Oak Park's own Elvira

Vampy stylist channels Halloween year-round

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By KAREN STONER

Mistress of the Arts Salon just might be the only hair salon in Oak Park where miniature skulls are window fixtures. Inside Elvira Garcia's shop, it's a fun Day of the Dead atmosphere all year.

Upon entering, in Victorian finery, dark-red tufted sofas welcome you. Morrissey and Depeche Mode waft through the air. Your gaze travels up to a larger-than-life cut-out print of a partially clad beautiful woman, in a Charlie Chaplin motif. And you'll see images of the shopkeeper herself in, well, dominatrix attire.

Foremost, though, Elvira Garcia is a hair artist. She and her staff of four have such specialties as graphic braiding - a styling service that puts hair into zigzags, triangles and swirls. For 10 years, she's been developing her art, coming up with cuts that are original and color that's striking. If a client wants to know how to style their hair the way she does it, she's eager to teach the process. She enjoys coaching people on how to apply mousse, gel and oils. If you need tips on using a straightener or a curling iron, she's there for you.

And through all her professionalism, the 32-year-old is a sight to behold: She's pretty, gothic, pierced and - on her arms - very tattooed. One arm is completely covered in "sexy, dark vamp art," as she puts it. The other arm is about halfway inked. "My tips go to my tattoo fund," she says with a smile. After her arms are done, she'll be starting on her legs.

Elvira rarely is seen wearing heels or platforms lower than 5 inches, which make her "feel confident, long and lean." Without stilettos, she's 5-foot-4. Her long, straight black locks and bangs are reminiscent of Bettie Page, the notorious 1950s pin-up queen who died last year. Page, in fact, is one of Elvira's favorite subjects. Pictures of the '50s model adorn the salon. Elvira's eyes light up when talking about the cult icon; she, too, does fetish modeling.

When asked about the obvious comparisons to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, the Halloween icon played by Cassandra Peterson, Elvira Garcia says, "As a child, I was sick of it. But now ... I don't mind. We have a similarity in style and an interest in the dark side. So it's OK." In the shop, there aren't any photos around of that Elvira, but there are plenty of spiders, cobwebs and Nightmare Before Christmas figurines.

The salon, on Roosevelt Road just east of Taylor, is at the southeast corner of Oak Park. Elvira, who worked at a salon in Lyons for seven years before starting her own, chose Oak Park because it's a midpoint geographically for her clients. Plus, it's close to her home in Berwyn. "I love Oak Park. I want my business to stay here," she says.

Friday mornings are devoted to making house calls to clients she has known a long time and now find themselves, for one reason or another, homebound.

"There is no limit to her kindness. My husband was dying of cancer and she came here and did his hair," says Marian Jelinek of North Riverside. "Now she washes, cuts, colors and styles mine, because I don't drive. She'll often walk in with something for me from McDonald's."

Elvira says her clients are about 70 percent women, 20 percent men, and 10 percent children. She has two full-time employees and two people in training. She says she hasn't learned to style African-American hair, drawing on her good business sense, she recently introduced herself to Orlantha Bennett, of nearby Redd Carpet hair salon. Now the two business neighbors refer customers to each other.

Mistress of the Arts is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, and by appointment from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday and Monday. The salon is at 6118 W. Roosevelt Road in Oak Park. www.myspace.com/vamphair, 708-445-7580

Yes, Mistress of the Arts will be open on Halloween. That day, Elvira will be a she-devil.

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