Street Chic

Hair artist Gilly Gonzalez keeps it real while he excels at his craft—and encourages others to do the same.

Gilbert Gonzalez is no stranger to hard knocks. The son of Mexican immigrants who spoke no English, Gilly grew up in a gang-infested neighborhood in Gardena. He was a poor, overweight, bullied child—he could have easily spun out of control. But at a young age, he had the inner strength and resolve to make the best of a tough situation and pave the path for his future success.

His four older sisters were busy, and his parents worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. So Gilly was alone a lot—essentially raising himself. He found solace in styling friends with his sisters’ hair products and makeup. At age 14, he styled his first wedding.

For a while Gilly was doing beauty work only on the weekends, and that wasn’t enough to support himself. He recognized his talent and passion for styling hair and makeup, so at age 19 he went to beauty school and got his license. 

“Hairdressing saved my life,” says Gilly, who is a master stylist at Sutra Salon in Torrance. “I worked hard to get out of the ’hood—although some of my family members still live there, and it’s nicer today. I never thought in a million years I would be where I am now, considering what I went through.”

Gilly views himself as a painter and each client’s hair as a unique masterpiece. An expert on styles, he is just as skilled at creating 1970s blowouts and ’90s layers as he is more modern shags and bobs. “He can do anything his clients desire and make it a true expression of them,” shares Amy, a longtime client. “And he does the best blowouts in town.”

While he focuses more on artistry and craft than trends, Gilly does stay on top of fashion. “Everything trickles down from designers,” he says. He observes how locals are styling their hair—whether in the South Bay or during his travels abroad. “Traveling inspires me when I see the young kids—their fashion, their hairstyles. I come back to work and get creative. I like to take my inspiration from what I see out on the streets.”

He also follows some of the top stylists in the world on social media and continues his education with styling seminars, product classes and hair shows. “I want to bring that knowledge back to newer stylists,” says Gilly, remembering how his first boss took him under her wings and taught him so much. “I believe this career can save them like it saved me. I want them to be inspired by my story and know that with hard work and determination, you can come from nothing and still be successful.”

Gilly has teamed up with his assistant, Jasmin Cortez, who has worked with him for the past eight years. “I call her my business partner, or sometimes I call her ‘the boss’!” he laughs. “She’s the next rising star.”

He often works 13-hour days and has a two-month waiting list. Realizing he can’t keep that schedule forever, he is teaching Jasmin everything he knows while he focuses on working in a more advisory capacity. “We work as a team, and she’s amazing,” he says. “She specializes in hair extensions and color, with a focus on balayage and blonding.”

Gilly considers himself a “motivational stylist”—part therapist and part hairdresser. “I like to hype people up, bring out their best qualities and make them feel good about themselves. Anyone in my chair gets the absolute spotlight.”

Gilly enjoys taking walks with his four dogs and cruising in his classic cars—a tricked-out lowrider ’64 Impala and a ’68 Chevelle convertible. Occasionally he treats himself to salon indulgences like mani-pedis. “I like to be the client too sometimes! I have to love myself first, or how am I going to take care of other people?”

Gilly has been sharing his artistry with the community for nearly 30 years, and he loves where he’s landed. “Sutra Salon is a wonderful space, and owner Antonio Lobato is a very spiritual person. He brings a vibe of healing and wellness to his salon,” Gilly says. “We are very open—no judgment. People come here and feel amazing, and when they leave, they look amazing.”

Gilly at Sutra Salon

24235 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance

310-387-0596  |  |  @styledbygilly @hairbyjasSmiin @sutrasalon