Talk of hair dressing and cosmetology in Nigeria, Dr. (Mrs.) Elizabeth Osinsanya OON, better known as Mama Elegant Twins, would quickly fly to the mind for many reasons. As the brain behind a formal beauty sector in Nigeria, amidst other legendary deeds, Osinsanya’s exploits remain indelible.
At close to nine decades on earth, her life-form and vibrance would leave one in doubt as to her real age, her itineraries have only slightly changed from what they were during her hyper active days; and her bodily structures, incredibly unwithered by age. From taking care of the home front to attending to customers and students in her expansive and voguish beauty parlour, the highly coveted stylist is not planning to wind down on her passion anytime time soon. She remains an idol to beauty suckers and untold generations to come. She tells Omolabake Fasogbon how she went about her journey to the stardom, challenges, driving force, life as a widow as well as a senior citizen
From any part of the world, one would hardly miss the direction to this 60 years old ageing but new- fashioned Elegant Twins School of Cosmetology and Clinic, situated right at the centre of Surulere in Bode Thomas, Lagos. An embodiment of class and taste, the school is as legendary as the founder. Wreathed in smiles, the ace cosmetologist welcomes this reporter into her beautifully carved wooden corner office. Perfect for a museum, her modest office can stand side by side with a millennia’s. Asking this reporter to reintroduce herself, she caught the mind of the reporter and quickly defended herself saying, “Are you surprised I’m asking you this again? Yes! I’m aware you are coming but I forget things easily these days. This is because I attend to a lot of things but I believe this also comes with age”.
Her response offered more clarity on why the interview was shifted a number of times before this fateful day. Convinced about the reporter’s purpose, she flowed along in excitement as she indulges the interviewer in memories: “As much as I know that I’m gifted in hair making, I had always wanted to be a Nurse. It was a profession I admired greatly. I discovered the gift when I started taking care of the sick in the children’s department of my childhood church. While in primary school, we had these Togolese hairdressers that lived in the same compound with us. I was always around them anytime I came back from school which I assisted them with picking of attachment and others. With time, I learnt and mastered hairdressing skills. Once I completed primary six, I proceeded to modern school but equally enrolled for nursing at Wesley Guild Hospital in Ilesa, Osun State.
“Meanwhile, my late father who happened to be the first person to work in tax office in Badagry, Lagos State, was never in support of my nursing ambition. He already concluded I was going to end up as a hairdresser as he saw the raw talent in me. So, when he heard that I was running a nursing course in Wesley that I did outside his knowledge, he summoned me back home and asked me to quit. Although, I turned deaf ear, he vowed to disown me if I go against his wish. A tough situation I must confess. I eventually succumbed to his wish after my mother intervened. Left to my mother, she would rather I followed my dream.
“So, I came home to continue to learn from the Togolese stylists. However, I think my father’s position is divine because it wasn’t too long after then that one of my uncles, Mr. Oshifodunrin of blessed memory, a Manager at Kingsway store in Lagos, came to pay my father a visit. Coincidentally, he met me making a customer’s hair and got marveled by my expertise. It was also a time when Kingsway needed the service of a stylist. He requested from my father if I could go with him and my old man gave his nod without a second thought. On getting to Kingsway, four of all applied for the job, but I emerged the preferred candidate. Right at Kingsway, other opportunities came up to up skill myself and formalise my training abroad which my employer was glad to sponsor.”
Away from her luxury clients, who among them are beauty models, including a former Miss Nigeria which she would not want her name on print; top society women, politicians and off course, ministers and wife of ministers, governors and former Presidents, the multiple award-winning beautician has trained internationally acclaimed trainers, made stars and lifted destinies both locally and internationally. All of these must have counted to earn her the prestigious national honour of the Order Of Niger, OON, which perhaps, she is the only hairdresser in Nigeria and globally who has received an honour of such height in present time.
Even in faraway London, an association was established in her honour. Obviously, she never regretted dropping her nursing ambition. So elated, she speaks on the dividends of a career that she accepted not by will: “I didn’t see myself going this far in life because before now, you would hardly see a hairdresser that hit a home run. But today, I sit and dine with princes, awarded a national honour and also been able to give future to as many as possible even at no cost.”
Boasting about the progression in the beauty business, she blows back on those who address the profession in all manner of unprintable names. “I see no reason why people consider hairdressers as being sexually loose! I remember that when I made up my mind to settle for this vocation, a lot of my friends discouraged and insisted that I will end up a prostitute. Bless God I didn’t listen to them, look at me today (striking regal pose), I am fulfilled and unstained. Infact, the so called ‘loosed’ are generous in every other profession, not excluding journalists, bankers and lawyers. Gone are those days when hairdressers can be pushed to the back in the midst of noble professions. As a matter of fact, any profession taking care of your head is the best in the world”.
The octogenarian disclosed further that her brand name ‘Elegant Twins’ followed an important event in her life. “While in London on a training, I got pregnant and gave birth to a set of twin. Meanwhile, even as a trainee in London, I have a small school in my sitting room where I trained people. I named it ‘Elegant Salon’. So when I had the twin, I modified it to Elegant Twins.”
“Are you married to a Londoner”? Reporter asked in inquisition, “oh no, my husband is a Nigerian.” She recalls, “I met my husband while working at Kingsway. You know in those days even till now, we respect customers a lot. At Kingsway, we welcome our customers with coffee and I’m the one who usually served the coffee. One of such days, I sighted this young man (referring to his late husband) who was staring and running towards me. I asked him what he wanted and all uttered was “hello”! Which I also answered, “hello” and he went his way. He actually came to buy stuff at our store. Three days later, I saw my brother in my office and I became uncomfortable because we were not permitted to entertain visitors, not knowing he came with the young man. I told him to let us meet at home. On getting home, I saw my brother with the same gentleman who whispered in excitement ‘that’s the lady’, there and then, his mission became clearer.
“My brother later conveyed his message to me but then I was just 19 going on 20 which means my father must not see me with a man outside let alone in his house. But the young man was determined, he made his way to our compound anytime he wanted, having acted to be my brother’s friend. By and by, we got married and had a son. He later joined me in London, where we had our twin. The arrival of the twin brought about the brand ‘Elegant Twins’ that I am being addressed as today. The London Morris School alumnus didn’t draw the curtain on this chapter without sharing some interesting moments of the 60 years she spent with his late husband. Sounding quite emotional, she recalls: “My husband died at age 83. One thing I will never forget about him are his jokes and pranks. Oh! I miss him a lot.”
She says however that she has moved on. “Right from time, I’ve been trained to be independent with or without people around me. This actually helped me to survive his absence. But I miss his jokes a lot. We joke together a lot, for instance, if I’m not in a good mood and he needed to change the mood or make me laugh, he will just come and say, come o, I saw you in the newspaper or television talking to the governor, that would naturally get my attention and I will be spurred to reply in amazement: What? Me! When, which governor? Thereafter, we will both burst into laughter and he will say, ‘I got you there’.”
Even at close to 90, she is neither retired nor tired both at home and work place. “What do you mean!” she retorted, “Age is just but a number. I’m still very much active on all sides. I assist my workers in the salon with either hair making, nails fixing manicure, pedicure, makeup and others. If you doubt me, you can let me make your face up. It is only lazy bagger that get tired regardless of age .There is nothing I can’t do. I work in both the saloon and at home. Even though I have a help, she cannot cook for me. When my husband was alive, I cook his food. My husband will never eat meal prepared by house help. Anytime I’m prepared to go to work, my husband’s food is already in the warmer, both his breakfast and lunch.”
Giving an account of her daily routine, one may actually want to doubt her but close associates also give her a side on this. “Back at home, I make sure I keep the house tidy, I prepare my food and make sure I go to bed before 10 pm. I go to the office three times in a week, and in the office like I told you before, I assist on the job, attend to visitors and counselees, I also attend to phone calls. Infact, I receive calls almost a whole day as you can see yourself and I return home by 7: 30 to 8:00 p.m. also attend to some important engagements outside my official days”.
Even though she enjoys her activeness, she refuses to be dull as she says, “In my free period, I put on my dancing shoes and try to relax and refresh my spirit, soul and body. I also engage in physical exercise. To give substance to her words, she puts this into action, causing everyone around to crack up.
Though a coiffeuse par excellence, she is an advocate of moderation. She says, “I really don’t blame men or churches who go against artificial beauty enhancers. This is because we overdo things in this clime. During our own time, we used local make up like traditional tiro, osu, black soap and many others that we apply in moderation and sincerely, they look good on us. But most of the makeup we see today is Halloween-like, whereby people apply it in excess and where they ought not to apply. A lot of marriages have crashed on the issue of makeup and dressing, as much as I will not want to go spiritual here, my candid advice is that people should do things in moderation.
On her happiest moment, she enthuses, “I am mostly happy when I put smiles on people’s faces. Again, I am happy that one of my grandchildren is taking after me in the profession”.