This article originally published in May/June 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.
In 2007, hair stylist and makeup artist Omar Rodriguez left his native Puerto Rico for love. He moved to Omaha to be with his then-partner, a hairdresser from here he met in his island nation.
Back home, Rodriguez cultivated a background in theater, dance, music, and beauty-fashion. As a singer he toured with the boy band Concepto Juvenil, doing his bandmates’ hair on the side. This son of a butcher father and secretary mother was a fast-rising talent who then worked for leading salons Avante and Wanda Montes. His celebrity clients included Benicio Del Toro, Paulina Rubio, Jon Secada, and Ricky Martin. He was the stylist for Secada’s Amanecer album cover and Martin’s Black and White Tour CD cover.
Rodriguez worked various fashion shows and taught at a beauty academy run by a former Miss Universe Puerto Rico–Desiree Lowry Rodriguez (no relation). He was a Sebastian Beauty representative and trainer.
Once over the “culture shock” of Omaha, he built a loyal following as a star Fringes Old Market salon stylist. He collaborated with top Omaha Fashion Week (OFW) designers Dan Richters and Buf Reynolds. But when the romantic relationship he was in ended, he returned home with a broken heart. Three years ago he came back at the urging of Fringes owner Carol Cole.
“Carol is a very inspirational and passionate person,” he says. “I don’t know if I would have come here if she hadn’t called to bring me back.”
Rodriguez trained Fringes staff for the 2012 Battle of the Strands in Las Vegas. The Omaha team he competed on won People’s Choice and Best Makeup awards.
He’s since resumed work with OFW and now also reps a major makeup brush brand while consulting for a reality TV show. He works with many Omaha photographers and is a champion of Omaha’s creative culture, he says.
“I’m impressed by how much talent we have here. I really love that part of Omaha.” He nurtures talent via OStyles Omaha, “a community of artistic professionals” he created “to do collaboration and innovation and to inspire the cultural scene. We are dreamers. We are believers. We have the drive and passion to produce the extraordinary.”
When friends and colleagues outside Nebraska ask why he’s in the Midwest and not in some fashion capital, he says his response is always the same. “I could go to New York or California and I could do great, but do I want to swim with the sharks? I want to motivate and create something here in Omaha. I want to position Omaha as a real leader in fashion.”
The styling he did for Clark Creative Group’s promotion of Opera Omaha’s 2014-2015 season attracted national attention, especially the Surrealist hair piece he fashioned for A Flowering Tree.
“It was an amazing photo shoot,” he says. “I love how you can achieve what you visualize. I like to innovate. I do pretty, I do commercial, I do avant-garde. When I design hair I consider myself an artisan because I’m working with my hands. I mold. I bring color. I give contrast. I add texture. I create a figure and I finish that figure with paint–the makeup.”
Rodriguez enjoys the notoriety his work brings, but says, “I prefer being a king without a crown.” Besides, he says, “I’m always going to be a student for life. I push myself and what I learn, I give it back.”