When Ouidad first contacted beauty editors 20 years ago about her new salon that catered to the needs of curly hair, the reception was lukewarm at best.

"One told me that when she was first contacted, she got off the phone and said 'poor child,'" Ouidad recalled. "They thought it was such a farfetched idea."

On June 23rd, Ouidad celebrated her 20th anniversary with some of these same beauty editors, who now acknowledge what the 'Queen of Curl' has known for so long. Curly hair is a force to be reckoned with — a fact proved by the growing number of curly hair stylists, the explosion of products for curly hair and the long list of celebrities who embrace their coils and kinks.

"I'm basking in the glory of the recognition of curly hair," Ouidad said the day after the event at Carnegie Hall in New York.

More than 165 attended the party, including major beauty editors, Ouidad affiliates — there now are 12 around the United States — longtime clients, executives from the beauty industry and celebrities. Ouidad said client New York Gov. George Pataki was planning to attend but President Bush came to town.

Guests dined on curly foods — tuna tartare with curled vegetables, salmon inside a curled radish, chicken with curly angel-haired pasta and apple martinis with a curl of apple on the rim — served by curly-headed servers.

"Who would have imagined this?" she asked.

When Ouidad opened her salon 20 years ago, funded by a small business loan and the generosity of friends and family, only a handful of clients walked in the first day. She put everything on the line, believing that there was a need for somebody to work with curly hair. She persevered, staying focused on her goal.

"All of a sudden, I got bombarded," said the Lebanese entrepreneur. "By year three, I paid everybody back."

Even with growing competition from other curly hair stylists and large manufacturers rolling out curly hair product lines, Ouidad said business is booming. Her salon at 846 Seventh Ave. works with as many as 130 clients a day. Sales this year are above last year, and the list of salons wanting to sign on as affiliates is long, she said. According to Women's Wear Daily, the Ouidad salon generated more than $5 million in sales for 2002, up 28 percent from the previous year.

Two decades later, Ouidad said her focus hasn't changed. While some have wanted her to expand to other hair types, she has stuck with her passion: curly hair.

Her immediate plans are to continue to add Ouidad affiliates around the country. Her goal is to train 12 a year.

"I can't physically, mentally or psychologically cut the world's hair," Ouidad said. "I can train and work with my peers."

She will continue to add products to her Ouidad line. Although she's keeping mum, she said she is working on a new styling product. A product line for children also is on her wish list. She also plans to move into a new 5,000-square-foot salon that would be three times the size of her current New York location. She plans to have an educational center to work with stylists.

Ouidad said the real victory comes with seeing a younger generation that embraces rather than fights their curls. Twenty years ago, young girls would come into her salon like they were being brought into an emergency room, begging for help with their hair. Now they say, "I love my hair! All my friends want hair like mine."

And she watched the recent Tony Awards with pride as all five female Tony nominees sported ringlets, "crowning glories" or curls, she said.