Although they come from different hemispheres James Brown and Antonio have a lot in common. Sharing a love for fast cars and even faster women. “When I was young, F1 became my dream,” says Tony. “Working with the manliest men, women were all that we wanted to be around”.
As a first step on the path to becoming a renowned Formula 1 mechanic, Tony began his apprenticeship as a mechanic for Mack Trucks in Chipping Norton, NSW. With hands laced with grease, the aroma of diesel lingering in his presence, Antonio fit the stereotype of manliness to a tee.
The workshop became his home, “the boys were like my brothers, what went on during work hours is what made the days go by faster”. A smile bursts onto Tony’s face, eyes glistening as the sound of the local Ferrari rushes past. Like watching someone win the lotto, Tony’s face brightened at the thought of owning his own show car. It is easy to imagine him in a garage filled with exotic cars that have zigzagged the roads of the world.
Tony found himself elbows deep in motors and grease after completing Year 10 and going on to study an apprenticeship. He explains that this was the norm in the 70s, where school life and expectation were very different to now. However growing up in Liverpool as an Italian boy, Tony’s parents thought otherwise. Attaining a solid education and completing the HSC was something Tony’s parents wanted as “they thought that by attending university and pursuing a field of mathematics it’d benefit me in the end but I’ve always hated studying,” he says.
Tony demonstrated a striking aptitude for mechanical engineering, and Mack Trucks began to send the young man to various functions and courses to nurture his talent and knowledge. Although it seemed he was inching toward his Formula 1 dream, after working in the industry for over four years, Tony developed a sense of boredom with the industry and the necessity to study further.
“I knew what I had to do to reach the top, but I honestly was not bothered. I don’t like studying or book work.”
As we began climbing the flight of stairs up to the salon, I questioned whether the study or sudden boredom was the only reason Tony began to become sick of working as a mechanic. With a hearty chuckle and shake of the head he reminisces that, like any boy, female attention consumed his young mind and became a priority. He recounts that while working as a mechanic, he was surrounded by hairdressers both male and female, “a lot of male hairdressers in the 70s were straight and not gay”. Notably, it was these male hairdressers that were ‘picking up’ the women, in comparison to those who would be considered the manliest of men.
“Mechanics back then were gayer than hairdressers. I remember working in the workshop and having one of the boys come and stick a broom up my behind as a joke”.
As he began to trim Carol’s hair, Tony continues that the transition between mechanics and hairdressing was ‘partly’ based on the exposure he would have to women. Carol interjects, “and now you’re surrounded by a family of women and female clientele. You went a little over your head in this wish.”
“Don’t be cheeky Carol,” Tony retorts, playfully pointing his new $800 vortex scissors at her reflection in the mirror.
Shrugging his shoulders Tony remarks, “They say never wish for everything because it does come true”.
His abrupt attitude and characteristics often startle the old fragile ladies, as they wait for the perm solution to set throughout their lessening hair. However, each and everyone enjoys the conversation Tony creates, and the laughter that fills the air of the salon is a testament to the sense of comfort felt here.
“We come here to get away from our husbands – Tony is sort of like our second husband. He makes us feel beautiful again”, says Carol as Tony gently strokes her grey roots with a brush of a new colour.
“My daughters think that, deep down, I have a feminine side”, although the pink Ralph Lauren Polo he is sporting says that this perhaps is not so hidden. Proud as punch yells out to his wife, “Tina! Do you still love me even though I have a feminine sense about me?”
She chuckles and rolls her eyes, “Tony, from the day I met you, you have always come off as a pretty boy.” Banter erupts from the clients, who twitter like birds perched in a row. Heads coloured black to red begin to bob with laughter, a top the figures in uniform black capes.
“Tony you’re lucky to have found someone as beautiful and kind hearted as Tina. I expected you to end up with someone like your mother!” says silent Jean.
As I sit down next to the eccentric Jean, slowly sipping on her fresh cappuccino and determinedly filling the squares of the latest Woman’s Day crossword puzzle, she offers her thoughts and memories of Tony.
“You know I’ve been coming to Tony for over 26 years now, I was one of the first clients to be welcomed into ATTZ.” She fondly explains watching not only ATTZ Hair grow, but also the love between Tony and Tina. Jean is one of many wh
o have been loyal to Tony and Tina.
Tina’s influence on Tony’s transition from mechanic to hairdresser is increasingly apparent.
“Back then, we were both working under the franchise of ‘Anton’s’, but on opposite ends of the West,” says Tina who began hairdressing at the age of 15, and has now become one of the most successful and well-known hairdressers in the region.
“My boss Diane was the reason Tony and I met, after spotting each other from opposite ends of the room at a wedding reception. I thought that he was just like every other male.”
“I ignored him for months. Then on our first date he said to me, ‘I’m not the marrying kind’ – that completely turned me off.”
After years of being in the hairdressing industry, the ladies’ man characteristics about Tony had not faded but after two weeks of numerous dates with Tina, Tony popped the question.
“It was so sudden and I knew he was leaving for his European trip. On the steps of the Opera House, I said, ‘wait till you come back’.’ He did, and now we are celebrating our 25th year of marriage”.
“Tony presents himself as a tough, loud, hard-headed man, but deep down he has a heart of gold and a big ‘softie.’”
Tony describes how lost he would be without Tina, “I changed, and so did my life – for the better. We’ve built so much together and I would never want to lose that”.
ATTZ Hair was founded out of love and passion as the duo combined their skill to open their first, very own salon on December 3rd ,1990.
“I sat at my desk doodling different design logos and names but everything looked too mainstream,” Tony recalls. When he finally penned the name of the salon, it was born out of his vision for his future with his partner in life and business.
“I love Tina and want to be with her forever and that is reflected in the name. A for the beginning and Z for the end, T & T represent Tony and Tina.”
Despite these happiness’s, Tony also notes the hardships he has faced on the slope to success. Owning your own business comes with many advantages, but also many disadvantages.
“My salon started out with at least 16 staff members, and now we are down to three. Work ethic has changed, and people these days don’t have the drive to succeed like they used to,” Tony remarks with unmasked disappointment at the challenges he has faced with his employees.
“That said, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most talent hairdressers.”
Despite missing working in the workshop, getting his hands dirty and the company of life long friends. Tony explains that he cherishes his past and values his present. “Even though I was so happy being in a ‘mans world’ and I do miss it, I wouldn’t change where I am now.”
“They say never wish for everything because it does come true”.