Denise Pereau Knows Women and Is Now Advocating For Them

Apr 16, 2024 | Member Spotlight


NAWBO South Jersey’s Board on stage at the Beyond the Glass Ceiling Gala: (L-R) Rene Patrone Rhinehard, Events Co-Chair; Liz Bechtal, Treasurer; Audrey Wiggins, President; Tammy Harold, Events Committee Co-Chair; and Denise. Photo credit: Tina Markoe Photography

Denise Pereau knows women. After all, this NAWBO South Jersey member, Advocacy co-chair and 2024 Chapter Champion honoree stood behind a chair for 50 years talking—but more importantly, listening—to them.

“Things were a lot different than they are today,” Denise remembers about her start in the Cosmetology business. “Your parents pushed you out of the home early on, and I was always independent and never liked people telling me what to do.”

While she never dreamed of a career in Cosmetology (she wanted to teach), her mom pushed for it, telling her, “You’ll figure it out.” And she did. “I thought if I have to be in this field, I’m going to be the best I can be, so I educated myself constantly.”

Denise was working in the field when at just 21 years old, she had the opportunity to enter into a franchise business with a male colleague. She said yes, because she always said yes to new opportunities, but soon found out the person that sold them the name didn’t have trademarked rights to it.

As a result, the business partners moved out of their first salon in the middle of the night and soon opened a second together—a unisex salon. It was the 1970s when men had begun coming into salons and getting perms. “It was a really unique and fun time,” she says.

And, of course, Denise loved being behind that chair. “It’s one of the most profound professions you can be in,” she explains. “Women are telling you stories about their tragedies, triumphs, joys and sorrows. It was always an honor for me to stand behind the chair.”

Over the years, Denise got married and became the mom of two. She eventually dissolved her business partnership and moved her client base to Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where she worked in top salons. She also got involved in hair competitions, competing on the East Coast as well as in an international competition, in which she won 2nd place.

As her career took off even further, Denise began to do freelance work through an agent she met through a friend, New York City Fashion Photographer Luciana Pampalone. They worked for Hearst Publishing for several years, primarily for Victoria Magazine as well as Alfred Angelo Bridals.

Denise provided hair and makeup for this recent photoshoot for Civilian Magazine in New York. Photo credit: Luciana Pampalone

Denise also frequently worked in Washington, DC, with another friend, Portrait Photographer Michael Ahearn. They frequently shot for Andy Warhol’s acclaimed Interview magazine and twice worked in The White House. “I’ve met so many amazing people,” Denise says. “I always say that I’ve been ‘fame adjacent’ my whole life.”

In 1990, Denise opened her third salon, Salon Pereau, and became Co-President of Haute Coiffure Française (HCF) USA, which became a springboard for her to work in Europe. L’Oreal would host a bi-annual themed event in Paris at the Pavillon Baltard, and in later years, at the Carrousel du Louvre. Meetings were held at L’Oreal’s HCF Headquarters in Paris on Saint Augustin.

As a salon owner, Denise was always looking for ways to keep her business young and thriving. She was inspired by this work in the fashion industry as well as her work with Philadelphia Photographer Phil Kramer at bridal venues and for regional bridal publications. She began making bridal headpieces and cocktail hats, which became a niche market for her.

The bridal headpieces grew so popular that Denise created a bridal studio within her salon and participated in national and international bridal shows. The work was fun, but it also ushered in an important shift by bridging the salon and bridal industries—something you can still see today.

During this time, Denise trained one of her assistants on the business side of the salon for when she was ready to sell it, which she eventually did. She traveled, trained others, became Creative Director at a local salon and continued to provide freelance services throughout the U.S. Then, a chance meeting at NAWBO put her on another trajectory.

Denise heard about NAWBO from women entrepreneurs who sat in her chair over the years, but she always felt too busy to explore it for herself. Six years ago, however, she was invited to an in-person meeting by a client who was being honored as South Jersey’s Woman Business Owner of the Year.

The client owned a national advertising agency, and one day Denise shared that she wanted to write. She agreed, and Denise ended up working as a Copywriter with equity clients, including Oprah’s former Chef Art Smith and Common Threads. Trailblazing African American broadcast journalist Trudy Haynes also approached her about co-hosting the TV show “Let’s Talk About It.”

Today, Denise continues to contribute to WOM Media, Womenz Straight Talk magazine and Jez magazine in New York. Denise met NAWBO member Cassandra Tindal at her second in-person meeting. Cassandra was publishing Womenz Straight Talk and the two found they had a lot in common. She invited Denise to work with her, writing and helping to produce video content for Womenz Straight Talk and WOM Media.

Denise in conversation with NAWBO members and staff: (L-R) Tonia Chagnon, NAWBO National; Sandra Clitter, NAWBO Philadelphia Advocacy Co-Chair; Denise; and Erika Heinrich, Reporter, Front Runner New Jersey. Photo credit: Tina Markoe Photography

She’s also met great friends through NAWBO South Jersey like Maria Veglia, incoming 2024 President Elect, and Denise Davis, a Past Chapter President. In fact, in conversation with Denise one day, they discovered they lived so close they could walk to one another’s houses. “The friendships you can cultivate through NAWBO are amazing,” she says.

Denise has given back to NAWBO and women business owners, too. She served on South Jersey’s events committee before getting involved in Advocacy after attending NAWBO HQ’s Advocacy Days in Washington, DC with several chapter leaders. At the time, no one in South Jersey was advocating except for inviting public officials to their annual gala.

Denise was particularly inspired after meeting NAWBO Greater Philadelphia’s Sandra Clitter, who she reached out to after Advocacy Days. “She was so giving, loving and full of life,” Denise shares. “Just listening to her, I thought, ‘I can do this.’ Sandy is the type of woman who makes NAWBO the success it is.”

With NAWBO HQ’s Advocacy Toolkit in hand, Denise and her two Advocacy Co-Chairs have formed an amazing team focused on powering their member voices. They meet monthly and have tailored and sent out letters to every local public official, including commissioners, senators and assemblywomen and men.

Denise with her fellow NAWBO South Jersey Board members at the recent gala. Photo credit: Tina Markoe Photography

“We want them to know this is who we are, what we represent, how we’d like to work with them and what we’d like to learn from them,” she explains. “We strongly express that we’re bipartisan and want to work on both sides of the aisle. Advocacy for women is more important today than ever.”

Denise and the committee are now exploring the possibility of hosting a panel of public officials this Fall to share their views on policies impacting women in business in New Jersey, at a partnered networking event with a county Chamber of Commerce. In the meantime, they are encouraging members to attend HQ’s monthly advocacy calls.

“It’s incumbent on us as human beings to try to be the change wherever we can—to do the best we can, be the best we can be and honor and lift up one another as women,” she says. “One of the most important things with women’s advocacy is just listening to what a woman has to say.”

Denise has certainly done that for decades from behind the chair and now, she’s proud to do it as part of NAWBO.

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