For her farewell photo shoot as Miss USA 2008, Crystle Stewart got to pick the stylist who would do her hair. She chose Albert Luiz of Houston.
“He’s the best,” she explained.
In February, Luiz flew to the Big Apple for the photo shoot, along with his partner “in life and in business,” Amin Kabani, co-principal of An Albert Luiz Salon and Spa in Sugar Land’s ritzy Town Center. This month, Luiz will coif all 51 candidates in the 2009 Miss USA pageant, which culminates in the crowning of Stewart’s successor in a live telecast from Las Vegas on April 19.
“I put all of me into every style I work on,” says Luiz. “I will work with every contestant from across the country. One minute I’ll be doing Miss Texas, the next it could be Miss Alaska, and I will give her my best, too.
“In the pageant world, it’s more the passion that makes you stand out, and I like the feeling that I’m helping someone else succeed,” he explains. “It’s these girls’ dreams you’re playing with.”
His own dream began as a boy living on a ranch 10 miles out of Mercedes, and 20 miles outside of Harlingen, in the Rio Grande Valley.
“I always knew that I would be a doctor or a hairdresser,” says Luiz. “But my dream of being a doctor was short-lived. In seventh or eighth grade, my father said I would not be going to college. I thought, ‘Oh! Then I’ll be a hairdresser!’
“Doing hair was always second nature to me. Whenever a little girl would come to our house to visit, I would take her to my room and out she would come with her hair done,” he laughs. “The company would always ooh and ah, but as soon as they left, my dad would whip me. You would think I’d learn my lesson, but I didn’t. It happened every time.”
In high school, Luiz focused on cosmetology, succeeding so well that upon graduating, he was working in a salon within a week.
“In my junior year, I needed to buy a beauty school kit to go to a hair show, but my dad wouldn’t help me out,” Luiz explains. “Then the summer before my senior year, one day my dad’s barber shop was closed and he was desperate for a haircut. So he let me cut his hair, and I turned him into the hottest-looking dad around!”
After that, he laughs, “I cut his hair for eight years , and you know what? He not only got me a hair kit, he got me a deluxe hair kit!”
Luiz entered the pageant industry 15 years ago when the Miss USA pageant was held on South Padre Island. He received an invitation to try out for one of about 10 positions on the team of
hairstylists who would work on the crew of the pageant’s national broadcast. Looking back, he realizes, “It could have been a mass mail-out” (to hairdressers throughout the Valley). “But I took it as a sign of God!”
Luiz felt surprised to make the team, but given the opportunity, he’s made the most of it.
Within a few years, business tycoon Donald Trump bought the Miss USA pageant. Meanwhile, Luiz met Kabani on a business trip to Houston, and he moved from the Valley to Sugar Land, which was “just sprouting.”
“We met on the dance floor at the now-defunct Pacific Street Station, we talked all night long, and we’re very blessed that 14 years later we’re still talking,” says Luiz.
Kabani and his family are strict Muslims, while Luiz grew up in a devout Jehovah’s Witness family. He says, “I was called a fag since kindergarten, but I was always denying it.” He left the religion when he came out at age 25, and his parents didn’t speak to him for 10 years.
Luiz and Kabani, who now live near Reliant Center, own and operate An Albert Luiz Salon and Spa in Sugar Land, once the domain of powerful gay-baiting politician Tom DeLay. However, the city’s elite have embraced the couple for their talent, professionalism, and participation as good neighbors in the community.
“As a Hispanic,” says Luiz, “I grew up thinking that success on this level was beyond ever reaching. But I’ve come to realize that it’s not about where you came from. It’s about making good contacts, having a good name, and being good at what you do.”
That’s a lot of Misses: Albert Luiz gets glammy with Shandi Finnessy, very popular Miss USA 2004 (from Missouri); Chelsea Cooley, Miss USA 2005 (from North Carolina); Dayana Mendoza of Venezuela, Miss Universe 2008 (currently reigning; she and Crystle Stewart share an apartment in New York City); Kurara Chibana, Miss Japan 2006.
Esco Wallace’s living dolls
If Oscar host Hugh Jackman could see Esco Wallace’s collection of Barbie dolls dressed as beauty contestants, I’m certain he would proclaim, “Pageants are back!” Indeed, it’s his friends’ glowing response to his doll fashions that motivated Wallace to enroll at Houston Community College to study fashion design. “My dream job is to do costumes for a movie company and someday pick up that little gold statue,” he says with a sexy, wry smile.
Meanwhile, in his Montrose apartment, the Mississippi native, whose mother taught him how to sew, currently displays a collection of more than 50 Barbies, including two he’s dressed to portray Crystle Stewart as Miss Texas-USA 2007 and as Miss USA 2008, and one of reigning Miss Texas-USA Brooke Daniels, in a replica of the black gown she wore last summer to seize the opportunity to represent the Lone Star State at this year’s national pageant being held this month in Las Vegas.
“I love the Esco Wallace dolls!” exclaimed Albert Luiz, the official hairdresser for the Miss USA pageant. “I can believe the Brooke doll looks like her because she looks like a living doll!”
So what are the chances of Texas winning back-to-back USA crowns, or even shooting for five years in a row, the feat that Texas accomplished when Richard Guy and Rex Holt of El Paso directed the state pageant in the 1980s? Back then, each Texas winner gave her successor a dictionary with the word “impossible” cut out. But reigning champ Crystle Stewart thinks Daniels might win with or without an abridged dictionary. Stewart told OutSmart, “Brooke just needs to be her. She is such a sweet girl and so beautiful, I think she could win if she just stands there and smiles.”
Daniels is one of three Miss Houston-USAs in the past four years to win the Miss Texas-USA crown. Stewart captured the title as Miss Fort Bend County.