On March 12, Takafumi “Taka” Oiwa locked the doors to his studio for the final time. It was a bittersweet moment for the salon owner, who, 30 years prior, began his career in Laguna Beach as an apprentice to Joseph Huffstickler of Huffstickler Hair Design on the corner of Coast Highway and Calliope. Since those early days learning the ropes as a young stylist, Oiwa gave his clients more than just a cut and color – he became a trusted friend and confidante.
“I can’t thank each of you enough,” Oiwa wrote in a goodbye letter to clients. “I am humbled. Many of you have been coming to me for over 10, 20, 25 even 30 years. This is an absurdly long time to go to the same stylist – I suspect it may be my barista skills? Even my own mother can’t believe people have stayed with me for that long and she likes me a lot! I know I could never have achieved the success of my salon without your loyal support. I’ve had so much fun and learned so much along the way. I’m naturally curious, and I’ve always felt stimulated by your knowledge, wisdom and so many funny stories. My connections to each of you are treasured and have driven many happy things in my life.”
Oiwa’s start in Laguna came when he was just 23 years old. Originally from Japan, he attended the University of California Irvine, fell in love with the art of hairdressing and quickly changed his career path. After graduating from cosmetology school in 1993, Oiwa began working under Huffsticker, who died suddenly that December. Huffstickler’s partner, Ken Seguine, asked Oiwa to help run the salon and take on Huffstickler’s clients. Oiwa agreed, and just three short years later, he had opportunity to buy the business.
“At 26 years old, he maxed out all his credit cards and bought the salon, you know, and doing all the things they tell you not to do,” said Mike Johnson, Oiwa’s husband. “But it was also probably one of the best decisions he made in his life. He kept running it as a little, cute, two-chair salon.”
To honor the man who took him under his wing, Oiwa kept the name “Huffstickler Hair Design,” for many years until he moved locations in 2007 and renamed his salon “Studio Taka.”
Over the years, Oiwa built an incredible clientele from around the world, some traveling as far as Singapore and Somalia to visit his cozy studio on Pacific Coast Highway.
“As a neuroscientist, I found my appointments with Taka fantastically stimulating,” Laguna Beach resident Betsy Parker said. “Not only does Taka have an extraordinary memory himself, but he also stays abreast of scientific discoveries in the area of brain and behavior, which happens to be my area of expertise. Where else would you be getting hair treatments and cuts from one of the greatest stylists alive while also discussing the impact of musical training on brain development, or the genetics of neurocognitive profiles, or preferences of people with superior memory?
“I am terribly impatient sitting for hours on end just to have a hair treatment,” Parker added. “But with Taka, time passed quickly as his salon. It was like those salons in France where intellectuals gathered. For over 25 years, Taka and I have brainstormed and argued and debated some of the latest findings in brain research. Despite the many compliments I receive on my hair, it is these salon sessions I will truly miss.”
Laguna resident Mark Porterfield, another longtime client of Oiwa’s, said he would miss the entire Studio Taka experience.
“I used to tell my friends who were thinking about going to Taka to go for a great cut but keeping going for the cappuccinos, that I fondly called the ‘Taka-cino.'” Mark Porterfield said. “Seriously, the best in town! I will miss them…oh, and him too.”
The decision to hang up his shears didn’t come easy for Oiwa. But, in this next chapter of his life, Oiwa wants to spend more time with family, help people in need through his craft and volunteer at Blue Bell Cat Sanctuary.
“Taka is interested in doing hair and makeovers for folks that are just trying to get themselves back on their feet and into the job market or for self-esteem reasons,” Johnson said. “Whether it be with Working Wardrobes or Friendship Shelter – places like that. That’s very much one of his goals. He definitely wants to do things in the community to give back because the community has given him so much.”