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Mary Zatarain, owner of The Right Face in Hammond, Louisiana, has made the most of what she deems an accidental career path—one that started at the United Nations, took a detour through Louisiana state government and currently rests in an area that is recovering from devastation.
After graduating from college with a major in foreign languages, she started working at the United Nations, but found herself feeling unfulfilled. Returning to her home turf of New Orleans, and beginning work on her master’s degree, Zatarain had a fateful meeting. “I was working in a hotel checking people out, and the next ones in front of me are salon legends Edwin Neill and Paul Mitchell, and I’m fresh out of college and they’re being flirtatious,” she recalls. That fateful meeting led her to connect with her future husband—Neill—and his influence would cause the trajectory of her life’s path to be altered in ways Zatarain had never imagined.
When Neill of the Neill Corporation, a large Aveda distributor, asked Zatarain to speak at a training event about skin care in the place of hairdresser who had to cancel, she studied up on the subject madly in order to fulfill Neill’s request. At the session, she witnessed how much interest there was in skin care and how unavailable the information was in Louisiana at that time. Motivated by wanting to fill the void, Zatarain took the first step toward professional skin care by enrolling at Christine Valmy’s school of training in 1973, and still considers Valmy to be a major mentor. Then, when Neill Corporation began the task of installing skin care into hair salons, Zatarain traveled abroad to learn more about skin care. “I went off to Europe, studied some courses and got to use my languages there,” she laughs.
During the process of adding skin care to the salons in Louisiana and Mississippi, the training of employees fell into Zatarain’s lap. Because of this, she found herself with a decision to make. “The manager of a salon we installed said that she didn’t want to handle the business and suggested that I buy it. Twenty-four hours later, I was the owner of a skin care spa in Baton Rouge.” The company, named The Right Face, opened its doors in 1976.
In 1979, Zatarain moved her business into a large Victorian home in Hammond, started a school, and innocently picked a fight that would make a permanent mark on her—and on the industry as a whole. “The cosmetology board decided that I should be a hairdresser if I wanted to deal with skin. Being young and naïve, I decided to take it on myself, and put a bill into legislature to license estheticians separately,” she says. “All hell broke loose.”