Beauty and fashion are topics I don’t cover much at all on this blog because they don’t have much to do with travel but, in the case of Kosovo, I have found them to be an extremely interesting part of the culture that have been hard to ignore after spending an extended amount of time in the country. I’ve become both fascinated and yet a little terrified by people’s obsession with it here and for that reason I decided to dig a little deeper to get a better understanding of the who, what, when, where, why, and how.
In addition to this and taking into consideration my own monthly rituals, I’ve also realized one thing Prishtina can offer the average lady (and well-groomed male) traveler that might not have been thought of before is a different kind of tourism. Beauty tourism. I mean if some places can have “medical tourism” and “fashion tourism”, then why not? Prices for most beauty procedures are significantly cheaper here than in the US and most other Western European countries so perfect place to take advantage – particularly when you can see most of the touristic sights Kosovo’s capital has to offer in less than two hours. Why not spend another hour or two feeling like a queen?
Allow me to take you behind the scenes of being pretty in Prishtina and as well introduce you to some of the best, and most importantly, trusted establishments for you to visit whether you are just passing through, an expat staying a while, or a local who has lived here your whole life and are just curious about the opinions of an outsider.
As a blonde gypsy, hair is without a doubt the single most important area of beauty for me and one in which I have the strongest opinion on as stepping in a salon every 6-8 weeks has been a necessity for me for as long as I can remember whether I was settled in one place or on the road for an extended period of time.
In my life I’ve been “blonded” in the US, England, Sweden, Ukraine, Slovenia, France, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Serbia. Countries in which I’ve had it cut or blown out, I’ve lost count, but for sure also includes Albania, Georgia and Portugal. No place though – NO PLACE – have I been as happy with the results stepping out of the salon as here in Kosovo.
The Vogue Hair team in Pejton and its patriarch Armend Gashi have literally been a godsend to my hair. Though pricier in comparison to most other salons in the city, a good cut and especially color are areas I have come to understand you don’t want to compromise the quality on. Typical cut and color services can range from 20 euros to 100 euros (in comparison to $100-$200 at a similar place in America) and you won’t find a sexier setting in which to have it done with massage chairs at the washing bowls and live painting sessions when Armend is feeling artsy. There is a reason he is known on a first name basis in the industry and trusted by all the “celebrities” in the greater Albania region.
If you’re just looking for a quick blow out or trim, you will be pleased to find you can get this in almost any average salon for 3-5 euros though seriously don’t be lured by their dirt cheap prices for color. You may end up with a golden rainbow on your head (and breathing in more second-hand smoke than a dive bar in Reno) compliments of a woman named Suzi.
WAXING, FACIALS, NAILS, ETC.
This is one area you have to be really careful with as there is no “licensing” per se that salons are required by law to have here in order to offer things like waxing, facials, manicures, and pedicures even though you can find places to get that done everywhere.
Thankfully right away I was introduced to Beauty Spot near Qafa by a fellow Californian expat which is owned by a lovely lady named Valbona. She earned her experience working at salons in London for almost a decade but decided to come back and open her own spot in Prishtina. Here is the list of services which you may or may not be able to decipher as it is in Albanian, but I’ll give you some of the highlights.
Brazilian bikini wax – 5 EUROS
Complete leg wax – 10 EUROS
Eyebrow wax – 3 EUROS
Pedicure – 10 EUROS
Manicure – 6 EUROS
Gel manicure – 10 EUROS
Basic 1 hour facial – 20 EUROS
Microdermabrasian facial – 30 EUROS
Massage 1 hour – 20 EUROS
I’m sure other respectable beauty salons exist that care about safety first before the number of clients coming through, but this is my personal go to and if you happen to come across another place that looks decent better just triple check whatever kind of credentials they have as well as what kind of state its tools and employees are in terms of cleanliness.
This is where things start to get more interesting as never in my life have I seen getting a pound of makeup painted on your face to simply go out and have a coffee or take a selfie for Instagram/Facebook such a trend. So you bet I had to try it for myself. You know, just on an ordinary Saturday afternoon when I decided my only plans were to hang around the city, have a coffee, and take selfies…
I was recommended Arbresha Shala who also runs her own makeup school in the Dardania neighborhood. Prices at her place are 25 euros a pop which is about average for most MUAs in Prishtina (that is “makeup artists” and in comparison to around $50-$75 that I have seen in America), but again it felt good going to someone who obviously has enough experience to be teaching others the craft.
There was a slight language barrier, but I still tried to gain some insight into the minds of her average clients. Who are they, who are they aspiring to be (because in general it’s not anything close to themselves), and what kind of occasions do they generally come in for?
Though a little bit strange to me, apparently it is somewhat of a “norm” to have a full face of makeup done when you are invited as a guest to a wedding. Note that I said when you are invited as a guest to a wedding – not participating in a wedding – because after all, this is the prime place for every potential Albanian bride to find a husband. Also popular is getting it done for prom which I can’t say doesn’t happen in the U.S.of.A., but I can say I have never seen so many 16 year olds looking like 26 year olds in my life as here.
So that’s what is fueling Prishtina’s mega makeup industry, not just super shallow selfie queens in search of sponsors (try to say that 10 times fast). And of course it came as no surprise at all that when I asked which celebrities were the biggest source of inspiration for the masses that Kim Kardashian came in at #1. The trend is definitely heavy on the eyeshadow, fake eyelashes that touch the sun, incredibly arched eyebrows, and contouring like a mofo.
The magic is definitely in the makeup here for most chicks, you wouldn’t believe the transformations I’ve seen of some pretty rough or average looking faces into plastic Barbie ones, and if you don’t believe me watch these videos I found from the Queen B (actually S) of makeup in these parts, Sellma Kasumoviq, who is also a favorite of the “celebrities”. If I ever sit in her chair I think I will ask her to turn me into Beyoncé or a unicorn. No doubt she’d be able to do it.
Make no mistake: Prishtina is not a place you come to shop. It’s not a place where personal style is appreciated much either. Similar to when I was living in Sweden, you definitely see fashionable people walking around but over time slowly realize they are all wearing variations of pretty much the same thing. In terms of local fashion designers, I’d say there are less than a handful that have caught my attention and zero that I would spend a lot of euros to own one of their pieces. Sorry. But there is always next season…or the chance that I actually do want to look like a gothic piñata/slutty Cinderella. As you can imagine most also make their money from weddings and proms.
Now clearly I’m not in a place to give you any good shopping recommendations other than to take the first bus to Skopje or Thessaloniki; however, I do have a few recommendations for some lovely fashion bloggers to check out if you are curious to see what fashion from Kosovo looks like. Fashion bloggers (and bloggers in general) are far and few between in these parts but these three ladies are the ones I respect and am lucky to be able to call all of them friends.
Merjem Bajrami @memissgirl
Bler Çitaku @blersworld
Marigona Nila @ninnasblog (living in Tirana)
Hope you enjoyed having a peek into the world of beauty and fashion in Prishtina. Will definitely be updating this guide as I explore more of the services offered around the city and if you have any insider tips feel free to leave them in the comment section below.