She was the first woman barber in downtown Jersey City, New Jersey to own a Barber Shop/Unisex Salon back in the 1970's. Her vision came at the precise moment during the women's liberation movement, yet all the while, she was keenly unaware and unassuming in her role as an influencer. Instead, she was more focused on living and enjoying life with her friends and family. Back then, there wasn't a thought about a higher cause, or about the future, there was simply something called life.
Perhaps it was a sign of the times. That's when, in 1977, Elva Lopez, a Puerto Rican-born New Jersey transplant decided to open her own unisex salon on her own terms. She had survived the establishment of the 1950's and 60's, becoming her own fiercely independent woman by the 1970's, raising her two daughters and calling the shots with her then second husband. Add to that a post Gloria Steinem sensibility and the influence of those Virginia Slims cigarette ads, and, well, you get the picture. Consider still, that she was by then already a part of the New York nightclub scene. With that, Elva came up with the genius idea of opening a salon modeled after the concept of Steve Rubell's Studio 54.
She decided to call her creation Elva's Haircutting Studio.
Elva's Haircutting Studio had its run on 398A Grove Street in the newly developed complex in downtown Jersey City called Villa Borinquen, an apartment complex largely populated by Puerto Ricans (and still to this day). In its heyday, the salon was at its prime from 1977 right up until 1983, which, interestingly enough, was also around the time Studio 54 closed its doors. There are more than a few parallels found in these two entities.
What was atypical about Elva: she wasn't a beautician but instead a barber in a male dominated field, and her salon even had a barber pole on the outside, even though on the inside it resembled anything but. That said, the studio was dimly lit with plush brown leather couches and disco music pumping through the air. Anyone who knew the nightlife was there. Not anyone could get an appointment. Elva didn't do business with everyone. Her place was the place to get the latest in color, cuts and perms. With a clientele transcending social norms, it was ahead of its time. Men were groomed and didn't feel like they were going to a beauty parlor. It was cool and hip. It was a hopping place, a first of its kind.
Elva Lopez was also a prolific figure in New York City nightlife, particularly in the Salsa music scene. More notably, she was most closely associated with the late and great Salsa singer, Hector Lavoe. You can see more of what those times were like by viewing the film El Cantante starring Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez.
The original Elva's Haircutting Studio at 398A Grove Street in Jersey City, New Jersey, a five minute jump from NYC's hip club scene, on any night in 1977.
But, the party was here.
There will probably never be a time like that again. I had the fortune of assisting there, in my very first job as a kid. I learned a lot. Things change, people change. But the need to be social never changes. One of the things that made the shift, and changed everything in music, fashion, nightlife and the arts, was the AIDS epidemic. And so as it was the marker for Studio 54, the same was true for Elva's Haircutting Studio because, people's focus on nightlife changed. People went out less, traveled more. This meant dressing for fashion less, and music shifted from the nightclub to home entertainment and MTV. This is what eventually happened across the board.
But for a brief time, in downtown Jersey City, Elva's Haircutting Studio was King.
In the video above, to commemorate the passing of Elva Lopez, is a slide show from her memorial, with music from that unforgettable era. This is her music, and ours.
Thank you, Elva, for everything. Because of you, young Latins, and Latin women, have more to strive for.