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  • Writer's pictureDani Sauter

A Perfect Illusion

Everyone, mark your calendar for April 15! You are invited to a party in celebration of the iconic Illusions of Shirlington Salon 25th anniversary! You read that right- Illusions of Shirlington will turn 25 in April! AND, while we're talking about birthdays, the Georgetown location turns 3, TODAY! Pop the champs and don your party hats, because todays post is a celebration for Illusions.

In my last post about Illusions for the month of February, I dropped the news that I am the Brand Ambassador for the salon <woohoo!>, and I will be sharing monthly posts about the salon with exciting info and all things beauty. You may recognize Illusions from other blog posts as well, including my favorite post, which goes into detail about how the salon literally saved my hair.

Illusions Salon | Dani Sauter

A sneak peek from the Illusions 25th anniversary photo shoot I was a part of! More on the shoot later.... ;)

Photo by Arielle Lewis Studios, hair and makeup by Illusions.

I have teamed up with Illusions this month to share the story of how Illusions was started 25 years ago. With birthdays all around and as someone who loves to hear how brands started, I wanted to share the story with you, directly from Illusions Salon Owner, Irma Wheeler, herself! Irma is a powerhouse of a woman that I truly admire and respect. Her story is one of determination and is a great inspiration to show women that you can do anything.


The story of Illusions, told by Irma Wheeler, Illusions Salon Owner

I came to the United States from a Communist country at the age of 10 without my parents and with just the clothes I was wearing. (My childhood was very similar to the Gloria Estefan musical “Get On Your Feet.”)

I had just gotten a divorce and had a 9-month old baby. I started working at a salon on Columbia Pike. Shortly after starting there, the salon was sold. The new owner was a successful business man and owned a number of salons. He was very taken with me and showered me with gifts and very expensive lunches and allowed me to run the salon how I wanted.

I soon found out that his personal interest was for me to marry him and he offered me a pre-nup agreement. Part of the pre-nup agreement was that he would give me the salon “George” at the Four Seasons which he owned at the time.

Obviously, he thought I would be thrilled and overjoyed when I heard his plans and would shower him with kisses, attention and affection and say…yes, yes, yes.

But all I kept thinking was…oooh... no, no, no.

Little to my surprise, my life totally changed after that. He started making my life miserable and not taking care of things at the salon where I worked.

After I got robbed at gunpoint at the salon, I asked him to put in more lights. He totally ignored my request.

The salon had a flat ceiling and was creating a huge bubble. I called him up to tell him. When he came in to look at it, I told him I think we need to have that fixed. He turned to me and said “You’re from a third world country. What do you know?”

If you can imagine a ceiling exploding – the noise and the smell – it was like a bomb had been dropped. I called him that evening and told him what had happened. He answered, “I will meet you there at 7:30am tomorrow morning.” So, when I got there I met him in the parking lot. He flatly said, “Well get in there and start cleaning.” I replied, “I have a doctor’s appointment. I will be back later.”

I took off. I remembered there was a salon in Shirlington Village. I found out who the owner was and went to see him. I told him I was interested in working at his salon immediately and bringing over my clientele. He told me he was interested in selling.

I told him I was interested in his offer, but let’s see how things go. On my third day at the new salon, a gentleman came in and said he wanted to see me. I asked him if he had an appointment. He said, “no.” I told him my next available appointment was the following week on Tuesday. He said, “I’m not interested in getting my hair cut. I’m your landlord.” I immediately made myself available the following morning.

I told him that I just brought all my clients over and I was interested in purchasing the salon from the current owner. He replied, “Have you exchanged any money? Because the salon is going to be closed due to the fact that they have not paid rent in 6 months. We’re going to evict them.”

I thought, “Oh, no. This can’t be happening. I just brought all my clients here.” I was going crazy. What was I going to do?

But, the landlord was an angel. He went and spoke to Signet bank on my behalf. And Signet bank came back with another offer. I couldn’t stay where I was because the space was already leased to California Pizza. But if I was willing to choose another location, they would let me stay and propose a new lease.

As my nine month old baby is now 12 years old, he said "mom you can do it! I picked the smallest space they had available because I was so scared. I opened Illusions three months later on April 1st using the furniture from the old salon.

My son's energy and encouragement, and my wonderful stylists and supportive staff helped me make Illusions a reality. We are now celebrating our 25th anniversary.


Help us celebrate Illusions Salon 25th anniversary on April 15 at the Shirlington location! Event Info and RSVP is available here. Also be sure to follow Illusions on social media to stay up-to-date on everything hair!


Blonde in the District


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