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Cristophe Cut to the Quick Over Bad Press : Media: Hairstylist talks about the tangle he got himself into since the President had his infamous bad hair day.

June 20, 1993|AMY WALLACE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The espresso was flowing. The hair was flying. It was morning in Beverly Hills and Cristophe, the Barber of Bill, was talking about patriotism and the presidency.

"If you look at my story, it's like the American dream," the Belgian-born stylist said, running a suntanned hand through his long tresses. He had come from Europe a poor unknown. And now, looking around his bustling salon, he had to admit: "I've been very blessed."

So last month, when he was summoned to Los Angeles International Airport to cut Bill Clinton's locks aboard Air Force One, the man who snips Dustin, Dinah, Julio and Farrah says he only wanted to do his part for America. He wanted to give the leader of the Free World a good haircut.

"I just wanted to protect (the Clintons), to make sure that the hair business was taken care of," he said last week, speaking for the first time about what has come to be known as the President's bad hair day. "I wanted to help. . . . That's what's so devastating."

Since news broke that two runways were closed while Clinton received his new, high-priced do, the President's man of the people image has suffered under attacks that he is more uptown than down home.

Cristophe has been in a tangle, too. First came the scolding from his father, a retired cookie company salesman who lives in Brussels. ("He called me up like I was 6 years old saying: 'What did you do now?' ")

Then came the cameras. Television crews staked out Cristophe's Beverly Drive salon. Paparazzi lingered outside his door. Newspapers all over the world spelled his name wrong, adding an h after the C . And for all the talk about a $200 trim on the Tarmac, nobody got Cristophe's prices right. (A card next to his barber chair lists his prices as $250, $175, $150 or $125, but Cristophe says he never charges $200.)

The media angered Cristophe like a bad case of split ends. Reporters distorted the truth, Cristophe said, painting Clinton as a vain, self-indulgent, Hollywood wanna-be. And worst of all, said the 36-year-old stylist, they used Cristophe to do it.

"I felt utilized as a tool," he said. For the record, the commander-in-chief is "not into hair," Cristophe insisted. "I am not saying this in a negative way. But honestly, do you really think that Hillary or Bill Clinton, from what you can see, is very concerned about their appearance?"

Cristophe admits that the surge of publicity has not been entirely unwelcome. Long before he cropped the President on the runway, the man who liberated Hillary of her headband, who did the hair in Little Rock on Election Night and twirled the First Family's curls on Inauguration Day had announced plans to open a salon in downtown Washington. Moreover, he has a line of hair care products in the works. It isn't a bad time to become a household name.

"If I was the only person involved . . . I'd think it was a wonderful thing. Who cares about the way they spell my name?" he said. "But if the price I have to pay is what I've had to live with, it wasn't worth it."

You see, Cristophe says he truly likes the Clintons. It's not a political thing, really. "I don't even know most of their agenda," he said. All he knows is that every time he flies to Little Rock, Ark., or Washington to run a comb over their powerful heads, he comes home happy.

"If only people could know them the way I know them," he said. "I didn't think people like them existed anymore."

Things were not always so heady.

Back in 1982, when Cristophe Schatteman and his wife, Danielle, moved to the United States, he wielded his scissors for a mere $35. Taking the lead from hair idols such as Sassoon and Sebastian, he decided to be known by only one name. And a few years later, he opened his own airy salon, decorated in earth tones "to accentuate the skin."

At first, Salon Cristophe had only two stylists. But as his clientele grew, so did his staff--and his prices. First he went to $40. Then to $60. He says his current rate--$250 for a woman's first-time cut, $150 for a man's--is dictated by simple economics, supply and demand.

"If one day somebody in my chair would stand up after I am finished and say: 'You know what? This is really a fraud. It's not worth it.' I would sit down and reconsider the entire thing," he said. "But so far, it has never happened."

Since he clipped Clinton's hair, Cristophe fears that his high prices have hurt the 40 lower-priced stylists that he employs. "They charge 50 bucks," he said, "but they're suffering because everyone has in mind, 'Oh, Cristophe, that's the 200 bucks place.' "

For that reason, and out of respect for the First Family, Cristophe has laid low during the last month, turning down more than 100 requests for interviews that poured in from Australia, France, Germany and New Zealand, among other places. And he has tried his best not to talk about the President's scalp--even when his clients insist.

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