Not only is R+Co founded on the idea of collaboration, but it quite literally finds its roots in love: married co-founders and husbands Garren and Thom Priano have spent 47 years building a life together. In honor of Pride Month, the hard-working duo talks about how they met, how they help gay youth and what it takes to make a relationship last.
What was your real-life “meet-cute”?
Thom: I was home reading the paper and I saw a sketch of this style director of an upscale salon in Buffalo, New York. I decided then that I wanted to meet this guy because he had such a presence in the newspaper; that’s the kind of hairdresser I wanted to be—or at least look like. So I put on my best clothes and ran up to the beauty salon he worked at, and I asked for an application to become part of the team. Little did I know that Garren had seen me through the door and told the manager she should hire me even if I didn’t know how to do hair.
Did you get the job?
Thom: Yes. And from that moment on, I was so impressed with this guy’s work that he was like my mentor. I fell in love with his work. And then I fell in love with him, which was a mistake at that time because he was married and had a child. I had to tread very carefully because I didn’t even know my own sexuality at that point. I thought I was straight. I used to be on the football team. All my friends were jocks. I grew up in an Italian family, and I have a ton of brothers, so there was no way that I could be gay. But as time went on, I did find myself and I fell in love with Garren.
Garren, what is your recollection of meeting Thom?
Garren: I remember when Thom walked up, he had this amazing black hair and that’s when I told my assistant to go up to the front desk, whisper into the manager’s ear, “We'll hire him because he’s going to make women crazy.” Then I followed the protocol, which is, “Let's see how bad he is. Is he just good-looking?”
Did it take a while to realize your feelings?
Garren: No matter how much I tried, there was just something off [in my marriage]. While my wife was away one weekend, Thom and I went on a trip to Toronto, and we had my son Christian with us. And we were just two guys taking my son and having this little vacation. When we came back, I knew in my head, “If this is what I want, I have to make a decision.” I told him right from the beginning, “This is going to be forever,” and he understood what it meant. The rest is history. That was the end of my marriage.
Thom: The end of your marriage, but that’s how we got together.
What was it like pursuing hair careers together?
Thom: Garren and I were never competitive with each other in doing hair. We worked off of each other’s energy.
How do you celebrate Pride Month?
Garren: We celebrate the memories of our friends that we lost to AIDS. I guess that time [during the ’80s] was so traumatic for us that we still continue to help kids that are gay; that’s our celebration. I often ask, “Do your parents know?” And they go, "Oh, no." And I'm like, "Get that out of the way. Clean out your closet. Whatever happens, let it rip, because you'll have a freedom to be who you want to be."
For those looking for a long-lasting relationship like you have, what would you say?
Thom: Garren and I have been together for 47 years. That’s unheard of in any gay relationship. You know, we work together and live together ...
Garren: Fight together.
Thom: ... fight together. And you got to stick it out. The grass is not any greener on the other side. You made a choice; we made a commitment to each other. And sometimes it does get hard. You just push through it and communicate with each other so you can go on.
Do you have advice for young people who are starting to understand their sexuality?
Thom: Be comfortable with who you are. Once you’re able to do that, you'll look differently at the world.