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COVER STORY

Real people, high-end hair

Phenomenal style doesn't have to break your bank, but it might test your nerves.

February 17, 2005|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

Petrelli stopped by every few minutes to observe Yi's technique and to unwrap a foil or two and see how the color was progressing. Any sort of color is nerve-racking enough with a professional stylist; it takes a lot of attention to time to make sure the color in one section of the head doesn't outpace the rest. Three times during the highlight, Yi shampooed out the sections of my hair that had reached the right shade of blond.

It was about two hours before she did a final wash of my hair and another 15 minutes for it to be blow-dried. Then came the moment of truth. To my eye, the highlight was, as Licari says, very believable.

As the client, ordinarily I'm the only one who needs to be pleased. Here, however, there was an audience. As Petrelli combed through my hair to check Yi's work, the rest of the stylists in training were standing close by to check it out.

Frederic Fekkai

If I had been to the salon during regular business hours, I could have had my car parked by a valet, but I lucked out with free curbside parking. Meters on Rodeo Drive run only till 6 p.m. -- exactly the time that training cuts begin at this Frenchified salon.

Country chic, with yellow sponge-painted walls, a fountain and wood floors, the Fekkai spa and salon is separated into two rooms. To the left are his beauty products. To the right is a roomy hair salon where half a dozen stylists in training are getting their clients situated for the night's cuts and colors.

Checking in, I saw exactly how much everything would have cost if I were here during regular hours. Cuts run from $95 to $290; color starts at $75. Each is just $30 on training night. I was there for a cut. My Vidal Sassoon trim of a month earlier had grown out.

Lito was my stylist. He's been working at the salon five years -- first as an assistant shampooing hair, and for the last three years doing dry hair treatments and blow-drys. He's been cutting hair at Fekkai training nights all five years and hopes that this summer he may finally be approved to cut hair on full-paying clients.

The beginning of my appointment was the usual MO. I changed into a gown and had a seat in a chair to face myself in the mirror. Lito combed through the wreckage. It wasn't difficult for him to identify the breakage from perpetual use of a hair clip. When he asked what I had in mind, I told him "something radical."

In the month since I'd visited Sassoon, the new year had come and gone. I was ready. If I hadn't already tested a few training sessions, I may not have chosen to change my hair dramatically with an amateur, but the teacher to student ratio at Fekkai is 2 to 1. I felt I was in good hands.

Lito suggested shearing off about 6 or 7 inches and giving me a bob, cutting my hair at the breakage point in back. Instructor Vanessa Swartmans agreed, but she suggested a graduated bob that lengthened toward the front. She asked me to stand up and turn my head to the left, then the right, to assess my profile. She and Lito agreed: It was decent enough for a bob.

The salon's top designer, Maurice Dadoun, stopped by next. He and Frederic Fekkai himself both worked at the Jacques Dessange salon in Paris. Dadoun has been at Fekkai's Beverly Hills salon since it opened in 1998.

Because my hair is fine and light-colored, Dadoun said the cut would be tricky. "It's beautiful when properly done and if not, it looks terrible."

Lito was trying not to show it, but I could sense he was feeling pressure.

"Clients come to you not for something safe but for something special," Dadoun continued. "Something that makes them feel unique."

At Fekkai, the philosophy is "total beauty." A haircut and color are just a piece of the puzzle. If I were a regular client, my stylist would also have weighed in with makeup and clothing tips.

Lito washed my hair, letting me know which Fekkai products he was using, even though the register in the other room was already closed and I wouldn't have been able to buy them. Back at the chair, Dadoun swung by to explain exactly what Lito needed to do. He demonstrated by cutting a portion of the first layer. He left Lito to begin his work, but Dadoun was never out of the picture more than five minutes during the cut.

Neither Lito nor Dadoun were letting on, but I got the impression Lito had never done this cut. To them, that's a good thing. It's a learning experience. To me it was nerve-racking.

Coming into the final, trickiest stretch, connecting the back with the front, I overheard Dadoun and Swartmans chatting in their native French. My high school French couldn't keep up with everything they were saying, but I could swear I heard Dadoun use the word "peur," or scared. I wasn't sure who they were referring to: me, Lito or themselves. It was probably everyone.

Swartmans instructed Lito on how to properly angle the scissors, and he finished up. After a blow-dry, Dadoun swooped in with his scissors for a little cleanup. And voila: A complete transformation in an hour and a half.

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