La Grande Dame -
Ann Bray
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La Grande Dame

Ann Bray has won more championships and garnered more honors than you have fingers and toes, but it's her present career that she relishes most.

May/June 2012 Find in
May/June 2012

HOT editor Jeryl E. Spear was bowled over recently while having a friendly chat with Aquage educator Ann Bray. How could this tiny dynamo accomplish so much in one lifetime?

Bray has won numerous state and national hair titles, coached the only U.S. team to bring home the gold at the World Hairdressing Championships and has even been knighted by Intercoiffure Mondiale for her contributions to the beauty industry. No matter how grand it all sounds, though, it was her first win that has always meant the most to this creative, artistic and lovable gal.

"I was working in a shirt factory in Tennessee and poor as a church mouse when one of my coworkers told me that a hair contest was going to be held in a neighboring town," Bray smiles. "It was strictly for those who had never received professional training. I entered the contest and bested 37 other contestants for top prize: a full scholarship to the hosting beauty school."

After graduating in 1962, Bray went to work for the beauty school owner, who also owned a salon. "He and his wife took me to every hair competition that we could possibly get to," she recalls. "I would enter a contest, do my best, lose, and then cry myself silly all the way home. The one good thing about my early competitions: I never gave up. After six or seven losses, I started to win. In fact, I won everything that I entered for quite a few years until I competed against Gary Bray, who took first place in a state competition to my second. I thought, 'I want this man to be my trainer.'" Gary, as it turned out, did much more than that. While coaching Ann and helping her to win competition after competition, the two fell in love.

"Gary and I were such a dynamic team," she fondly recalls. "After a few years of competing, we decided that we wanted to give back by coaching young people to do what we had done so consistently for many years: win." This led to not only training U.S. stylists, but also beauty pros from all over Europe, South America and many other areas of the world. "While we didn't have an organization behind us, we did have so much love and passion for professional beauty," says Bray. "For us, that was enough."

NAHA 2006 winning image. Long Hair Dressing

After her husband of 22 years died, Bray went adrift. "I not only lost my passion for beauty, but also for life," she admits. "I retired from hairdressing and bought a piece of property in Cozumel, Mexico, where I planned to spend my days watching life go by. That's when Luis Alvarez approached me to join the Aquage artistic team. I told him 'Thanks, but no thanks,' but I couldn't stop thinking about his offer. A few weeks later, I opened up a Bergdorf Goodman catalog and there were pages and pages of blue clothing. I called Luis and told him, 'I'm thinking about buying something blue.' We've had an amazing working relationship ever since."

As complex as her hair career might be, Bray's personal life is equally multifaceted. In addition to raising three children-two are hairdressers and still run the family-owned salon-her treks through the jungles of Thailand have helped to save over 100 children from the sex slave trade and she regularly rescues animals that "just need a chance in life," to name just a few of her activities.

"I've also been rescued," Bray beams. "Luis is a taskmaster filled with so much love for the industry and people that surround him and his company. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago, all I wanted to do was have a huge pity party. Instead, Luis would call me and ask how I was feeling. When I responded by giving him a litany of health complaints, he would respond, 'Oh, that's too bad. Now, about the wefts that you're working on; they need to be done in five days.' Luis always pushed me to keep moving forward no matter how dire the situation. Equally as important, he has always made me feel wanted and important.

"I also believe that because of Luis, I'm the only person in the history of NAHA who won without knowing that she had entered the competition. When I received a call from a NAHA representative, who informed me that I had been chosen as a finalist, I thought there had been a terrible mistake. I found out later that it was Luis' doing." (Note: Bray went on to win NAHA 2006 Long Hair Dressing Award and the rest is beauty history!)

Despite her half-century in the beauty business and all the wonderful artistic achievements that she's accomplished, Bray continues to defy the odds by continually growing her artistic skills: What she did 10 years ago pales in comparison to the hairstyles that she does today; what she'll create in the next decade has everyone waiting with bated breath.

"It brings me to tears when I realize that after all of these years I'm just now in the prime of my artistic career," she says with emotion. "Through Aquage, I'm also able to touch so many young people who want to succeed badly enough to invest the time and dedication that it takes to be a world-class artist. My greatest goal is to not only help them do this, but also to create a future that's so much more beautiful than what any of us can imagine today."

Art Director/Photographer: Luis Alvarez for Aquage; Hairstylist: Ann Bray for Aquage; Makeup Artist: Wanda Alvarez; Fashion Stylist: Patric Chauvez
NAHA 2006 winning image. Long Hair Dressing


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