It all started with a really bad haircut.

At 13 years old, Norwalk native Vlas Papadopolous had just finished getting his hair cut at a local barber and decided it wasn't good enough. He decided to literally take matters into his own hands by going to CVS and buying his own pair of clippers so he could make it better himself next time.

"I always wanted the perfect haircut," he said. He began to offer haircuts to his family and friends and slowly began to realize that he was pretty good at cutting hair.

Sixteen years later, at age 29, Papadopolous is living what became a childhood dream of opening a full-service beauty salon in the heart of Darien. Located at 833 Post Road, Salon Vlas opened last month, offering not only haircuts for the whole family, but an array of hair styling and coloring services.

"We're trying to bring the salon world and the barber world together in one," he said. "We're trying to make it a family environment."

As one walks into the new salon, it's clear it was designed with the entire family in mind. One section of the shop is reminiscent of the old-time barber shop, for men who might be intimidated by getting a simple haircut at a "salon." On the other side of the shop, the wall is lined with six hairstyling stations with full-length mirrors and custom-made stations with hidden drawers and cabinets. The shop also has a separate area for hair washing and blow-drying. The entire salon gives off a modern aura, decorated in brown wood and light tan upholstery.

Salon Vlas is a culmination of many events in Papadopolous' life. After graduating Norwalk High School in 1998, he knew he wanted to pursue hairdressing as a career. His family convinced him to go to college, however, and he pursued a finance degree at Sacred Heart University. After graduation in 2004, he attended cosmetology school at Brio Academy in Fairfield, where he met several mentors that helped him learn the business of owning a salon. There, he learned all about haircutting, nails, chemicals, massages, facials and makeup.

Upon completing the program in 2006, a friend whose family owned Johnny's and Company, a barber shop in Noroton Heights, hired him part-time where he built clientele as well as his hairstyling chops. Finally, earlier this year, the storefront that once housed Pink and Green, an accessory shop, became available and he pounced on the opportunity to open his own salon.

"My grandfather worked at Darien High School for years and he always recommended I open a business in a town like Darien," he said. "It's a very family-oriented community and this is what the community was lacking."

Once he started renovating the building, he began to assemble his staff. He hired two beauty salon professionals, Amanda Giorgi and Melanie Hess, both of whom have more than 10 years experience working in beauty salons and have worked as educators for the L'Oreal cosmetic group.

"This is the most awesome job," Hess said. "You're around different people and making them feel good. Plus, you get to be very creative."

Apparently, the economy hasn't affected business. Papadopolous noted that his research showed that in the period from March 2008 to 2009, the salon industry enjoyed an 18 percent increase.

"Your hair is always going to grow, and people are always going to need a haircut," Giorgi said.

The salon hasn't done any advertising yet, but Papadopolous said he plans to hold a grand opening event sometime in November. He's hoping to offer promotions on products and hair services, as well as hold raffles for free haircuts and styling products. In addition, he said he hopes to hold events with cross-promotions from other area businesses such as clothing stores, liquor stores and food shops. He'd like to bring in models to help show off the services his salon provides. A current promotion offers a Brazilian Keratin Treatment, including shampoo, conditioner and blowdry for $300, a service he said normally runs around $450.

Salon Vlas, located at 833 Post Road, is open Tuesday through Saturday. The salon can be reached at 655-VLAS (8527).