business owners have been feeling. For my business, my main focus was to go back to the fundamentals: what makes Butterfly Studio work? What are our strengths? Community. I wanted us to stay united during a time when we were all forced to hide away and feel alone. Thanks to my amazing team, particularly my general manager and great friend Adlin Palencia, we were able to put our efforts into staying connected, not just with one another but with our clients. Personally, I consider myself a strong person, but I had my fair share of breakdowns during quarantine! I tried the mediations, the at-home workouts, and the baking—the cocktail hour started a little earlier each day at our house. Eventually, I found my balance. All I can say now is, thank god for Skype, Zoom, and wine delivery!

Butterfly Studio Salon (Courtesy)

Was there anything helpful about taking a step back?
Absolutely. We’ve heard this many times but this was the unfortunate wakeup call our world needed. It made me clear out the excess fluff in my life and in my business to really get down to what mattered most. It made me remember why I opened a salon, why we’ve made it this far, and how important it is to me and to my staff/family that Butterfly Studio stays around. Sometimes we just go on autopilot, I think this year shook us all awake. If I keep it simple; what I learned most is that we’re stronger in numbers. It’ll always come back to that. And as humans we will always gravitate to where they feel most at home.

Customers must be so excited to sit in your chair again. What has it been like reuniting with them again?
Wonderful! We honestly missed each other. I missed simple pleasures, like making my clients feel good about themselves after a haircut and blowout. I think they appreciate us more now, but genuinely we (the artists) appreciate them more than ever. It’s been beautiful to see. The hardest part was remembering not to go in for a tight hug once we finally saw each other. Our clients have been so supportive of all the safety changes. We have changed our dynamic but we prepared them even before opening by staying connected and keeping them informed on social media. I can honestly say Butterfly Studio has kept our promise to uphold safety protocol, so you can really feel how calm most clients are here even during such a scary time.

A lot of them had to “take matters into their own hands” with their hair. How did they do?
We are still going through it! But how can you blame anyone for trying to give themselves a pick-me-up after months indoors? During quarantine we did Zoom calls and tutorial videos with our clients, guiding them as best as we could. But it was rough. I got some calls with tears, and laughs. In the end I think we all learned that some things just need to be done by professionals. We hear “that was harder than I thought it would be” often enough now to understand that the clients appreciate our work more. That’s always a plus!

What styles are going to be popular this fall?
The focus is on color. That was the one thing that a lot of people couldn’t get right when trying it from home. I see that people are coming in for some corrective color and leaving with fresh and warm glowy highlights. Golden blonde colors are also very popular. I believe these are colors that make people feel natural and bright again. Also, they are low maintenance! Now more than ever people are looking for easy hair, and keeping it simple. The days of high maintenance ashy blondes and browns are coming to an end. Also, people want a change. I feel like people are open to change now more than ever. I have clients that have come to me for 10+ years to get the same color/cut. Now, they are back and they’re asking for something completely different. It’s definitely an emotional expression at this point. It’s been exciting to see!

You work with Kerastase products. What are some of your favorite products to work with from them?
Kerastase products perform. They work and they keep their promises. My clients can see feel a difference in their hair and keep us posted. My favorite line right now is the Blond Absolu. It’s great for my blondes and highlighted brunettes. I always find myself grabbing for it at the sinks.

Check out their Instagram @butterflystudiosalon and blog Beyond the Studio.
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