Back in high school, Kirby Keomysay ran a beauty parlor out of his parents' basement.
After learning the craft from his uncle, who owns Texture in Bellevue, Keomysay cut and colored his high school cheerleading friends' hair in his underground salon. He did updos for prom and other fancy events, as well as the occasional perm. His friends began to bring in their moms and grandmas. His own mom, noticing her utility bills had increased, told him he needed to start charging more.
Less than 10 years later, Keomysay has his own salon — Kontempo, at 132nd Street and West Dodge Road. Some of his high school friends (and their moms and grandmas) are still among his clients. But the 25-year-old stylist's skills have also drawn recognition from far beyond Omaha.
After graduating from the Capitol School of Hairstyling in 2006 he entered and won the student category of the North American Hairstyling Awards. In 2011 he was a contestant on the second season of “Hair Battle Spectacular,” a reality show on the Oxygen network, in which stylists from across the country compete for a cash prize by creating artistic but increasingly outlandish hairstyles. For one challenge, Keomysay drew his inspiration from Lady Gaga, and using chicken wire, foam board, hot glue and lots of hair, he made a hair piano, topped with a piece of meat in the shape of Nebraska.
He won the show's second season, as well as the $100,000 that came with it.
“The show really pushed my limits,” he said.
He returned to Omaha and used his prize money to lease and remodel the space that currently houses Kontempo.
Kontempo is a “huge wedding salon,” Keomysay said, but he also experiments with new trends, such as a blow-out happy hour he's begun offering Friday afternoons. And he's continued with the avant-garde hair, too.
For Audra McAvaddy's show during last August's Omaha Fashion Week, he built big bouffant updos on chicken wire frames, which he actually sewed onto the models' real hair. During Omaha Fashion Week's winter/spring shows, which ended earlier this month, he and his Kontempo employees were paired with children's accessories designer Hollie Hanash during the hair, makeup and accessories show.
This was the first year for the hair, makeup and accessories show, in which stylists and makeup artists were randomly paired with accessories designers and then given 24 hours to come up with hair and makeup to complement the collection. Keomysay said he was initially nervous to be paired with a children's designer — he aspires to create things that are more high fashion. But he quickly came to embrace the challenge.
“We wanted to keep it fashion-forward but kid-friendly,” he said.
And working with kids did have one advantage.
“We knew we would have the cute factor.”
His team painted the models' faces to keep the looks age-appropriate, and they made colorful hair pieces for their young models. One hairpiece was the color of cotton candy and in the shape of a bow.
His team won the challenge.
Keomysay said he is looking forward to the August Omaha Fashion Week shows, as well as to the 25 weddings Kontempo has booked in the meantime.
For him, styling is about more than creating pretty hair.
“It's like art.”
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