Pioneer, hairdresser and artist: How Hannah Lasky helped transform Miami

Hannah Lasky and her dog Smokey Joe. (Milena Malaver/SFMN)

The year is 1989, and the first salon on Ocean Drive is now open in the basement of the empty Leslie Hotel. The only way to get the attention of salon owner Hannah Lasky is to ring a cowbell she has attached to the door of a second-floor apartment next door. Then she walks over and does her job. Dozens of clients from all walks of life came over – despite the hotel’s empty and rundown state.

“It was completely empty,” she says. “There were one or two restaurants and the rest was boarded up”.

Lasky was a pioneer on South Beach’s most famous street. She grew up in the midwest and traveled to New York, before coming to SoBe as it was transforming from a deserted slum to a place for the international jet set. She ran a well-known salon for decades before recently retiring. These days she focuses her time on painting and other artistic work.

But it was her time on South Beach during its early days that in many ways defined her. Before coming to Miami she was not the outgoing and bold person she is today. It was the friendly and inviting atmosphere in Miami that brought her out of her shell. Miami Beach was desolate and just had its sandy beaches.

“It was the cheapest most, wonderful place on Earth,” she says. 

Hannah Lasky working at the front desk of the Leslie Hotel in the basement in 1989. (Photo courtesy of Hannah Lasky)

After graduating from high school in her native St. Louis, she moved to New Mexico for college where she studied music and art. She went on to places like San Francisco and New York, where she spent 13 years working in the furniture and interior design industry. When she was 29, she attended beauty school, then began working at a high-end hair salon.

In 1989, her friend Monique suggested they go to Miami on vacation. Lasky loved the place so much that she never went back. She knew that was where she belonged. 

“I remember that first day pulling up to the Cleavander Hotel, walking up and down the street and thinking I landed in paradise….it was this beautiful empty beach,” she says. “The ocean was my front yard.”

She quickly landed on Ocean Drive. Miami Beach was just starting to prosper with more people moving there and businesses opening up. The city was more like a small town where everyone knew each other.  Lasky herself opened “Hannah and her Scissors” a play on words for the Woody Allen film “Hannah and her Sisters” in Leslie’s basement and quickly became well known around town. Her rent there was $250 a month. (Now if you want to spend a night in the Leslie Hotel it’s going to cost you almost $500 a night.) 

Miami Beach was filling up with models and agencies. The Art Deco style mixed with the beautiful beach scenes had people lining up to get photoshoots in. 

Ford Models soon became Lasky’s neighbor in that Leslie Hotel basement and models from the agency became her regular clients. 

At the time there were not many businesses open so the city was happy to welcome any that came around. 

In 1989, Lasky received a personal letter from the city Mayor Alex Daoud congratulating her on the business and thanking her for developing the city.

“Nobody gets a letter like that anymore for opening up a business,” she says. “I think that shows the difference between then and today.”

Lasky has history and a story everywhere in South Beach. In every corner you turn onto she will tell you about the days and nights she spent there. Further down from the Leslie Hotel on Ocean Drive is the Clevelander Hotel. The Clevelander is famous for its bar and party scene on the beach. But when Lasky lived there it was a quiet and residential apartment.

After her salon in the Leslie Hotel, she moved her business over to Lincoln Road in 1993 and was there until 1998. In 1998 is when she officially moved “Hannah and her Scissors” out of South Beach and headed over to 41st and Arthur Godfrey. Lasky then saw the magic and potential on Biscayne Boulevard when it was rundown and had her final salon there up until late 2019.

“People thought I was crazy when I moved to Lincoln Road, and then they thought I was crazy when I moved to 41st, and then said the same thing when I moved to Biscayne,” says Lasky. “But you know what I learned from what? she adds. “When people say I’m crazy it means I’m doing the right thing for myself.”

“Lincoln Road Antique Market” by Hannah Lasky from her collection “Sobe Scenes.”

Throughout her many years running a salon she was always working on her art. Lasky is an artist and she has spent her time in Miami capturing the beauty of it. The vibrant colors and depictions of recognizable Miami landmarks such as the Raleigh Hotel, the Oceanfront Hotel, and the North Beach fountain. The Oceanfront hotel is where Lasky held her very first art show. Her work has since been displayed in various local art shows like the Miami Beach Festival of the Arts and internationally known events including Art Basel for the Paseo Art Festival in 2019. Lasky wants to continue pushing her art. To find more of her work you can check out her website here

“I want to go straight to the top,” say says. “I need to keep presenting myself and evolving.”

“The Oceanfront Hotel” by Hannah Lasky from her collection “Sobe Scenes.”

The unique and stylish paintings of Miami and its people are what caught the attention of Bryan Cooper, administrator of the Glenn Gallery at Florida International University. Cooper visited Lasky’s salon in 2019 and was captivated by the art that she displayed. Cooper invited Lasky to showcase her art in the Glenn Gallery where her art filled the entire second floor.

“Hannah’s art reflects the beautiful colors of the tropics, and she recognizes what makes Miami and its beaches such an exciting place to live,” he says. “It was one of the most dynamic exhibits that had students expressing their appreciation for it.” 

The art that Lasky creates appeals to any and all that come across it. Her hard work and talent have been recognized and praised endlessly whether it is for her art or for her hairdressing and salon. Lasky has appeared in many magazines and newspapers including Vogue and the Miami Herald. The city of Miami hit the jackpot when Lasky arrived over three decades ago. 

“I just work hard at what I love to do”, she says. “I start a new piece and say to myself that this is going to be the best piece of art I’ve ever made.”

Milena Malaver is currently a freshman majoring in digital journalism. She enjoys literature and writing. She plans on pursuing a career as a writer and journalist for a  newspaper or news network.