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Special fall fashion issue | Metropolis / Hair

We Got Beauty

Looking Fine in a Big, Gorgeous Town

August 17, 2003|Hillary Johnson | Hillary Johnson last wrote for the magazine about hair-conditioning treatments.

Los Angeles is like a big graduating class at an oversized suburban high school: There are cliques and classes, in crowds and loners, and everyone is watching everyone else while studiously pretending not to. Rest assured, the waitress at Millie's in Silver Lake with the Doc Martens and the '60s flowered housedress knows that Damone is in and Anastasia is out for eyebrows this season, and the matron from Pacific Palisades with the quilted purse knows that the Body & Soul Adventures resort has the best yoga class in the Brazilian rain forest. So what follows isn't a definitive list but an impression of an abstraction--or an abstraction of an impression, take your pick--of what Angelenos think is stylish.

There is an Eastside blow dry and a Westside blow dry," explains Kristoff at Fred Segal Beauty in Santa Monica. "At the beach they want healthy hair, and they don't care to blow it out. The further inland you move, the rounder the brush and the hotter the air."

Kristoff should know. He blows out Rita Wilson, who lives in Pacific Palisades, and Gwen Stefani, who lives in Los Feliz. Kristoff looks like Warren Beatty in "Shampoo," with the addition of tattoos, and he has a roster of clients who insist that he make thrice-weekly house calls to blow out their hair. In a town where colorists don't cut, and vice versa, Kristoff is known for doing it all. As for his skill with a blow dryer, let's just say that he made my hair look three inches longer than it really is. Combined with Nelson Chan's miraculous ionic conditioning treatment, one could conceivably go from bank-teller bob to Wonder Woman mane in a single day.

Name-dropping aside, while people waiting in Albuquerque dentists' offices read InStyle to find out where Reese Witherspoon and Debra Messing get their hair done, native Angelenas know that celebrity hairstyling is a big crock. Think about it: Actresses earn their living playing waitresses and real estate agents.

To do so, they must have hair that is as bland and versatile and devoid of individual character as possible. Patricia Heaton can't walk into Vidal Sassoon, as I did this spring, and have Etienne Taenaka re-engineer her head into a quasi-Egyptian golden cone with a swooping forelock, one shaved temple and a curlicue over the right cheek. No, it's in her "Everybody Loves Raymond" contract: Turn your noggin into a freak show and we'll fire you.

For Taenaka, a former architecture student, it isn't just about hair. All true innovators see only the beauty of the universe when they go to work. Hair, steel, marble, egg tempera, what's the difference?

That said, I saw one of the best haircuts I've ever seen the other day: a pixie bob with soft, curvaceous tendrils curling like baby fiddlehead ferns over a razor-sharp bang and falling over an equally sharp nape at the back. This haircut was at once dramatic and feminine, gamin and frowzy, a perfect assemblage of contradictions. It reminded me of the extreme and serendipitous fashion statement I made in the '70s with a shrunken gray cashmere sweater. It was covered with huge moth holes like giant polka dots, each of which happened to be in a strategically risque spot, turning a demure garment into something provocative and wayward. I wore it all the time with jeans and over-the-knee boots.

Fortunately, I saw this haircut walking out the door of Steam, the souk-like salon at Harper and Beverly, while I was walking in. Steam is owned by Carla Gentile, who explains her style philosophy by saying, "You can be bold and out there and extreme, but that doesn't have to mean being hard." That's exactly what I meant.

Fred Segal Beauty, 420 Broadway, Santa Monica; (310) 451-5155. Vidal Sassoon Salon, 9403 Little Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 274-8791. Steam, 314 N. Harper Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 966-0024.

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