When I moved to Chicago, I knew no one. I had friends who have introduced me to friends that live in this city. Through them, I met some inspiring and hardworking people that never give up. Their laser sharp focus, passion for their interest and never-ending drive makes their energies so contagious- you walk out of a meeting with them feeling energised. Life runs through their veins and challenges are won daily on their path. One of those people introduced to me was Nevena Zee, someone who is not only a friend but an inspiring global citizen, a thriving entrepreneur living in Chicago. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to present to you Nevena or Nevsy, as all her friends and the industry call her. Get to know this beauty, successful business owner of Custom :
Who is Nevena?
My name was given to me by Nevena Kokanova, one of the most celebrated actresses in Bulgaria. I was lucky enough to have her as my Godmother. This is probably where my creativity comes from. I was born and raised in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, during the transition from communism to democracy, to two bohemian architects. My childhood was surrounded by extended family, friends, nature, travels and healthy living.
What were your aspirations, growing up?
Growing up, I wanted to become a citizen of the world and have no borders or limitations. At age 14, when my peers were applying to different high schools, I decided to become a hairdresser. I wanted to learn a skill that would make me independent and able to work anywhere in the world. I studied under masters of the craft and graduated with honors, simultaneously becoming a member of the national team of hairstylists of Bulgaria. We competed at different events all around Europe.
What was your first success story?
I opened my first hair studio when I was 19 and a few years later was invited to work in Italy for a leading company Vitallitis and Alpa Parf of Milano. Italy was a first short step for me. Afterwards I came back to home Sofia, but the country seem so small for me after I had seen some of the world. This is when the idea of crossing the ocean came to me. Of course there was a little love story involved also and I made it to Chicago on summer work and travel program.
And I have loved it here ever since.
the ONE thing that’s special about this city is that Chicago is big enough, yet manageable. I love its beautiful lakefront and friendly people. It also has old European charm, character and history.
Local hotspots to check out when visiting Chicago
Best spots for me are:
To shop Wicker Park and Bucktown: Penelope’s, Robyn Richmond, and Ted Baker. I do a lot of shopping when I go home to Europe.
Places to eat & drink:
Always try Avec. It’s classic the dates and foccacia that are to die for.
I love Maude’s for the salmon tartar, Au’cheval for the best burger and green simple house salad and mashed potatoes. Nico’s Osteria is great if you are feeling trendy. Sultan’s for falafel. When I feel homesick and need a taste of delicious feta or grilled octopus I go to Greek Islands. Also: Fish Tacos at Big star or authentic tacos at La Cemitas Puebla.
Where to stay:
Thompson hotel, James Hotel or Soho House.
How Chicago helped my growth
I’m so lucky to have incredible support from my friends and all those who helped me build a thriving business and made me feel that Chicago is my hometown. Friendly citizens, loyal business owners, great networking!
If you’re moving here, you should know this
Enjoy the summer while you can and be prepare to explore till you find the right niche.
You’re always traveling- what’s a great travel tip
Visit new places each time, be outgoing and make friends in every city!
Hair news: What’s the best hair tip you can give anyone?
Fast blow out sprays from several companies with Juvexin help you keep your hair sleek, smooth and with excellent volume.
I love using hair stitching for organic, flawless, less structured up dos and styles. We are one of the very few salons in the city that does exceptional styles with thread and needle. It isn’t hair extensions or hair lengthening, but pure styling that lasts for up to two days and looks stunning.
Seeing that you’re in the hair and fashion industry… what has changed in the last few years?
The new trend of Blow Out bars as well as at home visits and applications such as PrettyQuick are at the top of their game.
Also, the Green Circle salon programs helping recycle all the waste from color to foils, plastic, and even the hair. None of the elaborate fashion could survive if we didn’t pay attention to sustainability.
Are you seeing more fashion/beauty/style interest in Chicago or has it always been this way?
There has been a lot of progress in men’s style and grooming, which I’m very happy about. Women are becoming more creative and experimental.
What inspires your style?
Museums, old movies, magazines.
Your proudest moment
If you ask my mother she would say that she is always thrilled to see me on the cover of a magazine or TV program back at home. It makes her think I’ve done it all. But for me, my proudest moments are being a part of the styling team at the Academy Awards, being requested as a stylist for movies and photo shoots, and having a team that believes In my vision.
Prediction: How do you predict fashion is moving?
We have seen many pastel colors from lavenders to green, turquoise and blue. However the new trends is focusing on metallic colors and lots of matte texture! We just saw lots of velvet shades on the runways.
How is European style different to US style in general?
European styles are finally coming to influence the consumers in the US. In term of hair, these days people aren’t fighting their natural texture. Styling your hair texture to fit a haircut is no longer the trend.
Aspiring hair stars: what’s your one advise to them, to follow your footsteps?
Be ready to work hard and don’t settle for less. Follow your dreams and don’t give up.
Quotes I live by
This will be a whole new chapter we can fill up several pages with. Let’s just say dream big!