Ann Bray – Revered as a Living Legend in the Beauty Industry
photos by Steve Babin
In 1973, The Masters hair salon answered Huntsville, Alabama’s call for a better way to have their hair cut, colored and styled. Gary and Ann Bray created The Masters to do what other Huntsville hair salons would not – teach clients how to style their hair. As Huntsville’s very own visionary duo with an innovative mindset, they made The Masters an industry benchmark for creative excellence.
Ann and Gary circled the globe and amazed the hair world with their talents. As award-winning competitors and trendsetters, their training was in high demand from countries worldwide. Ann was the first American female to win a World Championship. She coached the 1984 USA Olympic Hair Team to a gold medal along with Gary.As its founder, Ann continues to educate and direct the talented team at The Masters. Ann has been known for her work on many box office hit movies and television shows, including The Hunger Games, In Dubious Battle, Live by Night, Jumanji — Welcome to the Jungle, Coming 2 America, and Stranger Things, to name a few. She is always “in production” somewhere.
Ann and Gary’s legacy lives on through their children, Shelby Zimmermann, a master stylist/VP, and Brett Pierce, a hair color mentor/CEO. Shelby and Brett continue The Masters’ legacy by educating, inspiring, and leading their team of skilled professionals.
While Ann traveled extensively for work, her heart for the protection of children has also taken her across the world. Her humanitarian efforts include travel to Thailand to physically rescue children who had been sold into sex trafficking.
Closer to home, Ann has rescued, fostered and placed countless animals with their forever families.
How did you get your start in the beauty industry?
I started my career working in a shirt factory in Pulaski, Tenn., but it had always been my dream to become a hairdresser. A coworker asked me, ‘Did you hear? They’re having a competition; the only condition is that you have no professional experience. The first-place prize was a full scholarship.’ It was in Huntsville, Ala., and that’s how I started in beauty school.
Who or what inspired you to become a stylist, artist, and educator?
I think inspiration comes from the inside. It was always a dream of mine to get involved in the beauty industry, especially hair styling. I had many mentors over the years, but my husband Gary was my greatest inspiration and coach.
What was something you set out to accomplish by opening The Masters Salon?
That was around the time that Gary and I got married. One of the things we set out to create was freedom for women. At that time, clients were tied to the salon for their hairstyle. As a stylist, your worth was tied to the length of time the style you created lasted, which was usually no longer than a week. The best appointment times were highly coveted. A client had to become married to a regular standing appointment time, and those appointments were booked out a year in advance. New people could only get in if someone either moved or passed away.
We taught women how to do their hair – which started with a fabulous haircut adaptable to their lifestyle. We wanted to educate them on how to maintain their hairstyle, which was rare in those days. How many people do you know who can’t blow dry and style their hair? Today it would not be easy to find someone who doesn’t know how to style their hair, but back then, women depended on their stylists and salon for that.
What I love about this industry is that it doesn’t matter what kind of background you have, where you are from, or even where you started; if you are passionate, willing to put in the work, and open to learning, you can become a success. I didn’t come from an affluent background and had to work hard every day in that shirt factory. But still, I never stopped dreaming that one day I would become a hairstylist.
You’ve had some exciting experiences styling hair for a box-office hit movies and award-winning series like Stranger Things. What’s your favorite part of that?
My favorite part would be meeting the people. Whether it’s Selena Gomez, Dolly Parton in a Christmas special, or the kids from Stranger Things, the moment you touch someone, you create a personal bond – be it big stars or someone local that sat in my chair.
Another thing I love about the work I’ve done is always having the opportunity to learn – to look for something that inspires me as an artist. If it’s a historical movie set in the 1920s, I get to research styles from that era.
What are you proudest of in your career?
I’ve worked on three different platforms. I started in the competitive beauty arena and was named a world champion. Then I began styling hair for magazines, then doing hair for movies. But I think what I’m proudest of is connecting with people. My family has shown me so much love and recently threw a birthday party for me. Many people, some with tears in their eyes, came to me and told me how much I had inspired them. It’s the love of people that I cherish most. I love what I do and love whom I do it with.
What advice would you give to someone just starting in this business?
If a door opens, step through it; even if you have fear, step through it – always take the opportunity.