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Getting primped at Prep: From blow dry bar to successful salon 

By Riley Chervinski

When owner Chelsea Marinelli moved Prep Hair into its trendy Corydon Ave. building three years ago, she had a lot of help, but she also took on a lot of the tasks herself —including painting a large mural on the entire east wall.

With a design idea in mind, she grabbed a paintbrush and climbed up the ladder. Halfway through adding the funky black shapes to the salon’s otherwise white wall, Marinelli slipped and fell—breaking both ankles in the process.

Today, her ankles are healed, but the hard work she and her sister Allison put into the salon remains just as strong—and it shows.

Prep Hair is widely known in Winnipeg for giving clients a rainbow of pastel-coloured hair, lived-in balayages, and intricately awesome braids. Eighteen stylists and two barbers work at the shop located at 701 and 703 Corydon Ave.

The salon space is clean, light, and modern. A wall-length mirror lengthens the main room (there’s a downstairs and an upstairs to the salon as well) and wooden shelves dotted with tropical plants and EVO hair products line the walls. Upbeat indie tunes play beneath the sound of blow dryers, and clients sip bubbly out of champagne flutes from the bar downstairs (Prep Hair was one of the first salons in the city to grab a liquor license, and they have bars on both levels).

“We want to have that party atmosphere— we’re open a little bit later at night so people can have wine and beer while they’re getting their hair done,” explains Marinelli. “We have so much snow and cold in this little city of ours, so I try and keep things happy and good vibes all year round.”

A lot of those good vibes come from the salon’s infamous flower wall—an entire wall that’s covered in green leaves and dotted with colourful flowers that Marinelli switches up whenever she gets bored. Hundreds of clients have posed in front of the flower wall to show off their fresh new ‘dos on Instagram, and it’s helped set the salon apart from the rest with more than 5,000 followers.

“I was inspired by a clothing store in L.A. on Melrose Ave. They had all these flowers and these beautiful living walls on the side of their building and I said, ‘Whatever I do, I need to have this’, because I felt it was really beautiful and I hadn’t seen anything like that in Winnipeg,” said Marinelli.

The salon’s name comes from its origins as a blow dry bar, where Marinelli and her sister Allison would host ‘prep parties’ to get girls ready for a night out. She says the bar was a hit, but she wanted to expand beyond blow-drying and styling to include colour and cuts.

Now, the small salon offers cut, colour, blow-dry, and styling services to a big client list, including Jenna Rae Illchuk of Jenna Rae Cakes and Mark Stuart of the Winnipeg Jets.

Besides basic style services, Prep Hair hosts parties and collaborates often with local brands from Winnipeg’s creative scene. Most recently, the salon hosted ‘A Taste of Pastel’, where they worked closely with clothing brand Corue Canada and Elsa Taylor from The Roost. They coloured models’ hair different shades of pastel and had a DJ, drinks, and a party to showcase their work.

Chelsea Marinelli, owner of Prep Hair.

“Every month or two we’re trying to do something big like that because people enjoy coming. It’s not so much about getting clients anymore, it’s also about hosting fun things and events,” said Marinelli.

The average client at Prep Hair is between 18 and 35, but Marinelli hopes the salon provides a relaxing, fun experience for everyone. Bookings are made through the individual stylists—clients can text, email, or call to make an appointment, and each stylist has an Instagram page showing their work.

Looking ahead, Prep Hair has big plans. They’re about to launch a lifestyle channel on YouTube (Marinelli and her sister have been collecting and creating travel, makeup, fashion, and hair content over the last two years), and plan to open a second salon elsewhere in the future.

“We have such a great community, great vibe, and we try and do a lot of fun team-building things. Prep is a bit of a different way of running a salon, and people are happy to come into work. It creates a really great atmosphere and environment,” she said.