Eyebrows — plucked, waxed, and groomed by Anastasia Soare, the Romanian immigrant who rose from being an 14-hour-a day employee in a Los Angeles beauty parlor to "Eyebrow Queen of the World," as she is known in Hollywood.
Two decades after she arrived in the U.S., Soare is living the American dream. This week she came home to share a bit of that dream with Romanians — opening her first European salon in Bucharest.
She has an empire of 800 outlets in the U.S. and 600 overseas, including brow salons in Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong. Perhaps the biggest measure of her stardom: she's been on the Oprah Winfrey show.
Soare's interest in brows is in fact a passion for the living architecture of the face — plus a talent for spotting and exploiting a niche in the lucrative beauty business.
The petite Romanian with flowing caramel locks grew up in the Black Sea port of Constanta during the grim communist era. The daughter of tailors, Soare left in the dying months of Nicolae Ceausescu's regime to join her then husband, a ship captain, who had defected to the West about three years earlier.
In her spare time, she studied Leonardo Da Vinci to learn about facial anatomy and symmetry, and even went to Arizona to take classes with a forensic scientist who works in facial reconstruction.
"Living in Constanta under communism, we did not have the ethnic diversity that I then encountered in America," she said on Monday. Her first celebrity client was 1980s supermodel, Cindy Crawford. Naomi Campbell has entrusted her brows to Soare's skilled hands for the past 18 years.
When a reporter laments the fact that she does not have the sweeping brows of Romanian women, she explains it is due to the width of the brow bone. Romanians tend to have wider brow bones, while women of north European origin tend to have narrower faces and therefore shorter brows.
Signed magazine covers and photos adorn the newly opened salon in Bucharest's swanky Radisson hotel. Madonna and her entourage stayed there during her Sticky and Sweet tour in 2009.
"It's like I have come a full circle; it's 21 years since I left," she says, sitting in the window seat of her small salon, called simply 'Anastasia.' "In 1990, there were no services catering for eyebrows in Hollywood," she says, speaking rapidly in faintly accented American English.
A tweeze, wax and groom doesn't come cheap in recession-mired Romania where the average monthly wage is about euro450 (US$625). It's 150 lei (euro36, $50) for women and 100 lei (euro24, $33) for men. Delicately packaged products, from eyebrow serum, a brow kit (containing stencils and tweezers and makeup), to eyebrow gels and scissors will set the consumer back even more.
But Soare says hard times are for the brave.
"If you have believe in what you do, you have a great technique, good quality product and a good service, you can expand even when there is economic turmoil," she said.
She opened her first salon in Los Angeles in 1992 during the first Gulf war, and another in 1997 at a time of recession in the U.S.
The world trendsetter for eyebrows says the current emphasis is on natural, only a better version of what nature gave you.
"Richer brows give you a sophisticated, feminine look," she explains, arching her own perfectly groomed chestnut brows. She is against the faint, pencil-thin brows of yesteryear, saying it ages a woman.
"When I looked at films with Marlene Dietrich and Jane Harlow I though they were about 40, but in fact they were only about 23," she said.
Why has the eyebrow grooming trend caught on? Because it's a simple way to make a big difference, say her customers, aged from 14 to over 70. They all look in the mirror and say "Wow!"