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Giovanni Giorgio

Giovanni Giorgio came to Canada September 24th 1953 at the tender age of 17. He recalls his landing in Gander and the strange smell in the air. He later on discovered that this smell was that of the heaters! Being from Catanzaro, Calabria, the smell a heater would make was quite foreign to him, as was the snow on the ground and the icicles hanging from the trees.

Giovanni had many jobs before his famous career as a hair stylist took off. He had several jobs in construction ranging from the workers' water boy to the remover of nails. He could not speak English, so his options were fairly limited… for the time being.

Mr. Giorgio lived in Toronto until July 1958. A Yugoslavian hairdresser in North York gave him a job and took a chance on another young immigrant trying to make his way. At night, Giovanni attended Marvel Beauty School in Toronto. He then established himself at the King Edward Hotel's salon. It turns out that the owner, who went by the name Jean-Claude (Zago), was actually an Italian from Verona who had lived in France for years. Giovanni describes Zago as being "…a fantastic artist."

In 1958 Giovanni took a vacation to Ottawa and stayed at the Lord Elgin Hotel. He talked with the manager of the salon, and was offered a job on the spot, as well as a substantial raise! He was only 22. And so Giovanni Giorgio came to Ottawa.

It didn't take long for our young Italian star to gain enough recognition to open his own Salon: Giovanni di Roma at 244 Slater. He soon expanded his salon to twice its original size and employed 35 people.

Giovanni also attended numerous events in the hair dressing circuit. In 1961 he won the Ontario Grand Prix in Toronto (for hairdressing). He was also part of the Canadian team that went to Amsterdam in 1962 for the World Championship of Hairdressing and won an award for Outstanding Achievement. For the trip, he and the members of his team left 2 weeks early to get to know each other and practice the styles they would create on select few models. They practiced on 22 models, aged 18-24, for those couple weeks. Giovanni remembers the hospitality of the Germans: he mentioned he was hungry and a model got up and made a platter of food for everyone. "[Germans] have a lot of respect for Italians." He has attended countless compitions in New York, Chicago, etc…

Many of his former students, apprentices and assistants are now big names in Ottawa: Antonio DelCiotto (Estetica), Santino Testa, Lorenzo Mancini and Claude Florant to name a few. Claude now has 10 salons and his own hairdressing school.

Giovanni also had a young assistant, Anna, who had a talented barber for a husband by the name of Rinaldo. He brought Rinaldo to a hairdressing school in Montreal where he caught on very fast and now has a thriving business in the heart of downtown. Partnerships were also established with La Giaconda (Pietro Peccora).

Our famed stylist can't even go on vacation without being asked to do women's hair. When he vacations in Cuba, he is often asked to do hair in the salon of the local hotel in which he stays. He asks for no payment, but for a tip to be given to the salon manager (since Castro owns everything). All the women comply with overwhelming generosity, thankful to have their hair elaborately done by our Italo-Canadian star.

"It's a fantastic business, I really enjoyed it," remembers Mr. Giorgio. He's not the only one! Celebreties from all over have flocked to be done up by Giovanni di Roma. People such as Denise Bodette, wife of the director of the NAC and Pauline Jewett who came from British Colombia to have her hair coiffed by Giovanni all rave about the wonders of his talent.
After spending 16 years in Canada, Ottawa's favourite hairdresser went back to Italy on vacation. There, he met Pina. Seven months later, he flew back to Italy and married the woman of his dreams.

Pina has been there every step of the way ever since. She is his secretary, business advisor and wife. Mrs. Giorgio has also become a keystone member of the community. She volunteers at the Grace Hospital and is on the board of directors at Villa Marconi. The Giorgios "believe in the community" and give generously of their time and money to numerous charities. "The community is our heritage and we need to teach our children to support the community," says Giorgio.

The Giorgios have 2 children: Nicolas and Dino. Nicolas runs the family business now (Byron Rental Properties and Giorgio Rentals & Holdings) and Dino runs CMN for the Workman's Compensation Board. In the future, Pina and Giovanni plan on travelling, letting the boys run the business and supporting Villa Marconi.

by Chiara Mingarelli

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