Elizabeth Hayt is a journalist and author on fashion, women, relationships and sex.

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Blown Away

Posted on Feb.02.1998

The wives and girlfriends of the country’s sexiest hairstylists get beautiful hair (and manicures, and facials) for free.  The price, Elizabeth Hayt discovers, is other women.

Elle February 1998 article by Elizabeth Hayt

Your hair is wet.  You’re wearing nothing but underwear and a gown.  You feel his fingers press against the back of your neck.  He says you have beautiful eyes, a nice smile, great hair.  He asks if you’re dating anyone new.  He’s really cute.  Four other women are waiting for him.  For now, his eyes are fixed on you.  For now, he’s all yours.

The first time Mark Garrison—the handsome, thirty-something owner of a hip Madison Avenue salon—cut my hair, he game me a cropped, boyish look (his idea).  I thought I should trust him, it took weeks to get the appointment and cost $200.  But what really convinced me was his response when I asked him why it took forever to see him “I’m awesome.” he said grinning mischievously indeed, the cut was chic, sexy.  I fell for Mark the very first day.

One thing led to another and I became Mark’s girlfriend, a role filled with perks most women would find irresistible.  I always have a fabulous haircut.  For manicures, highlights, and waxing, I drop by his salon, his staff treats me royally.  If Mark and I are going out or I don’t feel like doing my hair, he styles it for me.  He’s cut my hair in the shower, in a taxi, and on the beach, with everything from nail scissors to a Swiss Army knife.  I sometimes feel like Jill (Goldie Hawn), George’s (Warren Beatty’s) girlfriend in the movie Shampoo  “You know what George did the other night?” she asks “He wakes me up at two in the morning just to do my hair.”

But I relate to Hawn’s character in more ways than I’d like.  As Beatty, a die-hard womanizing hairdresser, laments, “Women are an occupational hazard of my job.”  I’ve watched women slip twenty-dollar bills into Mark’s pants pocket.  I’ve pulled other women’s hair off his clothes, come across notes: “No one has hands like you” or “You’re the best.  Don’t ever leave me.” I watch him massage a client’s shoulders, telling her how much he loves her curly hair.  As Jill says to George, “I never know when you’re working and when you’re not working.”

“You’re living with a man who’s surrounded by beautiful women,” says Elizabeth Shiell, a former model who lives with hair guru Frédéric Fekkai.  Hard to believe that Shiell—a knockout all-American beauty—would ever worry.  Nevertheless, she says, “One day on 57th Street, I overheard three women who had just left the salon.  One said, “I would do anything to be with  Frédéric.”  Another one said, “But he’s taken.” The third on said, “So what!”

Babette Beja, wife of Umberto Savone, owner of Umberto in Beverly Hills, recalls the woman who brought a picture of herself completely naked to Umberto.  “She told him she wanted her hair just like it was in the picture,” says Beja.  “Then there was the client who said the salon gown was too hot and left it unsnapped as he cut her hair. Another insisted on facing Umberto’s station during her pedicure: She wore a skirt without any underwear.”

At some level, all the female attention adds to a hairdresser’s allure.  “The fact that everyone wanted him, but that he would fit me in, was attractive and still is,” says Mary Fisher, married to salon owner Eric Fisher of Wichita, Kansas, for eleven years.  “other women went after him; I got him.”

Suspicious wives stage intelligence operations in the salon.  Danielle Schatteman has in-house spies warn her when the temperature rises at Cristophe, her husband’s Beverly Hills salon.  “When a woman is hitting hard on Cristophe, the salon calls,” says Schatteman, a small-bones, Belgian blond and former client.  “I come down and ask, “What time is dinner tonight?”  In front of them.  That cools things off.”

Perhaps to keep a watchful eye, many hairdressers’ wives are intimately involved in their husbands’ salons.  Schatteman runs Cristophe’s product lines.  Beja doubles as Umberto’s manager and publicist.  Shiell a private art dealer, tests Fekkai’s products.  For his fragrance line, the überstylist chose two scents—the one he liked and the one Shiell preferred.

Territorialism cuts both ways cuts both ways, however: Often a hairdresser’s most prized possession is his loved one’s hair.  No one cuts Shiell’s hair but Fekkai.  In the twenty years Houri Geudelekian has been married to Vartan, owner of Manhattan’s Vartali Salon, only her nephew, trained by Vartan, has trimmed her wavy, auburn hair—and that was once, when Vartan was sick.  Colorist Beth Minardi and her husband Carmine co-own New York’s Minardi Salon; Carmine still smolders when he recalls a stylist who took liberties with Beth’s coppery pageboy; “About thirty hairdressers got together for a magazine photo. A certain smart-ass said to her, “You should fix your bangs.” He knew she was my wife.  It was a direct smack at me.  He put his hands on my wife’s hair; I wanted to sock him.”

When Freud defines a haircut as a castration symbol, he could have had a rival hairdressers in mind.  “I would loved to cut your hair’ is what a hairdresser says to someone he’s attracted to.” says Manhattan stylist Oscar Biandi.  “You’re dating Mark—I would never offer to cut your hair.”

My hair is essentially Mark’s hair.  After the first cut, he suggested I grow it out, By Spring, I had a chin-length bob, the longest it had been in years.  Then on Friday night, when I went by the salon  for my standard half-inch trim, I felt the scissors run up the back of my head.  Three inches of hair—six months of growth—hit the floor—hit the floor.  “I’m giving you a new look.” Mark said, evidently inspired.

Other women might protest by changing stylists.  But in my case, it’s akin to sleeping with another man.  Worse than losing a boyfriend, I’d lose a great hairdresser.  And as every woman knows, that’s much harder to come by.