Realm of the senses

Elly Kubota

Photo By Larry Dalton

The New Helvetia cafe and Krispy Kreme headquarters are both gone now, but the surrounding Midtown blocks continue to spawn new commercial enterprises at a quickening pace. In the weeks since Senses —the newly opened boutique that promises “beauty, fashion, music, art, culture”—set up shop at the corner of Capitol Avenue and 19th Street, no fewer than two restaurants, one artsy clothing store, one Realtor and one relocated art gallery have sprung up in just a two-block radius, and two additional restaurants are scheduled to open later this month. One of five local artisans who operate the second-story salon, hairdresser Elly Kubota took 15 minutes away from a recent day’s appointments to talk about the art of hair and the evolution of Midtown from the perspective of a 27-year-old native.

You have CDs here from a lot of local bands—Low Flying Owls, Dungeons and Drag Queens—do any of them come in here?

One of my co-workers is really good friends with the Low Flying Owls, and he cuts some of their hair. We have musicians, we have promoters, we have deejays. But, then again, we also have chefs, we have fashion people, we have artists. It runs the gamut. We’re all big music fans. I play guitar, and I sing a bit myself.

How did you get started cutting hair?

For a long time, I was attracted to doing hair, but I come from a very, like, college-minded family, and there’s a really big stigma with hairdressing. It’s like the beauty-school-dropout thing. So, I went to school at [Sacramento City College] for a few semesters, but when I started going to hair school, that’s when I really started to enjoy learning as an experience. Because I never had that before. Learning was always like a chore, something I struggled with a lot. School … high school … I barely made it through, you know?

I’m a hairdresser by trade, but really it’s just another form of art. When you’re doing somebody’s hair, it’s like an art project with two people, you know? And one person has to wear the art, right? So, it’s really more about drawing out that person and getting them to express themselves. So, I don’t really look outside to see what’s going on. I just kind of know what I’m feeling, and then that translates in to my clients. As opposed to me looking at magazines or watching the Style Network, seeing what trends are happening and saying, “This is what’s in this season,” it’s more about, like, “What do you feel?”

Are you all part owners? How does that work?

It’s interesting, and it’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s kind of like, when you think of a band, nobody really owns it, you know what I mean? Nobody’s boss; it’s just a group of people that do a creative thing.

Until they get rich and famous, and then there are big fights.

Right. Well, you know, I think what makes us special is that we have conflict—because everybody has conflict, and there’s always a difference of opinion—but as long as everybody can respect the differences, [we] appreciate the fact that the differences are what make us special. It’s a collaborative collective, and everybody pitches in.

Do you think people in Sacramento care much about what’s trendy compared with people in other cities?

I think Sacramento has a very unique kind of atmosphere going on, especially right now. It’s really starting to come to a boiling point. You have music. You have art in terms of photography and painting and sculpture. You have hairdressers, which have been in this totally separate weird category for so long. So, it’s really about bringing all those things together. We have another studio space downtown where we’re going to be putting on events that are going to be collaborative efforts between musicians, artists, fashion models, dancers, whatever.

So, you were born and bred here?

Yes, I’m a Sacramentan. And that’s another thing: It’s like, do it. You know what I mean? People talk about going here or going there, but it’s like, why, when you can do it here? For me personally, I’m so tired of hearing people saying negative things about this town.

It sometimes seems like Sacramento had an inferiority complex that’s finally going away.

Well, I think for people like me, who’ve always been proud to live here and love living here, it’s kind of like you want to knock people out when they say things. You’re so sick of hearing it. It’s like, well, then leave, you know what I mean? Or do something. You want everybody else to make culture and make a scene and make music, art, clothing, fashion. Well, what are you doing?