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From Hair to Eternity : Salons: Hey, when you find something that works, you stick with it. That goes double for a stylist who knows your head.

March 23, 1995|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You can change jobs, change addresses and even change spouses, but switch hairstylists? For some people, that's simply going too far.

They'll stick with the same stylist until their hair falls out. If they move, they'll travel great distances--even across the country--so they don't have to change salons. Some might occasionally stray and visit another stylist, but they usually go back to the same pair of trusted scissors.

Tracy Mattoon of Newport Beach has grown up in her stylist's chair.

Mattoon has been a client of stylist Tim Gonzales, co-owner of Christopher's Beauty Salon in Fullerton, since she was 13--20 years ago. He did her hair when she was a debutante, and he did it when she got married a year ago.

"I've tried other so-called famous salons, and they messed up my hair," Mattoon says. "They'd give me a poor cut, or they'd color my hair the wrong color, and it would turn out green."

She has never had any hair-raising mishaps with Gonzales. She says she likes the way he cuts her hair to complement her face and the way he stays on top of trends.

And, she says, "he's a master colorist."

Karen Bohan, a marriage and family therapist in Laguna Beach, says the reasons people get hooked on a hairstylist have as much to do with their desire for permanency as it does for a great permanent or cut.

"People want a sense of connection," Bohan says. "We live in a very transient culture, and it's nice to have connections that feel like family."

Bohan has been a regular customer of Rudy Chavira, owner of Studio in Costa Mesa, for 12 years. Not only does she like his sense of humor, Chavira is the only stylist who color-weaves her hair to her liking.

"He has a good sense of style; he's flexible, and he moves with the culture," she says.

Because they often feel uncomfortable walking into a beauty salon, men are especially prone to forming a lasting attachment to one stylist.

Al Aguinaga, owner of the Gentry Men's Hair Design in Newport Beach, has had many of the same customers since he opened for business 24 years ago.

"They're starting to turn gray on me," he says.

For Hans Prager, owner of the Ritz and Yankee Tavern restaurants in Newport Beach, a visit to Aguinaga has become a 15-year habit.

"Changing barbers would be traumatic," Prager says. "He knows me, and he makes the time go by quickly. He also gives a great haircut."

Prager has no desire to experiment with another barber:

"There's this fear someone else might butcher what little hair I have left."

Stylists, too, grow attached to their clients. Yoshiko Okumura, stylist at Christopher's II Hair Design in Corona del Mar, says many of her clients are like family.

"I came here from Japan by myself. My clients are more than clients--they're like my parents," she says. "Boyfriends go in and out of your life, but not your clients."

Some of her regulars have been with her since she began cutting hair in Orange County 15 years ago. A few who have left the area see Okumura on visits from San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Iowa and New York.

Gary Hamilton, a Newport Beach real estate developer, has been going to Okumura every two weeks for 15 years.

"Most men are intimidated to go into a hair salon, but I've never felt that way with Yoshiko," he says. "She's the best--it's remarkable how many people ask me who cuts my hair."

To keep clients from tiring of their services, stylists have to be creative and stay on top of trends.

Anthony Ourenzo, stylist and co-owner of Salon Belcourt in Newport Beach, is popular with Orange County socialites because he can create fantasy hairstyles for special occasions as well as deliver a great cut for everyday.

"He's not just a stylist. I think of him as an artist," says regular patron Lana Chandler, a Newport Beach resident and president of the Sophisticates, a charity organization. "He gets very creative when I have to go to a black-tie event. Also, when he goes to a hair show, he'll find a new hairpiece for me. He's always thinking of new ideas."

Once they have found their perfect stylist, clients will go to great lengths to keep him or her.

Regulars of popular stylist Hideki Tova were devastated when he left the county to work at a salon in Gardena, so now he makes house calls to longtime clients on weekends.

"I love him--he's one of those wise old souls," says Irvine resident Mona Page, who sees Tova as a kind of hair guru.

Suzanne Buchanan, a Lake Forest resident and marriage and family therapist, has followed stylist Greg Chavez from salon to salon. She now sees Chavez at his Salon at the Lakes in Costa Mesa.

"He's not getting away from me. He'd better not leave the country," she says.

She likes Chavez because he understands her personality and gives her a haircut to match.

For some clients, even experimenting with another stylist is seen as the worst kind of infidelity. Buchanan plans her haircuts around Chavez's traveling schedule so that she doesn't have to go to anyone else when he's out of town.

"I'd never even think of seeing another stylist," she says.

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