Meet Rula Joseph

Location: Birmingham, MI
Age: 53
Marital Status: Married
Education: Cosmetology School, Vidal Sasoon Academy in London, Toni and Guy Academy, Bumble and Bumble, Fashion Couture and Design School

Rula and her husband Emile are the co-owners of Emile Salon & Spa, which her father-in-law Emile opened in 1944 at the height of Detroit’s automotive boom. “He came over from Germany and was very handsome—his European sensibility was the height of glamour.” Six decades later the salon is still a local legend and Rula runs the show. Recently she joined forces with friend and fashion doyenne Linda Dresner, whose cutting-edge boutique is right next door. As Linda’s partner-in-style Rula finds herself smack dab in the middle of the fashion world and living a childhood dream.

What was your style like growing up?

Vintage and rock and roll. I got a job when I was 14 or 15 in a vintage store by pure accident. I used to shop there all the time and one day the owner said, “Can you watch my store for a minute?” She was gone all afternoon.

And that influenced your style?

I would study the construction of her clothing from the ’20s and ’30s; all the detail and the fabrics and the prints. I used to take the dresses apart and then reconstruct them.

How do you define your style today?

I’d call it gutsy but it’s very refined too. If somebody went in my closet they’d probably think I was schizophrenic or something. I dress to my mood; not to the trends.

Do you have favorite designers?

It depends on the season. I buy a lot of Comme de Garcons. Right now I think the spring for Givenchy is absolutely magnificent.

How did you get involved with the work you do now with Linda?We go back 35 years. She was a client of mine at the salon. Every break that I had I’d run into her store and look at all these beautiful clothes and then give them all my money.

Three years ago she was doing a fashion show for a fundraiser; 1,000 people, black tie. She called me and said, “Rula, I want you to handle all the hair and make up.” It turned out to be a beautiful, beautiful show and it was seamless for me, working with her—we just understand each other. So I started working with her part time, styling. I’m in the salon three days and I’m with Linda three days.

You travel with her?

Yes. We were in Paris in March.

That must have been fabulous.

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I would never have dreamt. When I was a young girl I remember thinking, ‘I can’t ever go to design school so I’ll be a hairdresser.’ To me the idea of going to fashion week was like someone going to the Olympics. So there I was sitting with Linda at the Galliano show in Paris, texting my daughter the whole time thinking, I can’t believe I’m here.

Tell me why you love Linda’s shop.

Linda edits clothing from every designer so beautifully. She works hard to find the best—even just a t-shirt will be the best t-shirt, with the best details, in the best colors. She has a lot of guts and it shows in her store. At shows when the reps says, “This is a great piece. Vogue just photographed it,” or “A celebrity wore it,” she’ll go, “Well I don’t want it. By the time it gets into my store people will be sick of it.”

Do you have a favorite accessory?

That’s like asking me which child I like best. The one piece that I wear constantly is this ring that was made for me by Darcy Miro. It’s very organic, looks great with everything and it’s like a part of my body. If I could buy all of Darcy’s pieces I would.

What inspires you?

Imperfection inspires me. Like if I saw a woman walk into the room who looked fantastic, perfect from head to toe, that would not inspire me. She’d have to have something a little bit awkward about her–like a missing tooth or something. Oddity inspires me.
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What about the perfume?

A perfume I found in Paris called La Nuit by Serge Lutens. They carry it at Barney’s. It’s white honey, jasmine and a little bit of musk.

What about your beauty routine?

DeCleor. We carry it at the salon.

A favorite restaurant?

El Barzon. It’s in a very unusual part of Detroit–half Mexican and half Italian. A Mexican couple owns it, but the husband worked for a fine Italian chef. The menu is fantastic. Better than a five star restaurant. They’ve got the grilled fish and fresh guacamole and amazing gnocchi.

Do you have a favorite cookbook?

Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck. It’s the cuisine of the Syrian Jews and it’s my new favorite. Talk about inspiration. It shows a whole different perspective of the Middle Eastern Jewish community. It is the most beautiful, beautiful picture book, the photography, the recipes.

What about a passion project?

I don’t have time to sew, but I still love to design. My friend’s daughter got married recently and I designed the dress and picked the fabric. But I’m private—I just do it for friends and family.

Also, I love working with customers when they’re kind of reinventing themselves. I love to understand how they want to look and dress and what feels right, what their budget is. It’s really nice to see a whole person emerge.

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