News & Politics

Erwin Gomez, About to Open a New Salon, Declares, “Erwin’s Back!”

The popular DC stylist talks candidly about the past and his hopes for the new business.

The new Erwin Gomez salon, Karma Beauty Lounge in West End. Photograph by David Phillipich/courtesy of Karma.

It’s well known within the Washington beauty industry, and most of those who are customers, that it did not end well for the Erwin Gomez Salon & Spa in Georgetown. It closed in January of last year after an ugly falling-out between Gomez and his then-business partner. Staff scattered, accusations and lawsuits flew, and the salon doors were closed and locked. The photos in the windows, featuring “celebrity” customers such as Oprah Winfrey and Jon Gosselin, disappeared.

While notable for good service and Gomez’s skills as an eyebrow expert, the salon made global news after Michaele Salahi took the Real Housewives of Washington, DC cameras there to watch her prep for the White House state dinner that she and her then-husband, Tareq, allegedly crashed. Gomez helped wrap her in her red sari evening dress. He also got called before a grand jury investigating the episode, though he was not implicated in any way in whatever the Salahis were up to.

Today the Wisconsin Avenue space has reopened as the David Rios Salon and Spa (Rios was formerly with the Cristophe salon), and right after Labor Day Gomez is about to open a new salon of his own, Karma Beauty Lounge, in West End at 1104 24th Street. He has new investors: the owners of the downtown nightclub Eden. Gomez feels he also has a new personal investment in his future, and he’s optimistic. We talked this week about the past, present, and future.

What has the past year been about for you? You’ve been a bit off the radar.

I have been working. I do as much work as possible on locations. I’m so grateful that my guests have been such incredible support. They pretty much saved my life through this year, kept up my morale. I have a wedding almost every weekend. I have weddings booked into 2014. I’ve been very blessed.

Why did you choose the West End for your new salon?

My investors actually found this space. They chose it, and they approached me. The West End is the best location right now. It’s getting hotter and hotter. It’s a beautiful location. The Metro is right here. That made me so angry in Georgetown, no Metro. I can’t ask for anything better than this location.

How will it compare to the Erwin Gomez salon that was in Georgetown?

Oh, my God. This is reinventing my entire self. I could tell you it was one of the hardest things to do, but it was actually easy, because I really know who I am as an artist and a person. I really believe the second time around makes it best. This is the new me, the mature me. And my guests say, “This is so you.”

What are some of the specific changes?

I kept the realness of being warm and inviting in the atmosphere. When you see the salon, you are going to die. It is so different from [Erwin Gomez Salon]. Much better. It shows the real me, who I am now.

The bottom line is I wanted to really deliver something for my guests who helped me through all these years, a beautiful home for them and my employees. Each artist’s station is private. The artist can focus on the guest. No eavesdropping. Individual music control. I really thought of every detail I didn’t have the last time.

Why didn’t you call it Erwin Gomez II, or something with your name in the title as before?

Karma was the perfect fit for the new name. So it is Karma by Erwin Gomez. I didn’t want “salon and spa” in the name. I wanted something that reflects me.

Who are the staff? Did many or most work with you before?

They are all new. I wanted to be really selective, and I wanted people who really have my back.

Are all the legal issues of Erwin Gomez salon resolved?

It’s all over. That’s why this is such an important year for me. Erwin’s back!

Were you able to recover anything—financial or tangible—from the old salon?

No, not at all. I didn’t want anything. I made a decision to leave everything there for a reason. Most important to me is that I have myself. I have my dignity. I am healthy and safe. Material things like that were never really important to me. I was more concentrated on dealing with my guests and working all the time.

Were you able to keep all the customer contact information from before?

Of course. I have it, but I haven’t had a chance to really use it. That’s why Karma is such a great name for me.

Meaning you believe all your former customers will find you?

Yes, they will. They have.

What will be your price point?

It’s going to be not too high. I want to be right in between. It’s an intense customer service. They are going to say, “It is worth being here.” I’m going to be lower than the Four Seasons. I made comparisons to all the salons around the area. The bottom line is I want to be accommodating for our world now, and considerate of people’s financial situations.

When will you be open? 

Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 to 7 on weekdays and 9 to 6 on Saturday. But I have a rule with my guests: If they have something special, I will always open the doors for them.

Do you feel like you’ve successfully left the past behind?

Oh, it’s all behind me. One hundred percent. I don’t even think about it anymore.

What have you done to make sure a bad business fallout doesn’t happen to you again?

Having the best lawyer, and really communicating, and not trusting anybody. I have 100 percent control of the management and buying. I’ve learned a lot, and I don’t want what happened before to ever happen to me again.