More than just hair care

Ben De Cordova’s flowers require hair spray, not water.

He dyes hair with bright tropical colors and molds sections of hair into pointed petals with hair spray and gel. The shape of the completed flowers resembles a pineapple top.

He calls himself a hair florist. Although the flowers he constructs atop women’s heads last only until they wash their hair, others, made as ornamental pieces, remain intact for years, requiring only to be dusted and hair-sprayed again, Cordova said.

One hair flower in his salon in Tampa has been around for seven years.

And though that may be what he’s known for, hair flowers are only the beginning of his work. Some of his designs are huge towering ornaments, gaining their shape from chicken wire and pipe cleaner.

De Cordova is a hair stylist who has won more than 100 awards at the local, national and international level.

It started when he, after many years as a barber, grew weary of his work. He said he became interested in styling women’s hair. This led to his career in what is known as the avant-garde world of hair design. These hair designs, like high fashion designs, aren’t necessarily meant for the everyday world. They are colorful and complicated. The designs are more about the designs themselves, more about innovation.

He started making the hair flowers because no one was else was doing it.

“What makes you go to the next level is that you’re stifled,” De Cordova said, “I like to be out of the comfort zone. If I stay in it for too long I get to a point where I don’t want to do hair anymore.”

De Cordova said he started as a barber at 17. He comes from a long line of hair professionals. More than 30 of his family members do hair.

He attributes the prevalence of hair dressers in his family to his European background.

“We have a lot of art in our family, and that’s taught from generation to generation,” De Cordova said.

He’s now been in the hair business for about 40 years, he said. He is a National Cosmetology Association team member. The team competes in a World Championship every two years in a variety of categories. De Cordova said with all the competitions it’s like the hair Olympics.

His awards range from first place in the Millennium Bridal Style, a competition in which models are made to look like futuristic brides, to first place in The Grand Prix Rio De La Plato, an award won in Argentina, which recognizes hair excellence in 15 to 22 countries in the Americas, De Cordova said. He’s appeared on ABC 28 Tampa Bay News and Fox 13 Tampa News. He tressed up girls in a cellular phone ad. He’s been involved in numerous fashion shows, creating hair to match both the color and style of dresses.

He’s done hair for the residents of Beverly Hills. He’s done hair for Miss America.

Trophies and runway shows aren’t the only thing important to De Cordova’s work. It’s about making people feel better about their appearance.

“We touch people’s lives. Big time,” De Cordova said.

The value of this idea shows itself in De Cordova’s manual for doing hair. It contains a 54-part flowchart called “Determining the Anatomy of a Hair Cut.” It explains what hair stylists must do before they give a hair cut. The steps involve looking at the person’s body proportions, facial features, growth patterns and hair texture.

He cited one particular case as an example.

It was 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. One of the salons he worked for was closing. A woman rushed in. De Cordova said he’d go ahead and do her hair for her. As it turned out, the woman had been planning on committing suicide, De Cordova said. He said while he was talking to her and cutting her hair, she somehow changed her mind. The hair cut saved her life.

He and his wife, Zondra, who is also a hair stylist, moved to Tampa about seven years ago. Initial plans to run another salon fell through, but De Cordova said they liked Tampa enough to stay. Zondra works with him as a team.

As for his own hair, De Cordova said he lets Zondra cut it. He cuts her hair, as well. He jokes that he has to catch her in the right mood or she’ll cut it all off.

“Working together can be really intense,” Zondra said. “It boils down to teamwork.”

They have an 11-year-old daughter, Portia, who is already adept at doing her own hair, De Cordova said.

Currently the fifth grader doesn’t want to follow in her father’s footsteps. She said she wants to be a physical therapist.

He and Zondra are involved in various community events, and he has his own traveling academy for teaching advanced hair professionals.

When asked which, of all these accomplishments, he found most important, De Cordova said, “I’m still accomplishing. They are all important.”

Contact Kristan Brightat