Shawna Parvin talks about the accident that altered the course of her life, both professionally and personally, as though it happened yesterday.
On August 17, 2006, Parvin was on her bike at a stop light at Riverside Drive and I-35 at about 8 p.m. when a car–the driver claimed he never saw her–ran a red light and hit her from behind. Although she was wearing a helmet, her injuries could have ended her life; they put the brakes, temporarily, on her hairstyling career. Her tibia, or shinbone, was completely shattered; her fibula, the outer of the two main leg bones, was broken, and her head was split open. She had a metal rod implanted into her left leg for support. The doctors initially thought she was going to have brain damage and she had to get skin staples on her head. “For a while I would see people and I wouldn’t recognize them when I knew I should,” Parvin said. “I was out for a while.”
To be away from her work as a stylist at Vain Salon, where she’d worked since February 2005, was intense; in a way, when she returned seven months later–initially part time–she had to build her client base back up. Her leg was extremely swollen and she still has a scar on the back of her head. She was in the intensive-care unit for two days, then at the hospital for eight more days and then in out patient rehab for a few more months. Ultimately, she has no real memory of the accident, and only the witness report to rely on. “I have always been a healthy and active person, so the initial physical limitations after the accident were very frustrating”
“Rae took fantastic care of me the whole time while I was out and encouraged me to get better,” Parvin said, gesturing to her partner of five years, Rae Goldring. “It was awesome, because all my lesbian buddies would come in every day. The doctors helped with the physical functions, but the emotional stuff they didn’t really prepare me for.”
The accident also brought to the fore the issue of medical visitation for gay and lesbian couples. Most of Parvin’s relatives were in South Dakota, and hospital officials weren’t going to allow Goldring in. “One of the nurses yelled at the doctor, and he kind of stood down and they let me in,” said Goldring.
Taking care of Parvin was tough because Parvin was taking vicodin for the pain and was completely out of it most of the time. Even when she returned to work in March of 2007, Parvin still wasn’t completely recovered. “You would think having all that time to recover it would be great, but you’re in pain, so you’re on meds, and you can’t remember anything, so you can’t read. I would read a page and not remember a thing.”
The couple had booked a vacation many months before Parvin’s accident to Thailand and Cambodia for early 2007, and at first they weren’t sure if they should still go. They did, however, and Parvin managed to get around on crutches. They also thought she would have to get a bone graft because her leg wasn’t healing properly. Fortunately, it was not necessary.
From Cowgirl to Rocker
A self-confessed tomboy, Parvin thought while she was growing up that she’d be working at the rodeo. She has a picture of herself, just a week or so old, being held by her dad atop a horse. She loved the ranch, but she didn’t want to be stereotyped as the lesbian cowgirl. She also didn’t see herself fitting in, style-wise, with many of the other lesbians in her corner of the Midwest. Like many people growing up in smalltown, conservative America, Parvin wanted to fit in. As such, she was a bit of a late bloomer in terms of her sexuality, having dated men in her twenties. Although as she also pointed out, for many women, their sexuality can be more fluid.
“I had some boyfriends,” Parvin said. “It just didn’t ever work, but with women it was just natural and easy and it felt right.”
Although her mother knew that her daughter was dating women and had met Goldring and was supportive of their relationship, Parvin didn’t have one of those standard coming out moments. However, two years ago, right before her planned wedding to Goldring in Toronto, Parvin made it official. “Even though she loved are, I hadn’t said anything. I told my mom both that I was living an alternative lifestyle, and I was getting married, in the same conversation.”
Parvin described herself as a flighty student in college, taking a lot of drawing classes and wanting to be an art major. She’d been getting her hair cut at Eric Fisher Salon in Wichita, Kansas, and took a job there as a receptionist. After working for a year at the front desk, Parvin decided to make the transition to being a stylist, so she enrolled in the salon’s respected education program. Even though she went to beauty school, she credits Eric Fisher Salon with giving her a foundation upon which to build her new career.
“I was lucky to be able to transfer hair into another art form,” Parvin said. “If I had started anywhere else, I wouldn’t be doing hair today. Real learning begins when you become a hairstylist.”
She apprenticed for a year, worked long hours without a vacation, and soaked up as much knowledge as she could. But after 10 years at Eric Fisher Salon, she was ready for a break from Wichita. Parvin had visited Austin and liked the city and she was looking for a place where she could settle down.
Triple Play Wedding
Because same-sex marriage is not legal in Texas and not federally recognized in the United States, the couple decided to combine their wedding and honeymoon into one trip to Toronto. In 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. At the courthouse, they had an Irish justice of the peace perform the actual ceremony, took photographs across the street, and celebrated at a lesbian-owned hotel, The Gladstone.
“I was nervous, but it turned out to be really cool,” Parvin said. “All the rooms are themed, so of course we stayed in the Canadian room.”
They enjoyed dinner with locally raised food and drinks and took in the city’s numerous sights. One night they saw a show in Toronto called Boylesque, which was an all-male variety act-meets-quasi-drag performance with lots of sexy young guys in hot pants.
When the couple returned to Austin, they celebrated with their friends with a few kegs of beer, a case or two of champagne and an armadillo red velvet cake that a client of Parvin’s whipped up. To celebrate the moment in a more intimate way with their immediate families–who visited Austin for a long weekend–they all had a fabulous dinner at Green Pastures, followed by the city’s infamous Duck Tour around town. “We wanted to do [the wedding] with everyone, but we didn’t want to bust the bank,” Parvin said. “My parents have always supported everything I do and they love Rae.”
In the Spotlight
Parvin’s former boss, Eric Fisher, first introduced her to Aquage, a company known for its unique approach to hair care that emphasizes sea botanical ingredients. Back then, she was still working as Fisher’s educational director, and he recommended working with Aquage as well. Parvin, who travels all over the country for more than half the year to teach the usefulness of Aquage products to colleagues, is a huge fan and one of their most sought-after educators. “What makes them unique is that they have amazing products, but also you can only get them in salons and spas.”
Aquage is a nationally distributed brand now. When Parvin’s not doing shows, she conducts hands-on workshops or demonstrations, which are typically weekend gigs, all over the country. The company is launching new products this fall and Parvin feels fortunate to be involved with them.
Nicole Fowler, show production manager for Aquage, first met Parvin at the America’s Beauty Show in Chicago and has known the hairdresser for three years. Fowler said she appreciates Parvin’s “elegant rocker” look, but that her business savvy and meticulous work ethic are suited to Aquage’s brand.
“Shawna’s work ethic is one that makes my life easier,” Fowler said. “She loves repetition and preparedness. She has a set of note cards that she reads before every show, going over collections and technique.”
Parvin’s overall sensibility as a stylist is fairly uncompromising, according to Fowler. “She is amazingly talented at creating looks that are seamless and perfectly blended, in cutting and up-styling,” said Fowler. “Her eye for streamline fluidity is amazing.”
You might be asking, what exactly is “streamline fluidity?” at Aquage, they believe in best practices, which means breaking down any cutting or styling technique to its essential elements. Since they believe in clear, concise teaching methods, they emphasize the intricate details of preparation: every step in the process, from the specific regimen of shampoo and conditioner, to blow-drying and flat ironing, are all part of what creates streamline fluidity. “This is why people like Shawna Parvin are part of the Aquage team,” Fowler said.
“A lot of learning comes from teaching, as well, which is why I teach,” Parvin said.
Parvin is exceedingly confident–and comfortable–onstage. Whether she’s demonstrating how to use one of Aquage’s new products or showing fellow stylists how to precision cut textured hair, she doesn’t seem to sweat.
With all of the teaching she does and 19 years of experience as a hairdresser, Parvin has received her share of accolades. After having entered her work in the category of “texture” the previous two years, in 2009 Parvin won her first North American Hairstyling Award (NAHA); this year, she was a finalist in the same category.
NAHAs are the Oscars for hairdressers; stylists and colorists from America, Canada and Mexico are eligible to enter each year. They must submit images months in advance and the process for getting images together involves many, many days of work. The awards, which are judged by magazine editors, hairdressers and other industry peers, are usually streamed live on the web and have taken place in Las Vegas in recent years. Last year, there were 3,000 people in attendance.
“I knew it was a goal, and this award catapulted me into different areas,” Parvin said. “It was incredible to achieve the goal. I always think about how to take it to another level.”
Riding the Wave
For Parvin, taking her career to the next level involved a recent, difficult decision to leave vain Salon, where she’d worked since February 2005, to work at Propaganda Hair Group–an education-based salon located in the Clarksville area of Austin. She started at Propaganda, which is mostly a commission-based salon, in early September. Parvin said she sees it as the next logical step in her professional growth.
Beyond adjusting to her own new work space, Parvin is consistent in her support of Goldring’s musical pursuits. Goldring, who plays electric bass in a three-piece, all-women band called Tribella, grew up in New York City and moved to Austin in her early twenties. She’s been playing music in Austin for 13 years. However, this Yankee transplant has a lot of family that’s from Austin and she’s certainly made it her home.
When Parvin isn’t traveling, teaching or researching for a NAHA photo shoot (the wigs don’t build themselves), and Goldring isn’t busy with rehearsals and the renovation of their house, they do manage to sneak in some quality time as a couple– checking out new restaurants and having date nights. They also love working on the house together and landscaping their property together. Parvin said it’s important to really maintain that romantic spark in the relationship and for them, traveling together is one way to do that. Parvin and Goldring are also always taking care of their “furry children,” as they call them: two dogs named Mister and Cody, and a black cat named Ripley,
“We travel a lot,” Parvin said, noting that they visited several cities in China last year during a two-week trip, including Beijing, Xining and Shanghai. “We try to have date nights, because with women you can just become friends so easily, you have to keep the romance. We need to make sure to take time out for each other.”
“It’s amazing to see what the band does, because you do see it as fun, but you don’t see all the other stuff they have to go through,” Parvin said. “I’ve been on the road with them and it’s far from easy.”
The couple met during first Thursday on South Congress Avenue back when Parvin was cutting hair at Wet Salon. Parvin went to Polvos with a friend, Goldring was there with some of their mutual friends, and the rest is history.
When Parvin was recovering from her accident, Goldring– who renovates houses as well– had just flipped a house and sold it, so she was able to sustain their household and stay home to take care of her partner. Parvin doesn’t dwell on the past; her tattoos, which might give off a tougher-than-nails vibe to some, mask a more sensitive side.
“Not to get too heavy, but when I was out, it was nothing,” Parvin said, in reference to being hit from behind by the car. “I was just gone–no white light, nothing. It made me have a value on life. It just made me more aware of my time, and now I want to enjoy it more.”
In July, the couple celebrated their two-year wedding anniversary and five years together overall. Although they love being aunts to their siblings’ children and love their pets like they would their offspring, Parvin said they never wanted to have children of their own. So, what’s next for this rocker chic hairstylist? Although she’s flirted with the idea of opening her own salon, she adores what she’s doing now and is happy to teach others how to fine-tune their own techniques and be better hairdressers.
“I have so much fun doing what I do now,” Parvin said, noting that the idea of opening her own salon has crossed her mind. “I love teaching others, so maybe in the future. Eventually, you have to create something of your own. I’m going to ride the wave as long as I can.”