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Women at Work: Helen Athanasiou

Beatrice Smith

There’s something intimate about the bond between a beauty technician and their customer.

It goes beyond just the areas of your body you let them see. It’s the perceived flaws you admit, and the vision of yourself you share with them. For Helen Athanasiou, it’s a privilege that has let her into the lives and confidence of some of Australia’s most influential women.

Training in Sydney more than two decades ago, opened her own salon, Elyssium Beauty, in Yarralumla in 1997. Tucked around the corner of the leafy Yarralumla Shops in Canberra’s so-called “embassy belt”, Elyssium reflects its surrounds—elegant and private with luxurious touches. The space is warm and welcoming, in hues of orchid pink with ambient lighting and music.

While Helen doesn’t seek for her salon to be exclusive—her clients are from all walks of life—her location attracts a certain clientele. Over the last 20 years, Helen has welcomed a steady stream of prestigious names into her salon, including ‘Madam Ambassador’, whose comprehensive security detail posted around the premises made Helen feel like she was in House of Cards, and former Spouse of the Prime Minister of Australia Thérèse Rein.

“It was like a motivational, life coaching session every time [Thérèse] was in,” says Helen. “That was a lot of fun.”

One of these clients’ journeys, however, is slightly different to most. Catherine McGregor is arguably Australia’s most high profile transgender woman, having served as strategic advisor and speechwriter for then Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison and as a national cricket commentator.

Catherine McGregor. Image: supplied.

As Catherine explains, the people you approach for assistance when you’re transitioning can greatly steer the whole experience. For her, those people were Helen and her team.

“I had started the gender transition and had been buying cosmetics, really just feeling my way,” explains Catherine. Aside from offering traditional beauty services such as manicures, pedicures, waxing, microblading and makeup, Elyssium also offer electrolysis, which Catherine explains is a necessary undertaking for someone transitioning but can be dangerous in the hands of someone who is undertrained.

“It’s a technical and a painful process so you’ve got to trust your operator…I found Helen’s website and what struck me was that she was regarded as a very competent in electrolysis. I needed that as part of my feminisation process…and she’s achieved a perfect result.

“I liked [Helen] as a person, I found her team fantastic and the ambiance of the venue is so beautiful, I just fell in love with the place. I’ve been a loyalist there since 2013.”

When asked about the importance of safe spaces such as Elyssium for people who are transitioning, Catherine is adamant.

“[They’re] really important – you’ve got to feel welcome and you’ve got to feel safe,” she explains. “But it’s also just about being affirmed in your gender by women who treat you with respect.”

For Helen, the ability to change her clients’ lives through Elyssium’s services will always be the best part of her work.

“We had a [client] who lost her eyebrows due to stress for 10 years and that doesn’t sound like a big deal but she had to draw them on each day,” explains Helen. “She was crying while I was [microblading] her eyebrows because she was saying ‘now I can go swimming’. For me, that’s what it’s about. It’s really rewarding.”


Helen and her team are offering two special deals for HerCanberra readers – a free professional consult for eyebrow feathering (valued at $100) or a free professional consult for electrolysis (valued at $50). Contact them for more information.

the essentials

What: Elyssium Beauty
When: Tuesday – Wednesday from 9 am – 5.30 pm, Thursday 9 am – 7 pm, Friday 9 am – 6 pm and Saturday 8.30 am – 2 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday
Where: 29 Bentham Street, Yarralumla
Phone: 02 6232 5077
Instagram: instagram.com/elyssiumbeauty
Website: elyssiumbeauty.com.au

Photography: Ashley St George. Image of Helen by Tina Nikolovski Photography.

This is a sponsored editorial. For more information on sponsored editorials, click here


Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Online Editor involves eating, drinking and interviewing people - sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise, you’ll find her at the movies or ordering a cheese board. More about the Author