By LISA BOREN
When Anastasia Soare was a young woman in communist Romania, the country had reached a low point. There was no electricity after 6 p.m., and by 1985, she remembers, "we waited in lines for endless hours just for bread." Soare bartered clothes for basic necessities like toilet paper and matches.
Yet no matter how dismal the day-to-day living, Soare remembers her mother making sure to have one "beauty day" a week. Every Sunday, she went with her mother to the beauty salon and watched her get a manicure and pedicure and get her fingernails painted.
"That was always an uplifting pleasure," said Soare, who noted that she was taught the importance of preserving one's spirit and determination in the worst of circumstances.
That kind of outlook paid off when she arrived in Los Angeles only nine years ago, and without speaking a word of English, managed to get a cosmetician's license. Today, she is L.A.'s unofficial eyebrow queen, with a three-month waiting list for a 10-minute sculpting procedure for which she charges from $30 to $40.
Though she dreamed of having her own business and makeup line ever since leaving Romania, Soare was a little surprised at the speed with which her Anastasia salon in Beverly Hills has taken off. Her recipe for success: "10 percent passion, 10 percent talent and the rest is hard work. Power is being able to have the courage to do what you love."
Power also means having the courage to say goodbye to your family and country in order to establish a better life and future in America.
It certainly wasn't easy in Romania.
She lived on a large piece of land that was purchased by her maternal grandparents when they emigrated from Macedonia. Because Soare's father died when she was 12, her mother took charge of the clothing business from home and became the family's sole breadwinner. At a very young age, Soare was relied upon for everything from purchasing fabric to managing the books.
In 1979, the 21-year-old Soare had just given birth, but she knew she did not want to raise her daughter in Romania. In 1987, her husband defected to Italy and asked the American Embassy for political asylum on their behalf. Less than three years later, Soare and daughter Claudia had met him in Los Angeles.
Within six months, she had found a job at a small salon on Melrose Place and worked as a cosmetician, doing facials and body waxing.
After two years of working for someone else, Soare wanted to be in charge. Her husband was discouraging, saying she had no business taking such a risk when she had only recently arrived in the United States. But she quit her job and rented a room at an upscale salon in Beverly Hills called Juan Juan.
For Soare, it was an unqualified business success. But the move was the beginning of the end of her marriage. She and her husband, who had become a cab driver after moving to Los Angeles, never agreed about her business ambitions, and later divorced.
About 100 clients followed her to the new location at Juan Juan, where Soare worked 12-hour days six days a week (doing house calls on Sundays). Before beginning facials, she asked clients if they wanted their eyebrows arched. In a remarkably short time she had earned a reputation as an eyebrow master, and a large following ensued.
By 1994 she was so busy doing eyebrows that she had no time for facials or waxing. By 1996, when she had too many clients to see personally, she knew she was ready to open her own salon.
After dining at Trilusa, an Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills, Soare spotted a vacancy on Bedford Drive and realized it was the perfect place. Using every saved dollar, $10,000 in all, Soare turned the empty space into Anastasia, which would soon become one of the most popular salons in Beverly Hills.
With the salon grossing more than $1 million a year, Soare started working on a makeup line. While she could have sold her Mitsubishi for a finer set of wheels, she continued to save. "I saw the big picture; business was the only important thing in my life," she said.
With the help of a New York investor who put in $2 million to start, Soare researched manufacturers and makeup products in Europe and the United States. The makeup line, called Anastasia, will debut in October.
Soare still puts in a nine-hour day, but recently she purchased a BMW and a house in Benedict Canyon.
At 41, she feels better than ever.
"When a woman hits 40, she becomes stronger than a man," Soare said. "She understands self-reliance because she's had to work harder and be self-reliant."
Several months ago, she appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and sculpted the TV icon's brows on the air. But as her wealth and fame take off, she is adamant about not forgetting her roots.
"People in America take for granted how lucky they are to live in such an incredible country," she said.
Twenty years from now, she hopes to run a beauty school that employs young women from abused and underprivileged backgrounds and teaches them how to run a business. "I want to help women see what I see and help them find their power," she said.
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