By Patti Pagni

For The Elmhurst Independent

 

Kimberly Johnson, owner of Elmhurst’s new Chrysalis Custom Hair, 565 N. York St., gently sets a human hair wig on a display styling head and readies it for cutting and styling by an expert stylist. Chrysalis is open six days a week by appointment only and serves women living with cancer. Visit chrysaliscustomhair.com for more information.

Before a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis – its protective shell — it must go through many stages of change, not all of which are as beautiful as the colorful butterfly ready to spread its wings.

As a cancer-support specialist, Kimberly Johnson learned very well the stages that cancer patients struggle through. For years, working with not-for-profits to support those diagnosed with cancer, Johnson found “many women were most upset about the prospect of losing their hair.”

“I listened and heard how women dealing with hair release [and searching for wigs] were treated poorly or not in the right environment,” she said.

This knowledge blossomed into an opportunity to help women cope with cancer. Johnson founded Chrysalis Custom Hair, a comfortable and private place where women can explore wig options and find the perfect fit just for them.

Johnson, who moved to Elmhurst about a year ago, said her best friend’s mother was a cancer survivor and also a butterfly photographer.

“After searching for a business name for about a year, I saw some of her butterfly artwork in my friend’s home, and it all just clicked,” she said.

 

Humble beginnings

Chrysalis first opened its doors in Chicago about five years ago. The Elmhurst boutique followed in May 2018 and is designed similarly to the Chicago spot. Inside the front door and windows, frosted for maximum privacy, the location is clean, cheerfully decorated with comfortable furniture and gentle lighting. It is also accented with butterfly artwork seemingly placed to remind all who enter about the beauty of a butterfly after it emerges from its cocoon.

“Elmhurst is right at the epicenter of everything,” Johnson said. “It’s a charming place to live and it’s a safe area to be in … and there are lots of good places to send our clients to eat and shop in the downtown area. Plus, we have many clients that fly in to see us and Elmhurst is close to O’Hare.”

Chrysalis, whose tag line is “Just Women, Just Cancer, Just Hair,” is open six days a week by appointment only. Johnson always makes sure a receptionist is on hand to answer the phone during business hours.

“It’s our first point of contact with you, and we know you want a human being to talk to,” said Johnson. “Sometimes you’re scared and confused. And when you come in, we want you to feel comfortable. It’s hard enough to not feel like yourself (while living with cancer), but to look into a mirror and not see yourself is very, very hard.”

 

Getting the right match

Johnson recommends that women interested in getting fitted for a wig upon receiving a cancer diagnosis should come in for an initial visit as soon as possible. It’s helpful for them to bring along pictures of themselves prior to hair release.

“Our [stylists] are amazing artists…typically the selection is matched to the same kind of hair as the client’s, the same general color,” she said. “It’s not a great time to go changing your look when you’re already not feeling yourself.”

Many of our clients walk out same day with a wig custom-fitted and cut just for them. Some can take a little longer depending on if a custom color or highlights are wanted.

Chrysalis has a vast inventory of pre-colored wigs, that is, hand-cut and hand-colored, Johnson explained. And like many products, there are a variety of colors, styles and costs. Chrysalis provides wigs made of synthetic hair and human hair.

“Some custom wigs can take 100 man-hours to assemble,” said Johnson. “I have those sewn together overseas and when they come to us, our hair stylist experts fit them onto [a client’s] head and into her cut.”

For synthetics, the cost can range between $750-$950. Natural hair starts at $1500. Johnson explained that cost increases are based on length, construction, and how much work needs to be done to make a replica of a client’s hair.

Some insurance policies cover the purchase of a cancer wig, called a cranial prosthesis, according to Chrysalis Custom Hair’s website, which provides tips helpful when filing a claim.

Johnson assured Chrysalis is very protective of its clients’ privacy. The Elmhurst location has two private styling rooms and sitting areas. Emotions run the gamut when clients come in for a wig consultation and fitting.

 

Comfort and dignity come first

“Sometimes ladies come in with a group of six and bring champagne to make it into more of a festive occasion,” said Johnson. “Other times, a wife comes in with her husband who has tears in his eyes as we take his wife’s hair down.

“So the stylists and myself switch back and forth all day long depending on how the mood is.”

Chrysalis’s staff uses kinder and gentler terms such as “taking hair down” and “hair release,” instead of the harsher sounding phrases like “shaving the head” or “hair falling out.” Johnson says she provides a complimentary service to clients who want to have their hair taken down very short…before it starts to release on its own.

“Instead of having to wonder when your hair release is going to happen, you regain a sense of control,” she said.

“[Opening Chrysalis] took a while to come together,” Johnson said. “But it’s been totally amazing. At the end of so many appointments, everyone hugs us and tells us, ‘you’ve made a horrible situation more pleasant.’ We know we can’t fix the underlying issue, but being able to help is very gratifying.”

 

 

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