"There's nothing like a convention full of hairdressers. It's like tropical fish and an orgy all in one," says Crae Hasler-Elliot, co-owner of Portland salon Hello Gorgeous.

She's talking about the frenzied fabulousness of the North American Hairstyling Awards, where she won "Color" category honors back in 1996. NAHA, as it's referred to in industry circles, is the most prestigious set of awards a U.S. or Canadian stylist can hope to win—it's the Emmys, the Oscars, perhaps even the Olympics of hairdressing. Each July, Las Vegas plays host to the red-carpeted, celebrity-dotted ceremony, which boasts outlandish hair creations ranging from parched and puffy bleached-blond afros, to 'dos boasting metal zippers and midcentury piled-high rolls streaked with peacock-bright dye jobs—styles rarely found outside an average hairdresser's fever dreams. Color reputations and haircare careers are made on the back of NAHA wins.

Although most Portlanders are used to $12 buzz jobs that come with a free can of Pabst, the city's also home to a small, core group of hair professionals who have dedicated their lives to the craft of giving good head. PDX actually boasts a pair of NAHA winners who've scored in three of the competition's 12 hair style categories: Hasler-Elliot and Evolution Salon owner Mark Putnam for "Texture" in 1997 and again in 2004 for, ahem, "Long Hair Dressing." And on Sunday, July 13, Portland may welcome home two more members of scissor royalty: husband-and-wife style team and 2008 NAHA finalists Ryan and DeAnnalyn Teal.

Since the first NAHA competition in 1989, hundreds of hairdressers enter each year (there were 610 total North American entries for the 2008 awards). Anyone who can fork over the $75 entry fee (per category), along with what they believe to be the most phenomenal photograph showcasing their best hair work, can compete. Sixty final nominees, five for each category, are chosen from the initial pool, and their entries are scrutinized by a rotating panel of fashion magazine editors, past winners and famous hairdressers like Robert Cromeans. Out of these finalists, one winner for each category is announced the day of the show (they don't cut hair live for the judges). While no prize money is awarded to winners, industry acclaim and recognition, say Hasler-Elliot and Putnam, are more than enough to satiate hungry hairdressers.

"[Winning] puts you higher in the food chain," explains Putnam, a soft-spoken, dapper man in his 50s whose 28 years in the industry have made his name a byword for hair texture. While a NAHA win might not afford you fame and fortune, it does allow for paid travel assignments and what Putnam calls the "wow factor." "When you have a lot of wow factors going on," he says, "life is good. Instead of being in coach, or [sharing] a room with somebody in a hotel, what changes after [NAHA] is, 'Would you like your own room?' 'Shall we get you a car?' 'Don't worry about per diem; everything you say is gold.'"

How to win? The Portland NAHAers explain that the spotlight is on the hairstyle, but the model, makeup, wardrobe and lighting in the entry photographs are pieces of the puzzle as well. "Every nuanced detail is organized, every hair smoothed down," Hasler-Elliot says. The only variables that contestants have any control over are their models and the photographer—a person who has the power to make or break a champion picture.

HAIR PAIR: Capello Salon's DeAnnalyn and Ryan Teal.

Ryan and DeAnnalyn Teal adore hair. Both in their early 30s, the Teals own Capello Salon, a quaint but cutting-edge brown- and sky blue-painted salon in Milwaukie. Surrounded by posters of their work, the pair performs everything from cuts to color (for moderate PDX prices, starting around $50) as well as teaching professional photo and hairstyling classes. For the past six years, Ryan has also served as "director of hair design" at Portland's European Institute of Cosmetology. In early May, he held a live hairdressing exhibition at the school's Northeast Portland campus, where concept terms like "build," "line," "airy" and "dimension" flashed across the wall above the raised stage, slide show-style, and smocked and tool-belted hairdressers dueled on the heads of women wrapped in white, togalike dresses. Scissors squeaked, hair dryers blew, fingers squeezed fat tubes of creams and color—it was a chance to see future NAHAers in action.

"I never, ever wanted to be a hairdresser," Ryan says, laughing. "I played football in high school and became a roofer. My wife got me into the industry. When I called my dad, who's a pastor, he said, 'Is there anything else you need to tell me?'" The couple's work speaks for itself: They were featured in Vogue in 2002. But NAHA victory eluded them. Although they've entered the competition every year since 1998, they have never received a single nomination in any category.

But 2008 would be different. This year would be the Teals' "'Hail Mary' shot." Ryan studied every winning image of the past 18 years as well as the photographers behind them. "I was going to bring in the top photographer for the year. It was like, 'If I don't get it this year, I'm not shooting [photos for NAHA] ever again,'" Ryan says. "'I might become a gas station attendant.'" The Teals settled on Babak, a one-name Canadian photographer whose work has garnered more NAHA trophies than any other photographer's. Ryan and DeAnnalyn envisioned a film-noir setting filled with mobster models wearing "hats" made of hair, working with local wardrobe stylist Kristen Beery—who pulled outfits from Goodwill and her own personal stash—to complete the look. The pair hand-sewed hair pieces over hat form bases to attach to their model's heads. "It took us three months on our days off," DeAnnalyn explains. "When [Ryan] would start freaking out at home, then I would just grab his stuff and start sewing." Finally, Babak photographed a quartet of Portland models topped with the Teals' hairdos last October, shooting some of them in his own hotel room at McMenamins' Kennedy School.

"Shooting with Babak was…the most pressure I've had in my life...I'm not going to cry," DeAnnalyn says, starting to tear up. The price tag for the experience? A cool $9,000 for 50 shots, 14 of which were final-edited and given to the Teals to keep.

Last month, Ryan and DeAnnalyn received word that they were 2008 NAHA finalists in two categories: "Salon Team" and "Fashion Forward," an award given to a hairstyle so extraordinary that it represents a wave of future hair trends. "When we made it to the final list I ran outside and across the street, into a very nice restaurant, got the chef and told him, 'We're on the map! Milwaukie!' It's huge. People don't get it," DeAnnalyn says. The pair is flying to Vegas for the live winner announcements. If they win, Ryan and DeAnnalyn will accept as a couple. Neither has written any kind of speech...they don't want to jinx it.

"The thing about NAHA is this," says past winner Putnam: "It is one evening, once a year, that a lot of people work really hard for...it's about being very clear in what you believe to be amazing. When, at the end of the day, everyone else recognizes it as being amazing, could it be any less than that? That's the best part."

The Teals' NAHA shot didn't come without sacrifice. Ryan quit his job at EIC school almost two months ago. For the past five years, the Teals owned a second Capello Salon on East Burnside. Last weekend they made the decision to close the shop and walk away, in part due to the location's high rent. "We just want to focus on the Milwaukie location," DeAnnalyn says. If the July 13 ceremony yields a NAHA win, they say their lives will no doubt change, but they will continue to operate their remaining salon and "push the creative envelope" of artistic hair expression. "The day you sign up for beauty school, you are no longer just a regular person. You become a hairdresser," explains Ryan. "That's what I am. And I will stand up for pretty hair at all costs."


Salon Team Entry
"This is our NAHA Salon Team entry. We were inspired by film noir and the cool fashions of mobster New York. We wanted to use suits and tweak them for an interesting look. We also wanted the hair to look like the models were wearing hats."

Photos: Babak
Hair: The Teals
Make Up: Denise D'Angelo
Wardrobe: Kristen Beery

Fashion Forward Entry
"This is our NAHA Fashion Forward entry. These were taken at the end of the day. Babak loved the room he was staying in at McMenamins' Kennedy School (evidently they don't have anything as cool in Canada), so he wanted the models to come back to his room. This set still has the same film noir feeling, but it also has kind of an eerie school feeling as well."

Photos: BABAK
Hair: The Teals
Make Up: Denise D'Angelo
Wardrobe: Kristen Beery

Mark Putnam's 2004 NAHA-winning photo for the Long Hair Dressing category:
"So, the idea behind the image was inspired by handbags. It took three hours to do. The zipper was hooked to the braids on each side. It was a team effort that paid off by [our] receiving the long-hair-dressing award that year."

Photo by Rafael Astorga


The Teals will find out if they're North American Hairstyling Award winners Sunday, July 13. Visit probeauty.org/naha for more about the competition. Capello Salon is located at 10609 SE Main St., Milwaukie, 659-3626.