The trick about Arabella Salon on NE MLK in Portland is finding it. After heeding my excellent advice and making an appointment to see my girl Alex, I typically give friends directions that sound something like this: So it’s really hard to find, it’s pretty much a door, and there’s some graffiti around, and maybe it’s by an alley? But like, just look for the geese on the wall and then go through the door and walk up these stairs and open the door and you’re there.
See it there? On the left?
Even though it can look a bit sketch from the outside, especially in the dark ass Portland winter, this salon quickly confronts its diffident exterior the moment you walk through the door and start up the steps.
Taken from the top of the stairs looking back at that plain old gated door. Not bad, right?
And the charm doesn’t stop with that partially exposed brick, red walls, or chandelier either. The inside is equally absorbing with giant windows set against more exposed brick lining the front looking out onto MLK and only a handful of stylist chairs and no receptionist, the salon lends an inviting feel as if you’re supposed to be there.
Notice – the wine, the adorable stylist stations – unique to each stylist and all with incredible vintage charm, and back there behind the shampoo bowls is where you enter.
There is a small waiting area in the center of the salon with comfortable couches and always updated magazines. And like I said, there’s no receptionist and no need to check in since all of the stylists there run their own show and know most of their clients by sight. And if you’re new and yet to get to know them, take comfort in the fact that they will know you on account of your newness, because regulars are so common – they will know you’re there for them simply on account of being a new face showing up at the appointed time.
Photo Credit: Portland Mercury
There is also a very small jewelry case and art on the walls that rotates the wares of local Portland artisans – all of it for sale. It is a nice contrast to some salons that throw any old crap in their retail areas hoping just to make a sale. It is clear Arabella attempts to pick artists they think their clients might actually enjoy while also remaining very discreet about their showcasing.
I love this salon, it’s true, but I wouldn’t have ever discovered it if it weren’t for my girl, Alex. She is incredible. We met years ago when I worked as the receptionist at the Aveda salon where she got her start. And … Whatever I don’t need to say anything else about her other than she has phenomenal style, almost all of it mined from thrift stores, and has been doing my hair for … going on 5 years now?
She loves what she does and strives to stay educated about her craft, so even after 5 years, her methods and techniques for styling have evolved and I’m always really thrilled and proud of her when she shows me some weird new French technique she recently picked up at one hair show or another. Plus, she is just really fucking genuinely nice and sweet. And a total goofball.
Alex being gorgeous.
Alex showing off her effortless style.
Alex getting drunk with yours truly.
So Arabella. It’s fucking awesome. And oh yeah, it’s stupidly eco-friendly of course, so you know, if you’re from Portland and obsessed with that like we all are by some sort of default of living here – then don’t fear. They even won an award for it. Read about their rad reputation here.
They were recognized as the winners of the Davines Premier Eco-Salon Contest. They were chosen over thousands of applicants in a world-wide competition and it’s no wonder why when you look at the list of green practices they promote in their salon (see link above).
Also can we just talk about Davines real quick? This is their primary product line and it’s embarrassing to admit, but I have no qualms about spending $25 each on a bottle of shampoo/conditioner. When I go back to my old school less expensive, but always all-organic stuff, I can feel the difference. So of course last night I splurged again on the good stuff.
I’ve also used their “LOVE” shampoo/conditioner and I well, loved that too. Get it?
Their hairspray is also the best. And I got a sample of this OI oil, but shit man, I wish I could have afforded an entire bottle last night. Smells SO good. Is SO awesome. Next time.
Oh right, ok, so should we look at my hair now? I started to lighten up my ends. That’s it. That’s what I did. But it’s a start to a process. I guess looking back on my hair post, I realized that while I might change it slowly, I still change it. And so I suspect 9 months from now, we will be looking at a whole different color of hair on this head.
I like it, I like it, I love it! After all that fucking obsessing, I left a very happy customer. As always. Because Alex and Arabella seriously do so much to make me feel that way.