The Art of Hair: Bobby Cooper Turns His Passion for Beauty Into One of the Top Salons in the Country
Writer / Kara Kavensky
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
Bobby Cooper is arguably one of the top stylists in the Midwest, and certainly the most well-known in Indianapolis. His salon, which bears his name, is consistently one of the best in the city and nation, and is regularly featured in Salon Today Magazine as one of the Top 200 Salons in North America.
Bobby grew up in Beech Grove on the Southside of Indianapolis. His mom was a hairdresser while his father was in college, but had stopped doing hair by the time Bobby and his sister were born. As a child, Bobby was encouraged to pursue art. His parents cultivated his love of art and enrolled him in art classes.
“I was told by my parents that I would be a famous artist. I believed it,” shares Bobby. “I took art lessons from age 6 to 16 and am grateful they were so supportive.”
“When Bobby was 5 or 6, it was clear he was tremendously talented so I found an art teacher to work with him,” shares his father Tom, who is very proud of his son. “But she thought he was too young for formal instruction until I shared a few examples of his work, and her reaction was, ‘Have him here at 10 a.m. on Saturday.’”
When he was in eighth grade, Bobby did his older sister’s hair for proms, dances and special occasions. Her friends wanted him to do their hair as well.
“I also did my mom’s hair,” says Bobby.
A vocational program came to his high school and Bobby signed up for beauty school the summer before his senior year. During the summer following graduation, Bobby completed his training and came to Broad Ripple to find the best salon.
“Bobby wasn’t meant for traditional college, which required me speaking with his guidance counselor to explain how talented he is with hair and make-up,” adds Tom. “He always knew what he wanted to do. And everything Bobby focuses upon, he strives to be the best at it. The guidance counselor became a client of his.”
Bobby opened the Bobby Cooper Salon with his business partner, Sarah, almost 10 years ago.
At the age of 40, Bobby is still channeling his artistic talent into hair, fulfilling the prophecy spoken by his parents, for his salon has the most sought-after chairs in the city.
“I am all about creating something beautiful,” explains Bobby of his art. Makeup is also in Bobby’s skill set. “I chose a type of art that creates something beautiful. It’s all about the visualization.” Crediting his artistic eye for knowing what color is needed in someone’s hair, Bobby says, “I have hired stylists on the spot when they’ve shared with me that they are an artist.”
Not everyone has the eye for color and potential when it comes to creating beautiful hairstyles and makeup, which is why Bobby is attracted to the intuitive nature that most artists possess.
“I can’t teach someone how to see something, but I can teach them how to get there,” he says. “I can’t stand behind someone and tell them what the client needs, and will hire someone with an eye for seeing this. They can be taught how to get there. They know what they see.”
Long-time client Betsy Blankenbaker says, “I like every stylist in the salon. What I love is that when I can come in, I don’t care who I am scheduled with. All are amazing and I trust my hair will look incredible, regardless of whose chair I am in.”
Many of Bobby’s clients are now with other stylists in his salon.
“But they are here,” says Bobby.
That is why he has been training people over the past decade. Bobby developed a training system for new stylists, facilitating their success through replication and establishing a solid, team-building culture around his vision. The Bobby Cooper Salon has fourteen chairs, all of which are filled regularly.
Two years ago, Bobby and Sarah decided their surroundings needed to reflect their culture more acutely, which meant remodeling the salon. Having the interior of their newly-remodeled salon featured in the 2016 Luxury edition of Salon Today was a huge accolade. Luxury salons are normally found elsewhere, but to be a featured salon located in the Midwest, specifically in Indianapolis, was quite an accomplishment.
“Our original design was ‘rock it out,’ and everything was black including a black ceiling and floors. It was cool and great for the time,” states Bobby. “Now things are different, and it is time to focus on a more organic, natural, yet still beautiful aesthetic. We are a little shinier than mid-century modern.”
The moss wall that greets guests upon entering came via inspiration from the Design District in Miami. The moss was shipped north from Miami in large tiles and applied to the wall. The lighting is one of the most thoughtfully crafted elements to the salon, with illumination at all angles.
“Natural light is real and flattering, and allows for our stylists to create and view the color they implement,” says Bobby, who wanted the new design to be earthy and warm, and everyone to look good at every angle, bringing in as much outdoor light as possible.
As Bobby’s career has evolved, so has his vision for the future, which includes a recently opened salon in Naples, Florida.
“I’ve been asked consistently over the years to open something for our clients who are concentrated in Naples, so we have conceded and are very excited about the possibilities and growth in that area,” states Bobby, who will be traveling there periodically for his clients.
“Naples was the next natural market for us to move into because of the relationships and small client base we have there,” shares Sarah. “We found a way to test a new market at a low cost of entry. We love the feel there and are looking forward to cultivating its growth.”
The stylists at the Bobby Cooper Salon are professional, holding to a high standard that is as natural as it is expected.
“Opulent, beautiful and natural is how I like hair to be,” he says, “and we designed the salon to emulate those characteristics.”