Life in KC

At Work With: BlackHearts BarberShop and HairParlour

The Cadillacs of salon chairs take center stage, with Jason and his colleague Gabii Ballester confidently at their helms.
The Cadillacs of salon chairs take center stage, with Jason and his colleague Gabii Ballester confidently at their helms. Special to The Star

Follow your heart. That’s what punk cosmetologist Jason Lee did last Halloween when he opened BlackHearts BarberShop and HairParlour, specializing in vintage-inspired cuts, vivid color, dreadlocks, pinup, rock, glam, punk and Goth styling.

Behind the style of an outlier look is an emotional sentiment Jason says everyone can relate to: “Everybody at one time has felt a black heart, whether they’ve been on the outside looking in or had a broken heart.”

He has felt that way most recently working for someone else and living in a city that didn’t fit him.

“I hated Chicago,” he says. “I’m a gypsy, but I came home.”

When the opportunity arose to strike out on his own, he asked where to sign on a lease for a former salon at 4328 State Line, which he chose for its prime location near Westport as much as for expediency: It already had the right plumbing in place.

“You can’t miss a beat in this field,” Jason notes. “You’re not getting paid if no one’s in your chair. There’s no sick time, no vacation.”

No matter, Jason is a worker. He upended the status quo in salons, transforming a bland strip mall environment using dark gray paint, reclaimed wood and industrial light fixtures in just weeks, with the help of an army of friends. The decor includes refinished antiques, skulls and British flags, an homage to the home of Jason’s favorite punk bands.

“I’ve always worked at salons with feminine qualities, so I wanted something more masculine,” he says. “It makes me feel alive with the different textures.”

Jason is trying to revive the art of the classic barbershop and its place in the community. “Something’s been lost, but it’s coming back,” he says. “Men’s grooming is on the uprise. It’s nice to see gentlemen taking care of themselves.”

It’s not just men or hipsters, either. The clientele ranges from Brookside mothers and KU nurses to artists, engineers and even grandmas. “They feed us, it’s really nice,” Jason says, referring to the latter.

Jason’s colleague and sweet pinup girl Gabii Ballester joined him for this new venture and is exceptionally talented with vivid hair color, makeup and re-creating Bettie Page style.

Jason is licensed to perform straight razor shaves, but in Missouri, just feet away. The Kansas paperwork is progressing, and Jason hopes it will come through in early spring because the luxury of a straight razor shave, complete with hot towel and massage, is making a huge comeback. “It gets so close and makes skin super smooth,” Gabii explains.

Straight razor shaves and contour fades aren’t the only trends Jason expects to be big this year.

“I eat, sleep and breathe BlackHearts; I see big things for our future,” he says. “I think we’re really one of a kind.”

You can see examples of recent do’s on BlackHearts’ Instagram page, where Jason posts clients’ mug shots behind placards with the shop’s name in blocky white letters.

At Work With goes inside office spaces that make you wish you worked there.